Brilliant, dashing, the most sought-after composer of opera in the Romantic age, Gioacchino Rossini captured the ears and hearts of music lovers throughout Europe. From his native Italy to Paris to London, he mounted triumph after triumph—works like the grandly comic The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, and his masterpiece, William Tell. Prodigiously talented, by the age of thirty-two, in 1820, he had written thirty-nine operas and commanded universal adoration. Then he fell silent for more than forty years. The mystery that drove Rossini from the forefront of Europe’s cultural stage and that curtailed an unparalleled operatic career lies at the center of Gaia Servadio’s perceptive and revealing biography. With the benefit of previously unpublished letters and other new material, Servadio traces the history of Rossini—a man who exchanged ideas with Richard Wagner and in Paris salons kept company with Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, and Eugene Delacroix—from a difficult, impoverished childhood through his complicated relationships with his divas, to his battles with nervous illnesses. She sets Rossini’s life, too, against the sweep of European history in an age defined and betrayed by Napoleon.
The Sunday Telegraph – Michael Kennedy
This excellent and very readable biography of Gioachino Rossini does not pretend to tell us anything new about his music. For that we can go elsewhere. But Gaia Servadio has written a lively, well-researched account of his strange life which she sets against the background of a Europe in turmoil … A deeper reason for his depression about which the author is illuminating is that Rossini increasingly felt out of tune with the age in which he lived. He belonged to the immediate post-Mozart era. Beethoven’s soul-stirring Romanticism was not for him, nor was Verdi’s crusading nationalism….She vividly describes Rossini’s meeting with Beethoven in Vienna in 1822 … Years later he met Wagner and got on surprisingly well with him in spite of their widely divergent approach to opera…..Gaia Servadio has served this endearing composer well.
Ms Servadio divides Rossini’s life into five acts, as if it were a drama, and she has had access to a large number of hitherto unknown letters from Rossini to his parents and his first wife, the sopranoIsabella Colbran, for whom he composed Armida, La Donna del lago and Semiramide¹.These letters give an intimate feel to the narrative, but the most original structure of the book comes from Ms Servadio¹s way of showing how Rossini is the link between the age of Beerhoven and that of Wagner….Gaia Servadio tells Rossini’s story well.
Richard Osborne in Gramophone
It is an agreeble read distinguished by the fact that the author writes with an inborn feel for Italian history and Italian culture….The Balzac material is of particular interest.
This book is a very readable short life of a simply glorious composer and it has sent me back to Rossini with renewed enthusiasm.