Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rossini the Leap Year Baby

Gioacchinno Antonio Rossini was born on February 29, 1792. If anyone deserves to be a leap year baby, it's the composer of The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, Semiramide, William Tell, La gazza ladra and on and on.

Rossini wrote his first opera La cambiale di matrimonio (The Fake Marriage) as a teenager. His last, William Tell, was twenty years later.

Beethoven was jealous of Rossini, and the Italian had the admiration of Schubert, Verdi and lived long enough to hear the early works of Wagner. During his twenty year opera career he worked throughout Italy, and his operas traveled across Europe and into the United States. Great singers were devoted to him: Maria Malibran, her sister Pauline Viardot, Gilbert Duprez and Luigi Lablache among them. Rossini's first wife was the Spanish mezzo-soprano Isabella Colbran (1785-1845). Many of his greatest operas were created for her. The couple separated ten years before Isabella's death.

Rossini was a sharp business man, nasty to librettists and impresarios and known for his wit. Yes, he admired the tenor Duprez but said that gentleman's high C sounded "like a chicken having its throat cut". William Tell was dropped by the Paris Opera for being too long. When years later Rossini was informed that his Act II was to be performed at a gala he sniffed, "Not all of it, surely."

And here's my favorite quote from a musician. Rossini said of Mozart

"He was roused my admiration when I was young. He was the despair of my maturity and he is the comfort of my old age."

There's a lot more to Rossini than The Barber of Seville. Semiramide is the Queen of Babylon who almost marries her son who is played by a woman and I suggest you listen to the music and forget everything else.

And then, there's Figaro:

Rossini died in Paris in 1868, in the arms of his second wife, Olympe Pellisier. In his later years he composed a Messe solenelle and a collection of piano music he called Sins of My Old Age. He convened a salon and sponsored early readings of Wagner's Tannhauser. He enjoyed his brandy, women and the great music he had written years before.

Di tanti palpiti
from Tancredi the hit tune of 19th century Italian opera:

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