Vincenzo Bellini (Catania, 3 November 1801 – Paris, 23 September 1835). Italian composer, known as “the Swan of Catania”. He was a leading figure in 19th century opera together with Donizetti and Rossini. The three of them are known as “bel canto composers”. Giuseppe Verdi was a huge admirer of Bellini’s «extremely long melodies», which are trademarks of his style.
Born into a musical family, Bellini studied in Naples with composer Niccolò Zingaretti, who trained him in counterpoint and solfeggi, and met there his lifelong friend Francesco Florimo, with whom he kept up an assiduous correspondence. From Bellini’s letters to Florimo, we get useful information about the composer’s life and career.
At the Neapolitan Conservatory, Bellini studied the traditional models praised by his teachers, but he was influenced also by his contemporaries, especially Rossini, who was active in Naples between 1815 and 1822.
Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, premiered in 1825 at the Conservatory with a all-male cast of students, and it became so popular to be repeated every Sunday at the school’s theatre, but, despite several revisions, the composer was never able to have it performed in major theatres.
Bellini wrote another opera for Naples in 1826, Bianca e Fernando (later Bianca e Gernando to avoid any unintentional reference to the reigning prince), but in 1827 he left the city for Milan. It was in the North of the Italian peninsula that his fame was secured by the opera Il pirata (at the premiere, the cast included operatic superstars as soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande, tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini and baritone Antonio Tamburini sang at the premiere).
Also his next operas I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (La Fenice, 1830) and La sonnambula (Milan, 1831) were well received, while Norma (La Scala, 1831), which was to be considered Bellini’s masterpiece, was only moderately successful. I puritani, premiered in January 1835 in Paris, suggest with their innovative style that Bellini could have explored new horizons in his next operas, but a development of any kind was precluded by the composer’s untimely death, aged 33.
BIANCA E FERNANDO / BIANCA E GERNANDO (1826)
◊ Bianca e Gernando: (2 CDs, Naxos, 2017) Silvia Dalla Benetta, Maxim Mironov, Luca Dall’Amico, Vittorio Prato; Camerata Bach Choir Poznan; Virtuosi Brunensis; Antonino Fogliani, conductor View product / Buy from Amazon
IL PIRATA (1827)
I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI (1830)
◊ I Capuleti e i Montecchi: (2 CDs, Deutsche Grammophon, 2009) Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Joseph Calleja; Wiener Singakademie; Wiener Symphoniker; Fabio Luisi, conductor; Deutsche Grammophon, 2009 View product / Buy from Amazon
LA SONNAMBULA (1831)
◊ La Sonnambula: (2 CDs, EMI, 1957) Maria Callas, Fiorenza Cossotto, Nicola Monti, Nicola Zaccaria; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano; Antonino Votto, conductor View details / Buy from Amazon
◊ La sonnambula: (2 CDs, Decca, 2008) Cecilia Bartoli, Juan Diego Flórez, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; Chor des Opernhauses Zürich; Orchestra La Scintilla; Alessandro de Marchi, conductor View details / Buy from Amazon
◊ Norma: (2 CDs, EMI, 1954) Maria Callas, Mario Filippeschi, Ebe Stignani, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni; Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano; Tullio Serafin, conductor View product / Buy from Amazon
Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Ruggero Raimondi
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Carlo Felice Cillario, conductor
RCA, 1972 (2015)
Read our review/ Buy from Amazon
◊ Norma: (2 CDs, Deutsche Grammophon, 1973) Beverly Sills, Shirley Verrett, Enrico di Giuseppe, Paul Plishka; New Philharmonia Orchestra; The John Alldis Choir; James Levine, conductor View product / Buy from Amazon
BEATRICE DI TENDA (1833)
I PURITANI (1835)
◊ I Puritani: (2 CDs, Warner Classics, 2007) Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Rolando Panerai, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni; Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano; Tullio Serafin, conductor View details / Buy from Amazon
Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Piero Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov
Chorus of the Royal Opera House
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Bonynge, conductor
Read our review / Buy from Amazon
Juan Diego Florez, Nino Machaidze, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Gabriele Viviani
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Michele Mariotti, conductor
Stage Director: Pier’Alli
Read our review / Buy from Amazon