The Top Ten Underrated Composers
By Michael Zwiebach
No. 1, Gioachino Rossini:
“Wait, isn’t he one of the most celebrated composers of Italian opera — the master who wrote Barber of Seville?” I agree he is, which is why it’s so surprising that his last, great comic opera, Le Comte Ory receives its Metropolitan Opera premiere this month. And by the way, when’s the last time we’ve seen his greatest masterpiece, William Tell? Or Tancredi, the epochal opera he wrote at the same time as The Italian Girl in Algiers? (That opera’s carpet of great tunes has been twice recorded, and it used to give my Conservatory students chills, yet no production is in sight.) And what about The Lady of the Lake or Otello, operas that helped define Italian Romanticism? If there were three or four great Mozart or Verdi operas or a couple of late Beethoven symphonies that didn’t regularly get performed and were hardly known to music lovers, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you?
On the other hand, Rossini made about 10,000 ducats/lire/Italian units of money per opera, at a time when most composers received 800 or less. He retired rich before he was 40, married a second wife half his age, helped Donizetti and Bellini get their feet wet in Paris successfully, wrote two of the great sacred works of the period (the Stabat Mater and Petite Messe Solenelle), had a decadent steak recipe named after him (tournedos Rossini), and lived long enough to say snarky things about Wagner.
So some of his operas don’t get performed now; Rossini still had the best of it.