Gioacchino Antonio Rossini was born in the small town of Pesaro on February
29, 1792, and died in Paris in 1868 at the age of 76. His father Giuseppe
was a town trumpeter and inspector of slaughter houses. When Napoleon's
troops appeared in northern Italy, he welcomed them and was promptly removed
from his high positions and thrown into jail. His mother, Anna, took Gioacchino
to Bologna and began to work as a singer in leading roles in comic opera
Gioacchino served an apprenticeship and then became a student of cello
and composition at the Conservatory of Bologna. While there, his friends
called him "the little German" as he was particularly fond of
Mozart's music. Following completion of his studies, he began to make a
name as an opera composer, greatly helped by two qualities -- a sense of
melody and a sense of humor.
In his early twenties, Rossini became director of the great San Carlo Theatre
in Naples, Italy. It was for Rome, however, that he wrote THE BARBER OF
SEVILLE. The story, based on the popular play by Beaumarchais, had already
been presented in an opera by another much admired Italian composer, Giovanni
Paisiello. Many Italians thought that Rossini was insulting Paisiello by
composing a new version of "The Barber."
The premiere on February 20, 1816 was a disaster. Admirers of Paisiello
were in attendance to cause problems and found many opportunities. When
Rossini arrived in Spanish attire, the audience made fun of it. The singer
performing the role of Bartolo tripped on an entrance and was forced to
sing with a nosebleed. Next, a cat wandered on stage and had to be chased
off. Returning, it jumped into Bartolo's arms, and for the remainder of
the show the audience mimicked the cat's meows.
The story of that famous night goes on to tell how one of the singers,
seeing Rossini leave the theatre alone after the dismal performance, rushed
to the composer's hotel room to comfort him -- only to find him sleeping
soundly, completely indifferent to the audience's response.
Rossini's version of BARBER soon captured the public's imagination and
surpassed the Paisiello version in popularity. It remains the favorite to
By the age of 37, Rossini had composed 36 operas, but in his remaining
40 years he never wrote another. There has been a long debate as to why
Rossini stopped writing operas. Many biographers have speculated that a
decline in the composer's health forced him to lay down his pen. Some critics
claim that he became indifferent, since he was wealthy enough to retire
comfortably. Perhaps the pressures of his great fame made composition too
stressful. Perhaps he was unwilling to alter his operatic style to fit the
fashion of the time. No one will ever know.