Gaetano Donizetti Biography

Gaetano Donizetti

Birthday: November 29, 1797 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Bergamo

Gaetano Donizetti was among the three great leaders of the opera style known as ‘bel canto’, the other two being Rossini and Bellini. Donizetti’s skills in music were discovered at a very early stage. He was just nine years old when he was enrolled in the Lezioni Caritatevoli School on a full scholarship. As a composer, Donizetti mastered both comic and serious operas and composed 71 operas in his lifetime. His success came with his famous opera, ‘Zoraida di Granata’, which was noticed by Domenico Barbaia, a famous theatre manager, and Donizetti signed a contract to compose in Naples. He achieved minor popularity in the 1820’s, but with his ‘Anna Bolena’, he gained instant popularity in 1830. This opera was premiered in Milan and he became a famous opera personality throughout Europe. Shortly after, he composed ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, which was deemed as his most renowned opera. His works were greatly influenced by Rossini and Bellini and he, like them, staged some of his compositions in Paris, ‘Marin Faliero’ being one of them. Unfortunately, Paris did not bring him any fame and he turned to Naples. In 1838, he relocated to Paris. He was appointed the music director for the Italian opera at Kärntnertortheater and lived in Paris for the rest of his life. Donizetti is remembered for his operas and his style of composition influenced many contemporary and later writers
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Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In November

Died At Age: 50


Spouse/Ex-: Virginia Vasseli

siblings: Giuseppe Donizetti

Composers Italian Men

Died on: April 8, 1848

place of death: Bergamo

Diseases & Disabilities: Bipolar Disorder

More Facts

education: Liceo Filarmonico, Bologna

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was born to a poor family in 1797 in Bergamo, situated in northern Italy. At a young age of 9, he became a music apprentice under Johann Simon Mayr. With the help of Mayr, Donizetti went on to study music in the famous Lezioni Caritatevoli School in Bolonga, in 1815. Mayr supported Donizetti until he received a solid musical education. He helped the young boy harp his skills in music, for he was the one who recognized the boy’s musical endowments. Towards his adulthood, he started taking lessons from Padre Mattei, a prominent counterpoint virtuoso. Donizetti’s journey was from rags to international popularity and from an unmusical upbringing to a lifetime dedicated to music.

Career And International Prominence
Donizetti began composing quite early but his works from 1816 to 1817 were never staged. However, eventually he gained pace after ‘Enrico di Borgogna’ was performed. This was his first opera to be staged. Donizetti confidently exercised his prowess in almost all types of operas such as comedies, serious operas, romantic melodramas and neo classical themes. His career reached its apex with his ‘Zoraide di Grenata’. This work brought him a contract from Domenico Barbaia to write in Naples. Barbaia was fascinated by the Donizetti’s ‘Zoraide di Grenata’ and knew that he can do wonders if given a chance, and that happened. The next eight years marked the busy theatre life of Donizetti. He wrote for Rome, Milan and Naples at the same time. He was met with a mixed response, though he was quite known in these three places by then. Then came his first masterpiece, ‘Anna Bolena’ in 1830. The opera was performed in Milan and Donizetti shot to fame internationally. Everyone in Europe recognized Donizetti. ‘L'elisir d'amore’ (1832) came soon after, and was also widely accepted. Donizetti then came up with ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, which was based on Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ which was again a chef-d'oeuvre. Donizetti was well conversant with the greatest singers of his day, and he created many characters in his operas for their explicit vocal talents. In 1833, after the success of ‘Lucrezia Borgia’, Donizetti travelled to Paris and tried his luck there. His opera ‘Marin Faliero’ was a failure. His works were compared with Bellini which is why his triumph over the Paris audience was difficult. So, he decided to produce ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ in Naples. He composed another comic opera ‘L’elisir d’amore’ which was another success. These two operas are performed till today. In addition to his operas, Donizetti produced a large number of compositions in other genera. His cantatas, religious works, symphonies, string quartets and quintets, and numerous piano solos, voice and piano pieces and pieces for piano and other instruments were also well-known among his followers.

Personal Life And Death
Donizetti’s personal life was quite unfortunate. He met Virginia Vasselli in Rome in the 1820’s and they got married in 1828. Virginia gave birth to three children but sadly, none of them survived. His parents also died in the 1830’s which was another blow. The tragedy did not end here. A year after the death of his parents, his wife succumbed to a cholera epidemic. As for Donizetti, he had suffered from malaises, headaches, nausea and lightning conditions for decades, but was never treated. Finally, he was diagnosed with cerebro-spinal syphilis. Donizetti was struck by paralysis in 1845 followed by a quick dementia. The same year, he was moved to his Paris apartment after his friend Baron Lannoy got to know about his condition. His friends in Bergamo finally brought him to his home town, where he stayed at Baroness Scotti's palace till he died. However, He remained detached from everyone and everything until his death in 1848.

Donizetti was equipped with a great ability to compose in a short period of time. His operas were inspired by the happenings of his own life and the life around him. The miseries and fineries of his life found way in his operas, in the form of melodies. Though he was greatly influenced by Bellini and Rossini, he carved a niche for himself. He is remembered for his expressive vocabulary and used to create various roles in his operas, which allowed the singers of his time to display their special vocal talents. His style of composition was inspirational to many Italian composers, especially Verdi. His ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and ‘L’elisir d’amore’ are two comic operas performed worldwide, till today.

Types Of Works
Though Donizetti is recollected for his operas, he had many other compositions.

  • Over 70 operas both in Italian and French
  • 20 string quartets
  • Cantatas
  • 3 string quintets
  • Sacred works and some songs

Notable Operas
1818- Enrico di Borgogna
1830- Anna Bolena
1832 - L'elisir d'amore
1833 - Lucrezia Borgia
1835 - Lucia di Lammermoo
1840 - Maria Padilla, La fille du regiment, La favorite
1843 - Don Pasquale, Dom Sébastien roi de Portugal



 Was born on 29 November, into a poor family in Bergamo, northern Italy


Was admitted to a choir school founded by the famous composer Johann Simon Mayr.


Carried on his studies in Bologna under the distinguished teacher, Padre Mattei.


Tied the knot with Virginia Vasselli, daughter of a Roman lawyer.


His opera ‘Anna Bolena’ brought him international fame.


Appointed as the director of the Naples Music School.


The death of his wife during a cholera epidemic and relocation to Paris.


Showed growing signs of mental illness and paralysis


Died on 8 April, in Bergamo, his hometown

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