Rossini Turns 21, with 'Aureliano in Palmira'

woo-1504-250Can you remember what you did on your 21st birthday? OK, in the grand scheme of things you may have been hard at work on that advanced degree, or maybe immersed in your first real job. But on that particular day, many get involved in something a bit less edifying -- say, a loud party involving a drinking contest. Or two.

Gioachino Rossini, on the other hand, was a different story. It's hard to know precisely what he might have been up to on "leap-day" in February, 1813, when he turned 21. But, chances are, he was hard at work composing.

By that point in the year, Rossini had already premiered two brand new operas, with another one coming in the spring. In fact, by the time 1813 ended, he had registered one of the most prolific and successful years of any composer, at any age, completing four new operas altogether -- and they're works that display a remarkable versatility.

Rossini began 1813 with the comedic farce Il Signor Bruschino. That one premiered late in January, at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice. After that, he switched to high drama with Tancredi, first performed at another, more famous Venetian theatre, La Fenice. Then it was back to comedy, with his still-popular L'Italiana in Algeri, also in Venice. To round out the year in December, Rossini moved on to La Scala in Milan, and back to serious opera, with the historical drama that's featured here: Aureliano in Palmira.

Obviously, Rossini was an amazingly prolific composer from an early age -- writing 39 operas before retiring from the stage altogether in 1829. Still, Aureliano reveals a trick he sometimes used to speed up the compositional process: When he was pleased with an opera's music, yet sensed that the piece might not be a lasting success, he wasn't above using its music again.

So, if you listen to Aureliano in Palmira right from the beginning, you may think you've tuned in the wrong opera. That's because, while the opera has become a rarity, its overture is one of the best he ever composed. It's so good, in fact, that he used it again to kick off one of his true masterpieces: The Barber of Seville.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Rossini's Aureliano in Palmira from a festival that's become renowned for resurrecting the composer's many, unjustly neglected dramas: the annual Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. Tenor Michael Spyres stars in the title role, and soprano Jessica Pratt gives a smashing performance as Aureliano's nemesis, Queen Zenobia of Palmira. The production also features the G. Rossini Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Will Crutchfield.