Italian opera during much of the first half of the nineteenth century, opera was dominated by one man whose work continues to delight opera audiences today, Gioacchino Rossini. Rossini, the creator of nearly forty operas in less than two decades, had an immense impact upon the development of opera. Scholars often note that a vital component of his success was the tunefulness of his music and the effortlessness with which he composed. Rossini was born to a family of musicians in Pesaro, Italy, on February 29, 1792. His father was a horn player and his mother was a singer. Rossini learned to do both as a child, and studied music in Bologna, Italy, where the family lived when he was growing up.
Rossini’s first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio was produced in Venice when he was 18. At this time, he had already received awards for shorter compositions. Between 1810 and 1813, he wrote operas for Bologna, Rome, Venice and Milan, all of which were fairly well received. It was also during this period that he wrote the wildly popular Tancredi, an arrangement of Voltaire’s tragedy. For the next four years, he produced a string of brilliant comic operas, including Il Turco in Italia, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola and La Gazza Ladra, which were performed all across Europe to great acclaim.
In 1817, he moved to Naples, where he shifted his focus to devote his time to serious opera, writing Otello and Semiramide during this time. At the age of 32, he moved again, this time to Paris, where he took the post of Director of the Theatre-Italien. There he composed four works for the Paris Opera, the last being Guillaume Tell. He retired at the age of 37, due to a variety of factors, including the death of his mother and his weakening health.
He remained in Paris until 1836, when he returned to Italy as the director of the Bologna conservatory, but was drawn back to Paris in 1855. There he held court to just about every celebrated European composer and musician, including Wagner.
Rossini died in Paris in 1868, almost 39 years after composing his last opera. He was buried in Paris in the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, near Chopin, Cherubini and Bellini, but in 1887 his body was disinterred and sent to Florence, where he was re-buried for a crowd of over 6,000. In the years following his death, the popularity of his works began to fade, and within five years all but a few works were forgotten. However, towards the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, a revival reestablished his popularity among audiences. Now, the term “Rossinian” is often used, particularly in conjunction with the term “Wagnarian.” Works that are Rossinian in nature are accessible, effortlessly entertaining and bring a smile to the fact of the audience.