Born: November 14, 1774 Died: anuary 24, 1851
Country: Italy Period: Romantic
That Spontini was admired by both Berlioz and Wagner is probably due to his own inspiration by Gluck, but the fact that he made an indelible impression upon such antithetical natures confirms his importance in the development of grand opera as the century of Romanticism dawned. Early evidence of musical ability delivered him from a career in the priesthood, though his studies at Naples' Conservatorio della Pietá dei Turchini were soon abandoned. Having absorbed sufficient technique to employ the facile formulas of Italian opera, Spontini set out as a freelancer, appearing in 1796 with his first opera, Li Puntigli delle Donne, produced during the Roman Carnival. Its success enabled him to compose comic operas for Venice, Florence, and Naples. Association with Cimarosa in the latter city in 1798 seems to have been a turning point toward more exalted ambitions, while a stint in Palermo in 1800-1801, where the Bourbon court was in exile, introduced him to noble patronage. Moving on to Paris, he had the good fortune to win the interest Joséphine, wife of Napoleon I. Trivial works -- including vaudevilles -- vied for public favor with the more seriously striving Milton, in which the example of Gluck becomes apparent for the first time. It was only through the accident that a work by le Sueur (later to become Berlioz' teacher) was not completed in time that Spontini's La Vestale -- composed in 1805 -- reached the stage of the Opéra de Paris on December 15, 1807, to overwhelming acclaim and international success. Napoleon dictated that Spontini's next opera should glorify a conquering hero, though Fernand Cortez, premiered on November 28, 1809, before the emperor and the King of Saxony, failed to make the point, and won enduring fame only in its 1817 revision, by which time Napoleon was vanquished and exiled. Spontini's musical command was given a fillip by his fiery presence, making him a formidable conductor. He served as director of the Théâtre Italien from 1810 to 1812. With the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and the success of Cortez, Spontini was in favor, though his Olympia, in 1819, achieved but six performances. In 1820 he moved on to Berlin, where King Friedrich Wilhelm III made him Generalmusikdirektor. The success of a revised Olympia in 1821 was soon upstaged by Weber's Der Freischütz, leading to a rivalry that forced Spontini from his post in 1842. Intrigues to regain his position, a Dresden revival of La Vestale in 1844, and the conferring of a papal nobility in 1847 filled his final years.