Donizetti's ability to write at great speed has prejudiced attitudes to the quality of his work. He wrote specifically for a generation of great singers such as Grisi, Mario, Lablache, and Tamburini. However, although he catered for their ability and agility, the tendency to underrate the melodic and dramatic content of his operas has only recently been corrected by a more discriminating willingness to recognize Donizetti's brilliance as a rival in comic opera to Rossini; and to acknowledge the debt, in the form of recognizable borrowings, owed to him by Verdi, who clearly appreciated his dramatic mastery. Recently several of Donizetti's lesser-known operas have been revived and found to have unsuspected merit. He also wrote church mus., 18 str. qts., and some orch. works. A list of his operas follows:11 pigmalione (1816); L'ira d'Achille (1817); Enrico di Borgogna; Una follia (both 1818); Il falegname di Livonia; Le nozze in villa (both 1819); Zoraide di Granata; La zingara; La lettera anonima; Chiara e Serafina (all 1822); Il fortunato inganno; Alfredo il Grande (both 1823); L'ajo nell'imbarazzo; Emilia di Liverpool (both 1824); Alahor in Granata; Gabriella di Vergy (2nd version 1838); Elvida (all 1826); Olivo e Pasquale; Il borgomastro di Saardam; Le convenienze teatrali (2nd version, Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, 1831), Otto mesi in due ore (all 1827); Alina, regina di Golconda; Gianni di Calais; L'esule di Roma (all 1828); Il Giovedì Grasso; Il Paria; Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (all 1829); Il diluvio universale; I pazzi per progetto; Imelda de' Lambertazzi; Anna Bolena (all 1830); Gianni di Parigi; La Romanziera e l'uomo nero; Francesca di Foix (all 1831); Fausta; Ugo, conte di Parigi; L'elisir d'amore; Sancia di Castiglia (all 1832); Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo; Parisina; Torquato Tasso; Lucrezia Borgia (all 1833); Rosmonda d'Inghilterra; Gemma di Vergy (both 1834); Marino Faliero; Lucia di Lammermoor; Maria Stuarda (all 1835); Belisario; Il campanello di notte; L'assedio di Calais; Betly (all 1836); Roberto Devereux; Pia de' Tolomei (both 1837); Poliuto (2nd version, Les martyrs, 1840); Maria di Rudenz; Elisabetta di Siberia (all 1838); Le Duc d'Albe (incomplete, 1839); La Fille du régiment; La Favorite (rev. and expansion of L'ange de Nisida of 1839) (both 1840); Adelia, o La Figlia dell'arciere; Rita, ou le mari battu; Maria Padilla (all 1841); Linda di Chamounix; Caterina Cornaro (both 1842); Don Pasquale; Maria di Rohan; Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal (all 1843).
Opera composer; b. Bergamo, Italy, Nov. 29, 1797;d. Bergamo, April 8, 1848. He studied music in Bergamo with Mayr and in Bologna with Pilotti and Mattei. While he was serving in the Austrian army, his first opera, Enrico di Borgogna, was performed in Venice (1818). He subsequently composed operas in rapid succession for various theaters throughout Europe, attaining international stature with Anna Bolena (Milan 1830). Though appointed in 1835 professor of counterpoint at the Royal College of Music in Naples, he settled in Paris in 1839. During a visit to Vienna in 1842, he wrote for the royal court two settings of the Ave Maria, a Miserere, two Masses, and a Requiem (for Bellini), in a "severe style," that was warmly received by German critics of the time. He composed also various cantatas; songs; and piano, orchestral, and chamber works. The most popular of his 64 operas are Lucia di Lammermoor, La Favorita, La Fille du régiment (an opéra comique ), L'Elisir d'amore, and Don Pasquale (in buffa style). In spite of their dramatic and musical shortcomings, these works merit occasional revival because of their graceful melodies and the opportunity they offer for vocal virtuosity. The last few years of Donizetti's life were marred by mental and physical illness. He is buried in S. Maria Maggiore, Bergamo, where a monument by Vela was erected to his memory in 1855.
Bibliography: g. zavadini, Donizetti (Bergamo 1948). g. barblan, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949– ) 3:678–684. h. s. edwards et al., Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom, 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 2:733–736. d. j. grout, A Short History of Opera, 2 v. (2d, rev. and enl. ed. New York 1965). a. einstein, Music in the Romantic Era (New York 1947). j. s. allitt, Donizetti in the Light of Romanticism and the Teaching of Johann Simon Mayr (Shaftesbury 1991). w. ashbrook, "The Evolution of the Donizettian Tenor-Persona," Opera Quarterly 14/3 (1998) 25–32; "(Domenico) Gaetano (Maria) Donizetti," in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 354–359. h. berlioz, "Berlioz on the Premiere of La Favorite, " introduced and tr. by e. t. glasow, Opera Quarterly, 14/3 (1998) 33–43. r. celletti, "Il vocalismo Italiano da Rossini a Donizetti, Parte II: Bellini e Donizetti," Analecta Musicologia 7 (1969) 223–247. c. p. d. cronin, "Stefano Pavesi's Ser Marcantonio and Donizetti's Don Pasquale, " Opera Quarterly 11/2 (1995) 39–53. a. fischler, "Gilbert and Donizetti," Opera Quarterly 11/1 (1995) 29–42. l. zoppelli, "Narrative Elements in Donizetti's Operas," Opera Quarterly 10/1 (1993) 23–32.
[r. w. lowe]
The Italian opera composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was one of the first composers of the romantic movement in Italy.
Gaetano Donizetti was born in Bergamo on Nov. 29, 1797. He received his first instruction in music from an uncle, but the beginning of his formation as a composer came in 1806, when he was accepted as a free student in the Lezione Caritatevoli, a school supported by the church of S. Maria Maggiore for the training of musicians and choristers for its services. The director was Simon Mayr, a German who had settled in Bergamo in 1805. Although not known today, his music was held in high esteem in his lifetime. Mayr's influence seems to have been decisive. He kept young Donizetti in the school although his voice was not of the necessary quality, even writing works for student performances in which these vocal defects could be avoided.
Following this training, Donizetti went to Bologna in 1815 to study with Padre Mattei, a student of Padre Martini and a teacher of Gioacchino Rossini. Mayr gave Donizetti financial support as well as letters of introduction. Donizetti's first publication, a set of variations on a theme by Mayr, appeared in 1815.
Donizetti's first three operas date from 1816 and 1817 and were not performed during his lifetime. His first opera to be performed was Enrico di Borgogna, given in Venice in 1818. From this time until 1844 he produced operas of all types at a fantastic pace. In 1827 he agreed to compose 12 operas for Venice within a 3-year period. This speed in production shows in many works that perfunctorily filled the established forms of the day. His works all allow the singer ample opportunity for display with cadenzas and brilliant coloratura writing. Many of his librettos deal with violent passions that are not always turned to best dramatic effect. However, works like L'elisir d'amore (1832), Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), La Fille du régiment (1840), and Don Pasquale (1843) have gained a place in the repertory for themselves and an important historical position for their composer.
Although now known primarily for his operas, Donizetti produced a large number of compositions in other genres. In addition to 71 operas, he composed cantatas, sacred works, symphonies, string quartets and quintets, and numerous works for piano solo, voice and piano, and piano and other instruments.
Donizetti's fame quickly spread throughout Italy; he went to Paris, where he wrote five operas, and to Vienna, where he became principal court conductor in 1842. His last years, 1844-1848, were spent in rather severe circumstances because of the progressive deterioration of his health, both physical and mental.
Two biographies of Donizetti are Herbert Weinstock, Donizetti and the World of Opera (1963), and William Ashbrook, Donizetti (1965), both containing numerous documents, lists of works, and librettos. Donizetti's place in early-19th-century music 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. 1965). □