Giovanni Pacini

Giovanni Pacini

Giovanni Pacini (February 2, 1796. – December 6, 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.

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. His first 25 or so operas were written when Gioacchino Rossini dominated the Italian operatic stage, and took after Rossini's style.

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.

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. 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.

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 nell'Indie" (Naples, 1824), 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 one hundred sevety-three 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.

Still, first Bellini and then Donizetti outstripped Pacini in fame. Many of his later operas, such as "Carlo di Borgogna" of 1835, were failures. Pacini himself was the first to recognize his apparent defeat and made the following entry in his memoirs: "I began to realize that I must withdraw from the field. Bellini, the divine Bellini, has surpassed me." Some years later, he resumed composing, and, after one more setback, enjoyed his greatest triumph with "Saffò" (Naples, 1840).

After "Saffo", Pacini entered into another period of prominence. Donizetti had departed for Paris 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. Still, 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 "Nicolo de'Lapi" (Florence,1873).

Pacini died in Pescia, Tuscany in 1867. Although he is mostly forgotten today, 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.


See List of operas by Pacini


*cite book|last=Capra|first=Marco|title=Intorno a Giovanni Pacini|publisher=Edizioni ETS|location=Pisa|year=2003
*cite journal|last=Kaufman|first=Tom|title=Giovanni Pacini--A Composer for the Millennium|journal=Opera Quarterly|volume=16|issue=3|date=Summer 2000
*cite book|last=Pacini|first=Giovanni|title=Le mie memorie artistiche|publisher=Arnaldo Forni|location=Sala Bolognese|year=1978
*cite book|last=Sadie|first=Stanley (Ed.)|title=The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. 3, Lon-Rod|publisher=The MacMillan Press Limited|location=London|year=1992; 1994 ed. with corrections

External links

* [ Pacini Operas with original casts, by Thomas G. Kaufman]
* [ A Pacini discography]

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