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Paper 11: Rossini's Italian Operas

Description of the course

‘No composer in the first half of the nineteenth century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini’ (Philip Gossett).  This course will survey Rossini’s production (with special emphasis on his Italian operas), while placing it within the context of operatic and cultural life in Europe at the time. 

We will go back and forth between a close look at representative works and a broader historical picture, including: the world of opera (theatrical life, the production system and its influence on the compositional process and on the nature of the sources, the main genres); the emergence and treatment of conventional forms, poetic and musico-dramatic (a field in which Rossini established standards that would influence composers for the best part of the century); the fertile exchange between opera and other fields of culture (literature, drama, the visual arts); the possible meanings of an opera in its various political and cultural contexts.  We will also consider aspects of Rossini’s fortune over the centuries, from the influence he had on his contemporaries up to the ‘Rossini renaissance’ of recent decades, and discuss matters of interpretation (on the part of singers, stage directors and scholars).   

Suggestions for preliminary study

You should begin by familiarising yourself with one or two representative works (say, an opera buffa such as Il barbiere di Siviglia and/or an opera seria such as Tancredi).  This will entail reading about the work and its plot in a standard description such as that in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera (where, besides general entries about composers, there are individual ones for each opera); reading the libretto in English translation with the Italian original alongside; listening to a recording with the libretto in hand.  Scores and video recordings will provide the opportunity for further steps in the process of familiarisation. 

Lecturer: Stefano Castelvecchi


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