Even though I am a paid-up member of the German Rossini Society, I have so far seen only eleven of Rossini’s thirty-nine operas. Most of these were staged performances (titles listed here in red), but there is one Rossini opera that I have only seen in two different concert performances ten years apart (title in green).
I have not attempted to list the rest of Rossini’s operas, the ones I have not seen yet. (I had tickets for two of these, but could not see them because of the coronavirus pandemic.)
La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract, Venice 1810) is a one-act farce in which a father tries to marry off his lovely daughter to a rich Canadian merchant, and how the daughter manages to prevent this with the help of her boyfriend and most of the other characters — including the Canadian. My lead photo, above, shows the audience and stage in the Kurhaus in Bad Wildbad. The world map in the stage set is there to help the father figure out where Canada is in relation to Europe, since he has no idea.
This was not the first opera Rossini ever composed, but it was the first one that was ever performed. He was eighteen years old at the time of the world premiere. I saw La cambiale di matrimonio several times in an open-air production by the Kammeroper (Chamber Opera) in Frankfurt, and later once at the “Rossini in Wildbad” Belcanto Opera Festival in Bad Wildbad, Germany.
L’inganno felice (The Happy Deception, Venice 1812) is another one-act farce, first performed when Rossini was twenty years old. The first (ever) Frankfurt production was outdoors in the Palmengarten by the Kammeroper in the summer of 2022.
Tancredi (Venice 1813) is a tragic opera based on the French play Tancrède by Voltaire. Like most of Rossini’s serious operas, Tancredi was a big success at the time but is seldom staged today. I have seen it twice in concert performances, first at the Old Opera in Frankfurt in 1997, conducted by Eve Queler, and again ten years later at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with René Jacobs conducting the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées.
L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Woman in Algiers, Venice 1813). Isabella, the Italian woman of the title, is in Algiers to find and rescue her boyfriend Lindoro, who has been imprisoned by a local potentate, Mustafa. This is a still-very-popular comic opera that I have seen many times in at least five different productions: in Stuttgart, in the Palmengarten in Frankfurt, in the Aalto-Theater in Essen 2007, in the opera house in Nancy 2018 and in the Kornmarkt Theater in Bregenz 2022.
Il Turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy, Milan 1814) was Rossini’s attempt to repeat the huge success that he had scored with “The Italian Woman in Algiers” the year before. Then as now, a sequel is usually not as good as the original, but “The Turk in Italy” is still clever and funny, and the music is vintage Rossini.
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville, Rome 1816) is an ever-popular comic opera based on a play by the French playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799). I have seen it in Stuttgart 1996, Oper Frankfurt 1998, Kammeroper Frankfurt 2005, Paris Opéra Comique 2006, Bern 2008, and Bad Orb 2011.
Rossini was not the first composer to make an opera out of The Barber of Seville. The most popular of the half-a-dozen or so pre-Rossini versions was the one by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), which was so popular that Rossini asked for and received Paisiello’s written permission to compose his own version.
La Gazzetta (The Gazette, Naples 1816) is based on a popular play by Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793). Don Pomponio, a newly-rich Italian businessman, travels to Paris and advertises there in one of the local newspapers, seeking to find a suitable husband for his daughter Lisetta. What he doesn’t know is that Lisetta has already found a partner of her own choosing, and is not at all willing to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I saw La Gazetta in Frankfurt in 2020 in an attractive staging by Caterina Panti Liberovici, conducted by Simone Di Felice, with Elizabeth Sutphen as Lisetta.
Otello (Othello, Naples 1816). Based on the Shakespeare play, Rossini’s Otello was often performed between 1816 and 1887, when it was quickly eclipsed by Verdi’s version. Rossini’s Otello was not performed in Frankfurt until 2019, when mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano stole the show as Desdemona’s younger sister.
For 2024, the Frankfurt Opera has scheduled revivals of Rossini’s Otello in May and Verdi’s Otello in June, so as to provide a direct comparison.
La Cenerentola (Cinderella, Rome 1817) is loosely based on the Cinderella story as told by the 17th century French author Charles Perrault (1628-1703), not by the Brothers Grimm. In the opera there is no fairy godmother; rather, it is the Prince’s wise old advisor, Alidoro, who discovers Angelina (Cinderella) and arranges for her to attend the Prince’s ball. Instead of glass slippers, Alidoro gives her two identical jeweled bracelets, one of which she gives to the Prince so he can find her again and then decide if he really wants to marry her. The reason for this change, according to the Bremerhaven program booklet, was that when the opera had its world premiere in 1817 they didn’t want to take the risk of showing a bare ankle on stage, which might have caused a scandal at the time. I have seen Rossini’s Cenerentola in Wiesbaden 1996, Kammeroper Frankfurt 1996, Nürnberg 1999, Oper Frankfurt 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2018; and Bremerhaven 2019.
La gazza ladra (The thieving magpie, Milan 1817). Here a maid is nearly executed for stealing silverware from her employer’s kitchen (which would have been an overly drastic punishment, even if she had done it), but just in time the missing items are discovered in the nest of a thieving magpie. I saw the first (ever) Frankfurt production in 2014 and 2016.
Il viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Reims, Paris 1825). This is a light-hearted opera (in Italian) that was commissioned by the French King Charles X (1757-1836), to celebrate his coronation as King of France in 1825 at the Cathedral of Reims. A group of people from several European countries all want to attend the coronation, but can’t get there because all the horses and carriages in France are already booked out. After the initial disappointment they organize a big grill party and each person sings a song from his or her native country. The last song is an aria for soprano with solo harp accompaniment, All’ombra amena. This is announced in the opera as a tribute to Charles X, and it is no doubt a more beautiful tribute than he ever deserved.
Legend has it that the new king fell asleep during the festive premiere of the opera he had commissioned, but everyone else seems to have found it amusing at the time. Il viaggio a Reims was soon forgotten, but after 150 years of neglect it made an unexpected comeback towards the end of the 20th century and is now performed quite often, which I’m sure would have astounded Rossini as much as anybody else. I saw Il viaggio a Reims several times in Frankfurt in 2004, 2006 and 2008, in an amusing production by Dale Duesing. (See my post The world’s first tourist opera.)
My photos in this post are from 2008, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2022.
I wrote the text in 2024.