Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti – (born 29 November 1797 – died 8 April 1848) was an Italian composer from Bergamo in Lombardy. Along with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto opera style during the first fifty years of the Nineteenth Century.
Although Donizetti did not come from a musical background, at an early age he was taken under the wing of composer Simon Mayr who had enrolled him by means of a full scholarship in a school which he had set up. There he received detailed training in the arts of fugue and counterpoint. Mayr was also instrumental in obtaining a place for the young man at the Bologna Academy, where, at the age of 19, he wrote his first one-act opera, the comedy Il Pigmalione, although it does not appear to have been performed during his lifetime.
Over the course of his career, Donizetti wrote almost 70 operas, but an offer in 1822 from Domenico Barbaja, the impresario of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, which followed the composer’s ninth opera, led to his move to that city and his residency which lasted until the production of Caterina Cornaro in January 1844. In all, Naples presented 51 of Donizetti’s operas.
Before 1830, success came primarily with his comic operas, the serious ones failing to attract significant audiences. However, his first real success came with an opera seria, Zoraida di Granata, which was presented in 1822 in Rome. In 1830, when Anna Bolena was premiered, Donizetti made a major impact on the Italian and international opera scene and this shifted the balance of success away from primarily comedic operas, although even after that date, his best-known works also included comedies such as L’elisir d’amore (1832) and Don Pasquale (1843). Significant historical dramas did appear and became successful; they included Lucia di Lammermoor (the first to have a libretto written by Salvadore Cammarano) given in Naples in 1835, in addition to one of the most successful Neapolitan operas, Roberto Devereux in 1837. Up to that point, all of his operas had been set to Italian libretti.
Donizetti found himself increasingly chafing against the censorial limitations which existed in Italy (and especially in Naples). From about 1836, he became interested in working in Paris, where he saw much greater freedom to choose subject matter, in addition to receiving larger fees and greater prestige. From 1838 onward, with an offer from the Paris Opéra for two new works, he spent a considerable period of the following ten years in that city, and set several operas to French texts as well as overseeing stages of his Italian works. The first opera was a French version of the then-unperformed Poliuto which, in April 1840, was revised to become Les martyrs. Two new operas were also given in Paris at that time.
As the 1840s progressed, Donizetti moved regularly between Naples, Rome, Paris, and Vienna continuing to compose and stage his own operas as well as those of other composers. But from around 1843, severe illness began to take hold and to limit his activities. Eventually, by early 1846 he was obliged to be confined to an institution for the mentally ill and, by late 1847, friends had him moved back to Bergamo, where he died in April 1848.