Gioachino Rossini was a celebrity composer who loved women, music, and FOOD. He was a leap year baby, too.
Rossini sounds like that fun, entertaining guy you always want to have over at parties. A bit of an opera child prodigy – he was composing and having them performed by his early 20’s – he was successful enough to maintain a rate of two to four operas a year on demand. He had that Italian flair for utterly singable melodies, and wasn’t above borrowing from himself now and then.
Rossini wrote The Barber of Seville when he was 24 and it has been an audience favourite ever since. Rossini took the light approach, going for the laughs and sheer entertainment value and didn’t delve into the deeper storylines. When Beethoven first heard it, he knew its lasting value: “It will be played as long as Italian operas exist.” He was right!
Rossini moved to Paris, and composed William Tell, which he considered his crowning achievement (and is known to many as “The Lone Ranger”, when it was used for the opening credits of a TV series in the 1950’s).
After composing nearly forty operas in twenty years, Rossini, by this point, was a celebrity whose movements were reported by the press. He retired and for the next forty years, did a lot of cooking and eating (there are many dishes ending with “… alla Rossini” because he either created them or dishes were named after him). For the premiere of William Tell in Paris, chefs at local restaurants prepared an apple tart with a sugar arrow on top. A friend, who lost a bet to Rossini, owed him a few truffle-stuffed turkeys. The friend tried to avoid paying up, saying there weren’t any good truffles that season. “No, no,” Rossini responded, “that’s a lie put out by turkeys who don’t want to be stuffed”. He enjoyed the good life, gained a lot of weight, was a bon vivant, and swapped one beautiful soprano wife for another. Rossini, born on a Leap Year, died on Friday the 13th at his home in Paris, two weeks after throwing his last party.
Below is an excerpt from The Rabbit of Seville. It’s a recording of a live concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, playing along to the animation of the legendary Bugs Bunny. It is one of the most popular Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons released in 1950. It was directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese. You can hear the delight of the live audience, and I like to think part of that is for the music, along with the beloved bunny.
Gioachino Rossini was born on February 29, 1792, in Pesaro, Italy, and died November 13, 1868 in Passy, France.