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 performances.

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 this day.

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.

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