Based on Charles Nodier's play, Bertram, ou le Pirate, itself adapted from an earlier work, the opera tells a tale of love, death and madness and is regarded as a romantic tragedy of epic proportions.
Bellini was just twenty six years of age when he arrived in Milan and began to mix in theatrical and musical society, forming close bonds that saw him in the inner circle of those who called La Scala their workplace. It was through these circles that he met librettist, Felice Romani, who discussed with the young composer the possibility of collaborating on an operatic adaptation of Nodier's play. It was to be the start of a hugely successful partnership that extended over numerous projects and years, with the two men forming a close working relationship that resulted in some of the most celebrated works of the era.
With the project officially starting in May 1827, things moved fast and by summer, not only was Bellini was well-embarked on the music, but much of the casting was already confirmed with everything on track for an October opening at La Scala. Although the process moved fast and actors and creatives found the rehearsal process fraught, their efforts were not in vain and the opera was soon on the lips of Milanese theatregoers, with tickets for the opening night in high demand.
In fact, as the curtain came down to rapturous applause on the opening night, there was no doubt whatsoever that Bellini and Romani had a hit on their hands. Almost immediately Il pirate became the hottest ticket in Milan and for the duration of its time in the repertoire, which ended on 2nd December, was a complete sell out.
The cast and creative teams rode the wave of success as the opera transferred across Italy to enormous success and acclaim in the following year, receiving its first international performances too. By the time Il pirate sailed into London in 1830 and America two years later, it was a phenomenon and remains in performance to this very day.