A guide to Donizetti, the composer

Gaetano Donizetti’s life has elements of his operas: poverty, adventure and success.

  • 1797

    Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti born in Bergamo, Italy.

    Donizetti is born into a poor family and is the youngest of three sons. He comes from a non-musical background, as his father is the caretaker of the local pawnshop.

  • 1806

    Donizetti receives a scholarship at the Bergamo music school.

    Young Donazetti

    The school is run by opera composer Johann Simon Mayr, who recognises Donizetti’s early talents.

  • 1816

    He writes his first one-act opera, the comedy Il Pigmalione.

  • 1822

    Donizetti moves to Naples.

    Donazetti as a young man

  • 1830

    Donizetti gains fame across Europe with Anna Bolena.

    Produced in Milan, the opera about Anne Boleyn is eventually taken across the Atlantic.

  • 1831

    Anna Bolena premieres in Paris and is considered a success.

    Giuditta Pasta

  • 1832

    Donizetti writes L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love). The new opera was a huge success and was based on a libretto by Felice Romani, considered the best theatre poet of that time.

  • 1838

    Donizetti moves to Paris.

    Paris is a hotbed for young Italian composers – with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini having also gravitated towards the city. In his first year in Paris he has works performed at each of the city’s three top opera venues:

    • La Fille du régiment at the Opéra Comique
    • Les Martyrs at the Opéra
    • L’elisir d’amore at the Théâtre Italien
  • 1846

    He retires from composing operas.


    Donizetti writes 70 operas before his health forces him to retire. He is cared for by his nephew, Andrea, the son of his eldest brother.

  • 1848

    Donizetti dies, back in his hometown of Bergamo.

    Donazetti in 1842

Read more about Italy in the 19th-century when Donizetti composed Don Pasquale