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Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini was one of the most important composers of Italian opera in his time. Bellini developed a reputation for fine craftsmanship, particularly in the way he forged an intricate relationship between the music and the libretto. To perform one of his operas, singers required extremely agile voices. His music was inspired by the Romantic ideal and his flowing, exquisitely sculpted vocal lines represent the epitome of the bel canto style. His abilities and talent earned him the admiration of other composers, including Berlioz, Chopin, and even Wagner. While not a prolific composer in terms of his total output, he wrote a quantity of instrumental works, sacred vocal pieces, and an oboe concerto in addition to his operas. Bellini was born in 1801 in Catania, Sicily, to a family already steeped in music; his father and grandfather were both career musicians. He began composing before receiving any formal music education. Bellini entered the Royal College of Music of San Sebastiano, now the Naples Conservatory, in 1819 after receiving a scholarship from his native city. Bellini chiefly studied with noted composer Niccolo Zingarelli, a musician who staunchly disapproved of Gioachino Rossini's highly popular brand of opera. Zingarelli instead encouraged his students to compose with a style based around lyrical melodies, and without Rossini's limitless use of ornamentation and other compositional devices. Bellini's first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was chosen to be performed by the conservatory's students in February 1825. It was never performed outside of the conservatory, but it did serve as a source of material for at least five other operas Bellini composed. Shortly thereafter, Domenico Barbaja of the San Carlo Opera offered Bellini his first commission for an opera, which resulted in Bianca e Fernando (1826). That was followed Il pirata (1827), which was premiered at Milan and received much enthusiasm and critical acclaim. Written with librettist Felice Romani, who would collaborate with Bellini on numerous works, it served as the composer's defining moment, establishing him as an internationally acclaimed opera composer. He toured extensively throughout Europe as a result and increased his popularity and reputation each time he offered his latest opera to eager audiences. As Bellini gained experience, he settled into a working method that stressed quality instead of quantity. He composed fewer operas than others, for which he commanded higher prices. He was not, however, immune to the pressures of production. In 1829, Bellini produced two new operas, La Straniera and Zaira, premiered at Milan and Parma respectively. The latter was a sound failure, but the resourceful composer was later able to transplant its music and use it for his next work, I Capuleti e I Montecchi (1830), based on the celebrated story of Romeo and Juliet. The year 1831 proved most successful for Bellini as two of his most famous operas, La sonnambula, with a story based on a ballet of the same name, and Norma, were produced. Although Norma was unenthusiastically received, many critics and Bellini himself believed it to be his finest work. Its aria "Casta diva" is one of the evergreens of the classical vocal repertory. These were followed by a less successful composition, Beatrice di Tenda. This opera was premiered at La Fenice, Venice, on March 16, 1833, a month later than scheduled; the failure led to the falling out of Bellini and Romani. Bellini spent the summer of 1833 in London directing performances of his operas. He then moved to Paris, where he befriended several respected artists including Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. He also met Rossini, who served as a mentor to Bellini, despite the opinions expressed by Zingarelli. Bellini composed and produced his last opera, I puritani, which premiered on January 24, 1835, with a libretto written by the exiled Italian poet Count Carlo Pepoli. Unlike Bellini's previous two operas, I puritani was enthusiastically received. At the height of his career and only 33 years old, Bellini died of a chronic intestinal ailment on September 23, 1835, in a small town near Paris. Rossini, in addition to serving as a pallbearer at the funeral, also made all the necessary arrangements.
© TiVo Staff /TiVo
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