Born into a poor family in Bergamo in 1797, Donizetti received his formative training from the German composer Johann Simon Mayr, and (following an early stint in Bologna) established himself at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples where the majority of his operas were premiered. Much of his later career was spent in Paris, where the relatively relaxed censorship regulations allowed him greater artistic freedom, and several of his operas exist in both French and Italian versions.
He wrote nearly 70 operas, both tragic and comic, of which perhaps half a dozen (Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Pasquale, L'elisir d'amore, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and La Fille du Régiment) remain part of the core repertoire today. Along with Rossini and Bellini he is counted as part of the great bel canto triumvirate: placing equal emphasis on long melodic lines and vocal fireworks, his music demands impeccable technique, including flexibility, superb breath-control and the capacity for light and shade ('chiaroscuro').
Donizetti's final years were blighted by mental breakdown and the complications of syphilis, and died in Bergamo in 1848; he is buried close to his mentor Mayr in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
You can view Presto's hand-picked selection of favourite Donizetti recordings here.
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