Bellini’s premature death allowed finally Donizetti to take the title of “Main Italian composer” left vacant by Rossini a decade before. On the other end, his sickness and death spared him the humiliation of being ousted again by the irresistible rise of Verdi.
Riccardo Zandonai was one of the last Italian operatic master craftsmen. Although many Italian composers after him continued to write operas, none will show the same consistent dedication or would produce such an impressive body of works. Composer of symphonic and chamber music as well as sacred music, Zandonai was also a sensitive and intelligent conductor.
Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua attended the successful performance of Peri’s Euridice in Florence, which was probabily witnessed also by Monteverdi himself. The Duke realized immediately the originality of this new entertainment and the prestige that would reflect on the lord that sponsored it.
I Capuleti e i Montecchi is considered by many Bellini’s first masterpiece. It certainly recalls in many ways the great belcanto era, particularly in the way the roles are organized: the mezzo-soprano as male protagonist, the soprano as his lover, the tenor as the hero’s rival, bass and bariton respectively as the noble father and the tyrant. However, Capuleti is not strictly a belcanto opera because of its intimate and at times dramatic atmosphere. So much so that the many embellishments, counterbalanced by a well-defined melodic core, are not ornamentation anymore but start to take an expressive connotation.