Gaetano Donizetti was born in 1797 in a dark basement in Bergamo. He was born in a poor family with six children, but Donizetti was lucky enough to receive a free musical education at the school of the opera composer Simone Mayr. Mayr recognised Donizetti's talent and after giving him composition lessons he ensured he could continue his studies in Bologna. He also helped him get his first opera commission. Donizetti kept working hard and for a considerable period he composed four operas each year. A large part of his career, he worked in Naples, which could be a reason why his artistic style remained relatively conventional. After all, the opera audience in Naples had a conservative taste and censorship was extraordinarily strict: absolutely no violence or 'improper' romantic relationships on stage! Donizetti had the gift to compose remarkably fast and wrote in total more than 80 operas, both serious and comic. His operas L'Elisir d'Amore and Don Pasquale remain popular due to their cheerful and energetic music, uplifting rhythms, and tender melodies. Among his serious operas, his Lucia di Lammermoor, with its famous "mad scene" is most popular. Donizetti died in 1848 in Bergamo, after staying in a medical facility in Paris for months, suffering from dementia and paralysed by syphilis. A tragic death for a composer who was also known for his warm personality.
Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily, in 1801. Unlike for his later rival Gaetano Donizetti a musical career seemed obvious. Both his father and grandfather were composers as well. Bellini studied at the conservatory of Naples, where the classical simplicity of Paisiello's music served as an example. The virtuoso melodies and loud orchestrations of Rossini, who was incredibly popular at the time, was detested at the academy. Bellini, however, knew to combine both styles magnificently. His first opera's contained surprisingly little coloratura, which gave him a reputation of a philosopher.
Bellini had the talent to compose beautiful, seemingly endless melodies; a talent which brought him acclaim from Verdi and Chopin, among many others. And yet, Bellini was also a pragmatic composer, who was happy to accomodate the wishes of his singers. He was known for his careful planning of his career and quickly gained a position to be able to set his own demands. His relationship with a rich, married woman strengthened his independence. Unlike his colleagues, Belline only had to compose one opera per year. Even so, it often became a rush job, because his trusted librettist Felice Romani sent his work too late. It did not stop them from writing absolute master pieces together, such as La Sonnambula and Norma. Many more would have followed, if it weren't for Bellini's unfortunate death from amoebiasis at the early age of 34.
Gioachino Rossini was born in 1797 in Pesaro, born to a hornist and opera singer. He spent his youth in the opera hall and at the age of 14 he started his studies to become a composer in Bologna, where he was taught to use a strict counterpoint technique. Quite soon, Rossini composing a large number of operas: his famous comic operas (among which his Il Barbiere di Siviglia) in his early twenties, and most of his serious operas in his late twenties. With his compelling, rhythmic music, which was characterised by its orchestral exuberance and coloratura fireworks, Rossini took over the world of music, to the frustration of critics and academics. When he reached the age of 31, he left Italy and traveled to London and Paris. His success made him powerfully rich. Rossini retired early. With almost 40 years still to live, he composed his last opera, Guillaume Tell, in Paris. Some reasons for his unexpected retirement could be his recurring illness, his financial stability and the adverse political and artistic conditions of the time. For 20 years, Rossini struggled with his health. He returned to Paris in 1855, where he recovered to some extent. Together with his wife, he organised special dinner parties for the upper class, and for those occasions he wrote his many chamber music works, which he referred to as his Péchés de Vieillesse. He died in 1868. Rossini's image is characterised by the many humoristic anecdotes about him. Yet, even though his comic operas are masterfully composed, his serious operas have been truly influential and formed the basis for the romantic operas of Donizetti and Bellini.