Bellini Bizet Donizetti Mascagni Pacini Rossini Verdi
Rossini's William Tell (1829), based on Schiller's play,tells of the heroic fourteenth-century Swiss struggle against the oppressiverule of the Austrians. Melchthal has pledged with Tell to rid their country offoreign rule, and Melchthal's son, Arnold, has agreed to join them. Melchthal,however, trying to protect a local herdsman whose daughter an Austrian soldierwas attempting to rape, is taken prisoner and executed. Arnold returns to hisfamily home and laments the death of his father in the powerful aria Asilehereditaire , which Hector Berlioz thought to be the finest thing inRossini's score.
In Donizetti's La fille du regiment (1840), Maria, a girl ofuncertain parentage, was found on a battlefield and raised by the French 21stRegiment. During the French campaign into the Tyrolean Alps, Maria falls inlove with a local villager, Tonio, who saved her from slipping over a dangerousprecipice when she was picking flowers. French soldiers arrest Tonio, thinkinghe is a spy because of his lurking about camp to catch a glimpse of Maria, butshe clears him of any guilt by explaining that he saved her life. Maria andTonio declare their love. The soldiers insist that Maria may only marry amember of the regiment, however, so Tonio enlists and greets his new comradesin Ah! mes amis .
Act I of Donizetti's tragedy La favorite, composed for theParis Opera in 1840, is set in 1340 in the Spanish monastery of St James atCompostela, where Fernand is a novice. As the monks process into the chapel,Balthazar, the Superior of the order and Fernand's father, notices a disquietin his son. When he inquires about the source of the young man's agitation,Fernand replies with the aria Un ange, une femne inconnue , in which heconfesses that he has become obsessed with a beautiful woman he saw praying inthe chapel.
In the rivalry over the rule of thirteenth-century Sicilythat motivates Bellini's Il pirata (1827), Gualtiero has been defeated andexiled by Ernesto, and has turned to a life of piracy to keep his cause alive.Both men loved Imogene, but Ernesto has coerced her into marrying him despiteher love for Gualtiero by blackmailing her father, a supporter of Gualtiero'sdefeated party. The opera opens as a furious storm drives Gualtiero's ship ontothe Sicilian shore, whereupon he confesses in Nel furor delle tempeste &  that an angelic image of Imogene has stayed always in his thoughts.
Torna, vezzosa Fillide  dates from 1826, a year afterBellini had graduated from the Real Collegio di Musica in Naples and during thetime that he was producing his first professionally staged opera, Bianca eFernando, at the city's Teatro San Carlo. Torna, vezzosa Fillide, a shepherd'slament for his lost Phyllis by an unknown poet, shows Bellini's gifts formelody, dramatic expression and operatic scale to have been present from earlyin his career.
Giovanni Pacini, one of the most popular and prolificItalian composers of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, producedsome ninety operas, a quantity of other music, several theoretical treatisesand many journal articles. Born in 1796 in Catania, on the cast coast ofSicily, Pacini was trained in Bologna and Venice, and scored his first successin 1817 in Milan with the melodramma semiserio Adelaide e Comingio. He wasappointed maestro di cappella to the Duchess Marie-Louise de Bourbon in Luccain 1821, built himself a fine house in the coastal town of Viareggio (nearwhere Giacomo Puccini would make his home seventy years later), and enjoyedexcellent success for the next decade as composer and musical director fortheatres in Naples and Milan. The failure of several operas in the early 1830s,however, halted his creative work for nearly five years, during which time hefounded a successful music school and a private theatre in Viareggio andreceived an appointment as maestro di cappella to the archducal court of Lucca.After returning to operatic composition in 1839, Pacini incorporated harmonicand orchestral elements of the flourishing Romantic style and treated onlyserious subjects. He continued to compose after moving to Pescia, just east ofLucca, in 1855, but he was unable to meet the rising competition of GiuseppeVerdi, and largely devoted the remaining years until his death, in 1867, toteaching and writing instrumental music. Though Pacini was a talented melodist,the swift pace of his composition allowed for little polishing of the harmony,instrumentation and dramatic details of his works. \God help us if he knewmusic," Rossini once said, "No one could resist him."
In Bizet's 1875 opera, the seductive Carmen flirts with DonJose, a guardsman in Seville's militia, during a break from her work at thecigarette factory. Carmen returns to the factory. A m?¬lee erupts; Carmen hasstabbed one of the other girls. She is caught as she runs from the factory,bound, and left in the charge of Don Jose. She promises to meet him at a localtavern and reward him with her love if he will untie her hands and help her toescape. He does, and is imprisoned. After his release, he seeks out Carmen, andtells her of the special pleasure that the flower she gave to him had duringhis prison term in the lovely Flower Song .
Verdi's I Lombardi alla prima crociata (The Lombards at theFirst Crusade) of 1843 shows how Arvino leads the Lombards in an assault onAntioch. His daughter, Giselda, is captured by the Muslims. Oronte, a Muslimprince, falls in love with Giselda, and sings of his passion in La mia letiziainfondere .
Luisa Miller (1849), based on Schiller's 1784 melodramaKabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), tells of the title character's love forRodolfo, son of Count Walter, and the machinations of Walter to keep them apartto conceal the fact that he has come into his noble title through murder.Luisa's father is taken prisoner, and to save his life she writes a letter toRodolfo under Walter's duress claiming that she in fact loves another.Convinced of Luisa's faithlessness, Rodolfo sings of his heartbreak in Quandole sere al placido .
Il trovatore (1853), set in northern Spain at the beginningof the fifteenth century, is a tale of nobles and gypsies and the vengefulcircumstances that bring them together to share tragedy. The mother of thegypsy Azucena has been burned at the stake as a witch by Count di Luna. As theold woman dies, she calls upon her daughter to avenge her death; Azucena stealsthe Count's infant brother. A baby's skeleton, found in the burned emberssurrounding the stake, is assumed to be the missing child. The opera beginstwenty years later. Manrico, believing himself to be the son of Azucena, is theenemy of Count di Luna. Both love Leonora, but it is Manrico's affections thatshe reciprocates. In Ah, s?¼, ben mio [!], Manrico acknowledges the strengththat he finds in the love of Leonora. Count di Luna subsequently sentencesAzucena to a fiery death at the stake on suspicion of spying, and Manrico setsoff to rescue her in Di quella pira . Through the tangled web of the story,Manrico is captured in battle by di Luna, who sentences his enemy to death.Leonora offers herself to di Luna in exchange for Manrico's life. Di Lunaaccepts, and agrees to release Manrico, but Leonora swallows poison concealedin her ring, and dies. Di Luna proceeds with Manrico's execution. Upon hisdeath, Azucena announces that Manrico was, after all, the Count's youngerbrother, and that she has finally won a terrible vengeance for her mother'sexecution.
Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana (1890) created a sens