Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) was the greatest Italian composer of his time. In the first half of his life he was astonishingly prolific, and composed nearly forty operas by the age of 38. Of those many are key to the repertories of modern opera companies around the world.
Rossini was born in Pesaro to parents who were both musicians. In 1804 the family moved to Bologna, where Rossini sang professionally and took engagements as the maestro di cembalo in various local theatres. His first opera, Demetrio e Polibio, was commissioned in 1810 but not performed until 1812, by which time his five next operas had received their premieres. He received his first great success with his fourth opera L’inganno felice (1812), which established his name around Italy. Commissions quickly followed, subsequent major works including Tancredi (1813), L’italiana in Algeri (1813) and Il turco in Italia (1814). In 1815 he moved to Naples, the historic home of Italian opera. Works of his ‘Neapolitan’ period, such as Armida (1817), Mosè in Egitto (1818), La donna del lago (1819) and Zelmira (1822), exhibit highly virtuoso passages, extensive use of ensembles and a new emphasis on the chorus, and are all inspired by a remarkably wide range of literary sources. He continued to write works for other cities, including Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) and La Cenerentola (1817) for Rome and La gazza ladra (1817) for Milan. By 1822 he had reached international acclaim, and settled in Paris in 1824. Here he composed his last two works, Le Comte Ory (1828) and Guillaume Tell (1829). He composed no further operas, but significant works from later years include Les Soirées musicales (1830–35), the Stabat Mater (second version 1842) and the Petite Messe solennelle (1863).
Rossini’s opera buffa are among the finest examples of the genre. In his opera seria he introduced innovations that transformed Italian opera, and would influence generations of French and Italian composers.
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