The legacy of Gioachino Rossini is important to Pesaro, a handsome city on the Adriatic coast some 40 km south of Rimini. The local music conservatory, which maintains a rich archive of Rossini manuscripts and portraits, the opera house (formerly the Teatro del Sole, where the composer’s father Giuseppe was a brass player in the orchestra) and an annual summer opera festival all bear his name. The birthplace of the ‘Swan of Pesaro’, a medium-sized 18th-century house in what is now the Via Rossini (it was then the Via del Duomo), and his home until 1800, has been a museum since 1904.
After two years of renovation and restoration, the birthplace reopened in 1989. The emphasis here is more artistic than musical: the collection on display is elegantly laid out and altogether visually superb. The ground-floor rooms are devoted to Rossini’s career; the five on the first floor, where the family rented two rooms at the rear, address his life. Nearly all the items on display are originals – a seemingly endless procession of.
Rossini’s birthplace in Pesaro portraits and prints of the composer, his singers in costumes from original or early productions, charting his triumphs in Italy, Paris, Vienna and London, and a theatre curtain of 1816. There are busts and medallions and laurel wreaths. Rossini had a long life, and for most of it he was a celebrity: so there exist numerous likenesses of him (including photographs). His genial appearance made him a ripe subject for caricature; and upstairs, in what was once the family kitchen and living-room, an array of caricatures, trenchant yet always affectionate, is on display. The room in which the composer is traditionally believed to have been born, on 29 February 1792 (leap year), displays only portraits of Rossini’s parents and the young Rossini himself. There exists one engraving, captioned ‘sur son dix-huitieme anniversaire’, where he looks fully 72: this can be seen in one of the two rooms devoted to portraits of Rossini and his family, along with letters, medallions, playbills and documents (some inevitably in facsimile); one room also contains his Venetian square piano, built by Luigi Heffer in 1809. The final first-floor room chronicles his last days (he died in 1868), and beyond – his homes in Paris, his will, his deathbed (with the famous Gustave Dore engraving), his funeral, his burial at Pere Lachaise and, when the Italians reclaimed their idol, his reburial in 1887 at Santa Croce in Florence. Temporary exhibitions relating to each year’s Rossini opera festival productions are presented in the basement, where there are also audio -visual facilities for visitors. There is another, rather private shrine to Rossini in Pesaro, within the Conserva-torio – which, established in 1882, bears his name not only in recognition of the local boy who made good but in acknowledgment of the fact that he endowed it and was in effect its founder. As an adjunct to the library, which itself is a centre of Rossini research (the Centro di Studi Rossiniani was set up in 1940), there is a large room, kept locked, known as the ‘Tempietto rossiniano’. To reach it, you pass through the Sala dei Marmi, where there is a collection of historic keyboard instruments and a fine ceiling embodying a history of Pesaro. The ‘little temple’ itself is a large room, gently lit, with 19th-century wall lights and embossed wallpaper, a marble floor and a painted ceiling. Along three walls are display cases, containing ‘mes auto-graphes’, some of them in neat stacks, some of them opened to view significant pages. Six of his operas are there, including Armida, Otello and Elisabetta Display of caricatures in the Rossini museum Rossini statue in the courtyard of the Conservatorio Statale di Musica ‘Gioachino Rossini, Pesaro d’Inghilterra. There are non-operatic works too, French songs, Italian choral pieces, piano music. And there is the Petite messe solennelle, with his own drily witty inscription: ‘Douze chanteurs de trois sexes, hommes, femmes et castrats’. There are some letters, as well as busts and the deathbed grisaille of Gustave Dore. It is something of a privilege to be admitted to this very special museum, truly a little temple to the great man.