Vincenzo Bellini


Born: 1801   Died: 1835   Country: Italy   Period: Romantic
Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini was one of the most important composers of Italian opera in his time. He was born in 1801 in Catanina, 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 developed a reputation for fine craftsmanship, particularly in the way he forged an intricate relationship between the music and Read more the libretto. To perform one of his operas, singers required extremely agile voices. His abilities and talent earned him the admiration of other composers, including Berlioz, Chopin, and even Wagner, and his flowing, exquisitely sculpted vocal lines represent the epitome of the bel canto ideal.

Bellini entered the Royal College of Music of San Sebastiano, now the Naples Conservatory, in 1819. Although he started off in elementary classes, he progressed rapidly and was granted free tuition by 1820. He soon developed into a teacher, becoming a primo maestrino in 1824. Bellini's first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was chosen to be performed by the conservatory's students. After the initial performance in February 1825, it was performed repeatedly throughout the year. This particular work 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 Gernando (1826). That first commission was followed by a second from Barbaja, Il pirata (1827), and led to a long-term collaboration between Bellini and librettist Felice Romani. The premiere of Il pirata on October 27, 1827, at La Scala, Milan, established Bellini as an internationally acclaimed opera composer.

As Bellini gained experience and recognition, he settled into a working method that stressed quality instead of quantity. He composed fewer operas, for which he commanded higher prices. He was not, however, immune to the pressures of production. His opera Zaira (1829), written with Romani for the inauguration of the Teatro Ducale at Parma, was hurriedly completed; the opera was a notable failure and was never produced again. He rebounded, though, with I Capuleti e i Montecchi (based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) in 1830.

The year 1831 proved most successful for Bellini as two of his most famous operas, La sonnambula 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 two operas 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 composed and produced his last opera, I puritani, which premiered on January 24, 1835. The libretto for this particular opera was 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 near Paris. Read less

Work: I puritani


About This Work
This "melodramma serio" in three acts, with a libretto by Count Carlo Pepoli after the play Têtes Rondes et Cavaliers (Roundheads and Cavaliers) by Ancelot and Xavier, was premiered in Paris at the Théâtre Italien on Read more January 24, 1835. The title was chosen because of the popularity of Scott's novel Old Mortality (1816), titled in French Les puritains d'Ecosse (1817) and in Italian I puritani di Scozia (1825). This popular work broke new ground in its unusual rhythmic phrase lengths, its extended time scale in the Wagnerian manner, its bel canto style that was modified to fit the dramatic action, and its spectacular stage effects and orchestrations. It was Bellini's final opera.

There is no overture, but Bellini creates the perfect atmosphere and foreshadows events to come with a minimum of means -- tympani rolls, a long series of sforzando chords, frequent change between parallel major and minor keys -- as the sunrise illuminates the courtyard of a fortress near Plymouth with turrets, battlements, and drawbridges in the scene. It is the time of war between the Royalists and the Puritans. Soldiers sing "Arise!" and there are morning prayers. Riccardo (Sir Richard Forth) hopes to marry Elvira, daughter of governor Lord Walton, but she loves Arturo (Lord Arthur Talbot). Bellini's deliberate blurring of closed and open forms is exemplified here when Riccardo's aria expressing grief ("Ah! per sempre io ti perdei") seems to begin earlier in the arioso "O Elvira, o mio sospir."

Elvira learns from her uncle Giorgio (Sir George) that Lord Walton has agreed to let her marry Arturo. Her happiness is expressed in the cabaletta "A quel nome." In the Hall of Arms a chorus welcomes Arturo, whose cavatina turns into a quartet. Walton has a prisoner who discloses to Arturo that she is Queen Henrietta Maria, a Royalist. Arturo disguises her in Elvira's wedding veil and smuggles her out of the castle with Riccardo's secret complicity. The escape is discovered and Arturo is declared a traitor.

Act II presents Elvira's emotional suffering. The chorus "Cinta di fiori e col bel crin disciolto" describes, in 11-syllable lines most often employed in recitatives and some serenades, her "disheveled hair" and "garland of flowers." Riccardo agrees with Giorgio that, out of concern for Elvira, Arturo must be saved. The chorus sings "Suoni la tromba...": "To die in war is glorious, we cry 'liberty'!"...with "lealtà" (loyalty!) and "fedeltà" (fidelity!) substituted in Italy.

In Act III, Arturo is chased through a furious storm but loses the armed men. In a wooded garden near Elvira's rooms, he hears her sing a song he taught her and sings the melody along with her. He explains why he had to flee; Elvira has a relapse at the sound of drums, and her cries bring guards who arrest Arturo. He is saved moments before his execution by Cromwell's declaration of amnesty (announced by a hunting horn). Calls for death from the soldiers are changed to cries of joy for the lovers by the people.

-- "Blue" Gene Tyranny, All Music Guide Read less

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