Italian Opera

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) was the first Italian composer to win international fame, although his contemporaries Bellini and Donizetti come a close second. His comic operas were performed to great acclaim in the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, where he was musical and artistic director. A similar post in the Theatre-Italian in Paris saw first performances of further operas in which the chorus took an increasing part and a large orchestra was given greater prominence. His more than thirty operas were loved for their spirit, wit and grace. ‘Il barbiere di Seville’ remains a firm favourite as do the more serious ‘La Cenerentola’ and Guillaume Tell’. He visited Vienna in 1822 and met Beethoven. At 37 he retired from opera composition and for the rest of his life wrote little else and, remaining in Paris, became there a centre of artistic and musical life.

Vincenzo Bellini(1801-1835) was a Sicilian who although studying in Naples triumphed in Milan and in London where four of his operas were produced at Covent Garden and the King’s Theatre.

He travelled to Paris during Rossini’s time there, was very much influenced by him, and the two composers became friends. His operas have broad sweeping melodies and strong story lines. I have seen ‘I Puritani’ performed in Amsterdam and ‘Norma’ in Covent Garden. There is a simple beauty about his music which is very appealing.

Gaetano Donizetti(1797-1848) born of a poor family in Lombard also had a base in Naples where his flow of operas were performed ( he composed two to five every year) and some of which he conducted. As N.G.D.M. says, his rather florid operas survive through their ‘spontaneous melodies, their effortless dramatic pace, their fiery climaxes and their …romantic vitality’. I was present at a performance of ‘Maria Stuarda’ recently and there is a prestigious recording of ‘La fille du regiment’ , Joan Sutherland’s finest performance on disc some say with the young Pavarotti’s famous repeated high C (on band 13 of the first disc!).

Verdi whom we meet next time, acknowledged his influence.

All three composers responded to the Romantic spirit prevalent in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century, represented more in England and France by literature rather than by music. They also had the advantage of a generation of superb singers who relished the elaborate scores written for them, challenging the flexibility and range of their voices.