Libretto Thematology in Rossini's Operas and Its Formation by the Composer
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Libretto Thematology in Rossini's Operas and Its Formation by the Composer

Authors: Areti Tziboula, Anna-Maria Rentzeperi-Tsonou


The present study examines the way Gioachino Rossini’s librettos are selected and formed demonstrating the evolutionary trajectory of the composer during his operatic career. Rossini, a dominant figure in the early 19th century Italian opera, is demanding in his choice of librettos and has a preference for subjects inspired by European literature, of his time or earlier. He begins his operatic career with farsae and operas buffae, but he mainly continues with operas seriae, to end it with a grand opera that conforms to the spirit of romanticism as manifested in Paris of his time. His farsae, operas buffae and comic operas in general are representative of the trends of the time: in some the irrational and the exaggeration prevail, in others the upheavals, others are semi-serious and emotional with a happy ending and others are comedies with more realistic characters, but usually the styles are mixed and complement each other. The stories that refer to his modern era unfold mocking human characters, beliefs attitudes and their expressions in every day habits, satirizing current affairs, presenting innovative elements in dramatic intervention and dealing with a variety of social and national issues. Count Ory, his final comic work, consists of a complex witty urban comic opera entwined with romantic sensitivity. The themes he chooses for his operas seriae are characterized by tragic passion, take place in the era of the Trojan War, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and the Age of the Crusades and are set in Italy, England, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, Israel and Egypt. In his early works he sketches the characters remotely, objectively and with static, reflexive emotional expression and a happy ending. Then he continues with operas for the San Carlo Theater, which are characterized by experimentation and innovation to end up his Italian operatic career with the ostensibly backward but in fact tragic Semiramis followed in Paris by William Tell, his ultimate dramatic achievement. There are indirect references to burning issues of his era but the censorship of the time does not allow direct reference to topics that would upset the status quo. In addition, Rossini lives in a temporal period of peace after the Napoleonic Wars and by temperament he resists openly engaging in political strife. Furthermore, the need for survival necessitates the search for the more profitable contracts. In conclusion, Rossini, as a liberal personality, shapes his librettos without interruptions or setbacks, with ideas that come out after a lot of thought and a strong sense of purpose. He moves from the moral and aesthetic clarity of the classic tradition of his early works to a more elaborate and morally ambiguous romantic style in a moderate and hesitant way.

Keywords: Gioachino Rossini, libretto, nineteenth century music, opera.

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