Music Gaetano Donizetti
James P. Cassaro
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0239


In telling the history of Italian opera in the 19th century, the shortest distance between two towering figures, Gioachino Rossini (b. 1792–d. 1868) and Giuseppe Verdi (b. 1813–d. 1901), is not a straight line. There were other composers who worked within the formal conventions of the time and managed to push boundaries and expand the forms of aria, scena, and finale, thereby increasing the dramatic intensity of 19th-century opera. Gaetano Donizetti (b. 1797–d. 1848) is one such example. However, to measure an opera composer’s accomplishments purely in terms of his departure from convention was a hallmark of scholars in the 1990s. Today, it is widely accepted that Donizetti—as well as Rossini, Bellini, and Verdi—excelled and commanded audience enthusiasm because of the ways in which they worked within a set of musical and dramatic conventions. The skillful manipulation and subtle variations of those conventions are what make Italian opera a significant art form, one that mattered to many in 19th-century Italy, and beyond. Nonetheless, Donizetti, renowned in his day for performances in all the major musical capitals of Europe—Paris, Milan, Naples, and Vienna—was in the later 19th century relegated to the annals of history and forgotten by generations of opera audiences and scholars. In the 1950s, there was a revival of interest in the bel canto repertoire as well as in the operas of Donizetti. This revival, spearheaded by several conductors (among them Richard Bonynge), as well as by singers building what would become monumental careers (notably Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, and Marilyn Horne), resulted in a long overdue reassessment of the composer’s works. Indeed, a number of influential scholars discovered that Donizetti clearly began his career by employing the formulaic devices made famous by Rossini—slow arias followed by fast cabalettas, or what Abramo Basevi later in the 19th century coined as la solita forma—but later developed a distinct voice of his own, a voice that would eventually influence Verdi as well as other opera composers. By chronicling the vast array of scholarly literature written on Donizetti and his works, a clearer view of Donizetti’s impact on the history of opera comes into focus.

General Sources

The process of research and access to music information can be complex. However, a thorough understanding of the importance of basic informational sources is critical to the process. Gaetano Donizetti is widely covered in most of these sources, many of which are derived from earlier published material.

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