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Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini

The operas of the Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) form a link between the Italian tradition of the early 19th century and the late 19th century.

Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily. His father, Rosario, and grandfather, Vincenzo, held positions with the Biscari family and in local churches. Although both composed, none of their music is extant. Bellini displayed musical talent very early, learning to play piano at 3 and studying composition with his father at 6. His earliest works, written before he was 11 years old, have not been preserved. After studying with his grandfather, Bellini attended the Royal College of St. Sebastian in Naples, which was directed by Nicola Zingarelli, who composed both opera and church music. As important as the more conservative tradition of Zingarelli in Naples was that of the contemporary operatic scene, then dominated by Gioacchino Rossini.

Bellini's first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was performed at the Conservatory in 1825 and led to a commission from the impresario of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples for Bianca e Fernando. Between 1825 and 1835 Bellini composed 10 operas for Naples, Milan, Genoa, Parma, Venice, and Paris; all but two had some success. After the presentation of La Sonnambula in 1830, his European success was assured. Bellini was fortunate in having the services of one of the better librettists in Italy, Felice Romani, who, after 1827, wrote the librettos for all of his operas except the last, I Puritani. Bellini's mature operas were opere serie of varying types. His three masterpieces are I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, La Sonnambula, and Norma. I Puritani, written somewhat in the manner of French grand opera, suffers from a weak libretto. Bellini also composed at least 28 sacred vocal works, 23 secular vocal works, 7 symphonies, and an oboe concerto.

Although Bellini made no significant changes in the outward structure of Italian opera, he did make certain contributions. His melodic style, often compared to that of Frédéric Chopin in its careful treatment of ornamentation, was written with the Italian bel canto style of singing in mind. Passages that seem uninteresting on paper come to life in performance by a gifted singer. In his recitatives Bellini gave careful consideration to text accents and moments of intense emotional expression. His handling of the orchestra in both recitative and aria always supports the dramatic intention. He gave the chorus an important role in the drama, instead of the perfunctory one then common. His influence was felt not only by his contempories but also by Giuseppe Verdi. Even that bitter critic of Italian opera, Richard Wagner, was impressed by Norma.

Further Reading

A full-length biography is Leslie Orrey, Bellini (1969). Bellini's relationship to other composers of his period is discussed in Alfred Einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (1947), and Donald J. Grout, A Short History of Opera (2 vols., 1947; 2d ed., 1 vol., 1965).

Additional Sources

Adamo, Maria Rosaria, Vincenzo Bellini, Torino: ERI, 1981.

Brunel, Pierre, Vincenzo Bellini, Paris: Fayard, 1981.

Rosselli, John, The life of Bellini, Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Tintori, Giampiero, Bellini, Milano: Rusconi, 1983. □

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Bellini, Vincenzo

Bellini, Vincenzo (b Catania, Sicily, 1801; d Puteaux, nr. Paris, 1835). It. composer. Educated San Sebastiano Cons., Naples, where he studied under Zingarelli. Perf. of his first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at cons. in 1825 led to commission for opera for San Carlo, Naples; and this in its turn led to a commission from La Scala which resulted in Il pirata, a vehicle for the expressive lyrical style of the ten. Rubini. This opera was then prod. in Paris and initiated Bellini's fame outside It. Another success was his setting of Vaccai's version of the Romeo and Juliet story, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, prod. Venice 1830 with Pasta in the travesti role of Romeo. Recent revivals have shown this to be one of Bellini's masterpieces. However, its popularity was eclipsed by La sonnambula (Milan 1831), in which Malibran appeared throughout Europe. Less than a year later came Norma; its sop. title-role was first sung by Pasta and succeeding exponents have included Grisi, Tietjens, Lilli Lehmann, Ponselle, Callas, and Sutherland. His last opera, I Puritani, was written for Paris (on the advice of Rossini) where its first cast in 1835 was led by Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. Seven of his operas have libretti by Felice Romani.

Bellini's vocal style requires superb legato allied to great florid agility. His long elegant melodies, of which Casta diva from Norma is a supreme example, were admired by, and influenced, Berlioz. Wagner, too, was attracted by Bellini's operas and noted the close alliance between mus. and lib. For a period, Bellini was out of fashion, being regarded as merely a composer of display pieces, but a new generation of great singers has restored them to favour, revealing their dramatic force and melodic beauty.OPERAS: Adelson e Salvini (Naples 1825); Bianca e Gernando (Naples 1826; rev. as Bianca e Fernando, Genoa 1828); Il pirata (Milan 1827); La straniera (Milan 1829); Zaira (Parma 1829); I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Venice 1830); La sonnambula (Milan 1831); Norma (Milan 1831); Beatrice di Tenda (Venice 1833); I Puritani (Paris 1835).Also comp. songs and instr. works, incl. an ob. conc.

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Bellini, Vincenzo

Vincenzo Bellini (vēnchān´tsō bĕl-lē´nē), 1801–35, Italian opera composer. He acquired his musical training from his grandfather and father, and began composing religious and secular music in his childhood. His first opera, Adelson e Salvini, was successfully performed in 1825. His most celebrated works are the operas La Sonnambula and Norma (both 1831). In their profusely melodic style they exemplify the bel canto tradition of the 18th cent., and their roles demand great virtuosity of the singers. Bellini's last opera, I Puritani (1835), was influenced by the dramatic style of French grand opera. Unlike that of his immediate predecessors, Rossini and Donizetti, his operatic output was small. It was characterized by careful composition, great attention to the relationship between words and music, and an originality of harmony that gave rise to his music's sensual, ecstatic quality. He greatly influenced the work of Verdi.

See study by H. Weinstock (1971).

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"Bellini, Vincenzo." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Bellini, Vincenzo

Bellini, Vincenzo (1801–35) Italian composer of operas. His most notable works were Norma and La Sonnambula (both in 1831), and I Puritani (1835). His characteristically flowing melodies require great vocal skill. These bel canto operas were widely popular during the 19th century.

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