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Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Auditorium Parco della Musica di Roma
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Rossini in Roma

Even though he never lived in the city, Rossini stayed in Rome several times between 1815 and 1821, in those that Bruno Cagli defined “Roman leaves”, occasions for experimenting new formulas in his music, especially in the field of comic opera.
The initial encounter between Rossini and Rome was in 1812 when he composed his first complete opera Demetrio e Polibio for the Valle theatre. The work sprung from the composer's friendship with the Mombelli family. In fact that occasion not only di tenor Domenico and his daughters, Ester and Marianna, perform at the première, but the libretto was by Domenico's wife (Vincenza Viganò-Mombelli) and the tenor also added some musical pieces he had composed. The opera was a success and shortly after Rossini was back on the city's stages with the Roman premières of L'inganno Felice and Tancredi (1814, Valle and Apollo theatres),and L'Italiana in Algeri (1815, Valle), which all obtain remarkable results.
Portrait of young Rossini


L'Italiana in Algeri – Sinfonia – Concert of 20th April 2004

In 1815 a new opera composed for the Valle, the “semi-serious drama” Torvaldo e Dorliska with a libretto by Cesare Strebini, was received with perplexity by critics and, most of all, by the audience which probably hoped for a comic plot. After all Rossini was already engaged in his reform of comic opera, started with L'Italiana in Algeri, and which he would fully complete on the Roman stages.


Torvaldo e Dorliska – Ouverture – Concert of 10th November 1997

On 26th December 1815 Rossini signed a contract which bonded him to compose for the Argentina theatre the “second comic opera” for the Roman Carnival by February 1816. After declining a collaboration with the initially chosen poet Giacomo Ferretti, Rossini turned to Cesare Strebini, younger and somewhat more “accommodating” but also very talented (as he had been able to appreciate through their previous collaboration). After numerous vicissitudes, typical of the picaresque nature of the composer, on 20th February 1816 Almaviva, o sia l'inutil precauzione was staged with the audience booing loudly; but already on the second night what could have been Rossini's worst failure became an extraordinary success and one of his major triumphs. Since then Il Barbiere di Siviglia is one of the most famous, performed and cited operas in the world (as Beethoven himself said when he met Rossini). And it is with the Barbiere that Rossini completes his reform of comic opera, where together with the usual young lovers and aged tyrants, the character of Figaro bursts out, smart exemplary of a rising middle class, clever and utilitarian but also inexorably fascinating and, after all, so 'Roman'.


Il Barbiere di Siviglia – sinfonia – Concert of 24th March 1997

As soon as he left Rome, Rossini had already agreed to compose a new comic opera for the inauguration of the Valle theatre, Carnival 1817. This time Rossini chose Ferretti and the fruitful collaboration with the Roman poet gave life to Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo. Similarly to the Barbiere the opera obtained a great success only after an initial hostility of the audience.
This work, which lacks the fairy elements of the original story, places itself within Rossini's new theatrical vision: in fact the composer felt detached from the Ancien Regime and the Enlightenment ideals.
Still in 1817 Rossini tried a serious opera and composed a work for the Carnival inauguration of the Argentina theatre. Adelaide di Borgogna (with a libretto by Giovanni Schmidt) was staged at the end of the year and it was clearly unsuccessful: mediocre singers and a short time to compose the opera contributed to put send it in the oblivion: in fact Rossini even reused some parts for future works.



Argentina theatre in modern times
In 1821 Rossini was back in Rome to stage a new opera, this time at the just refurbished Apollo theatre: Matilde di Shabran. The composer asked for Ferretti's collaboration once again; the poet, after some arguing and trouble, delivered a semi-serious libretto, with a medieval setting where dramatic and comic elements mix within a dense and articulate plot. For the initial version the composer used various self-borrowings and even asked for the collaboration of Giovanni Pacini who composed some pieces, which Rossini eventually rewrote for the Neapolitan version of the opera. Although Rossini's friend and living legend Niccolò Paganini conducted the première (as a last minute substitute) the opera wasn't particularly successful with the Roman audience. 
Matilde di Shabran score.
Rome, Ratti e Cencetti lithograph
It was probably because of the misunderstandings with the Roman audience or simply because of his many commitments in Naples that Rossini definitely departed from Rome. Actually in this same period we can see the beginning of an artistic crisis which would lead to Rossini's long creative 'silence'.
Rossini had a last encounter with Rome some twenty five years later, in 1846, when the governor of Rome, Giuseppe Spada, persuaded him to compose a celebratory cantata for the election of pope Pious the Ninth.





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