The man who composed The Barber of Seville and who used to boast, "Give me a laundry list and I will set it to music," was born on February 29, 1792 (the year after Mozart's death), in Pesaro, on Italy's Adriatic coast. Gioachino's illiterate mother was a seamstress and a good singer. His father served as the town crier and inspector of the local slaughterhouse, and played trumpet and horn in the local theater band. Gioachino played the triangle with the same band when he was six years old. His parents traveled often, leaving him in the care of his aging grandmother. The boy ran wild, was always getting into mischief, and loved practical jokes. However, all of his time was not wasted.
Rossini composed six sonatas at the age of twelve, and by the time he was fifteen, he could play the viola, horn, harpsichord, and cello. He worked as a chorus master and accompanist, and above all, as a singer. He wrote his first cantata at age sixteen and his first opera at age eighteen, in 1810. His genius so impressed the authorities that he was exempted from military service. By the age of thirty, he had written thirty operas, one composed in three days. (Frequent borrowing from his own works contributed to his speed.) Rossini was one of the first composers to succeed without a rich patron, and his career earned him great wealth.
The composer was as famous for his adoration of food and women as for his music. He could eat twenty steaks a day, and one steak dish---Tournedos Rossini---was named for him. When Baron Rothschild sent him some grapes from his hothouse, the composer thanked him, but said, "I don't take my wine in pills." The Baron took the hint and sent him some wine. Another time he said, "I know of no more admirable occupation than eating, that is, really eating. Appetite is for the stomach what love is for the heart. The stomach is the conductor who rules the grand orchestra of our passions."
Rossini's first marriage was to the celebrated Spanish prima donna Isabella Colbran. This marriage failed and he later married the Frenchwoman Olympe Pélissier. In 1824 he moved to Paris, where he spent most of his remaining years. The city of Paris gave the composer a plot of land, on which he built a house and planted a garden with flower beds in the shape of musical instruments.
Rossini's thirty-ninth and last opera, Guillaume Tell, (with its overture made famous as the theme for "The Lone Ranger"), was written when he was thirty-seven. Although he lived another thirty-nine years, he never wrote another. Many theories have been offered to explain his retirement from composing, but none are fully accepted. He traveled, gave parties, wrote a few short pieces and one large religious work, and generally enjoyed life, composing a short piece each year for his dog, the briefest of which was the composer's signature set to music.
Rossini died on November 13, 1868 (Friday the 13th) and was given a grand funeral. First buried in Paris, his body was later moved to the church of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, near the graves of Galileo and Michelangelo.
With the exception of Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola, few of his many works were well known until a recent revival of interest in bel canto opera. Now, research is unearthing many of his scores, and more and more of his opere serie are being produced.
Operas by Rossini
listed in order of composition and followed by month and year of first performance (all composed shortly before first performance unless otherwise stated)