At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

17 February 2019

Giovanni Pacini – opera composer

Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival


Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed
first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.

Pacini began his formal music studies at the age of 12, when he was sent by his father, the opera singer Luigi Pacini, to study voice in Bologna with castrato singer and composer, Luigi Marchesi.

He soon switched his focus to composing and wrote an opera, La sposa fedele - The Faithful Bride. It was premiered in Venice in 1818 and, for its revival the following year, Pacini provided a new aria, to be sung specifically by the soprano Giuditta Pasta.

By the mid 1820s he had become a leading opera composer, having produced many successful serious and comic works.

Pacini’s 1824 work Alessandro nelle Indie - Alexander in the Indies - was a successful serious opera based on Andrea Leone Tottola’s updating of a text by librettist Pietro Metastasio.

But by the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini.

The title page of Pacini's opera, Saffo, regarded as his best
The title page of Pacini's opera,
Saffo, regarded as his best
He settled in Tuscany, where his father had been born, and he founded and directed a music school and theatre in Viareggio.

He also took on the post of maestro di cappella at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, where he began to compose liturgical music and he started to write articles on music and music criticism.

Pacini returned to composing with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which differed stylistically from his earlier work and is generally hailed as his masterpiece. It was performed extensively in Italy, Europe and other parts of the world.

But he then found himself overshadowed by another opera composer, this time Giuseppe Verdi, who often addressed contemporary political issues in his work. Pacini instead began writing instrumental music.

He was the only significant composer of his time to write an autobiography, Le mie memorie artistiche - My Artistic Memoirs. Published in 1865, it has been read avidly by scholars as it gives a fascinating insight into Pacini’s career and life, during which he produced more than 70 operas.

Pacini died in 1867 in Pescia in Tuscany.

Since the 1980s there have been revivals and recordings of his works. His 1825 opera, L’ultimo giorno di Pompei - The Last Day of Pompei - was performed at the Festival delle Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca in 1996 and was then transferred to the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania. A live recording of the Martina Franca performance was released in 1997 and re-released in 2012.

The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of the town's Liberty-style architecture
The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of
the town's Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Pacini opened a music school and theatre, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture, such as the Grand Hotel Royal. There is a monument to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in Piazza Paolina because his body was washed up on the beach at Viareggio after he drowned during a storm in the Gulf of La Spezia.

Find a hotel in Viareggio with TripAdvisor

One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small
town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
Travel tip:

Pescia, where Giovanni Pacini died, is in the northern part of Tuscany, close to the beautiful towns of Lucca, Pistoia and Montecatini Terme. It is known as the ‘city of flowers’ because of its large wholesale flower market. In the church of San Francesco there are 13th century frescoes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi, which are believed to be an accurate representation of the Saint because the artist, Bonaventura Berlinghieri, actually knew him.

Pescia hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Giuditta Pasta - the first soprano to sing Bellini's Norma

The short but successful career of Vincenzo Bellini

La Traviata - the world's favourite opera

Also on this day:

1600: Philosopher Giordano Bruno burned at the stake

1653: The birth of Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli

1916: The birth of movie actor Raf Vallone

(Saffo first page from the Central National Library of Florence; Grand Hotel Royal by Sailko; Pescia street by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)


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