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 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.