Happy 224th Birthday Rossini!
Or is it his 56th Birthday? We know a lot about Rossini due to his great contribution to opera: But did you know that he was born on the 29th February, 1792? Rossini made a wonderful contribution to the world of opera, and we are so thrilled to be celebrating his “56th Birthday” on The O Word this year. But who is Rossini? And why should you be interested in this composer? Well… You may remember from our first blog A Young Person’s Guide to The Opera that we featured a video of Robin Williams singing opera in Mrs Doubtfire. Funnily enough, that famous “Figaro” aria he was singing was NOT from The Marriage of Figaro (Which is by Mozart), but from the opera The Barber of Seville, which on the 20th of February celebrated its 200th Anniversary since its debut.
We think Rossini is a brilliant contribution to the opera world. Here’s 9 facts about this Italian composer you may not have known….
1. He comes from a musical family.
Rossini was an only child, but was exposed to music from a very young age. His mother was an opera singer and his father a horn player. So it seems quite suitable that Rossini followed into the music industry. However he was originally training as an apprentice to be a Blacksmith.
2. His musical career started on the triangle.
He would go on to play many instruments: Harpsichord, piano, horn, violin. Rossini was even a singer! But to begin his musical career, Rossini played the triangle in his father’s band. Every musician has to start somewhere!
3. The Barber of Seville premiere was terrible.
Despite it becoming an absolute success and masterpiece in the future, The Barber of Seville opening was a disaster! People booed and shouted throughout the entire show and no-one listened to this work. It wouldn’t be until the second run of the show that it would receive acclaimed success.
4. He met Beethoven – and Beethoven actually complimented him!
After being tutored in music, Rossini had three composers that he admired: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. In 1822, at 30 years old, Rossini got to meet one of his idols. Beethoven was 51, death and in failing health but communicating through writing, he supposedly wrote to Rossini; “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.”
5. Rossini’s music moved.
Beethoven had a very good point: Rossini was great at writing in the style of Opera Buffa. He was also notorious for writing music that had a moving melody. In the Opera World, we call this Coloratura. Not for the untrained voice, Rossini’s music requires a voice that will move and a singer with comedic timing and fantastic voice technique…
6. He wanted you to listen!
Believe it or not, opera audiences weren’t always old and silent. Many people went to the opera to enjoy few moments of the show and then talk through the rest of it… Rossini wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of this idea and you can hear that while listening to his music. Rossini begins many pieces with a loud, grand orchestra moment, which in music terms translates to “LISTEN TO THIS!” By beginning pieces with grand gestures, Rossini hoped to gain the audiences attention.
7. Success = Early Retirement
Rossini received great success and so it was a shock to a lot of people when he went into retirement at the young age of 37. He had completed his opera William Tell and for whatever reason decided not to write any more operas. He stopped composing… But what did he spend the next forty years doing?!
8. Wine, Food and Sass.
Rossini spent a lot of time in his retirement drinking good wine, cooking good food and having a good time with good friends and his new wife. Many believe if he had not been a composer, that Rossini would’ve made a very fine chef. His ideas about food are still available these days and his recipes are still cooked world wide. Rumour was that upon meeting Wagner in 1860, he excused himself during conversation repeatedly going back and forth every four or five minutes. When Wagner asked for an explanation, Rossini replied that he was busy checking on a roebuck sirloin he was roasting. Rossini would make many ‘sassy’ comments throughout his day and was known for his wit, a personality trait that seeped through to his operas.
“Every kind of music is good, except the boring kind.”
“How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers.”
“Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life, and they pass like bubbles of a bottle of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a fool.”
Rossini died in 1868 at the age of 76 (or 19), suffering from pneumonia, on Friday the 13th November. He left behind a legacy of great music, fantastic food and quick wit. An incredibly interesting fellow, the editors of The O Word would like to tell you why we think Rossini is a brilliant composer.
Louis Hurley: The other day I was talking to an instrumentalist about their favourite composers. As a brass player many of his favourite composers were of course very well known to me, but what interested me most were the composers that I had literally NEVER heard of before. I was also genuinely surprised that I didn’t know some prolific composers for strings after a similar conversation with a violinist (who the hell is Vieuxtemps?). But there was one question it raised in my head, “who are the opera composers?”. I started to realise that some of my favourite composers of vocal music were potentially unknown to instrumentalists or lovers of instrumental music. What about the likes of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and even perhaps Bizet? I guess it is slightly different considering opera has always been fortunate enough to be a part of the popular classical music cannon, so these names are most likely very well known, but it did make me wonder how much of their compositional output is linked to their name. But of course today we are only talking about one of these opera composers, Gioachino Rossini. Today is the day he would most likely be celebrating his birthday, but tomorrow we can all say a big “Happy 56th Birthday” to our pal Rossini.
Best known for his comic operas, Rossini wrote a total of 39 operas in his lifetime. Many are still regularly performed in the greatest opera houses around the world. My personal favourites are the cliché comics Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. The music is so gorgeous, light and energetic at the best of times and rightfully earned him comparisons to Mozart, another master of comic opera. So much so that he was awarded the nickname of “the Italian Mozart”. His success did not depend on comparisons to Mozart however, and he was the most famous and successful opera composer in the world at the time of his retirement in 1829.
My one recommendation to anyone who hasn’t experienced Rossini opera would be to and watch The Barber of Seville! It is hysterically funny and incredibly easy music to follow. You will most likely even know some of it (does “Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!” ring any bells?). Take this iconic aria as an example of Rossini’s genius. This is my favourite performance of this aria, sung by the extremely talented Marilyn Horne. The character Rosina sings of her love for Lindoro, and how she will fight for his love.
If that doesn’t make you want to watch the whole thing then I don’t know what will! Trust me you will not regret it!
Happy Birthday Rossini!
My first experience with Rossini was not as an opera singer, but as a trombone player. I was learning excerpts for an orchestra audition, which just happened to include Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie’s and Rossini’s William Tell Overture. I have to say… I was flabbergasted.
Had Rossini never played a trombone or known how difficult it was to play so many notes in so little time?! How rude! But it was later while listening to Rossini’s vocal music that I had the revelation: He probably didn’t care. I don’t think Rossini did what was necessarily right or appropriate, but what he thought would make good music and theatre… I think that became particularly obvious to me whilst watching Le Comte Ory, which includes a hilarious threesome between three of the main characters! And it DOES make for very good theatre! I still live in hope that my voice will one day develop some coloratura so that I may become a Rossini mezzo and sing the roles of Cenerentola and Rosina in Barber of Seville…
I was surprised one day to arrive at my brother’s house, only to find he had memorised, without any Italian or Classical Voice training, the entirety of Largo Al Factotum. I think that’s a good sign of just how catchy and clever Rossini’s musical writing is. 200 years later his music is still being sung by amateurs like my brother, actors like Robin Williams, and many opera singers all over the world! If you’ve never heard it before: I would recommend Non Piu Mesta (Sung by Joyce Didonato), the final part of William Tell Overture and of course, the threesome from Le Comte Ory. Happy Birthday, Rossini!
Written by Katherine Goyder and Louis Hurley