Gioachino Rossini

Composer Gioachino Rossini

Known as “The Swan of Pesaro,” Rossini was the most popular composer of the first half of the 19th century. Rossini’s highly ornate musical style revolutionized the art form, inaugurating the “Golden Century” of Italian opera.

Vital Statistics
February 29, 1792, Pesaro, Italy
November 13, 1868, Passy (suburb of Paris)
Performed As:
Pianist, singer
During Lifetime:
Rossini’s music becomes the foundation of the famous music-publishing empire founded by Giovanni Ricordi in Milan. Gas streetlights are introduced in Paris and other major European cities.
Biographical Outline
  • First gigs, 1804-1811: Assistant conductor (maestro al cembalo) in theaters in and around Bologna. From 1806 on, he also supplies replacement arias for singers. Also in 1806, he enrolls in the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, where he studies piano, voice, and counterpoint with the renowned instructor Padre Saverio Mattei.
  • One-act farces: Rossini’s career begins in the smaller theaters of Venice. By the end of 1812 Rossini has composed eight operas, five of them farces.
  • Making a living, 1813-1815: Without effective copyright law, composers could only make money from new works, or from performances they themselves directed. Rossini’s first two international hits, the serious opera Tancredi and the comic opera L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian girl in Algiers), premiere three months apart, in Venice, in 1813.
  • Comic genius, 1816: Il barbiere di Siviglia (The barber of Seville) receives its first performance in Rome. Rossini returns to that city a few months later to produce La Cenerentola (Cinderella, January 1817).
  • Naples, 1815-22: The Teatro San Carlo becomes Rossini’s home base, and he soon becomes its artistic director. Since the San Carlo only plays serious opera, Rossini composes nine of them in Naples. His Otello (1816) is a landmark in the development of 19th-century opera.
  • Paris, 1824-29: Now internationally famous, Rossini travels to Vienna and London, producing his operas, and being feted by aristocrats and the public. Finally, he signs a contract with the French government, making him head of the Théâtre Italien (Italian Theater) in Paris. At the French-language Paris Opera, Rossini produces his crowning masterpiece, Guillaume Tell (William Tell, 1829).
  • Retirement: Beset with health problems, Rossini writes no further operas after William Tell, and writes only a few other pieces (a setting of the Stabat Mater prayer, and a set of songs) in the 1830s. After the July revolution in Paris, in 1830, his contract is suspended; he returns to Bologna in 1837.
  • Last years: Rossini builds a house in the suburbs of Paris in 1855. Here he writes more than 150 shorter pieces (songs, piano pieces, and the like) and the Petite messe solennelle (Little solemn Mass). He remains, till his death, the Grand Old Man of Italian opera.
Fun Facts
  • Leap-year baby: In 1868, a few months before he died, Rossini celebrated his 19th "actual" birthday.
  • Horn fed: Gioachino’s father played the French horn, an instrument that has many important solos in the son’s operas.
  • Music machine: Rossini composed the vast majority of his more than 40 operas in little more than a decade, 1810-1822.
  • Depression: Rossini suffered from depression and neurasthenic illnesses, which were not understood in his day.
  • Mentor: He advised both Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, the stars of the next generation, when they were in Paris, and he shepherded major works by each of them through the Theatre Italien.
  • Great wit: In his later years, Rossini was known as a great conversationalist and wit, as well as a lover of fine food.
Recommended Biography
Explore the Music
  • Operas: Rossini is best known as the composer of The Barber of Seville, one of the most popular comic operas of all time. The overtures to his operas are also extremely famous. In the past few decades, Rossini’s music has experienced a renaissance, leading to performances of his serious works and a new appreciation of his entire body of music.
  • Code Rossini: Rossini’s aria forms, style of vocal writing, and orchestration became the conventional models for Italian opera until about 1850.
  • Singers first: Rossini’s operas are known for their ornamental vocal style, with lots of fast scale-runs and trills in the singer’s upper register.
  • Who wears the pants?: In Rossini’s day, the tenor was only slowly becoming the standard voice-type for the male romantic lead. Rossini wrote many male roles for women’s voices, because they were closer to the sound of the castrato, the voice type that had dominated Italian opera in the 18th century.
  • Attention, please: In Rossini’s day members of the audience rarely stopped talking to each other, which is why his overtures are designed to grab your attention.
Recommended Websites
  • Overtures
    • Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI Great Artists of the Century, 2004)
    • Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado (DG 1991)
  • Farces
  • Il Signor Bruschino (1812)
    • DVD: Alessandro Corbelli/Amelia Felle/David Kuebler; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gianluigi Gelmetti; production from the Schwetzingen Festival, 1989, Michael Hampe, dir.
    • CD: Samuel Ramey/Kathleen Battle/Frank Lopardo; English Chamber Orchestra/ Ion Marin
  • Comic Operas
    • Il barbiere di Siviglia (The barber of Seville, 1816)
      • DVD: Hermann Prey/Teresa Berganza/Luigi Alva; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Claudio Abbado; Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, dir.
      • Gino Quilico/Cecilia Bartoli/David Kuebler; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gabriele Ferro; production from the Schwetzinger Festspiele, Michael Hampe, dir.
      • CD: Thomas Hampson/Suzanne Mentzer/Jerry Hadley; Toscana Orchestra/Gianluigi Gelmetti (EMI 2000). Out of print, but available at Arkiv Music (
      • Hermann Prey/Teresa Berganza/Luigi Alva; London Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (DG, 1998)
    • L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian girl in Algiers, 1813)
      • DVD: Marilyn Horne/Paolo Montarsolo/Douglas Ahlstedt; Metropolitan Opera/James Levine; Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, dir.
      • Jennifer Larmore/Simone Alaimo/Bruce Ford; Paris National Opera/Bruno Campanella; Andrei Serban, dir.
      • CD: Marilyn Horne/Samuel Ramey/Ernesto Palacio; I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone (Erato, 1991); ITALIAN-ONLY libretto.
      • Jennifer Larmore/John Del Carlo/Raul Gimenez; Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Jesus Lopez-Cobos
    • La Cenerentola (Cinderella, 1817)
      • DVD: Frederica von Stade/Francisco Araiza/Paolo Montarsolo; Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Claudio Abbado; Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, dir.
      • Cecilia Bartoli/Raul Gimenez/Enzo Dara; Houston Grand Opera/Christoph Eschenbach; Fabio Sparvoli, dir.
      • Blu-Ray: Ruxandra Donose/Maxim Mironov/Luciano di Pasquale/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski; Glyndebourne Festival, Peter Hall, dir.
      • CD: Cecilia Bartoli/William Matteuzzi/Enzo Dara; Orchestra of the Teatro Communale, Bologna/Riccardo Chailly
      • Jennifer Larmore/Raul Jimenez/Gino Quilico; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Carlo Rizzi. Out of print, but available at Arkiv Music (
      • Teresa Berganza/Luigi Alva/Paolo Montarsolo; London Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (DG, 2006)
  • French Grand Opera
    • Guillaume Tell (1829)
      • Sherrill Milnes/Luciano Pavarotti/Mirella Freni; National Philharmonic Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly. Sung in Italian. One of Pavarotti’s greatest recordings.
  • Serious Operas: Try one...
    • Tancredi (1813)
      • DVD: Daniela Barcellona/Darina Takova/Raul Gimenez; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale, Florence/Riccardo Frizza; Pier Luigi Pizzi, director (TDK, 2007)
      • CD: Vesselina Kasarova/Eva Mei/Ramon Vargas; Munich Radio Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (RCA, 1996)
    • La donna del lago (The lady of the lake, 1819): Atmospheric, 16th-century, Scottish setting; wild plot; no overture: Could this be the first Italian Romantic opera? It’s certainly one of Rossini’s most melodically ingratiating scores.
      • CD: Sonia Ganassi/Marianna Pizzolato/Maxim Mironov; Southwest German Radio Orchestra/Alberto Zedda (Naxos, 2008). Text available online at (No English translation.)
      • Carmen Gianattasio/Patricia Bardon/Kenneth Tarver; Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Maurizio Benini (Opera Rara, 2007). Great recording, but sit down for the list price.