Gaetano Donizetti

From New World Encyclopedia

Gaetano Donizetti, portrait by Giuseppe Rillosi.

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (November 29, 1797 – April 8, 1848) was an Italian opera composer from Bergamo, Lombardy. Donizetti's most famous work is Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). Along with Vincenzo Bellini and Gioacchino Rossini, he was a leading composer of bel canto opera.

Donizetti had a friendly and sincere manner about him. He carried a sense of responsibility to nurture and sustain Italian music and he acted on these concerns not only through his many compositions but also through his support for musicians who were starting afresh.


The youngest of three sons, Donizetti was born in 1797 in Bergamo's Borgo Canale quarter located just outside the city walls. His family was very poor with no tradition of music, his father being the caretaker of the town pawnshop. Nevertheless, Donizetti received some musical instruction from Giovanni Simone Mayr, a priest at Bergamo's principal church (and also himself a composer of successful operas).

Donizetti was not a notable success as a choirboy, but in 1806 he was one of the first pupils to be enrolled at the Lezioni Caritatevoli school, founded by Simon Mayr, in Bergamo through a full scholarship. He received detailed training in the arts of fugue and counterpoint, and it was here that he launched his operatic career. After some minor compositions under the commission of Paolo Zanca, Donizetti wrote his fourth opera, Zoraïda di Granata. This work impressed Domenico Barbaia, a prominent theatre manager, and Donizetti was offered a contract to compose in Naples. Writing in Rome and Milan in addition to Naples, Donizetti achieved some success (his 31 operas written in the space of just 12 years usually met with popular success, but the critics were often unimpressed), but was not well known internationally until 1830, when his Anna Bolena was premiered in Milan. He almost instantly became famous throughout Europe. L'elisir d'amore, a comedy produced in 1832, came soon after, and is deemed one of the masterpieces of the comic opera, as is his Don Pasquale, written in 1843. Shortly after L'elisir d'amore, Donizetti composed Lucia di Lammermoor, based on the Sir Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor. It became his most acclaimed opera, and one of the high points of the bel canto tradition, reaching stature similar to Bellini's Norma.

Gaetano Donizetti.

After the success of Lucrezia Borgia (1833) consolidated his reputation, Donizetti followed the paths of both Rossini and Bellini by visiting Paris, but his opera Marino Falerio suffered by comparison with Bellini's I puritani, and he returned to Naples to produce his already-mentioned masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor. As Donizetti's fame grew, so did his engagements, as he was further hired to write in both France and Italy. In 1838, he moved to Paris after the Italian censor objected to the production of Poliuto (on the grounds that such a sacred subject was inappropriate for the stage); there he wrote La fille du régiment, which became another success.

Donizetti's wife, Virginia Vasselli, gave birth to three children, none of whom survived. Within a year of his parents' deaths, his wife died from cholera. By 1843, Donizetti exhibited symptoms of syphilis and what is known today as bipolar disorder. After being institutionalized in 1845, he was sent to Paris, where he could be cared for. After visits from friends, including Giuseppe Verdi, Donizetti was sent back to Bergamo, his hometown, where he died in 1848, after several years in the grip of insanity. After his death Donizetti was buried in the cemetery of Valtesse but in the late nineteenth century his body was transferred to Bergamo's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore near the grave of his teacher Simone Mayr.


Donizetti is best known for his operatic works, but he also wrote music in a number of other forms, including some church music, a number of string quartets, and some orchestral works. He is also the younger brother of Giuseppe Donizetti, who had become, in 1828, Instructor General of the Imperial Ottoman Music at the court of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839).

Critical reputation

Donizetti's vocal style enriched the bel canto tradition which Gioacchino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini had made popular. These three composers are generally accepted as the primary exemplars of early nineteenth century bel canto writing. During his life, and for a considerable period after his death Donizetti's works were held in vast popular acclaim, but by the beginning of the twentieth century they had been almost completely overshadowed by the heavier masterpieces of Wagner, Puccini, and Verdi, perhaps due to the technical-demand bel canto singing requires. However, since the 1950s a growing interest in the bel canto repertoire has lead to more frequent performances of Donizetti's operas, and Lucia di Lammermoor, La fille du régiment, Don Pasquale, and L'elisir d'amore have assumed more or less constant places in the standard repertory.


Donizetti composed about 75 operas, 16 symphonies, 19 string quartets, 193 songs, 45 duets, three oratorios, 28 cantatas, instrumental concertos, sonatas, and other chamber pieces.


  • Il Pigmalione (1816; October 13, 1960, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo)
  • Olimpiade (1817, incomplete, libretto by Metastasio)
  • L'ira di Achille (1817)
  • Enrico di Borgogna (1818; November 14, 1818 Teatro San Luca, Venice)
  • Una follia (1818; December 17, 1818 Teatro San Luca, Venice) (lost)
  • I piccioli virtuosi ambulanti (1819), opera buffa in un Atto
  • Pietro il Grande zar di tutte le Russie ossia Il Falegname di Livonia (1819; December 26, 1819, Teatro San Samuele, Venice),
  • Le nozze in villa (1820; 1821? Teatro Vecchio, Mantua)
  • Zoraida di Granata or Zoraïda di Granata (1822; January 28, 1822, Teatro Argentina, Rome, rev. January 7 1824 at the same theatre)
  • La Zingara (1822; May 12, 1822, Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • La lettera anonima (June 29, 1822 Teatro del Fondo, Naples)
  • Chiara e Serafina, ossia I pirati (October 26, 1822, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Alfredo il grande (July 2, 1823 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Il fortunato inganno (September 3, 1823 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • L'ajo nell'imbarazzo (February 4, 1824, Teatro Valle, Rome)
  • Emilia di Liverpool (28.7.1824 Teatro Nuovo, Naples) (L'eremitaggio di Liverpool)
  • Alahor in Granata (7.1.1826 Teatro Carolino, Palermo)
  • Don Gregorio [rev of L'ajo nell'imbarazzo] (11.6.1826 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Elvida (6.7.1826 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Gabriella di Vergy (1826; 29.11.1869 Teatro San Carlo, Naples) (Gabriella)
  • Olivo e Pasquale (7.1.1827 Teatro Valle, Rome)
  • Olivo e Pasquale [rev] (1.9.1827 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Otto mesi in due ore (13.5.1827 Teatro Nuovo, Naples) (Gli esiliati in Siberia)
  • Il borgomastro di Saardam (19.8.1827 Teatro del Fondo, Naples)
  • Le convenienze teatrali (21.11.1827 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • L'esule di Roma, ossia Il proscritto (1.1.1828 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Emilia di Liverpool [rev] (8.3.1828 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Alina, regina di Golconda (12.5.1828 Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa)
  • Gianni di Calais (2.8.1828 Teatro del Fondo, Naples)
  • Il paria (12.1.1829 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Il giovedi grasso (26.2.1829? Teatro del Fondo, Naples) (Il nuovo Pourceaugnac)
  • Il castello di Kenilworth (6.7.1829 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Alina, regina di Golconda [rev] (10.10.1829 Teatro Valle, Rome)
  • I pazzi per progetto (6.2.1830 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Il diluvio universale (28.2.1830 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Imelda de' Lambertazzi (5.9.1830 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Anna Bolena (26.12.1830 Teatro Carcano, Milan)
  • Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali [rev of Le convenienze teatrali] (20.4.1831 Teatro Canobbiana, Milan)
  • Gianni di Parigi (1831; 10.9.1839 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Francesca di Foix (30.5.1831 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • La romanziera e l'uomo nero (18.6.1831 Teatro del Fondo, Naples) (libretto lost)
  • Fausta (12.1.1832 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Ugo, conte di Parigi (13.3.1832 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • L'elisir d'amore (12.5.1832 Teatro Canobbiana, Milan)
  • Sancia di Castiglia (4.11.1832 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo (2.1.1833 Teatro Valle, Rome)
  • Otto mesi in due ore [rev] (1833, Livorno)
  • Parisina (17.3.1833 Teatro della Pergola, Florence)
  • Torquato Tasso (9.9.1833 Teatro Valle, Rome)
  • Lucrezia Borgia (26.12.1833 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Il diluvio universale [rev] (17.1.1834 Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa)
  • Rosmonda d'Inghilterra (27.2.1834 Teatro della Pergola, Florence)
  • Maria Stuarda [rev] (18.10.1834 Teatro San Carlo, Naples) (Buondelmonte)
  • Gemma di Vergy (26.10.1834 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Maria Stuarda (30.12.1835 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Marin Faliero (12.3.1835 Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Lucia di Lammermoor (26.9.1835 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Belisario (4.2.1836 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Il campanello di notte (1.6.1836 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Betly, o La capanna svizzera (21.8.1836 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • L'assedio di Calais (19.11.1836 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Pia de' Tolomei (18.2.1837 Teatro Apollo, Venice)
  • Pia de' Tolomei [rev] (31.7.1837, Sinigaglia)
  • Betly [rev] ((?) 29.9.1837 Teatro del Fondo, Naples)
  • Roberto Devereux (28.10.1837 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Maria de Rudenz (30.1.1838 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Gabriella di Vergy [rev] (1838; 8.1978 recording, London)
  • Poliuto (1838; 30.11.1848 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Pia de' Tolomei [rev 2] (30.9.1838 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Lucie de Lammermoor [rev of Lucia di Lammermoor] (6.8.1839 Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris)
  • Le duc d'Albe (1839; 22.3.1882 Teatro Apollo, Rome) (Il duca d'Alba)
  • Lucrezia Borgia [rev] (11.1.1840 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Poliuto [rev] (10.4.1840 Opéra, Paris) (Les martyrs)
  • La fille du régiment (11.2.1840 Opéra-Comique, Paris)
  • L'ange de Nisida (1839; ?)
  • Lucrezia Borgia [rev 2] (31.10.1840 Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • La favorite [rev of L'ange de Nisida] (2.12.1840 Opéra, Paris)
  • Adelia (11.2.1841 Teatro Apollo, Rome)
  • Rita (1841; 7.5.1860 Opéra-Comique, Paris) (Deux hommes et une femme)
  • Maria Padilla (26.12.1841 Teatro alla Scala Milan)
  • Linda di Chamounix (19.5.1842 Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)
  • Linda di Chamounix [rev] (17.11.1842 Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Caterina Cornaro (18.1.1844 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Don Pasquale (3.1.1843 Théâtre-Italien, Paris)
  • Maria di Rohan (5.6.1843 Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)
  • Dom Sébastien (13.11.1843 Opéra, Paris)
  • Dom Sébastien [rev] (6.2.1845 Kärntnertortheater, Vienna)

Choral works

  • Ave Maria
  • Grande Offertorio
  • Il sospiro
  • Messa da Requiem
  • Messa di Gloria e Credo
  • Miserere (Psalm 50)

Orchestral works

  • Allegro for Strings in C major
  • L'ajo nell'imbarazzo: Sinfonia
  • Larghetto, tema e variazioni in E flat major
  • Roberto Devereux: Sinfonia
  • Sinfonia Concertante in D major (1818)
  • Sinfonia for Winds in G minor (1817)
  • Sinfonia in A major
  • Sinfonia in C major
  • Sinfonia in D major
  • Sinfonia in D minor
  • Ugo, conte di Parigi: Sinfonia


  • Concertino for Clarinet in B flat major
  • Concertino for English Horn in G major (1816)
  • Concertino in C minor for flute and chamber orchestra (1819)
  • Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in C major
  • Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D major
  • Concertino for Oboe in F major
  • Concertino for Violin and Cello in D minor
  • Concerto for 2 Clarinets "Maria Padilla"
  • Concerto for Violin and Cello in D minor

Chamber works

  • Andante sostenuto for Oboe and Harp in F minor
  • Introduction for Strings in D major
  • Larghetto and Allegro for Violin and Harp in G minor
  • Largo/Moderato for Cello and Piano in G minor
  • Nocturnes (4) for Winds and Strings
  • Quartet for Strings in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 10 in G minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 11 in C major
  • Quartet for Strings no 12 in C major
  • Quartet for Strings no 13 in A major
  • Quartet for Strings no 14 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 15 in F major
  • Quartet for Strings no 16 in B minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 17 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 18 in E minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 18 in E minor: Allegro
  • Quartet for Strings no 3 in C minor: 2nd movement, Adagio ma non troppo
  • Quartet for Strings no 4 in D major
  • Quartet for Strings no 5 in E minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 5 in E minor: Larghetto
  • Quartet for Strings no 6 in G minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 7 in F minor
  • Quartet for Strings no 8 in B flat major
  • Quartet for Strings no 9 in D minor
  • Quintet for Guitar and Strings no 2 in C major
  • Solo de concert
  • Sonata for Flute and Harp
  • Sonata for Flute and Piano in C minor
  • Sonata for Oboe and Piano in F major
  • Study for Clarinet no 1 in B flat major
  • Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano in F major

Piano works

  • Adagio and Allegro for Piano in G major
  • Allegro for Piano in C major
  • Allegro for Piano in F minor
  • Fugue for Piano in G minor
  • Grand Waltz for Piano in A major
  • Larghetto for Piano in A minor "Una furtiva lagrima"
  • Larghetto for Piano in C major
  • Pastorale for Piano in E major
  • Presto for Piano in F minor
  • Sinfonia for Piano in A major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 1 in C major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 1 in D major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 2 in C major
  • Sinfonia for Piano no 2 in D major
  • Sonata for Piano in C major
  • Sonata for Piano in F major
  • Sonata for Piano in G major
  • Variations for Piano in E major
  • Variations for Piano in G major
  • Waltz for Piano in A major
  • Waltz for Piano in C major
  • Waltz for Piano in C major "The Invitation"


Prelude to Lucia di Lammermoor (file info)
Problems listening to the files? See media help.


  • "Ah, by Bacchus, with this aria I shall receive universal applause. People will say to me, 'Bravo maestro!'
I, in a very modest manner, shall walk about with bowed head; I’ll have rave reviews…I can become immortal…
My mind is vast, my genius swift…
And at composing, a thunderbolt am I."
(From a poem composed by 14 years-old Gaetano Donizetti)
  • "Donizetti, when asked which of his own operas he thought the best, spontaneously replied, 'How can I say which? A father always has a preference for a crippled child, and I have so many.'" (Louis Engel: "From Mozart to Mario," 1886)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cassaro, James P. Gaetano Donizetti: a guide to research, NY: Garland Pub., 2000. ISBN 0815323506
  • Donizetti, Gaetano, Salvatore Cammarano, Joan Sutherland, et al. Lucia di Lammermoor, London, England: 1985. OCLC 13222670
  • Gossett, Philip. Anna Bolena and the artistic maturity of Gaetano Donizetti, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985. ISBN 0193132052

Additional reading

  • Ashbrook, William. Donizetti and his Operas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Ashbrook also wrote an earlier life entitled Donizetti in 1965.
  • Sadie, Stanley, (ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Volume 7, London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 2001. The 1980 edition article, by William Ashbrook and Julian Budden, was also reprinted in The New Grove Masters of Italian Opera, London: Papermac, 1984: 93-154.
  • Sadie, Stanley, (ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Volume 1, London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1997: 1201-1221.
  • Saracino, Egidio, (ed.) Tutti I libretti di Donizetti, Garzanti Editore, 1993.
  • Weinstock, Herbert. Donizetti, London: Metheun & Co., Ltd., 1964. (UK publication date).
  • Petténi, Giuliano Donati. Donizetti, Milano: Fratelli Treves Editori, 1930.
  • Zavadini, Guido. Donizetti: Vita - Musiche - Epistolario, Bergamo: 1948.
  • Allitt, John Stewart. GAETANO DONIZETTI – Pensiero, musica, opere scelte, Milano: Edizione Villadiseriane, 2003.
  • Allitt, John Stewart. DONIZETTI – in the light of romanticism and the teaching of Johann Simon Mayr, Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element Books, 1991. Also see John's website [1].
  • Bini, Annalisa and Jeremy Commons. Le prime rappresentazioni delle opere di Donizetti nella stampa coeva, Milan: Skira, 1997.
  • Black, John. Donizetti's Operas in Naples 1822-1848, London: The Donizetti Society, 1982.
  • Kantner, Leopold M., ed. Donizetti in Wien, papers from a symposium in various languages, Primo Ottocento, available from Edition Praesens. ISBN 3706900068 ISSN 156008921.
  • Egidio, Saracino, ed. Tutti i libretti di Donizetti, Milan: Garzanti, 1993.

External links

All links retrieved April 17, 2024.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.