Bel canto is a way of singing in opera. It comes from the Italian, meaning "beautiful singing".
Bel canto singing means singing beautifully, flexibly and smoothly, delivering high and low notes in a similar style so that all the notes of a singer's range sound even from top to bottom. Bel canto singing started when opera began in the 1600s, but the term "bel canto" is normally used for operas written in the early 19th century. The operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti need bel canto singing. The term "bel canto" was not used at the time. People only started talking about "bel canto" in the mid-to-late 19th century, when a lot of new operas by composers such as Richard Wagner appeared. These new operas had to have singers with big, dramatic voices if they were to sound good.
Bel canto-style operas came back into fashion in the 1950s, having been out of favour for the previous 50 or 60 years. Today, some of the most popular operas are bel canto ones. Famous bel canto singers of recent times include the sopranos Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Beverly Sills and the tenors Francisco Araiza, Juan Diego Florez, Alfredo Kraus, Luciano Pavarotti.
Mathilde Marchesi was a famous 19th-century bel canto teacher.