Composer Profile: Gaetano Donizetti, One of the Bel Canto Masters

By David Salazar

Gaetano Donizetti, born on Nov. 29, 1797, was one of the leading Bel Canto composers of all time.

He wrote his first opera, “Il Pigmalione” at the age of 19 and he would go on to create 75 operas throughout his lifetime.

His first major successes came with his comic operas, though in 1830, he scored a massive success with “Anna Bolena” and suddenly his serious operas were taken more seriously.

His works are far from revolutionary and Donizetti hued closely to standard norms of Italian opera of the time. However, he had an incredible gift for melodic style, which undoubtedly had a major influence on the next generation’s greatest composer Giuseppe Verdi.

In addition to his massive number of operas, he also wrote 16 symphonies, 19 string quartets, 193 songs, 45 duets, 3 oratorios, 28 cantata, and numerous concerti; many of these works are largely forgotten with his operas as his lasting legacy.

He died in April 1848.

Major Works

Where do you even begin with Donizetti? His operas make up a massive part of the standard repertoire. And that’s before his resurgence in recent years that has seen even more of his works enter the canon.

There’re two sides to Donizetti.

On the tragic side of things, “Lucia di Lammermoor” will always reign as his most recognized opera. It’s famed mad scene is one of the famed pieces in all of the repertoire and many sopranos have performed and recorded it outside of the context of the work.

But his Tudor Queens trilogy is increasingly growing in popularity in recent decades with “Anna Bolena,” “Maria Stuarda,” and “Roberto Devereux” becoming part of the repertory. Of the three, “Devereux” is perhaps the most dramatically and musically refined.

Then there’s comic Donizetti. “L’Elisir d’Amore,” with its iconic “Una furtiva lagrima” is one of the most beloved comedies in the entire repertory. But “Don Pasquale” is arguably the finer work and it too has retained a solid standing in opera houses around the globe.

Read More on Donizetti

5 Donizetti Operas That Need Reviving

Watch and Listen

In recent times, there has probably not been a more solid performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” than this one.

And looking back in time, here is Joan Sutherland’s legendary “Lucia.”

And here is one of the better recent performances of “Elisir.”

And for those who want something a bit different, here is an older recording of “Elisir” with Pavarotti and Freni.


Opera Wiki