Giovanni Pacini (February 2, 1796 – December 6, 1867) was an Italian composer, singer, teacher, and scorer of operas who is best known for his operas such as Saffo. His musical works included his penchant for the colorful use of the orchestra to enhance the depth of the libretto and the arias. This pairing of the orchestra and the libretto depicted Pacini's understanding of the partnership between the human voice and the orchestral instruments that created a harmonious and cooperative interaction.
Pacini was born in Catania, the son of the buffo Luigi Pacini, who was to appear in the premieres of many of Giovanni's operas. The family was of Tuscan origin, and just happened to be in Catania when the composer was born.
During his lifetime, Pacini wrote, at the latest count, some 74 operas. This is less than earlier estimates, which ranged from 80-90, since it has now been ascertained that many were just alternate titles for other works. His first 25 or so operas, written during the time when Rossini was still in Italy, were, not surprisingly, in the Rossini style, but so were most other operas of the time. After Rossini left, Pacini and his contemporaries (Meyerbeer, Vaccai, Carafa, Coccia, Bellini, Donizetti, the Ricci brothers and Mercadante) started to modify the nature of Italian opera around 1824. Collectively, they created a new style for bel canto opera. This new style differed quite a bit from Rossini's. The orchestration became heavier, there was considerably less coloratura, especially for men's voices, and there was much more lyrical pathos. While there were exceptions, romantic leads were much more likely to be assigned to tenors (in Rossini's day, they were frequently sung by women referred to as "musicos"), and villains were generally basses or later baritones (they frequently were tenors in Rossini's operas). Over a period of time, far more emphasis was to be placed on the dramatic side of opera.
The success of many of Pacini's lighter operas, especially Il Barone di Dolsheim, La sposa fedele, and La schiava in Bagdad (all composed between 1818 and 1820), made Pacini one of the most prominent composers in Italy. His position was greatly enhanced by the rapid-fire successes of Alessandro nelle Indie (Naples, 1824, revised, Milan, 1826; given and recorded in London in November 2006), Amazilia (Naples 1824, revised, Vienna, 1827), the previously mentioned L'Ultimo Giorno di Pompei (Naples, 1825), and Gli arabi nelle Gallie (Milan, 1827). The title role of Alessandro was originally created by baritenor Andrea Nozzari, but was sung by the much lighter Giovanni David at the Milan revision. Arabi nelle Gallie eventually reached many of the world's most important stages and was the first of Pacini's operas to be given in the United States. It was staged quite frequently in Italy, and it was not until 1830 that Bellini's first success, Il pirata (also Milan, 1827) passed Gli arabi nelle Gallie in performances at the Teatro alla Scala. While this is not generally recognized, it was Pacini, rather than Donizetti, Mercadante or Bellini, who gave Rossini the stiffest competition in Italy during the 1820s.
A good number of operas, generally forgotten, followed. Still, one of these, Il corsaro (Rome, 1831), was revived, albeit only with piano accompaniment, in 2004. It is different in many ways from Verdi's later work, by the same title. The title role, Corrado, is now sung by a musico (armour-bearing contralto) and Seid by a tenor.
While most of Bellini's subsequent works were moderately to highly successful, and Donizetti also had more than his share of triumphs, Pacini was unable to keep up; some of his ensuing operas over the next few years failed miserably. Still, the complete recording, released in early 2002, of Carlo di Borgogna makes one yearn for more Pacini operas, and makes one wonder why it was such a failure at its premiere. Pacini was the first to recognize his apparent defeat and made the following entry in his memoirs: "I began to realize that I must withdraw from the field. Bellini, the divine Bellini has surpassed me." Some years later, he resumed composing, and, after one more setback, enjoyed his greatest success, Saffo (Naples, 1840).
After Saffo, Pacini entered into another period of great prominence in the early and mid-1840s. Bellini had died years ago, Donizetti had left for Paris, and only Mercadante and the young Verdi were important enough to be serious rivals. Mercadante's major successes were already behind him, thus Verdi offered the only real competition, and it was not until 1844 that Verdi eclipsed Pacini with the unparalleled triumph of Ernani. (Successful as Nabucco and I Lombardi were, they were initially less so than Saffo.) It was in the 1840s that Pacini enjoyed his most glorious years, with one hit after another. These included La fidanzata corsa (Naples, 1842), Maria, regina d'Inghilterra (Palermo, 1843), Medea (Palermo, 1843 with several later revisions, the last of which was in Naples in 1853), Lorenzino de' Medici (Venice, 1845), Bondelmonte (Florence, 1845),[Stella di Napoli]] (Naples,1845), and La regina di Cipro (Turin, 1846). A concert performance of Lorenzino had been planned in Italy in 2006, but was postponed shortly before the performance could take place. Allan Cameron (Venice, 1848) should also be mentioned, especially since it deals with the youth of King Charles II before he was crowned King of England. (A particularly exciting aria from this work has recently been recorded by Annick Massis and issued by Opera Rara.) This was followed by another, and much longer, period of gradual decline, marked only by the successes of La punizione (Venice, 1854) and Il saltimbanco (Rome, 1858). Pacini died in Pescia, Tuscany in 1867.
The role that Giovanni Pacini played in instituting dramatic changes into Italian opera is only now beginning to be recognized. There can be no doubt that both Pacini, and his contemporary, Nicola Vaccai, exerted a much stronger influence on Bellini than they had been credited with before. This change in attitude can be credited to the revival of two key works (Vaccai's Giulietta e Romeo and Pacini's L'ultimo giorno di Pompei, both composed in Italy in 1825) within a few weeks of each other in 1996.
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