Born in Catania, Sicily, Italy, Bellini was a child prodigy from a highly musical family and legend has it he could sing an air of Valentino Fioravanti at eighteen months, began studying music theory at two, the piano at three, and by the age of five could play well. His first composition dates from his sixth year. Regardless of the veracity of these claims, it is certain that Bellini grew up in a musical household and that a career as a musician was never in doubt.
Having learned from his grandfather, Bellini left provincial Catania in June 1819 to study at the conservatory in Naples, with a stipend from the municipal government of Catania. By 1822 he was in the class of the director Nicolò Zingarelli, studying the masters of the Neapolitan school and the orchestral works of Haydn and Mozart. It was the custom at the Conservatory to introduce a promising student to the public with a dramatic work: the result was Bellini’s first opera Adelson e Salvini an opera semiseria that was presented at the Conservatory’s theater. Bianca e Gernando met with some success at the Teatro San Carlo, leading to an offer from the impresario Barbaia for an opera at La Scala. Il pirata was a resounding immediate success and began Bellini’s faithful and fruitful collaboration with the librettist and poet Felice Romani, and cemented his friendship with his favored tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, who had sung in Bianca e Gernando.
Bellini spent the next years, 1827–33 in Milan, where all doors were open to him. Supported solely by his opera commissions, for La straniera (1828) was even more successful than Il pirata, sparking controversy in the press for its new style and its restless harmonic shifts into remote keys, he showed the taste for social life and the dandyism that Heinrich Heine emphasized in his literary portrait of Bellini (Florentinische Nächte, 1837). Opening a new theater in Parma, his Zaira (1829) was a failure at the Teatro Ducale, but Venice welcomed I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which was based on the same Italian sources as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The next five years were triumphant, cut short by Bellini’s premature death.
Bellini died in Puteaux, near Paris of acute inflammation of the intestine, and was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, Paris; his remains were removed to the cathedral of Catania in 1876. The Museo Belliniano, Catania, preserves memorabilia and scores.
Bellini is best known for his opera Norma, the title role of which is considered one of the most difficult roles in the soprano repertoire. During the 20th century, only a small number of singers were able to sing it with success: Rosa Ponselle in the early 1920s, and later Joan Sutherland in the 1950s and 1960s. Maria Callas was the famous Norma of the postwar period; she performed it many times and recorded it in the studio twice.
Edited by Jolekuharic on 8 Oct 2006, 07:18
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