Vincenzo Bellini's Operas

Read this article for a history and overview of the Italian operatic composer Bellini, whose works are still famous today.

The operas of Bellini are well-known by opera enthusiasts everywhere. His works, from Il Pirata to Norma, are prime examples of Italian musical composition and style. But when did this composer write his famous works? How did they relate to his personal history as a musician?

Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily, in the year 1801. He was born into a family of musicians, and started music lessons at the early age of three. His talents caught the attention of a rich Italian man of the Sicilian court, who paid for the young composer to attend the Real Conservatorio di Musica in Naples. When creating his first works, Bellini was aided by the librettist Felice Romani, with whom he worked for most of his operas.

Bellini's early operas include Adelson e Salvini and Bianca e Fernando. These works were received with great success, which led to a commission by La Scala for the opera Il Pirata, a hit. His next six operas of note were all performed in the most prestigious locations. They were, in this order: La Straniera, Zaire, Romeo and Juliet, Ernani, La Sonnambula and Norma, the composer's most famous work. Arias from each make up standard audition and performance repertoire today. Bellini's last two operas, Beatrice di Tranda and I Puritani, were well-received by the public before his death.

Despite the wide range and excellence of his works, the composer is truly known for one opera today. Norma was the composer's greatest triumph, written at the peak of his career. The libretto, written by Felice Romani, is one of the reasons that the opera was a success. It is written clearly and passionately, with attention to the details of plot and characters development. Oddly enough, the first run of the show did not receive good reviews. It was only by the fourth or fifth performance that the public began to realize that the work was a masterpiece. The role of Norma has been claimed by many prima donna's as their own. The most famous of these are the soprano Renata Scotto, who's 1980 recording won rave reviews from the opera world, and the recordings of Maria Callas, who sung the role over forty times in her life and claimed it as her signature role. While it would be hard to choose the better interpretation, it is clear that the part is incredibly challenging. The voice of Norma needs to combine elements of dramatic, lyric and coloratura singing to succeed.

Bellini's music is most known for its range, as well as the comparison between text and music that he creates. It is notoriously hard to sing his arias, because of the vocal agility needed for the runs and arpeggios located in his work. A singer must have an extensive knowledge of bel canto reach the high notes located in certain pieces. This form of music, known as "beautiful singing," concentrates on vowel sounds and natural manipulation of the voice for vocal agility and performance. A connoisseur of vocal styles, Bellini was known to accept only the very best singers into his operatic performances. Bellini's music, despite its technical difficulty, almost delves into text painting, or the depiction of a solid concept in the ethereal form of music, to create a picture of the scene. This makes it worth singing one aria alone. He stokes the dramatic by placing it in the music, using characters as a tool to carry its meaning to the waiting audience.

Despite Bellini's fiercely Italian nationalism, he died living in Paris, away from his homeland, of liver damage at the age of 34. His death was recorded swiftly and was greeted with much sadness in the opera world and throughout Italy. When the bust was presented, a work by another famous Italian composer, Donizetti, was played in Bellini's honor. Donizetti was incredibly attached to his friend, and he also composed a mass in Bellini's honor.

Bellini's works live on for their melodic form and their voluptuous, almost mesmerizing music. His famous operas are, for reference: Adelson e salvini, Bianca e Gernando, Il Pirata, Bianca e Fernando, La Straniera, Zaira, I Capuletti e I Montecci, La Sonnambula, Norma, Beatrice di Tenda and I Puratani di Scozia. Singers like Pavarotti, Sutherland, Serafin, Corelli, Callas, Scotto, Levine and Giacomini have performed his work. For the beginning listener, I would recommend a viewing of La Sonnambula, as it was the composer's most famous work of his day. Continue this listening with a recording of Norma, considered the composer greatest work in modern times. Avid listeners may enjoy Il Pirata, because this gives an insight into the artist as a young composer. You may find that some of the pieces in these recordings are familiar. This is because Bellini's music is so inspiring that it is still used today to educate and uplift, in schools, advertisements and movies. Good luck, and enjoy!

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