Monday 5 December 2016

Springtime in Paris with Monsieur Crescendo

Published 27/03/2010 | 05:00

Like the wandering minstrel, the travelling sports reporter has his favourite ports of call, and Paris is one of mine. Back there for the rugby, I was taking a constitutional, reacquainting myself with the quartier, when I found myself in the Rue Rossini, named after the 'compositeur italien', who spent his latter years in the city.

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It's a narrow one-way side street with the usual hotpotch of bars, cafes, and apartment houses, but it's also just a hop and a skip from the Opera, where William Tell, the last musical drama Rossini was to write, brought the house down when it premiered there in 1829.

Gioachino Rossini was born in a town on Italy's Adriatic coast, and music was in his blood. His father was a trumpeter, his mother a singer. Not much of an academic, he found performing easy. He'd been a boy soprano, and when his voice broke, he turned to accompanying singers, and conducting. Composing was the next step.

First it was the standard comic opera of the time, but then he developed his style, and made it his own. Flamboyant bel canto singing, intricate and elaborate melodies, unusual rhythms, and a particular fondness for using the crescendo all became Rossini trademarks.

His greatest success was his 1816 comic opera The Barber of Seville, dashed off in just a couple of weeks, and greeted with derision on its first performance in Rome. Attitudes soon changed, though.

And there's an Irish connection. Rossini's baritone of choice for the role of Figaro, the barber of the title, was none other than Michael Balfe, born in Dublin, and a leading light in opera.

Over the next few years, the public couldn't get enough of Rossini's operas. Rossini got to meet Beethoven, the doyen of music, around this time. "Ah," said the great man, "so you're the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It'll be played as long as Italian opera exists."

Beethoven was spot on. Whatever about Tancredi, The Italian Girl in Algiers, or any of the other 38 in total that Rossini wrote, it's The Barber that's most likely to feature in a season these days.

La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) is best known for its overture, where the man the Parisians knew as Monsieur Crescendo uses snare drums to great effect. It's the same story with William Tell. Rossini's greatest hit is the wonderful furious gallop of the conclusion of its overture, which will forever be associated with the 1950s TV series The Lone Ranger.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTE Lyric FM from 9.30 each Saturday morning. ghamilton@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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