Gaspare Spontini

Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini (14 November 1774 – 24 January 1851) was an Italian opera composer and conductor.

Gaspare Spontini
Spontini, after Nicolas-Eustache Maurin
Spontini signature from Olympie Overture ms page - Internet Archive
Spontini's signature


Born in Maiolati, Papal State (now Maiolati Spontini, Province of Ancona), he spent most of his career in Paris and Berlin, but returned to his place of birth at the end of his life. During the first two decades of the 19th century, Spontini was an important figure in French opera. In his more than twenty operas, Spontini strove to adapt Gluck's classical tragédie lyrique to the contemporary taste for melodrama, for grander spectacle (in Fernand Cortez for example), for enriched orchestral timbre, and for melodic invention allied to idiomatic expressiveness of words.

As a youth, Spontini studied at the Conservatorio della Pietà de' Turchini, one of four active music conservatories of Naples. Working his way from Italian city to city, he got his first break in Rome, with his successful comedy Li puntigli delle donne (Carnival 1793). In 1803, he went to Paris, where, on 11 February 1804, debuted his comic opera La finta filosofa, his Neapolitan success of 1799. In part on the recommendation of the comte de Rémusat and his literary countess, a dame du palais, Spontini circulated in the Imperial court, was made a member of the Académie Impériale de Musique and gained a court position as compositeur particulier de la chambre of the Empress in 1805.

Though Spontini's earlier successes were comedies, with the encouragement of Empress Joséphine in 1807, Spontini wrote his greatest success, the tragédie lyrique La vestale, which has remained his best known work.[1] Its premiere at the Opéra in Paris established Spontini as one of the greatest Italian composers of his age. His contemporaries Cherubini and Meyerbeer considered it a masterpiece, and later composers such as Berlioz and Wagner admired it.

During the Peninsular War, Napoleon promoted works such as Gasparo Spontini's Fernand Cortez (1809), which concerned the Spanish conquest of Mexico under the reign of Charles V.[2] In 1811, Spontini married Celeste Érard, the niece of the Parisian maker of pianos and harps Sébastien Érard; it was a happy marriage, though childless.[3] He was made a chevalier of Napoleon's Legion of Honor; its Maltese cross hangs round his neck in the portrait by Nicolas-Eustache Maurin (illustration).

Under the changed political climate of the Bourbon Restoration, Spontini, closely identified with the former Empire, saw his opera Olimpie (1819, revised 1821, 1826) meet with indifference, leading him to leave Paris for Berlin, where his operas had already achieved success. There he became Kapellmeister and chief conductor at the Königliches Opernhaus, and in this period he composed the Prussian National Anthem "Borussia". There he also met the young Mendelssohn, but deprecated the 17-year old's opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho.[4]

In 1842, a disillusioned Spontini, chagrined at the success of Giacomo Meyerbeer and others in Germany, returned to Italy, where he died in 1851.[5]

Bibliography (French) Gaspare Spontini by Patrick Barbier, bleu nuit éditeur, 2017, 176 p. (ISBN 978-2-3588-4067-5)


For the opera

Other compositions

  • L'eccelsa gara[6] – Cantata, on a text by Luigi Balocchi (1806)
  • Tout le monde a tort – Vaudeville (1806)
  • Bacchanale des Danaïdes, for Antonio Salieri's Les Danaïdes (1817)
  • Borussia – Prussian anthem, on a text by Johann Friedrich Leopold Duncker (1818)
  • Tout deuil (1820)
  • Lalla Rûkh – Festspiel, on a text by S. H. Spicker, after Thomas Moore (1821)

Modern revivals

During the 20th century, Spontini's operas were only rarely performed, although several had their first revivals in years. Perhaps the most famous modern production was the revival of La vestale with Maria Callas at La Scala at the opening of the 1954 season, to mark the 180th anniversary of the composer's birth. The stage director was famed cinema director Luchino Visconti. That production was also the La Scala debut of tenor Franco Corelli. Callas recorded the arias "Tu che invoco" and "O Nume tutelar" from La vestale in 1955 (as did Rosa Ponselle in 1926). In 1969, conductor Fernando Previtali revived the opera, with soprano Leyla Gencer and baritone Renato Bruson. (An unofficial recording is in circulation.) In 1993, conductor Riccardo Muti recorded it in the original French language with Karen Huffstodt, Denyce Graves, Anthony Michaels-Moore and Dimitri Kavrakos.

Other revivals of Spontini include Agnes von Hohenstaufen in Italian as Agnese di Hohenstaufen at the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence in 1954, starring Franco Corelli and conducted by Vittorio Gui, and in Rome in 1970, with Montserrat Caballé and Antonietta Stella, conducted by Riccardo Muti, both recorded live. Fernand Cortez was revived in 1951, with a young Renata Tebaldi, at the San Carlo in Naples, conducted by Gabriele Santini. The premiere of the integral version of the work took place at the Erfurt (Germany) opera house (2006, Jean-Paul Penin, conductor).

Li puntigli delle donne was performed at the Putbus Festival 1998, conducted by Wilhelm Keitel (recording Arte Nova 74321591982).


  1. ^ Gerhard (n. d) §2
  2. ^ Silke, p. 22.
  3. ^ Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini: Gaspare Spontini Archived 2014-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Todd (2003), pp. 167-168.
  5. ^ Gerhard (n. d) §4
  6. ^ (in Dutch) "Unieke partituren van Spontini ontdekt in het kasteel van Hingene". VRT, 27 June 2016


  • Gerhard, Anselm (n.d.). "Spontini, Gaspare", in Grove Music Online, (subscription required), accessed 13 September 2014.
  • Silke Leopold (2006), "The Idea of National Opera, c. 1800" in Unity and Diversity in European Culture c. 1800, (Ed.) Tim Blanning and Hagen Schulze New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Todd, R. Larry (2003), Mendelssohn, A Life in Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195110432.
  • Gaspare Spontini (French) [archive] by Patrick Barbier, bleu nuit éditeur, 2017, 176 p. (ISBN 978-2-3588-4067-5)

External links

Agnes von Hohenstaufen

Agnes von Hohenstaufen is a German-language opera in three acts by the Italian composer Gaspare Spontini. The German libretto is by Ernst Benjamin Salomo Raupach. It was first staged at the Königliches Opernhaus, Berlin, on 12 June 1829. Raupach categorised Agnes von Hohenstaufen as a historical-romantic opera and it is one of a number of German works of the time set in the Middle Ages (others include Weber's Euryanthe, Wagner's Tannhäuser and Lohengrin and Schumann's Genoveva). Agnes also contains many of the features that would be characteristic of French Grand Opera. Spontini substantially reworked the piece for a revival in 1837.

Elizabeth Forbes (musicologist)

Elizabeth Forbes (3 August 1924 – 22 October 2014) was an English author, music critic, and musicologist who specialised in writing about opera. Her main areas of interest were 19th- and 20th-century opera (French and Scandinavian in particular) and singers, both historical and present-day. She contributed a large number of reviews and articles to several notable periodicals and newspapers internationally including the Financial Times, The Independent, The Musical Times, Opera, Opera Canada, and Opera News among several others.

Born in Camberley, she was the author of numerous books on various subjects related to opera, including her 1985 work, Mario and Grisi, which details the lives of opera singers Giulia Grisi and Giovanni Matteo Mario. She wrote a significant number of singing translations of many operas, from French, German and Swedish, including works by Gaspare Spontini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Franz Berwald, and also extensively contributed to reference works on singers and other operatic topics, including several hundred articles in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

She died on 22 October 2014.

Fernand Cortez

Fernand Cortez, ou La conquête du Mexique (Hernán Cortés, or The Conquest of Mexico) is an opera in three acts by Gaspare Spontini with a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Joseph-Alphonse Esménard. It was first performed on 28 November 1809 by the Académie Impériale de Musique (Paris Opera) at the Salle Montansier.


Generalmusikdirektor (GMD, general music director) is a German title for the artistic director of an orchestra, an institution or a town.A music director (Latin: director musices) was originally the title of the person responsible for music in a town in Germany and Austria. Johann Sebastian Bach was music director in Leipzig, Georg Philipp Telemann and later Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach were music directors in Hamburg, Robert Schumann was music director in Düsseldorf.Generalmusikdirektor is a title given by larger towns to a person typically responsible for a symphony orchestra and the opera. The first person with this title was Gaspare Spontini in Berlin in 1819. Currently, Daniel Barenboim has been Generalmusikdirektor of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin from 1992.

Julie, ou Le pot de fleurs

Julie, ou Le pot de fleurs is a 1805 comic opera in one act by Gaspare Spontini to a libretto by the metallurgist Antoine-Gabriel Jars (1774-1857)..

La fuga in maschera

La fuga in maschera is a comic opera by Gaspare Spontini premiered in the Carnival season in Naples in 1800 at the Teatro Nuovo. The work was thought lost but found in 2007 and given its modern premiere at Jesi’s Teatro Pergolesi in 2012. The opera is scored for 2 oboes, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, strings and basso continuo.

La vestale (Spontini)

La vestale (The Vestal Virgin) is an opera composed by Gaspare Spontini to a French libretto by Étienne de Jouy. It takes the form of a tragédie lyrique in three acts. It was first performed on 15 December 1807 by the Académie Impériale de Musique (Paris Opera) at the Salle Montansier and is regarded as Spontini's masterpiece. The musical style shows the influence of Gluck and looks forwards to the works of Berlioz, Wagner, and French Grand Opera.

Li puntigli delle donne

Li puntigli delle donne is a 1796 opera, a farsetta for six voices, by Gaspare Spontini first performed at Teatro della Pallacorda, Florence.

List of operas by Gaspare Spontini

Gaspare Spontini (1774–1851) wrote operas from the last decade of the 18th century to the third decade of the 19th century.

Before leaving Italy, where he was born, he wrote:

Li puntigli delle donne

Adelina Senese o sia l'Amore secreto

Il finto pittore

L'eroismo ridicolo

Il Teseo riconosciuto (1798)

La finta filosofa

La fuga in maschera

I quadri parlanti

Gli Elisi delusi

Gli amanti in cimento, o sia Il geloso audace

Le metamorfosi di Pasquale, o sia Tutto è illusione nel mondoFor Paris, he wrote:

La petite maison


Julie, ou Le pot de fleurs

La vestale

Fernand Cortez, ou La conquête du Mexique

Pélage, ou Le roi et la paix

Les dieux rivaux, ou Les fêtes de Cythère

OlimpieFirst presented in Berlin:

Nurmahal, oder das Rosenfest von Caschmir


Agnes von HohenstaufenNotes

Louis Nourrit

Louis Nourrit (4 August 1780, Montpellier – 23 September 1831, Brunoy) was an early 19th-century French tenor.

Ludwig Rellstab

Heinrich Friedrich Ludwig Rellstab (13 April 1799 – 27 November 1860) was a German poet and music critic. He was born and died in Berlin. He was the son of the music publisher and composer Johann Carl Friedrich Rellstab. An able pianist, he published articles in various periodicals, including the influential liberal Vossische Zeitung, and launched the music journal Iris im Gebiete der Tonkunst, which was published in Berlin from 1830 to 1841. His outspoken criticism of the influence in Berlin of Gaspare Spontini landed him in jail in 1837.Rellstab had considerable influence as a music critic and, because of this, had some power over what music could be used for German nationalistic purposes in the mid-nineteenth century. Because he had "an effective monopoly on music criticism" in Frankfurt and due to the popularity of his writings, Rellstab's approval would have been important for any musician's career in areas in which German nationalism was present.The first seven songs of Franz Schubert's Schwanengesang have words by Rellstab, who had left them in 1825 with Beethoven, whose assistant Anton Schindler passed them on to Schubert. His work was also set to music by Franz Liszt.He is also known to have given Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27/2, its famous nickname Moonlight Sonata.

Maiolati Spontini

Maiolati Spontini is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Ancona in the Italian region Marche, located about 35 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of Ancona. It is the birthplace of musician Gaspare Spontini, whose name has been conjoined with the commune's ancient name, Maiolati.

Maiolati Spontini borders the following municipalities: Belvedere Ostrense, Castelbellino, Castelplanio, Cupramontana, Jesi, Monte Roberto, Rosora, San Marcello.

Milton (opera)

Milton is an opéra comique in one act by Gaspare Spontini. The French libretto, by Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy and Armand-Michel Dieulafoy, is based on the life of the English poet John Milton. Milton was first performed on 27 November 1804 by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Feydeau in Paris . It was Spontini's first major success in France. The composer planned a reworked version for performances in Germany, under the title Das verlorene Paradies (Paradise Lost), but in the event it was never staged.

Nurmahal (opera)

Nurmahal, oder Das Rosenfest von Kaschmir is an 1822 German-language opera in two acts by Gaspare Spontini, to a libretto by Carl Alexander Herklots after Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh premiered in Berlin.


Olimpie (also spelled Olympie) is an opera in three acts by Gaspare Spontini. The French libretto, by Armand-Michel Dieulafoy and Charles Brifaut, is based on the play of the same name by Voltaire (1761). Olimpie was first performed on 22 December 1819 by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Montansier. When sung in Italian or German, it is usually given the title Olimpia.

Pergolesi Spontini Foundation

The Pergolesi Spontini Foundation was established in Jesi in 2000, by the Marche Region, the Province of Ancona, the Municipality of Jesi and the Municipality of Maiolati Spontini. The municipalities of Montecarotto, Monte San Vito, Monsano, San Marcello are associated members. The Chamber of Commerce of Ancona entered as Contributing Participant. A group of private companies supports the Foundation.

Since 2009, the Foundation has been the recipient of the quality certification by the TÜV company.

Province of Ancona

The province of Ancona (Italian: provincia di Ancona) is a province in the Marche region of central Italy. Its capital is the city of Ancona, and the province borders the Adriatic Sea. The city of Ancona is also the capital of Marche.To the north, the province is bordered by the Adriatic Sea, and the Apennine Mountains to the west. The population of the province is mostly located in coastal areas and in the provincial capital Ancona, which has a population of 101,518; the province has a total population of 477,892 as of 2015. Due to its coastal location, it is strategically important. The president of the province is Liana Serrani.Its coastline of sandy beaches is popular to Italians but has not been greatly affected by tourism. A large area of the province's land is farmland often used for wine production; the province produces wines using the Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Verdicchio varieties of grape. Annually, feasts occur in the province during the harvesting period. It contains mountainous regions and the Conero Regional Park, which contain dense forests where black truffles are found. These are sold in Acqualagna in the neighbouring province of Pesaro e Urbino.

Famous people born of the province of Ancona include Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (Jesi); International Gothic painter Gentile da Fabriano (Fabriano); writer Rafael Sabatini (Jesi); composer Gaspare Spontini (Maiolati, which has since been named after him as Maiolati Spontini); composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (Jesi); mathematician and physicist Vito Volterra (Ancona); footballer Roberto Mancini (Jesi); Pope Leo XII (Genga); Pope Pius IX (Senigallia); and actress Virna Lisi (Jesi).

Teseo riconosciuto

Teseo riconosciuto is the 1798 first opera seria by Gaspare Spontini to a libretto by Cosimo Giotti. It was premiered at the Teatro della Pallacorda of the Accademia degli Intrepidi, Florence, then at the Teatro Alfieri on Via Pietrapiana.

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