At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Francesco Gasparini – musician and writer

Opera composer who gave Vivaldi a job

Francesco Gasparini, captured in a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi
Francesco Gasparini, captured in a
caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi
Francesco Gasparini, one of the great Baroque composers, whose works were performed all over Europe, was born on this day in 1661 in Camaiore near Lucca in Tuscany.

Gasparini also worked as a music teacher and was musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for about 15 years, where he made the inspired decision to employ a 25-year-old Antonio Vivaldi as a violin master.

By the age of 17, Gasparini was a member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. He moved to Rome, where he studied under the musicians Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. His first important opera, Roderico, was produced there in 1694.

After arriving in Venice in 1702, he became one of the leading composers in the city. He wrote the first opera to use the story of Hamlet - Ambleto - in 1705, although he did not base the work on Shakespeare’s play.

Gasparini was appointed musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice where young girls received a musical education. The most talented pupils stayed on to become members of the Ospedale’s orchestra and choir.

Listen: Excerpt from Gasparini's "Amore e Ombre"

He engaged the services of Antonio Vivaldi in 1703 to teach the violin. Vivaldi, who had been taught to play the violin to a high level by his father, composed most of his major works while working there over the next 30 years.

Gasparini hired Antonio Vivaldi to teach violin at the Ospedale della Pietà, in Venice
Gasparini hired Antonio Vivaldi to teach violin
at the Ospedale della Pietà, in Venice
Gasparini’s Missa canonica, written in Venice in 1705 for four voices, became known to Johann Sebastian Bach, who copied it out in 1740 and, after adding parts for strings and wind instruments, performed it in churches in Leipzig.

While in Venice, Gasparini also taught the Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello and wrote a treatise on the harpsichord, published in 1708, which continued to be reprinted for more than 100 years and was used in Italy well into the 19th century.

Gasparini was the leading composer for the theatre in Venice, having written 23 operas and 15 oratorios by the time he left the city.

After his return to Rome in about 1720, he was maestro di cappello in two churches and taught the Neapolitan composer Domenico Scarlatti. He also taught counterpoint to the German flautist and composer Johann Joachim Quantz.

In his day, Gasparini was the principal composer of the Italian operas presented in London. His last important work, Tigrane, was produced in Rome in 1724.

The composer died in Rome in 1727, aged 66.

Piazza Principale, the main square in Camaiore
Piazza Principale, the main square in Camaiore
Travel tip:

Camaiore, the birthplace of Francesco Gasparini, is a city within the province of Lucca in Tuscany. It derives its name from the time it was a large Roman encampment, Campus Major, and an important station along the Via Cassia. It has two Romanesque churches, the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santi Giovanni e Stefano as well as a Benedictine Abbey, Badia di San Pietro, that dates back to the eighth century.

The church of La Pietà, also known as Santa
Maria della Visitazione, in Venice
Travel tip:

The Church of La Pietà, or Santa Maria della Visitazione, on Riva degli Schiavoni facing the lagoon in Venice, dates back to the 15th century. It started its life as a foundling home for orphans. After Gasparini was appointed musical director there, he employed Vivaldi to teach the violin and they both composed music for the orchestra and choir. The church is now a regular venue for music concerts.

More reading:

How Vivaldi enjoyed success but died a pauper

Why composer Antonio Salieri was haunted by rumours surrounding the death of rival Mozart

The lost operas of Tomaso Albinoni

Also on this day:

1923: The birth of cartoonist Benito Jacovitti

1943: The birth of former prime minister Mario Monti


Sunday, 18 March 2018

Bobby Solo - pop singer

Sixties star found fame after Sanremo disqualification

Bobby Solo was heavily influenced by his idol Elvis Presley
Bobby Solo was heavily influenced
by his idol Elvis Presley
Bobby Solo, won was twice winner of Italy's prestigious Sanremo Festival yet had his biggest hit with a song that was disqualified, was born Roberto Satti on this day in 1945 in Rome.

The singer and songwriter won the contest in 1965 and again in 1969 but it was the controversy over his 1964 entry that thrust him into the spotlight and sent him to the top of the Italian singles charts with the first record to sell more than one million copies in Italy.

To emphasise that the competition was to select the best song, rather than the best artist, each entry was sung by two artists, one a native Italian, the other an international guest star. In 1964, Solo was paired with the American singer Frankie Lane to showcase Una lacrima sul viso (A Tear on Your Face).

Laine performed the song in English but Solo was stricken with a throat problem. Rather than withdraw, he sang the song with the help of a backing track, only to be told afterwards that this was against the rules.

Solo celebrates his victory at Sanremo in 1965
Solo celebrates his victory at Sanremo in 1965
The song was disqualified but attracted such attention that it became a huge hit, topping the Italian singles chart for eight weeks. Sales in Italy and other countries eventually topped two million and set Solo on the way to a highly successful career.

On the back of the song's success, Solo - a rock and roll singer in the mould of his idol, Elvis Presley - starred in a movie, also entitled Una lacrima sul viso, in which he sang not only the title track but several other of his songs.

In 1965 he returned to Sanremo, where he was chosen to sing Se piangi, se ridi (If you cry, if you laugh), of which the American folk ensemble the New Christy Minstrels performed an English version, and this time won.  The song gave Solo his second No 1 in the Italian charts and gave him fifth place in the Eurovision Song Contest the same year.

Four years later, partnered with the Italian female star Iva Zanicchi, Solo achieved his third Sanremo triumph with Zingara.

Other 60s hits included Quello sbagliato,Cristina and La Casa del Signore, the Italian version of Elvis Presley’s Crying In The Chapel, his 1966 Sanremo entry Questa volta, which he sung with English group The Yardbirds,  Per far piangere un uomo, an Italian cover of the Tom Jones song, To Make A Big Man Cry, and an Italian cover of Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco.

In all, Solo participated in 12 Sanremo Festivals between 1964 and 2003 and in a recording career spanning six decades has made more than 40 singles and in excess of 30 albums.  His total record sales have been conservatively estimated at more than five million and he still performs today, well into his 70s.

Bobby Solo on stage in 2018
The son of an airline executive from Friuli and an Istrian mother, Solo acquired his love for music, especially American country and rock and roll, from his brother-in-law, an American serviceman who had married his sister and lived in Verona.

Blessed with a good voice, he taught himself to play the guitar and after watching Elvis Presley in the film Jailhouse Rock he was inspired to begin writing songs in his teens. After his father had been relocated to Linate airport in Milan, he earned an audition with the Milan company Dischi Recordi, who signed him up and would produce all his records until the early 1970s.

Solo acquired his stage name at around the same time, and there is a story - perhaps apocryphal - that he became Bobby Solo by accident, the intention having been that he would perform simply as Bobby. According to the story,  the secretary who took down the record label details for his first single mistook the instruction that he would be known as "solo Bobby" (only Bobby) and wrote down his name as Bobby Solo.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan
Travel tip:

Dischi Recordi, which operated from 1958 until the company was sold in 1994, had its headquarters right in the heart of Milan in Via Giovanni Berchet, a stone's throw from the Duomo and across Via Ugo Foscolo from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the magnificent 1861 shopping arcade, with its central dome and arching glass and cast iron roof, which is the oldest shopping mall  in the world still in use and has become a Milan landmark.  The Palazzo Dischi is now the home of upmarket sports car manufacturer Ferrari's flagship maerchandise store.

The harbour at Sanremo in Liguria
The harbour at Sanremo in Liguria
Travel tip:

Sanremo in Liguria, the Italian Riviera resort that has been home to the Sanremo Festival since 1951, expanded rapidly in the mid-18th century, when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel made it his permanent home.

More reading:

How Gigliola Cinquetti conquered Sanremo and Eurovision at just 16

Eros Ramazotti - the Sanremo winner with 65 million sales

Little Tony - Italy's answer to Little Richard

Also on this day:

1848: The Five Days of Milan

1944: When Vesuvius last blew its top


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Innocenzo Manzetti - inventor

Made prototype telephone 33 years ahead of Bell

Innocenzo Manzetti was an inventor of such energy he could get by on minimal sleep
Innocenzo Manzetti was an inventor of such
energy he could get by on minimal sleep
The inventor Innocenzo Manzetti, credited by some scientific historians as having been the creator of a forerunner of the telephone many years ahead of his compatriot Antonio Meucci and the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell, was born on this day in 1826 in Aosta, in northwest Italy.

Manzetti's extraordinary catalogue of inventions included a steam-powered car, a hydraulic water pump, a pendulum watch that would keep going for a whole year and a robot that could play the flute.

But he was a man whose creative talents were not allied to business sense.  Like Meucci, a Florentine emigrant to New York who demonstrated a telephone-like device in 1860 - 16 years before Bell was granted the patent - Manzetti did not patent his device and therefore missed out on the fortune that came the way of Bell.

Research has found that Manzetti may have had the idea for a "vocal telegraph" as early as 1843, as a result of his success with his flute-playing automaton, which he constructed as a life-size model of a man sitting on a chair, inside which were concealed a system of levers, rods and compressed air tubes that enabled his lips and fingers to move on the flute.

This was linked to a program recorded on a cylinder much like those that would become the key component in the self-playing pianos, or pianolas, that were popular in the early part of the 20th century.

Manzetti's automaton
Manzetti's automaton
When Manzetti showed off his automaton in public, he went to great lengths to make it appear lifelike, programming it to stand and take a bow at the end of a performance.  He successfully devised a system of wires whereby he could transmit the sound of a piano being played out of view of the audience so that it would appear to come from his automaton.

The natural extension of this was to attempt to transmit his own remote voice, so that the automaton would seem to speak, and there are descriptions in newspapers of the time that spoke of a cornet-like device, containing a magnetized steel needle and a coil of silk-coated copper wire, into which Manzetti spoke.

However, he put the idea aside for two decades and concentrated on other projects.  It is thought that this was because there were imperfections in his system, which could transmit vowel sounds accurately but was not clear enough to make one consonant sound different from another, that he was unable to solve.

He revisted the idea in the 1860s and there were newspaper articles at the time proclaiming his invention of the télégraph parlant. But neither he nor Meucci could meet the high cost of patenting their devices and it was left to Bell to take the glory in 1876.

Nonetheless, there is no detracting from Manzetti's achievements as an inventor, the product of such enormous creative energy that he was said to exist during his most productive phases on only a couple of hours' sleep a night,

Manzetti's house in Aosta on Rue Xavier de Maistre
Manzetti's house in Aosta on Rue Xavier de Maistre
The hydraulic pump-like mechanism he devised in 1855 to remove water from the previously unworkable Ollomont copper mines of the Aosta Valley meant the mines were put back to use and remained in service until 1945.

The steam-powered car he built in 1864 came 27 years before Léon Serpollet built and demonstrated one in Paris.

Manzetti also built a wooden flying parrot for his daughter that could hover for two or three minutes before settling down again, created several instruments he used in his work as a land surveyor and invented a telescope based on three converging lenses that produced such magnification of images that the user could observe the movement of a small lizard, for example, at a distance of more than 7km (4 miles).

Nonetheless, he was not a wealthy man. Married to Rosa Sofia Anzola, he had two daughters, neither of whom survived beyond childhood, and himself died in impoverished circumstances in 1877, aged only 51.

The beautiful entrance facade to  the cathedral in Aosta
The beautiful entrance facade to
the cathedral in Aosta
Travel tip:

Aosta is the principal municipality in the Aosta Valley, an autonomous bilingual French-Italian region close to the Italian entrance to the Mont-Blanc Tunnel, about 110km (68 miles) northwest of Turin. Its position in relation to the Great and Little St Bernard passes made it a place of strategic importance and there are the remains of a Roman military camp and an amphitheatre as well as the Arch of Augustus.  The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Giovanni Battista boasts a beautiful Renaissance facade decorated with frescoes and high reliefs dedicated to the Life of the Virgin.

The Centro Saint-Bénin in Via Jean-Boniface Festaz
Travel tip:

Since April 2012, there has been a permanent exhibition dedicated to Manzetti and his inventions in a hall of the Centro Saint-Bénin in Aosta, where his the automaton, which is still visited today by engineering scientists from all over the world, can be seen at close quarters.  The main square outside the town's railway station is named after Manzetti.

More reading:

Antonio Meucci's claim to be the true father of communications

How Marconi made the world's first radio communication

Alessandro Volta - creator of first electrical battery

Also on this day:

1861: The birth of the Kingdom of Italy

1939: The birth of brilliant football coach Giovanni Trapattoni


Friday, 16 March 2018

Emilio Lunghi - athlete

Italy's first Olympic medallist 

Emilio Lunghi in his Sport Pedestre Genova club vest
Emilio Lunghi in his Sport Pedestre
Genova club vest
Emilio Lunghi, a middle-distance runner who was the first to win an Olympic medal in the colours of Italy, was born on this day in 1886 in Genoa.

Competing in the 800 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, Lunghi took the silver medal behind the American Mel Sheppard. In a fast-paced final, Lunghi's time was 1 minute 54.2 seconds, which was 1.8 seconds faster than the previous Olympic record buts still 1.4 seconds behind Sheppard.

It was the same Olympics at which Lunghi's compatriot Dorando Pietri was controversially disqualified after coming home first in the marathon, when race officials took pity on him after he collapsed from exhaustion after entering the stadium and helped him across the line.

A versatile athlete who raced successfully at distances from 400m up to 3,000m, Lunghi was national champion nine times in six events and is considered the first great star of Italian track and field.

An all-round sportsman, Lunghi was a talented gymnast, swimmer and boxer, but after winning a 3,000m-race in his home city he was encouraged to develop his potential as a runner by joining Sport Pedestre Genova, at the time the most important athletics club in Liguria.

In June 1906 in the historic city of Vercelli in Piedmont, Lunghi took his first national title in the 1500m. In the next six years, he was at different times Italian champion over 400m and 400m hurdles, 800m, 1000m (three times), 1500m (twice) and 1200m steeplechase.

Piazza di Siena in Rome's Borghese Gardens, where Lunghi won the 400m and 700m events to qualify for the 1908 Olympics
Piazza di Siena in Rome's Borghese Gardens, where Lunghi
won the 400m and 700m events to qualify for the 1908 Olympics
The qualifying competition for the 1908 Olympics took place on a track round the Piazza di Siena within the Borghese Gardens in Rome, watched by members of the Italian royal family. Lunghi won both the 400m and 1000m events, the latter in a world record time of 2 min 31 sec.

In London, Lunghi should have participated in the 1500m as well as the 800m, but the qualifying rules were that only the winners of the eight heats could take part in the final and Lunghi was beaten into second place in his by the Englishman Norman Hallows, although his time was quicker than any of the other seven heat winners.

As it was he had to content himself with the 800m, which Sheppard won after deciding to run a very fast first lap and building such a lead that Lunghi was unable to catch him, even though the American's second lap was almost seven seconds slower than his first.

After the Olympics, Lunghi spent a profitable year in North America, where he participated in 31 races and won 27, setting world records at 700 yards, 880yds and 1320yds (two-thirds of a mile).

Lunghi spent a year racing in the USA and Canada
Lunghi spent a year racing in
the USA and Canada
He had been invited to America by the Irish-American Athletics Club, for whom Sheppard raced. His accomplishments during his time there were recognised with honorary life membership of the club, on whose own track at Celtic Park stadium in Queens, New York, he set the world's fastest time for the 700yds.

His 880yd record came only eight days later at the Canadian championships Montreal.

Returning home, he continued to collect national titles, but his second Olympics was a disappointment.  At the Stockholm Games in 1912 he was eliminated at the semi-final stage in both the 400m and 800m events.

The First World War denied him a third Olympics and at the end of the conflict he announced his retirement from competitive running. A seaman by trade, he helped set up a trade union for dock workers and merchant seamen, his talent as an administrator earning him a role at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, where he was a judge and assistant to the newly-created Athletics Technical Commissioner.

He died in 1925 in Genoa at the age of just 39, having contracted a severe bacterial infection in the days before antibiotics had been discovered.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli, where Lunghi won his first Italian track title, a city of around 46,500 inhabitants some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin, is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC. It is home to numerous Roman relics, the world's first publicly-funded university and the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.

The Porto Antico in Genoa
The Porto Antico in Genoa
Travel tip:

Genoa is Italy's sixth largest city, with an urban population of more than 500,000 and up to 1.5 million living along the coastline.  The city's historic centre consists of numerous squares and narrow alleys, while there are also many fine palaces.  The waterfront area around the Porto Antico has been redeveloped to designs by Renzo Piano as a cultural centre, with the Aquarium and Museum of the Sea now among the city's major tourist attractions.

More reading:

Dorando Pietri and the most famous Olympic disqualication

How Luigi Beccali brought home Italy's first track Gold

Valentina Vezzali - Italy's most decorated female athlete 

Also on this day:

1940: The birth of controversial film maker Bernardo Bertolucci

1978: Italy in shock as Red Brigades kidnap former PM


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Salvator Rosa – artist

Exciting baroque painter inspired others

Salvator Rosa: a self-portrait (1645), which can  be seen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg
Salvator Rosa: a self-portrait (1645), which can
be seen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg
Salvator Rosa, a fiery and flamboyant character who was a poet and actor as well as an artist, died on this day in 1673 in Rome.

One of the least conventional artists of 17th century Italy, he was adopted as a hero by painters of the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries.

He mainly painted landscapes, but also depicted scenes of witchcraft, revealing his interest in the less conventional ideas of his age. These scenes were also sometimes the background for his etchings and the satires he wrote.

Rosa was born in Arenella on the outskirts of Naples. His father, a land surveyor, wanted him to become a lawyer or priest and entered him in the convent of the Somaschi Fathers.

Rosa was interested in art and secretly learnt about painting with his uncle and his brother-in-law, Francesco Fracanzano, who was a pupil of Jose de Ribera. Rosa later became an apprentice to Aniello Falcone, working with him on his battle scenes.

His own paintings featured landscapes overgrown with vegetation and beach scenes with caves, peopled with shepherds, seamen, soldiers and bandits.

After moving to Rome in about 1638, Rosa painted the first of his few altarpieces, the Incredulity of Thomas. He also wrote and acted in satires put on around the city, causing him to make a powerful enemy in the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whom he offended.

Rosa's controversial painting Allegory of Fortune almost saw him arrested
Rosa's controversial painting Allegory
of Fortune
almost saw him arrested
Rosa then moved to Florence to work in a more comfortable environment, where he enjoyed Medici patronage and founded the Academia dei Percossi - the Academy of the Afflicted - for artists and writers.

In 1646 he returned to Naples, where he is thought to have sympathised with the insurrection of Masaniello as he painted a portrait of him.

Rosa went back to live in Rome in 1649, where he enjoyed success as a history painter and with his etchings. It was then that he painted his Allegory of Fortune, which seemed to imply that frequently artists received rewards that did not match their talent. This was considered controversial and he was nearly arrested.

Rosa is remembered as being determinedly independent, refusing to be constrained by patrons. It is said he would not paint on commission or to an agreed price, a stance that appealed to the British Romantic painters who came later.

His final work is believed to be Saul and the Witch of Endor, which is now in the Louvre.

Rosa was ill with dropsy for a few months and died in 1673. In his last moments he married a woman from Florence who had borne him two sons. He was buried in Rome in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.

The unconventional artist later inspired biographies, fictional accounts of his life, novels, a ballet, a piece of music by Franz Liszt, and an opera.

Travel tip:

Arenella, where Rosa was born, is an area of Naples on the Vomero hill above the city, which was once considered a desirable place to get away from the chaos of the city. There is a street, Via Salvator Rosa and a metro stop named after the artist.

Salvator Rosa's tomb
Salvator Rosa's tomb
Travel tip:

Salvator Rosa’s tomb is in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, a 16th century church built to a design by Michelangelo inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica in Rome.

More reading:

How the Baroque artist Cerquozzi depicted the Revolt of Masaniello

The mysterious death of Caravaggio

The genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Also on this day:

44BC: Julius Caesar is murdered

1849: The death of hyperpolyglot Giuseppe Mezzofanti 


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – publisher

Accidental death of an aristocratic activist

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was both one of Italy's richest men and a passionate revolutionary
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was both one of Italy's
richest men and a passionate revolutionary
Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a leading European publisher and one of Italy’s richest men, died on this day in 1972 after being blown up while trying to ignite a terrorist bomb on an electricity pylon at Segrate near Milan.

It was a bizarre end to the life and career of a man who had helped revolutionise Italian book publishing. He became famous for his decision to translate and publish Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago after the manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union, where it had been banned on the grounds of being anti-Soviet.

This was an event that shook the Soviet empire and led to Pasternak winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Feltrinelli also started the first chain of book shops in Italy, which still bear his name.

He was born in 1926 into a wealthy, monarchist family. At the instigation of his mother, Feltrinelli was created Marquess of Gargnano when he was 12 by Benito Mussolini.

During the Second World War, the family left their home, Villa Feltrinelli, north of Salò on Lake Garda to make way for Mussolini to live there. But in the later stages of the war, Feltrinelli enrolled in the Italian Communist Party and fought against the Germans and the remnants of Mussolini’s regime.

The newspaper front page announcing the death of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli
The newspaper front page announcing the
death of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli
From 1949 onwards, Feltrinelli collected documents for the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Library in Milan relating to the development of the international labour and socialist movements.

Feltrinelli established a publishing company in Milan in 1954.

His determination to publish Doctor Zhivago in 1957 was vindicated when it became an international best seller. He later sold the film rights to MGM for 450,000 dollars.

But Feltrinelli was criticised by Italian Communist Party members for defying Moscow and as a result decided not to renew his party membership.

He opened his first Feltrinelli book shop in Pisa in 1957 and, by his death, the chain of shops was the largest in Italy.

After meeting Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Feltrinelli published his writings, along with those of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh.

Among other causes, he gave financial support to the Palestine Liberation Front.

Feltrinelli increasingly advocated guerrilla activity in Italy on behalf of the working classes. Anticipating assassination attempts by the CIA or Mossad, he assumed a battle name, Osvaldo, and went underground.

Feltrinelli celebrates publishing the  banned Russian novel Doctor Zhivago
Feltrinelli celebrates publishing the
banned Russian novel Doctor Zhivago
After he was found dead at the foot of the pylon, apparently killed by his own explosives, his death was immediately thought to be suspicious.

His stepfather, the writer Luigi Barzini, considered but ultimately rejected the idea that he was deliberately killed.

In 1979 during an anti-terrorist trial, Red Brigades defendants read a signed statement to the court saying Feltrinelli had been engaged in an operation to sabotage electricity pylons to cause a blackout in a big area of Milan. They said he committed a technical error that led to his fatal accident and the failure of the whole operation.

Forty years after his death, the newspaper Corriere della Sera published forensic reports claiming Feltrinelli had been tied to the pylon before the bomb was detonated, implying he had been killed and framed by Italian or Israeli security forces. There has also been speculation that Feltrinelli was murdered by the KGB.

The Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli sits on the shore of Lake Garda
The Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli sits on the shore of Lake Garda
Travel tip:

Villa Feltrinelli, which was vacated by the Feltrinelli family to provide a home for Mussolini during the war, is now the Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli in Via Rimembranza, Gargnano. One of the most prestigious hotels in the world, this neo-Gothic villa was built by the Feltrinelli family on the shores of Lake Garda in the 19th century. It is where Mussolini spent his last 600 days, while he headed the Republic of Salò, before he was apprehended and executed while trying to escape from Italy.

Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan
Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan
Travel tip:

The Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Viale Pasubio, Milan, was founded in 1949 as a library. It has an archive of nearly 1.5 million items, 250,000 volumes and 16,000 journals on the themes of equal society and citizens’ rights. The current building, designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, is open to visitors from 9.30 to 17.30 Monday to Friday. To arrange a guided tour, contact

More reading:

The accidental death of an anarchist

Piazza Fontana bombing

Mussolini's last stand

Also on this day:

1820: The birth of King Victor Emmanuel II

1835: The birth of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who believed there were canals on Mars

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Corrado Gaipa – actor

From The Godfather to voice of Alec Guinness

Corrado Gaipa was a talented character actor who appeared in more than 30 movies
Corrado Gaipa was a talented character actor who
appeared in more than 30 movies
The respected character actor and voice-dubber Corrado Gaipa was born on this day in 1925 in Palermo.

His versatility as a voice actor brought him considerable work at a time when Italian cinema audiences much preferred to watch dubbed versions of mainstream English-language films rather than hear the original soundtrack with subtitles.

Gaipa’s voice replaced that of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.  He was also heard dubbing Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Burt Lancaster in The Leopard, Telly Savalas in The Dirty Dozen and Lee J Cobb in The Exorcist.

He was the voice of a number of characters in animation films also, including Bagheera in Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book and Scat-Cat in The Aristocats.

As an actor in his own right, he worked with many leading directors in Italian cinema, including Francesco Rosi and Vittorio Gassman.

His most famous role was probably that of Don Tommasino in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

In Mario Puzo’s story, Don Tommasino was an old friend in Sicily of the movie’s main character, Vito Corleone, who sold olive oil to restaurants and stores in New York on behalf of Tommasino.

Gaipa played Don Tommasino in the original Godfather movie
Gaipa played Don Tommasino in
the original Godfather movie
In return, Corleone calls on Tommasino for help in eliminating the local Mafia chief, Don Ciccio, who he believes was complicit in the murder of his parents.  Gaipa was partially disabled, needing to walk with a stick and sometimes using a wheelchair. As it happens, his character, Tommasino, is crippled by a shotgun blast from one of Ciccio’s bodyguards.

Later in the story, Vito Corleone calls on Tommasino, who replaces Ciccio as the local Mafia capo, to look after his son, Michael Corleone, during a period in which takes refuge in Sicily after committing two murders in New York.

Before embarking on his career, Gaipa was a student at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome, founded by the writer and critic Silvio D’Amico, and named after him following his death.

He made his stage debut in 1948 and for several years was an important actor in radio productions before moving into television.

After appearing on the small screen for the first time in a comedy called La rosa bianca  (The White Rose), he became a regular in TV drama series, including the 1973 hit Napoleon on Sant’Elena, in which he portrayed the English prime minister Lord Liverpool.

Although he struggled with his health over a long period, his death in 1989 at the age of 64 came rather suddenly, denying cinemagoers the chance to see him return to the role of Don Tommasino in The Godfather Part III, for which he was preparing at the time of his death.

Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential area
Rome's Parioli district is an upmarket residential area
Travel tip:

The Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art can be found in Via Vincenzo Bellini where it meets Via Guido d’Arezzo in the Parioli district of Rome, between the Villa Borghese gardens and the vast Parco di Villa Ada. The academy, which has trained many leading Italian actors, now has university status.  Parioli is regarded as Rome’s most elegant residential area.

Palermo's Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy
Palermo's Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy
Travel tip:

Palermo, Gaipa’s home city, is blessed with a number of notable theatres, including the magnificent Teatro Massimo – the largest opera house in Italy – as well as Teatro Politeama, Teatro Biondo, Teatro di Verdura, Teatro Garibaldi and Teatro Santa Cecilia.  The city also boasts a number of theatres devoted to the Sicilian tradition of puppet theatre.

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