Giovanni Pacini

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Giovanni Pacini c. 1835 (original etching by G. Gazzini) Giovanni Pacini.jpg
Giovanni Pacini c. 1835 (original etching by G. Gazzini)

Giovanni Pacini (17 February 1796 6 December 1867) was an Italian composer, best known for his operas. Pacini was born in Catania, Sicily, 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.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.


His first 25 or so operas were written when Gioachino Rossini dominated the Italian operatic stage. But Pacini's operas were "rather superficial", a fact which, later, he candidly admitted in his Memoirs. [1] For some years he held the post of "director of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples." [1] Later, retiring to Viareggio to found a school of music, Pacini took time to assess the state of opera in Italy and, during a five-year period during which he stopped composing, laid out his ideas in his Memoirs. Like Saverio Mercadante, who also reassessed the strength and weaknesses of this period in opera, Pacini's style did change, but he quickly became eclipsed by the rising influence of Giuseppe Verdi on the Italian operatic scene, and many of his operas appeared to be old fashioned and rarely, if ever, appeared outside of Italy." [1] Pacini's work is largely forgotten today, although some recordings do exist.

Gioachino Rossini 19th-century Italian opera composer

Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

Saverio Mercadante Italian composer

Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante was an Italian composer, particularly of operas. While Mercadante may not have retained the international celebrity of Gaetano Donizetti or Gioachino Rossini beyond his own lifetime, he composed as prolific a number of works as either; and his development of operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration contributed significantly to the foundations upon which Giuseppe Verdi built his dramatic technique.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

Career as composer

During his lifetime, Pacini wrote some 74 operas. This is less than earlier estimates, which ranged from 80 to 90, since it has now been ascertained that many were just alternate titles for other works. It has been noted that he "bothered little about harmony and instrumentation", [1] a fact supported by Rossini who once said: "God help us if he knew music. No one could resist him". [1] Certainly, Pacini recognized Rossini's strengths and his dominance during this period: "Everyone followed the same school, the same fashions, and as a result they were all imitators of the great luminary .... If I was a follower of the great man from Pesaro, so was everyone else" [2]

The final scene of L'ultimo giorno di Pompei using a set designed by Alessandro Sanquirico Eruption of Vesuvius from Pacini's opera L'ultimo giorno di Pompei.jpg
The final scene of L'ultimo giorno di Pompei using a set designed by Alessandro Sanquirico

After Rossini moved to Paris in 1824, Pacini and his contemporaries (Giacomo Meyerbeer, Nicola Vaccai, Michele Carafa, Carlo Coccia, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, the brothers Federico and Luigi Ricci, and Saverio Mercadante) collectively began to change the nature of Italian opera and took bel canto singing in a new direction. Orchestration became heavier, coloratura was reduced, especially for men's voices, and more importance was placed on lyrical pathos. While there were exceptions, romantic leads were assigned to tenors (in Rossini's time, they were frequently sung by alto or mezzo-soprano women). Villains became basses or later baritones (while they often were tenors for Rossini). Over time, far more emphasis was placed on the drama.

Giacomo Meyerbeer German-born opera composer

Giacomo Meyerbeer was a German opera composer of Jewish birth who has been described as perhaps the most successful stage composer of the nineteenth century. With his 1831 opera Robert le diable and its successors, he gave the genre of grand opera 'decisive character'. Meyerbeer's grand opera style was achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe and were enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra. They set a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the nineteenth century.

Nicola Vaccai Italian composer

Nicola Vaccai was an Italian composer, particularly of operas, and a singing teacher.

Michele Carafa Italian opera composer

Michele Enrico Francesco Vincenzo Aloisio Paolo Carafa di Colobrano was an Italian opera composer. He was born in Naples and studied in Paris with Luigi Cherubini. He was Professor of counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire from 1840 to 1858. One of his notable pupils was Achille Peri.

The role that Pacini played in instituting these changes is only now beginning to be recognized. There is little doubt that Pacini and his contemporary Nicola Vaccai exerted a stronger influence on Bellini than has been credited before.[ citation needed ] 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 1825 within a few weeks of each other.

<i>Giulietta e Romeo</i> (Vaccai) 1825 tragedia lirica by Nicola Vaccai

Giulietta e Romeo is an opera in two acts by the Italian composer Nicola Vaccai. The libretto, by Felice Romani, is based on the tragedy of the same name by Luigi Scevola and, ultimately, on the 1530 novella of the same name by Luigi da Porto. It was first performed at the Teatro alla Canobbiana, Milan on 31 October 1825. It was Vaccai's last major success, although he wrote another nine operas, and is rarely performed in its full version today.

<i>Lultimo giorno di Pompei</i> opera by Giovanni Pacini

L'ultimo giorno di Pompei is an opera in two acts composed by Giovanni Pacini to an Italian libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola. It premiered to great success at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 19 November 1825 followed by productions in the major opera houses of Italy, Austria, France, and Portugal. When Pacini's popularity declined in the mid-19th century, the opera was all but forgotten until 1996 when it received its first performance in modern times at the Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca. L'ultimo giorno di Pompei influenced either directly or indirectly several other 19th-century works, most notably Karl Bryullov's 1833 painting, The Last Day of Pompeii.

Daughters of Pacini, Giovannina and Amazilia, 1832, by Karl Bryullov. 1832. BRULLOV VSADNICA1.jpg
Daughters of Pacini, Giovannina and Amazilia, 1832, by Karl Bryullov.

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), and the previously mentioned L'Ultimo giorno di Pompei (Naples, 1825).

In Alessandro nelle Indie, the title role of Alessandro was created by a baritonal tenor, Andrea Nozzari, but it was sung by the much lighter-voiced Giovanni David at the Milan revival, indicating Pacini's desire to go in a new direction. Arabi nelle Gallie (Milan, 1827) reached many of the world's most important stages and was the first Pacini opera to be given in the United States. It was staged 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 number of 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.

Many operas followed that are almost completely forgotten. However, one of these, Il corsaro (Rome, 1831) was revived 173 years later, in 2004, albeit only with piano accompaniment. This work is different in many ways from Verdi's later opera by the same name. The title role, Corrado, is a musico role for an alto, and the villainous Seid is a tenor.

However, first Bellini and then Donizetti outstripped Pacini in fame. Many of his later operas, such as Carlo di Borgogna of 1835, were failures, but this is one of the few Pacini operas currently available on CD, and it has received many warm reviews. Pacini himself was the first to recognize his apparent defeat noted in memoirs: "I began to realize that I must withdraw from the field. Bellini, the divine Bellini, has surpassed me." [2] Some years later, he resumed composing, and, after one more setback, enjoyed his greatest triumph with Saffo (Naples, 1840).

After Saffo, Pacini entered into another period of prominence. Donizetti had departed for Paris, Bellini had died, and Mercadante's major successes were behind him, thus Verdi offered the only important competition. Pacini's successes during this time period include 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). Allan Cameron (Venice, 1848) is noteworthy because it deals with the youth of King Charles II, before he was crowned King of England. In contrast—by 1844—Verdi had written Nabucco , I Lombardi , and Ernani , thus outstripping Pacini.

This period of accomplishments was followed by a long but slow decline, marked only by the moderate successes of La punizione (Venice, 1854), Il saltimbanco (Rome, 1858), and Niccolò de' Lapi (Florence,1873).

Pacini died in Pescia, Tuscany in 1867. During his lifetime, he produced much music of high caliber. His output of more than 70 stage works is staggering even compared to Rossini (41 operas) and Handel (43 operas), and he will always be remembered, with Donizetti, as one of the most prolific composers in the history of opera.


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Rose 2001, in Holden, p. 650
  2. 1 2 Pacini 1875, quoted in Budden, p. 9