Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), the fifth son of a poor Bergamo family, was one of three great Italian romantic composers of the 19th century, with Rossini, Bellini and Verdi. Donizetti is best known for his operas and his masterpiece "Lucia di Lamermoor", but his work covers all genres and takes all forms: 71 operas but also symphonies, quartets, quintets, 28 cantatas and many compositions nuns (including a "Requiem" in 1835, on the death of Bellini) without counting the numerous pieces of chamber music and other "living room pieces".
After his marriage to Virginia Vasselli in 1828, Donizetti moved to Naples, capital city of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where he was musical director of the conservatory then of the royal theaters from 1828 to 1838. With the death of Bellini at 34 ( 1835), and the withdrawal of Rossini (Guillaume Tell, 1829), Donizetti, is the undisputed master of the Italian scene. He goes to Paris at the invitation of Rossini. He discovered the composers Meyerbeer and Halévy and the "grand opéra" à la française.
Back to Naples, he won a triumph there in 1835 with "Lucia di Lammermoor", composed in six weeks according to the legend, based on a novel by Walter Scott. The following years are particularly fatal. Death takes away his parents and children, his daughter, followed by his wife, victim of a cholera epidemic (1837). Depressed, he stopped teaching and left Naples for Paris.
Despite Berlioz's criticisms of him, the "music capital" has a triumph in store for him. The French version of "Lucie de Lamermoor" was premiered in 1839 at the Théâtre de la Renaissance. Donizetti then composed a series of operas on French librettos: "La fille du regiment" (1840), "La favorite" (1840), L "inda de Chamounix" (1842), "Don Pasquale" (1843).
In 1842, Emperor Ferdinand of Austria appointed him master of chapel at the court of Vienna, ("hofkapellmeister", as in the past Mozart). Donizetti then shares his time between Paris, the main Italian cities and Vienna.
But the first attacks of the disease are felt. He can no longer walk, loses speech. Returning to Paris in 1846, he was interned at the Ivry asylum and then transferred to Bergamo where he spent his last months sinking into madness. He died on April 8, 1848, in full glory. •
© Didier Chagnas