Gioacchino Antonio Rossini was born in the small town of Pesaro, a small town in Italy on the Adriatic coast, on February 29, 1792. Rossini's mother Anna was a seamstress and a singer. His father Giuseppe served as the town crier and inspector of the local slaughterhouses, but he also played the trumpet and horn in the local theatre band. As professional musicians, Rossini's parents recognized their son's talent at an early age. By the time he was six, Gioacchino was playing the triangle in the same band as his father.
When Napoleon's French troops appeared in northern Italy, Rossini's father welcomed them and was promptly removed from his high positions and thrown into jail. His mother took Gioacchino to Bologna where she began to work as a singer in leading roles in comic opera performances. Gioacchino was frequently left in the care of his aging grandmother, and he continually ran wild and got into mischief. However, not all of his time was wasted. By the age of twelve he had already composed six sonatas.
Rossini continually cultivated his musical skills, and by the time he was fifteen he had developed an excellent singing voice, and was proficient on the piano, harpsichord, viola, horn, and cello. He became a composition student at the Conservatory of Bologna in 1806, and within three years he had composed his first opera. Family contacts quickly secured him commissions from various northern Italian theatres, and by his twenty-first birthday he had composed ten complete operas.
Although Rossini had composed several operas, it was the premiere of La pietra del paragone in 1812 at the highly prestigious La Scala opera house in Milan that brought him much notice in Italy. Within its first season, Rossini's opera received fifty performances. During the next five years, Rossini produced a string of several highly successful operas including Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), one of the most famous opera buffas (comic operas) of all time.
One year after the premiere of IL barbiere de Siviglia, Rossini was commissioned by the Teatro Valle in Rome and given a tentative deadline of December 26, 1816. By December 23 there was still no libretto. On that cold winter evening, Rossini met with librettist Jacopo Ferretti. Several years later, Ferretti wrote an account of the meeting. As Rossini and Ferretti drank tea, Ferretti proposed over twenty subjects, but Rossini rejected each claiming they were too serious, complicated, expensive, or not suitable for the cast which had already been hired.
Rossini had already gone to bed when Ferretti murmured "Cinderella." Rossini stirred at the mention and asked, "Would you have the courage to write me a Cinderella?" Ferretti responded, "Would you have the courage to set it to music?" Rossini asked how quickly he could have an outline, and Ferretti told him by the next morning if he went without sleep. Rossini said "Good night" and fell asleep immediately. Ferretti went home and, as promised, had an outline by the following morning. Twenty-two days later he completed the libretto, and Rossini composed the music in only twenty-four days. LA CENERENTOLA premiered on January 25, 1817, one month following its initial conception.
Everyone was nervous on opening night. The singers were exhausted and in poor voice, and the performance was not received well. In spite of the criticism, Rossini was optimistic saying, "Fools! Before Carnival ends, everyone will be enamored of it. Within two years it will please France and be considered a marvel in England." Rossini's predictions proved to be correct — by mid-February, LA CENERENTOLA had been performed twenty times. Three years later Rossini's work reached London, and by 1825 it was first performed in New York. LA CENERENTOLA was Rossini's twentieth opera and his last Italian comic opera.
Rossini's popularity became so great that in 1824 Charles X of France offered him a ten-year contract to write and produce a new opera every other year. Guillaume Tell ("William Tell," the overture of which is well-known as the theme for The Lone Ranger) premiered at the Paris Opera on August 3, 1829. In French opera, the musical variety and scale of Guillaume Tell were unprecedented, and while some found Rossini's new work to be overblown, many received it with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this was the only opera composed under the contract with Charles X, and a prolonged legal battle between the composer and Charles X ensued.
Rossini composed an amazing thirty-nine operas by the age of thirty-seven. He retired from the world of opera challenged by his legal battles, poor health, and a changing musical climate. Although Rossini did produce some sacred music and a few cantatas in the last forty years of his life, he never composed another opera. Instead, with a passion for gourmet cooking, Rossini spent his retirement holding extravagant and prized salon gatherings in his Parisian home.
The prolific composer died from a heart attack on Friday the 13th of November, 1868. Although Rossini was buried with great honor in Paris, the Italian government pleaded to have his remains returned to his homeland. Today he rests in the church of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy.