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7th annual Rossini Opera Festival hits a high note

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A SUMMER'S evening. A seaside village. A full moon reflected across the waters of the Adriatic. Suddenly the night air is rent by a burst of applause, then the sound of a symphony orchestra. The scene: the Piazza del Popolo. The occasion: an outdoor concert. The seaside resort: Pesaro, the city in which Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini was born almost 200 years ago, and which today honors him with an annual Rossini Opera Festival each August and September. (This year's started July 30 and ends Sept. 18, the longest yet.) Now in its seventh season, the festival aspires to the kind of international prominence enjoyed by Salzburg's Mozart Festival.

Located on the coast of Italy, Pesaro is a quiet, bucolic town of just under 100,000 inhabitants. Here, on Via Rossini (a street less than a mile in length that runs at a right angle to the seashore) is the narrow, four-story brick house where Rossini was born on Feb. 29, 1792; here is the town's main square, the Piazza del Popolo, and the Teatro G. Rossini, the center of the festival.

Known originally as the Teatro del Sole when it was founded in 1637, the house has gone through a series of renovations and reconstructions because of repeated fires and the ravages of World War II. Today it is a small jewel of an opera house, the interior laid out in the horseshoe shape so popular during the baroque era. It seats less than 100 on the main floor, above which rise four tiers of boxes surmounted by a gallery for standees. The acoustics are excellent.

As the festival has grown, the need for performance space has grown as well. This year's festival has been greatly expanded to include concerts in the main square, each of which has been televised throughout Italy. And the auditorium of a music conservatory that occupies the 18th-century Palazzo Olivieri-Machirelli has been fitted to serve as an additional spot for opera productions.

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