Here he wrote several scholastic compositions (overtures, sacred music and arias) and the operas Pigmalione (1816), L'Olimpiade and L'ira di Achille (1817). After having two operas performed with modest results in Venice in 1818, he enjoyed his first real success in Rome in 1822 with Zoraide di Granata, followed by La zingara, which was performed for a whole year in Naples and won him the friendship and respect of Rossini and Bellini. In spite of this the theatres in Lombardy were not generous with their approval: at La Scala Chiara e Serafina was not appreciated, and in Bergamo the remarkable L'ajo nell'imbarazzo was a failure, having triumphed in Rome (1824) and in many other theatres in Italy and abroad.
His career proceeds slowly
Embittered, he divided his activities between Naples, Palermo and Rome, where in 1828 he embarked on a very happy marriage to Virginia Vesselli. The previous year the success of Olivo e Pasquale (after a very well-known contemporary play) had gained him a contract with the impresario Barbaja: two new operas a year for the San Carlo and the directorship of the Teatro Nuovo. Appointed director of the Royal Theatres in Naples (a post he held until 1838), he resumed contact with the north of Italy. After the success at the San Carlo of Il proscritto (1828), highly praised by Rossini, he took part that year, along with Bellini, in the inaugural season of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa (La Regina di Golconda), and finally in 1830, with Anna Bolena at the Teatro Carcano, he won the Milan public's complete recognition of his merit.
Success consolidated with Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena also represented an important moment in Donizetti's artistic evolution, and opened for him the doors of important theatres, first in Italy and then in Paris. Ugo, conte di Parigi, overshadowed at La Scala in '32 by Norma, was followed by the decisive success of L'elisir d'amore, which however could not solve the serious material difficulties in which the composer found himself. Forced to work ceaselessly, he returned to the south of Italy and wrote: Il furioso all'isola di S. Domingo (in six years it was performed in more than 70 theatres), Torquato Tasso, Lucrezia Borgia, Parisina; in 1835 he composed Marin Faliero for the Théâtre Italien in Paris and Lucia di Lammermoor for the San Carlo in Naples. He was an enthusiastic and assiduous professor of composition at Naples Conservatory, but when the director Zingarelli died Donizetti was overlooked as a replacement in favour of Mercadante. In the same period he lost his parents, two children and his beloved wife. With Bellini dead and Rossini retired, he could impose his will on impresarios from 1838 until 1845.
The great season of artistic maturity
This was the period of his golden maturity, when he wrote La Fille du régiment, La Favorite, Les Martyrs (a reworking of Poliuto) and the masterpiece Dom Sébastien for Paris; Maria Padilla for La Scala; Adelia for Rome. A superb conductor, he performed Rossini's Stabat Mater in Bologna at the personal invitation of the composer, but he did not wish to become director of the city's Liceo musicale. He composed Linda di Chamounix and Maria di Rohan for Vienna, where he was appointed Hofkapellmeister, and Don Pasquale for Paris. In 1845, in the Austrian capital, he was struck by the first violent attack of the paralysis which put an end to his career. After two years as an invalid in Paris he returned to Bergamo, where he spent the final months of his life.