Saturday, 7 May 2016


Gioachino Rossini
It’s time to pour into yet another Historic Letter – this time from the pen of 19th century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini to one author and art collector Edmond Michotte, as re-printed in Michotte’s 1858 anthology Souvenirs: Une Soirée chez Rossini à Beau-Séjour (Passy) (An Evening at Rossini’s in Beau-Sejour (Passy).

In the letter written by Rossini (to be fair, one should preface the authorship of the original letter as having come from the alleged hand of Rossini, as Michotte’s book would not be published until 1858 – a full 42 years after the premiere of the opera mentioned below.) 

The composer describes for Michotte in surprisingly shocking – yet delightfully humorous – detail of his utter indifference to a crowd of adoring fans who had the audacity of rousing the grouchy composer from a most pleasant slumber on the evening following the second performance of the rotund one’s 1816 opera buffa The Barber of Seville  (the same work which had been successfully salvaged by an honest opera-going public following the infiltration of claquers paid off by a rivaling composer at it’s premiere at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in February of that year.)

Rossini, weary-eyed as he is so rudely aroused from his slumber, at first mistakes the crowd as a fire breathing mob ready to tear his lodgings asunder in retaliation for the disastrous premiere (with a poor tenor paying for his employer's rage with his face!)
“I was sleeping peacefully when I was suddenly awakened by a huge noise out in the street, together with a bright light from torches; as soon as I got up I saw that they were making for my hotel. Still, half asleep, and bearing in mind the scene of the night before, I imagined that they were coming to set fire to the building, and I fled to a stable at the rear of a courtyard. However, after a few moments, I heard Garcia[1] shouting for me at the top of his voice…Hurry up. Come on! Listen to those shouts of Bravo! Bellissimo, Figaro! An unprecedented success! The street is full of people. They want to see you.’

‘Tell them,’ I replied…‘that I f*ck them, their bravos and all the rest of it! I’m not coming out of here!’

I don’t know how Garcia put my refusal to that excited crowd – in fact, he was hit in the eye by an orange, which gave him a black eye that didn’t go away for several days..

Meanwhile, the noise in the street continued to increase.

Next, the owner of the hotel arrived, panting: ‘If you don’t come, they’ll set fire to the windows! They’re breaking the windows now..’

‘that’s your business,’ I told him. ‘all you have to do is stay away from the windows…I’m staying right where I am.’

Finally, I heard some breaking panes.

Then, weary with the fight, the crowd at last dispersed. I left my safe place and went back to bed. Unfortunately, those brigands had put out two windows opposite my bed..

It was January.

I would be lying if I told you that the freezing air penetrating into my room gave me a charming night.”

This delightfully amusing anecdote certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “a rude awakening!”

[1]Manuel Garcia, the tenor who played the role of Count Almaviva and who would form from members of his own family an Italian operatic troupe that would rise to prominence both collectively and individually (just one of it’s many famed members was the beloved soprano Maria Malibran), particularly in New York, where the troupe, alongside Rossini would stage the first ever Italian-language opera to be staged in the U.S. State with Il Barbiere, which premiered at the Park Theatre on 29 November 1825.

[2]Rossini must have penned this note some time after Il Barbiere’s premiere at Rome (or had a poor memory): the first production of the opera occurred in February of 1816 (the 20th).

Enjoy below Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez sing Almaviva’s act I aria Ecco, ridente in cielo from The Barber of Seville:


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