Rossini overtures

During the latter part of the nineteenth century until the latter part of the twentieth, most of Rossini’s operas (the chief exception being The Barber of Seville) disappeared from the repertoire. Many of their overtures, at the same time, became mainstays of the orchestral repertoire. It is therefore ironic that Rossini hated writing them and put them off as long as possible. In an undated letter he advised a young colleague:

Wait till the evening before the opening night. Nothing primes inspiration like necessity, whether it takes the form of  a copyist waiting for your work or the coercion of an exasperated impresario tearing his hair out in handfuls. In my day all the impresarios in Italy were bald at thirty.

I wrote the overture to Othello in a little room at the Barbaja Palace, in which the baldest and fiercest of those impresarios had locked my by force with nothing but a plate of macaroni and the threat that I should not leave the room aloof until I had written the last note. I wrote the overture to La Gazza ladra on the day of the first performance in the theater itself, where I was imprisoned by the director and watched over by four stage hands, who had instructions to throw my manuscript out of the window page by page to the copyists who were waiting to transcribe it below. In the absence of pages, they were to throw me.

With the Barber I did better still. I didn’t compose an overture, but simply took one that had been meant for Elisabetta; the public was delighted. I wrote the overture to Comte Ory while fishing, with my feet in the water, in the company of Signor Aguardo, who was talking about Spanish finance. The one for William Tell was done under more or less similar circumstances. As for Moses, I just didn’t write one at all.


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