La Cenerentola (Cinderella)
b Pesaro, February 29, 1792; d Passy, November 13, 1868
The most important Italian composer of the first half of the 19th century, Rossini transformed the form and content of Italian opera. Though best known for his comic operas and for music that is sensuous, brilliant and rhythmically vital, Rossini's contribution to stage works of mixed genres is equally important, making him Verdi's most significant forerunner.
Born into the closely knit community of Pesaro, Italy, at a time of war and political upheaval in Europe, Rossini was brought up by parents who were both working musicians. His father, a horn player and teacher at Bologna's prestigious Accademia Filarmonica, was also an ardent and outspoken Republican who was imprisoned for a time by the Austrians. Rossini's mother, despite her lack of musical training, was a successful soprano.
Rossini began composing as early as 1802-03 and entered Bologna's Liceo Musicale at the precocious age of 14. Shortly after finishing his studies, he obtained a commission for a one-act farce, La cambiale di matrimonio, for the Venetian Teatro San Moisè. Further commissions from Venice yielded more successes, and by the time La pietra del paragone had premiered in 1812, Rossini was without a doubt the leading composer in Italy.
The composer seemed equally confident in both comic and serious veins. Tancredi was a major landmark in opera seria and L'italiana in Algeri was the same for opera buffa -- both were composed in 1813. In 1815, he had the good fortune to be secured by Domenico Barbaja, impresario for the Neapolitan theaters. There, Rossini had the best resources at his disposal and significantly developed his style and technique over the next seven years. One of the theaters' assets was Isabella Colbran, a soprano who specialized in opera seria; as a result, Rossini wrote many works specifically for her voice. She was to become his mistress and, later, his first wife.
Rossini's contract with the Neapolitan theaters allowed him to accept commissions elsewhere on the Italian peninsula. Two of his most popular comic works, Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola, premiered in Rome. By 1822, however, the composer showed signs of his patience wearing thin; during the contract period he had written a total of 18 operas. The composer later quipped, "If he had been able to do so, Barbaja would have put me in charge of the kitchen as well."
After visits to Vienna and London, he settled in Paris as director of the Théâtre Italien (1824-1826). He was also granted a lifetime annuity by the French government to write for the Paris Opéra.
A number of years following his early retirement, Rossini and his second wife, Olympe, returned to Paris. The famous samedi soirs were initiated in 1858; Saturday evenings Rossini's salon became a meeting place for singers, composers, artists and friends. The last occurred September 26, 1868; the composer's chronic ill health finally overcame him, and he died two months later. In 1887, his remains were brought to the city of Florence. A procession of more than 6,000 mourners attended the re-internment in Santa Croce.