He redeemed himself for the nonce, however, in the fourth act of “La Favorita,” where there is enough musical and dramatic beauty to condone the sins of the other three acts. The solemn and affecting church chant, the passionate romance for the tenor, the great closing duet in which the ecstasy of despair rises to that of exaltation, the resistless sweep of the rhythm—all mark one of the most effective single acts ever written. He showed himself here worthy of companionship with Rossini and Meyerbeer.
In his comic operas, “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “La Fille du Regiment,” and “Don Pasquale,” there is a continual well-spring of sunny, bubbling humor. They are slight, brilliant, and catching, everything that pedantry condemns, and the popular taste delights in. Mendelssohn, the last of the German classical composers, admired “L’Elisir” so much that he said he would have liked to have written it himself. It may be said that while Donizetti lacks grand conceptions, or even great heauties for the most part, his operas contain so much that is agreeable, so many excellent opportunities for vocal display, such harmony between sound and situation, that he will probably retain a hold on the stage when much greater composers are only known to the general public by name.
Bellini, with less fertility and grace, possessed far more picturesqueness and intensity. His powers of imagination transcended his command over the working tools of his art. Even more lacking in exact and extended musical science than Donizetti, he could express what came within his range with a simple vigor, grasp, and beauty, which make him a truly dramatic composer. In addition to this, a matter which many great composers ignore, Bellini had extraordinary skill in writing music for the voice, not that which merely gave opportunity for executive trickery and embellishment, but the genuine accents of passion, pathos, and tenderness, in forms best adapted to be easily and effectively delivered.
He had no flexibility, no command over mirthful inspiration, such as we hear in Mozart, Rossini, or even Donizetti. But his monotone is in sublile rapport with the graver aspects of nature and life. Chorley sums up this characteristic of Bellini in the following words:
“In spite of the inexperience with which the instrumental score is filled up, the opening scene of ‘Norma’ in the dim druidical wood bears the true character of ancient sylvan antiquity. There is daybreak again—a fresh tone of reveille—in the prelude to ‘I Puritani.’ If Bellini’s genius was not versatile in its means of expression, if it had not gathered all the appliances by which science fertilizes Nature, it beyond all doubt included appreciation of truth, no less than instinct for beauty.”