Vincenzo Bellini

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Vincenzo Bellini
Courtyard of Bellini's birthplace in Catania.

Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini (Italian: [vinˈtʃɛntso salvaˈtoːre karˈmɛːlo franˈtʃesko belˈliːni]). (3 November 1801 – 23 September 1835) was an Italian opera composer.[1] A native of Catania, Sicily, his greatest works are considered to be I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (1830), La sonnambula (1831), Norma (1831), Beatrice di Tenda (1833), and I puritani (1835).[by whom?][citation needed]

Known for his long-flowing melodic lines, for which he was named "the Swan of Catania", Bellini was the quintessential composer of bel canto opera; his work has been summed up by the London critic Tim Ashley as:

...also hugely influential, as much admired by other composers as he was by the public. Verdi raved about his "long, long, long melodies such as no one before had written". Wagner, who rarely liked anyone but himself, was spellbound by Bellini's almost uncanny ability to match music with text and psychology. Liszt and Chopin professed themselves fans. Of the 19th-century giants, only Berlioz demurred. Those musicologists who consider Bellini to be merely a melancholic tunesmith are now in the minority.[2]

He died in Puteaux, France at the age of 33 from tuberculosis, nine months after the premiere of his last opera, I Puritani.

Musical education[edit]

Bellini's grave in the Catania Cathedral

Born in Catania, at the time part of the Kingdom of Sicily, Bellini was a child prodigy from a highly musical family and legend has it he could sing an aria of Valentino Fioravanti at eighteen months. He began studying music theory at two, the piano at three, and by the age of five could apparently play well. Bellini's first five pieces were composed when he was just six years old. Regardless of the veracity of these claims, it is certain that Bellini grew up in a musical household and that his career as a musician was never in doubt.

Having learned from his grandfather, Bellini left provincial Catania in June 1819 to study at the conservatory in Naples, with a stipend from the municipal government of Catania. By 1822 he was a class taught by the director, Nicolò Zingarelli, studying the masters of the Neapolitan school and the orchestral works of Haydn and Mozart.

It was the custom at the Conservatory to introduce a promising student to the public with a dramatic work. The result was Bellini's first opera Adelson e Salvini an opera semiseria (half-serious) that was presented at the Conservatory's theatre in February 1825.

Career in music[edit]

Early success in Naples[edit]

Bellini's next opera Bianca e Gernando met with some success at the Teatro San Carlo in May 1826, leading to a commission from the San Carlo impresario Domenico Barbaja for an opera to be presented in the autumn of 1827 at La Scala in Milan (which, between 1821 and 1832, Barbaja also ran.)[3]

The Northern Italian years[edit]

Bellini's cenotaph at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

In Milan, where he spent 1827 to 1833, the composer enjoyed a lively social life, being regarded in public as a dandy.[citation needed].

However, his first opera for La Scala, Il pirata, was an immediate success when it opened on 27 October 1827. It began Bellini's fruitful collaboration with the librettist and poet Felice Romani, and it cemented his friendship with his favourite tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, who had sung in Bianca e Gernando. Sparking controversy in the press for its new style and its restless harmonic shifts into remote keys, La straniera in 1828 was a greater success[citation needed] than Il pirata had been, and it allowed Bellini to support himself solely by his opera commissions.

The opening of his Zaira at the newly-built Teatro Ducale (now the Teatro Regio) in Parma in 1829 was a failure. But, in the following year, in Venice success returned with the premiere at La Fenice of I Capuleti e i Montecchi, an opera which was based on the same Italian source as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Included in these triumphant five years in Milan were two major successes, La sonnambula, which was presented in March 1831, and Norma, which was given at La Scala in December of that year.

1835 in Paris[edit]

It has been noted that towards the autumn of 1835, Bellini had become "the darling of the French capital.....[His] I Puritani had caused a sensation at its first performance at the Théâtre-Italien the previous January."[2] It was during this time that he met Heinrich Heine who, in his literary portrait of Bellini which became part of his unfinished novel Florentinische Nächte (Florentine Nights) of 1837, emphasized the less-appealing aspects of the composer's personality: " 'You are a genius, Bellini,' Heine remarked maliciously, ' but you will pay for your great gift with a premature death. All the great geniuses die young, like Raphael and like Mozart.' "[citation needed]

Heine's comments were prophetic because, just nine months after the premiere of I Puritani, Bellini died in Puteaux, near Paris of acute inflammation of the intestine, and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris; his remains were removed to the cathedral of Catania in 1876. The Museo Belliniano housed in the Gravina Cruyllas Palace in Catania preserves memorabilia and scores.

Personal life[edit]

Francesco Florimo

Bellini had a sequence of affairs with married women, including Giuditta Turina. But he resisted any emotional commitment, and never married. When Turina proposed to leave her husband, Bellini bridled: "with so many commitments, such a relationship would be fatal to me".

An important friendship stemming from his student days at the Naples Conservatory was with Francesco Florimo, who came from a village close to Catania, and the two shared a close correspondence.[4]

Complete works of Bellini[edit]

In 1999, the Italian music publisher Casa Ricordi, in collaboration with the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, embarked on a project to publish critical editions of the complete works of Bellini.[5]


Title Genre Acts Libretto Première (date) Première (place)
Adelson e Salvini opera semiseria 3 acts TottolaAndrea Leone Tottola 12 (?) February 1825 Naples, Teatro del Conservatorio di San Sebastiano
Bianca e Gernando melodrama 2 acts GilardoniDomenico Gilardoni 30 May 1826 Naples, Teatro San Carlo
PirataIl pirata melodramma 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 27 October 1827 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Bianca e Fernando
(revision of Bianca e Gernando)
melodramma 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 7 April 1828 Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice
StranieraLa straniera melodramma 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 14 February 1829 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Zaira tragedia lirica 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 16 May 1829 Parma, Teatro Ducale
Capuleti e i MontecchiI Capuleti e i Montecchi tragedia lirica 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 11 March 1830 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
SonnambulaLa sonnambula opera semiseria 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 6 March 1831 Milan, Teatro Carcano
Norma tragedia lirica 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 26 December 1831 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Beatrice di Tenda tragedia lirica 2 acts RomaniFelice Romani 16 March 1833 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
PuritaniI puritani melodramma serio 3 acts PepoliCarlo Pepoli 24 January 1835 Paris, Théâtre-Italien


The following fifteen songs were published as a collection, Composizioni da Camera, by Casa Ricordi in 1935 on the centenary of Bellini's death.

Six Early Songs

  • "La farfalletta" – canzoncina
  • "Quando incise su quel marmo" – scena ed aria
  • "Sogno d'infanzia" – romanza
  • "L'abbandono" – romanza
  • "L'allegro marinaro – ballata
  • "Torna, vezzosa fillide" – romanza

Tre Ariette

Sei Ariette

  • "Malinconia, Ninfa gentile"
  • "Vanne, o rosa fortunata"
  • "Bella Nice, che d'amore"
  • "Almen se non poss'io"
  • "Per pietà, bell'idol mio"
  • "Ma rendi pur contento"

Other works[edit]

Oboe Concerto in E flat

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Vincenzo Bellini (Italian composer).
  2. ^ a b Tim Ashley, "Opera must make you weep and die", The Guardian (London), 1 November 2001.
  3. ^ Galatopoulos 2002, pp. 57—58
  4. ^ Libby 1998, in Sadie, p. 242.
  5. ^ Casa Ricordi website with list of critical editions

Cited sources

  • Galatopoulos, Stelios (2002), Bellini: Life, Times, Music: 1801-1835. London, Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781860744051

Other sources

External links[edit]