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Gaetano Donizetti

Composer

Biography

Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) was a key proponent of the bel canto style, and one of the most prolific opera composers in the art form's history. His 65 operas, many of which are repertory staples, include L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Maria Stuarda, La Fille du régiment and Don Pasquale.

Donizetti was born in modest circumstances just outside the city walls of Bergamo. The maestro di cappella in the city, Simon Mayr, provided Donizetti’s earliest musical instruction and remained a mentor throughout his career. After study in Bologna, he moved to Naples. He gradually established a reputation both locally and further afield, and became a major international voice with the success of Anna Bolena in 1830. Donizetti worked ever harder during this period of success, composing 25 operas in 1830–38 including many of his most familiar, such as L’elisir d’amore (1832), Lucrezia Borgia (1833), Lucia di Lammermoor and Maria Stuarda (both 1835) and Roberto Devereux (1837). After a move to Paris in 1838, successes included La Fille du régiment (1840) and Don Pasquale (1843), though in the 1840s his operatic output slowed as a result of both his taking on work as a court composer in Vienna and the gradual onset of syphilis.

While several of his operas have never left the repertory, the ‘Donizetti Renaissance’ of the late 20th century shed new light on many previously neglected works, often thanks to the championing of sopranos such as Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. He is recognized today not only as an important figure in operatic history and a key influence on Verdi, but also as a great composer in his own right.