Vincenzo Bellini isn’t the most revolutionary of opera composers. In fact, his work is rather simple and his operas, most of them featuring questionable libretti, are not necessarily the most complex dramatic works (with the exception of “Norma”).
And yet, the composer, born on Nov. 3, 1801, is among the most beloved in the opera world and even earned the nickname the “Swan of Catania.” People love his rich melodies and ability to create some truly mesmerizing vocal moments. But it is not only audiences that have come under the composer’s spell. Some of his colleagues were also been effusive in their praise of the great composer. Here are some of those people that adored Bellini.
The man who would one day become opera’s posterboy learned a ton from Bellini throughout his career, particularly when it comes to melodic writing. Here is what Verdi had to say about Bellini’s quality: “Bellini is poor, it is true, in harmony and orchestration, but rich in feeling and in an individual melancholy that was all his own. Even in his less familiar operas, there are long, long, long melodies such as no one ever wrote before his day.”
Speaking of long melodies, Wagner was inspired by Bellini to develop his own style of writing endless melodies. Wagner was a major critic of Italian opera, noting its dramatic ineffectiveness and superficiality (according to him, of course), but he always singled out Bellini for praise, going so far as to claim that his operas should be sung in the style of the Italian master.
“Even the most determined opponents of the new Italian school of music do this composition the justice of admitting that, speaking to the heart, it shows an inner earnestness of aim,” he said in defense of Bellini.
He loved Bellini so much, that when he was the music director of the Riga Opera House in 1837, he wrote an entrance aria for the bass and male choir for “Norma.” While it was never performed in his lifetime, it would eventually be performed in 1914.
Like his son-in-law, Liszt was also a major admirer of Bellini, composing “Réminiscences de Norma, S. 394,” in which he took the two-hour masterwork and transformed it into a 15-minute piano piece.
The young Bellini always admired the older master, but the admiration became mutual when Rossini went to Milan and heard a production of “Il Pirata.” They became fast friends. Toward the end of his life, Bellini wrote a number of letters noting Rossini’s love for him, even going so far as to claim that the older composer loved him “as a son.” While they had some challenges throughout their lifestyles, Rossini took care of Bellini’s funeral, entombment, and estate. He even sought means for building a statue of the dead composer and even threw support behind a funeral mass.