Giovanni Pacini

From New World Encyclopedia

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.

Opera Output

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.

Opera Successes

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.

Pacini's Setbacks

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.

Operas and Their Premieres

  • Don Pomponio (1813 unfinished)
  • Annetta e Lucindo (October 17, 1813 Teatro S. Radegonda, Milan)
  • La ballerina raggiratrice (1814 Teatro alla Pergola, Florence)
  • L'ambizione delusa (1814 Teatro alla Pergola, Florence)
  • L'escavazione del tesoro (December 18, 1814, Pisa)
  • Gli sponsali de' silfi (1814–1815 Teatro de' Filodrammatici, Milan)
  • Bettina vedova (Il seguito di Ser Mercantonio) (1815 Teatro San Moisè, Venice)
  • La Rosina (1815 Teatro alla Pergola, Florence)
  • La Chiarina (1815 Teatro San Moisè, Venice)
  • L'ingenua (May 4, 1816 Teatro S. Benedetto, Venice)
  • Il matrimonio per procura (January 2, 1817 Teatro Rè, Milan)
  • Dalla beffa il disinganno, ossia La poetessa (1816–1817 Teatro Rè, Milan) [revised with new libretto as Il carnevale di Milano (February 23, 1817 Teatro Rè, Milan)]
  • Piglia il mondo come viene (May 28, 1817 Teatro Rè, Milan)
  • I virtuosi di teatro (1817 Teatro Rè, Milan)
  • La bottega di caffè (1817 Teatro Rè, Milan)
  • Adelaide e Comingio (December 30, 1817 Teatro Rè, Milan) [also known as Isabella e Florange, Il comingio, and Comingio pittore]
  • Atala (June 1818 Teatro Nuovo, Padua)
  • Gl'illinesi (1818 unfinished)
  • Il barone di Dolsheim (September 23, 1818 Teatro alla Scala, Milan) [also known as Federico II re di Prussia, Il barone di Felcheim, and La colpa emendata dal valore]
  • La sposa fedele (January 14, 1819 Teatro S. Benedetto, Venice)
  • Il falegname di Livonia (April 12, 1819 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Vallace, o L'eroe scozzese (February 14, 1820 Teatro alla Scala, Milan) [also known as Odoardo I re d'Inghilterra]
  • La sacerdotessa d'Irminsul (May 11, 1820 Teatro Grande, Trieste)
  • La schiava in Bagdad, ossia Il papucciajo (October 28, 1820 Teatro Carignano, Turin)
  • La gioventù di Enrico V (December 26, 1820 Teatro Valle, Rome) [also known as La bella tavernara, ossia Le avventure d'una notte]
  • Cesare in Egitto (December 26, 1821 Teatro Argentina, Rome) (libretto by Jacopo Ferretti)
  • La vestale (February 6, 1823 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Temistocle (August 23, 1823 Teatro Giglio, Lucca)
  • Isabella ed Enrico (June 12, 1824 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Alessandro nelle Indie (September 29, 1824 Teatro San Carlo, Naples); revised, Milan December 26, 1826
  • Amazilia (July 6, 1825 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • L'ultimo giorno di Pompei (November 19, 1825 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • La gelosia corretta (March 27, 1826 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Niobe (November 19, 1826 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Gli arabi nelle Gallie, ossia Il trionfo della fede (March 8, 1827 Teatro alla Scala, Milan) [revised with additions: L'ultimo dei clodovei (1855 Théâtre Italien, Paris)]
  • Margherita regina d'Inghilterra (November 19, 1827 Teatro San Carlo, Naples) [also known as Margherita d'Anjou]
  • I cavalieri di Valenza (June 11, 1828 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • I crociati a Tolemaide, ossia Malek-Adel (November 13, 1828 Teatro Grande, Trieste) [also known as La morte di Malek-Adel]
  • Il talismano, ovvero La terza crociata in Palestina (June 10, 1829 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • I fidanzati, ossia Il contestabile di Chester (November 19, 1829 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Giovanna d'Arco (March 14, 1830 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Il corsaro (January 15, 1831 Teatro Apollo, Rome) [revived 1832 La Scala, Milan]
  • Ivanhoe (March 19, 1832 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Don Giovanni Tenorio, o Il convitato di pietra (1832 Casa Belluomini, Viareggio)
  • Gli elvezi, ovvero Corrado di Tochemburgo (January 12, 1833 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Fernando duca di Valenza (May 30, 1833 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Irene, o L'assedio di Messina (November 30, 1833 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Carlo di Borgogna (February 21, 1835 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Furio Camillo (December 26, 1839 Teatro Apollo, Rome)
  • Saffo (November 29, 1840 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • L'uomo del mistero (November 9, 1841 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Il duca d'Alba (February 26, 1842 Teatro La Fenice, Venice) [also known as Adolfo di Warbel]
  • La fidanzata corsa (December 10, 1842 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Maria, regina d'Inghilterra (February 11, 1843 Teatro Carolino, Palermo)
  • Medea (November 28, 1843 Teatro Carolino, Palermo) [revived 1845, Vicenza]
  • Luisella, ossia La cantatrice del molo di Napoli (December 13, 1843 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • L'ebrea (February 27, 1844 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Lorenzino de' Medici (March 4, 1845 Teatro La Fenice, Venice) [revised as Rolandino di Torresmondo (1858 Teatro San Carlo, Naples), frequently given as Elisa Valasco]
  • Bondelmonte (June 18, 1845 Teatro alla Pergola, Florence), later known as Buondelmonte
  • Stella di Napoli (December 11, 1845 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • La regina di Cipro (February 7, 1846 Teatro Regio, Turin)
  • Merope (November 25, 1847 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Ester d'Engaddi (February 1, 1848 Teatro Regio, Turin)
  • Allan Cameron (March 18, 1848 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)This opera was revised several times.
  • Zaffira, o La riconciliazione (November 15, 1851 Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
  • Malvina di Scozia (December 27, 1851 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • L'assedio di Leida (Elnava) (1852 unfinished)
  • Rodrigo di Valenza (1852 not performed) This is very probably an earlier version of Il Cid.
  • Il Cid (March 12, 1853 Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
  • Romilda di Provenza (December 8, 1853 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • La donna delle isole (1854 not performed)
  • La punizione (March 8, 1854 Teatro La Fenice, Venice) [originally composed with the title of Lidia di Brabante for Palermo's Teatro Carolino, 1853; revised as Lidia di Bruxelles (October 21, 1858 Teatro Comunale, Bologna) and in 1855 for Rio de Janeiro as Niccolò de' Lapi but not performed there; this version premiered (October 29, 1873 at Teatro Pagliano, Florence)]
  • Margherita Pusterla (February 25, 1856 Teatro San Carlo, Naples)
  • Il saltimbanco (May 24, 1858 Teatro Argentina, Rome)
  • Gianni di Nisida (October 29, 1860 Teatro Argentina, Rome)
  • Il mulattiere di Toledo (May 25, 1861 Teatro Apollo, Rome)
  • Belfagor (December 1, 1861 Teatro alla Pergola, Florence) [probably composed 1851]
  • Carmelita (1863 not performed)
  • Don Diego di Mendoza (January 12, 1867 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
  • Berta di Varnol (April 6, 1867 Teatro San Carlo, Naples) [partly composed 1859]

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Capra, Marco. Intorno a Giovanni Pacini, Pisa: ETS. 2003.
  • Kaufman, Tom. “Giovanni Pacini—A Composer for the Millennium.” Opera Quarterly. 16.3. 2000.
  • Pacini, Giovanni, Cammarano, Salvatore. Sappho a new grand serious opera. London: W.S. Johnson. 1843.
  • Pacini, Giovanni. Le mie memorie artistiche. Sala Bolognese: Arnaldo Forni. 1978.
  • Pacini, Giovanni, Gossett, Philip. Il barone di Dolsheim. NY: Garland. 1989.


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