If you ever find yourself wandering around Italy, you’ll find that there are some names that are always hanging around: Vittorio Emanuele II, Garibaldi, and Cavour, among others. In Catania, there’s another that’s ever-present: Bellini. And we’re not talking about the drink.
Vincenzo Bellini is Catania’s favorite son, the one that they’re always talking about. There’s a grand symphony hall named after him, there are numerous restaurants and cafes that make use of his name, and there’s a museum dedicated to his life and his work. If you haven’t heard of him, I’ll explain why: You’ve been neglecting your baroque opera.
Bellini was born into a poor family in Catania in 1803, and according to the story he could sing an aria by the time he was a year and a half old. The truth of this is disputed (namely, by anyone who’s ever heard such a small child sing), but there’s no doubt that he was a musical prodigy. His education in piano began when he was rather young, and he studied musical composition at the conservatory (translation: really fancy specialized school) in Naples. After finishing his studies, his musical career really took off. His orchestral pieces and operas became very popular, among the people and other musicians alike. Even Wagner, who is notorious for snubbing all musicians who were not himself, admitted that Bellini’s works were pretty good.
Even though he chose to spend most of his time abroad, living the good life and pretending to be Cassanova, Catania still loved him. When he died in 1835 in Paris from complications of an illness, the city of Catania requested that his body be sent back to them for burial. This took a while; it wasn’t until 1876 that the Parisians finally sent him back. When they did, though, the Catanese buried him in grand style, building a tomb for him in the duomo.
During my last stay in Catania, I paid a visit to the Museo Belliniano (moo-sey-oh bell-een-yah-no), the museum dedicated to Bellini’s work. It’s a very cute little museum, tucked away inside a palazzo off one of the main streets. This location was chosen because it was the site of the Bellini family home when the composer was little. When they lived there, they only had a few of the rooms, being a less than well-to-do family. The museum has connected a few of the rooms so as to do more justice to the items that they have on display, including some Bellini family documents (family trees, marriage contracts, and birth announcements), Bellini’s pianos, and some original scoresheets. Even if you’re not into opera, it’s interesting to see the advertisements for his performances, which are just as aggrandizing as anything Hollywood puts out for their movies.
Visiting the Museo Belliniano:
Connected to the Museo Belliniano is the Museo Emilio Greco, one of the best artists of the 20th century, who designed the doors of one of my favorite churches, the duomo in Orvieto.
Tickets cost 5€ (this includes both museums).
The museums are open Monday to Saturday 9am – 7pm and Sunday 9am – 1pm.
Note: Keep an eye out for city-sponsored events! Every once in a while, Italian cities will sponsor Notte dei Musei (noh-teh deh-ee moo-seh-ee; Nights at the Museums), during which the museums are open late and are often discounted! I got into the Museo Belliniano and Museo Emilio Greco for 1€, including a guided tour.
Don’t know Bellini’s works? Educate yourself! Click here for his famous ‘Norma’.