Gioachino Rossini wrote 39 operas, all before the age of 37. Perhaps his famous is The Barber of Seville — whose subtitle (“The Useless Precaution”) inspires this post. After penning Guillaume Tell, his last and most epic operatic work, Rossini largely retired but lived on for another four decades. His Stabat mater, which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform June 21-24 under Riccardo Muti, comes from this “retirement” period, when he preoccupied himself with indulging his passions as an amateur chef and gourmand.
Food and music proved to be Rossini’s animating forces. “Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life,” he once said, “and they pass like bubbles of a bottle of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a complete fool.”
Here are a few more facts about and witticisms from the man affectionately known as “The Swan of Pesaro.”
A leap-year birth: Born on Feb. 29, 1792, Rossini died in 1868 — at age 19, if following leap-year conventions, or 76, if not.
The Rossini Rocket: Rossini made frequent use of the crescendo, in which music gradually builds in volume and speeds to a climax. The practice earned him the nickname “Signor Crescendo” during his career, and the technique itself became known as a “Rossini crescendo,” or better yet, “Rossini rocket.” Not everyone, however, was on board with the concept: “The crescendo degenerated into a mere mannerism with Rossini, in whose works it is used with wearisome iteration,” reads the entry for the term crescendo in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
A king of quips: Known for his humor, Rossini effortlessly produced a series of bon mots now enshrined in music history. Among the most memorable: ”Give me a laundry list, and I’ll set it to music.” ”How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers.” “Monsieur Wagner has good moments, but awful quarters of an hour!”
A pop culture muse: Rossini’s works inspired many of the greatest hits of American pop culture, including “The Lone Ranger” theme (based on the “March of the Swiss Soldiers” segment from the William Tell overture). Arguably the most inspired is the Chuck Jones cartoon “Rabbit of Seville” (1950) in which Bugs Bunny doubles as Figaro to torment the always hapless Elmer Fudd. Among the funniest moments of the parody are when Bugs sings: How DO?/Welcome to my shop./Let me cut your mop!/Let me shave your crop./Daintily, daintily. Hey, you!/Don’t look so perplexed./Why must you be vexed?/Can’t you see you’re next?/Yes, you’re next, you’re so NEXT!
His musical heroes: Throughout his career, Rossini remained loyal to the composers he first studied during his childhood. In his youth, his classmates nicknamed him “Il Tedeschino” (“The Little German”) because of his devotion to Mozart (who of course was Austrian, but why quibble?). Later, Rossini would proclaim: “I take Beethoven twice a week, Haydn four times, but Mozart every day … Mozart is always adorable.”