Rossini wrote his first opera, Demetrio e Polibio in 1806 not even fifteen. His official debut was in Venice in 1810 with the opera La Cambiale di Matrimonio. In the following two decades Rossini composed 39 operas, 4 or 5 new ones per year, with some controversial premieres, such as the Barber of Seville legendary fiasco in Rome in 1816 and some extraordinary successes: La Gazza Ladra, Zelmira and Semiramide, the last opera premiered in Italy in 1823.
Opera, until then the favourite entertainment of aristocracy and educated classes, was going to change radically as a consequence of the French revolution. In the three decades of the rise and fall of Napoleon, opera social function changed completely and irrevocably.
At the beginning of his carrier, Donizetti writes mainly for the small theatres in Venice. Every new work by the young maestro was welcomed and praised by the press, as an original new development of Rossini’s style. Anna Bolena and L’Elisir d’Amore both premiered in Milan on librettos by Felice Romani, finally launched Donizetti as one of the most prominent European opera composers. These two masterpieces are the first of a list of milestones written by Donizetti that mark the history of romantic Italian theatre.
In Stendhal’s opinion Tancredi was Rossini’s best opera. In his biography he wrote: “there’s no bravery or grandeur in this opera but only the simple purity and virginity of genius”. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi was drawn from Voltaire’s tragedy Tancrede. For that libretto Rossini composed an innovative score, combining in an original way the baroque “extreme coloraturas” with the pre-Romantic simple melodies of the new belcanto.