Gioachino Rossini Biography
The music of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini represents both the heart of opera and the heart of the man who composed it.
One of opera's most enduring characters, Gioachino Antonio Rossini made a huge contribution to his art. Elevating the comic opera form, known as opera buffa, to new heights, he also helped to elevate the role of composer in the production of opera. With his rich melodies and strong musical vitality, he left behind a body of work that will continue to be heard well into the future.
Rossini was born in Pesaro, Italy, on February 29, 1792. As his father was a trumpet player and his mother a singer of some local fame, he was raised to love music. He sang as a treble on the operatic stage and began to learn composition when he was ten. Afterwards, he studied singing, cello, harpsichord, and counterpoint in Bologna, a city with a reputation for being a serious musical center. This is also where he composed his first opera, "Demetrio e Polibo."
Rossini's second opera, and his first to be performed, was "La Cambiale di matrimonio." This brought him to the attention of the opera community, and he wrote several more operas with varying degrees of success. "Tancredi" and "L'Italiana in Algeri" brought him more fame. In 1816, he wrote what is unquestionably his most popular opera. Though its first performance was a disaster, "Il barbiere de Siviglia" soon became a success and is the most frequently performed of Rossini's operas today. He then turned from his specialty of opera buffa to opera seria, a formal dramatic type of opera, after becoming involved with Isabella Colbran, the Spanish soprano. She became his mistress and later his wife, and Rossini wrote many parts especially for her vocal talents.
In 1822, he traveled to Vienna where he met a profoundly deaf Beethoven, who had nevertheless read the score of "Il barbiere" and urged him to return to opera buffa. He then traveled to Venice where he wrote his last Italian opera, "Semiramide." The Rossinis spent a year in London before traveling to Paris where Rossini had a one-year contract and became director of the Theater-Italian. He wrote several notable operas, finishing with "Guillaume Tell," which would become the prototype of Romantic opera. The musical retelling of the story of William Tell would be his last opera.
His return to Italy was marred by his failing health. It is largely accepted that he, like many others in the arts at the time, was suffering from a venereal disease contracted in the intense and manic atmosphere of operatic production. After traveling back to Paris in search of better medical care, he experienced a great transformation, regaining his health and well being for another decade. He spent these later years as a host to friends and musicians. Following the decline and death of his wife Isabella, he married Olympe Pelissier, a professional courtesan, and their Saturday night gatherings attracted the elite of the musical world.
Rossini died on Friday, November 13, 1868, presumably of cancer.