A Brief History of Opera
Time period: Late 1700s - 1850s
A leader in the bel canto style, Gioacchino Rossini is considered one of the most important Italian opera composers of the first half of the 19th century. Through his compositions, he reinvented the form and content of Italian opera. By the age of 20, he was the leading composer of his native Italy, and his musical contributions were widely celebrated throughout Austria, France, and England. Rossini was comfortable writing serious opera, but is perhaps best known for his comic operas, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and La Cenerentola (Cinderella).
Another important bel canto composer was Gaetano Donizetti. Born quite poor, his life changed when a conductor educated him and sent him to a prestigious music school. Donizetti moved from Italy to Paris and finally to Vienna while pursuing his career. Of the operas that comprise his operatic legacy, one of the most well known is Lucia di Lammermoor, which is based on a popular 19th-century English novel by Sir Walter Scott.
Vincenzo Bellini was a prolific composer in the bel canto operatic style. Born in Italy, he grew up in a musical household and was a child prodigy, composing his first work by the age of six. Trained in the Conservatory in Naples, Bellini moved to Milan where his operas were performed at the famous opera house La Scala and met with resounding success. Before his death at a young age, Bellini composed a number of operas, among those performed frequently today are I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), La sonnambula (The Sleepwaker), and Norma.
Listen to "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), featuring Ruxandra Donose as Rosina and the Opera Company of Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Maurizio Barbacini. Excerpt courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia.
Opera America Sample: "Una voce poco fa"
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