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.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Charles Emmanuel IV – King of Sardinia

Monarch who was descended from Charles I of England

Court painter Domenico Duprà's portrait of Charles Emmanuel IV
Court painter Domenico Duprà's portrait of
Charles Emmanuel IV
Charles Emmanuel IV, who was King of Sardinia from 1796 until he abdicated in 1802 and might once have had a claim to the throne of England, was born on this day in 1751 in Turin.

Born Carlo Emanuele Ferdinando Maria di Savoia, he was the eldest son of Victor Amadeus III, King of Sardinia, and of his wife Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain. From his birth he was known as the Prince of Piedmont.

In 1775, he married Marie Clotilde of France, the daughter of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Princess Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, and sister of King Louis XVI of France.

Although it was essentially a political marriage over which they had little choice, the couple became devoted to one another.

With the death of his father in October 1796, Charles Emmanuel inherited the throne of Sardinia, a kingdom that included not only the island of Sardinia, but also the whole of Piedmont and other parts of north-west Italy.

He took on a difficult political situation along with the throne, only months after his father had signed the disadvantageous Treaty of Paris with the French Republic following the four-year War of the First Coalition, in which Napoleon’s army prevailed. The treaty ceded the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice and gave the French army free passage through Piedmont to attack other parts of Italy.

The death of his wife Marie Clothilde was trigger for Charles Emmanuel's abdication
The death of his wife Marie Clothilde was
trigger for Charles Emmanuel's abdication
In December 1798, the French under General Barthèlemy Joubert occupied Turin and forced Charles Emmanuel to surrender all his territories on the Italian mainland and to withdraw to Sardinia.

After an unsuccessful attempt to regain Piedmont the following year, he and his wife went to live in Rome and in Naples as guests of the wealthy Colonna family.

It was the death in 1802 of Marie Clothilde that changed things for Charles Emmanuel, who was so grief-stricken he decided to abdicate in favour of his brother Victor Emmanuel. They had no children.

He retained the title of King but stepped away from responsibility and spent his life in Rome and in the nearby town of Frascati.

In Frascati he was a frequent guest of his cousin, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York and the last member of the Royal House of Stuart.

Charles was actually descended from Henrietta Anne Stuart, the youngest daughter of King Charles I of England and Scotland, whereas Henry Benedict Stuart was descended from James II, who was the second son of Charles I.

When Henry died in 1807, Charles Emmanuel became the senior heir-general of Charles I, although there is no evidence that he attempted to make a public claim to the title of King of England or Scotland.

The Palazzo Colonna in Rome, where Charles Emmanuel died
The Palazzo Colonna in Rome, where Charles Emmanuel died
In fact, he appeared to have little interest in power. In 1815 at the age of 64, he took simple vows in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Although he was never ordained to the priesthood, he spent much of the rest of his life at the Jesuit novitiate in Rome.

He died at the Palazzo Colonna in Rome in October 1819 and is buried in the Church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale.

Travel tip:

Sardinia is a large island off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. It has sandy beaches and a mountainous landscape. The southern city of Cagliari, from where Charles’s successor, Victor Emmanuel I, ruled, has a modern industrial area but also a medieval quarter called Castello, which has narrow streets, fine palaces and a 13th century Cathedral and is a fascinating part of the city to explore.

The Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo in Frascati
The Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo in Frascati
Travel tip:

Frascati, an ancient city 20km (miles) south-east of Rome in the Alban Hills, is notable for the Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, which contains the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart – Henry Benedict’s brother – who was also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender. Although his body was moved to St Peter’s in Rome, to be laid to rest with his mother and father, his heart was left in Frascati in a small urn under the floor below his monument.

More reading:

Victor Emmanuel I - the King who created the Carabinieri

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sergio Gonella - football referee

First Italian to referee a World Cup final

Sergio Gonella was the first Italian to referee a World Cup final
Sergio Gonella was the first Italian to
referee a World Cup final
Sergio Gonella, the first Italian football referee to take charge of a World Cup final, was born on this day in 1933 in Asti, a city in Piedmont best known for its wine production.

Gonella was appointed to officiate in the 1978 final between the Netherlands and the hosts Argentina in Buenos Aires and although he was criticised by many journalists and football historians for what they perceived as a weak performance lacking authority, few matches in the history of the competition can have presented a tougher challenge.

Against a backcloth of political turmoil in a country which had suffered a military coup only two years earlier and where opponents of the regime were routinely kidnapped and tortured, or simply disappeared, this was Argentina’s chance to build prestige by winning the biggest sporting event in the world, outside the Olympics.

Rumours of subterfuge surrounded most of Argentina’s matches and when the final arrived the atmosphere in the stadium was as intimidating as anything Gonella would have experienced in his whole 13-year professional career.

The match began with an unprecedented delay, caused first by the Argentine team’s deliberate late arrival on the field, an arrogant tactic designed to unsettle the brilliantly talented Dutch team, and then by the Argentine captain, Daniel Passarella, objecting to the plaster cast on the arm of Dutch defender René van de Kerkhof.

Sergio Gonella with the Dutch player Rene van der Kerkhof and the offending plaster cast
Sergio Gonella with the Dutch player Rene van der
Kerkhof and the offending plaster cast
Van de Kerkhof had worn the cast all through the tournament with no complaints but Passarella said it was potentially dangerous and Gonella ordered that it be removed, at which the Dutch players threatened to walk off en masse.  Eventually a compromise was reached whereby Van de Kerkhof taped some foam rubber over the top of the cast.

The match eventually kicked off nine minutes later than scheduled. Once play began the tackles flew in, with neither sign showing much restraint, and Gonella was never really in control. What’s more, in the partisan atmosphere, he appeared almost always gave the benefit of any doubt to Argentina, who ran out 3-1 winners after extra time.

Years later he defended his performance, answering accusations that he was party to some sort of conspiracy to ensure that Argentina won by pointing out that with the scores at 1-1 and only seconds remaining of the 90 minutes, Rob Rensenbrink of the Netherlands rolled a shot against a post and Argentina were therefore only millimetres away from losing the game.

Gonella, a banker by profession, began to officiate in Serie A matches in 1965 at the age of 32, immediately identifying himself as a no-nonsense arbiter by awarding seven penalties in his first seven matches.

He was generally seen as an impartial disciplinarian and had been a referee at the top level in domestic football for only seven seasons when he was given his first major international assignment, in charge of the final of the European Under-21 championships.

Sergio Gonella in a recent TV interview
Sergio Gonella in a recent TV interview
In 1976 he was the man with the whistle in the senior European championship final between Czechoslovakia and West Germany in Belgrade and when he was given the 1978 World Cup final he became one of only two men to take charge of both these prestigious matches.

In domestic football he won the Giovanni Mauro prize for the season’s best referee in Italian football in 1972 and in 1974 he officiated in the Coppa Italia final between Bologna and Palermo.

He quit refereeing after the 1978 final.  Referees were part time in that era and Gonella said he wished to have the opportunity to take his summer holidays with his family rather than with a whistle round his neck at a football tournament.  He had officiated in 175 Serie A matches.

Gonella remained in football, however, as a designator of match referees in Serie A and was president of the Italian Referees’ Association from 1998 until 2000.

For a while during his career he lived in La Spezia before returning to Asti province, specifically the village of Calliano, about 14km (nine miles) north-east of the city of Asti and about 45km (28 miles) east of Turin.

He was inducted to Italian football’s Hall of Fame in 2013. Two other Italians have refereed the World Cup final – Pierluigi Collina in 2002 and Nicola Rizzoli in 2014.

The Torre dei Comentini
Travel tip:

Asti is a city of around 75,000 people situated in the plain of the Tanaro river about 55km (34 miles) east of Turin. Many of his most important historical buildings are from the 12th and 13th centuries, when Asti grew to be the most powerful city in Piedmont when there was a fashion for building towers as symbols of power and prestige, hence Asti acquiring the nickname of the ‘city of 100 towers.’ There were thought to be 120 at one stage, of which several remain, including the Torre dei Comentini and the Torre de Regibus. Notable churches include the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Collegiata di San Secondo. Every September the city hosts the Palio di Asti, less famous than the Palio di Siena but the oldest in Italy, now staged in the triangular Piazza Alfieri.

The hilltop village of Calliano
Travel tip:

Calliano is a pretty village built on a hill between two valleys characterised by a network of streets spiralling down from the church of Santissimo Nome di Maria, right at the very top of the hill and visible from the surrounding area.  Calliano is also known for its local pasta dish, agnolotti d’asino – pasta envelopes similar to ravioli, stuffed with donkey meat.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Trevi Fountain inaugurated

Famous fountain now helps raise money for the poor

The Trevi Fountain was opened by Pope Clement XIII
The Trevi Fountain was opened by Pope Clement XIII
Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain, Fontana di Trevi, was officially opened by Pope Clement XIII on this day in 1762.

Standing at more than 26 metres high and 49 metres wide it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world.

It has featured in films such as La Dolce Vita and Three Coins in the Fountain.

For more than 400 years a fountain served Rome at the junction of three roads, tre vie, using water from one of Ancient Rome’s aqueducts.

In 1629 Pope Urban VIII asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to draw up possible renovations but the project was abandoned when the pope died.

In 1730 Pope Clement XII organised a contest to design a new fountain. The Florentine Alessandro Galilei originally won but there was such an outcry in Rome that the commission was eventually awarded to a Roman, Nicola Salvi.

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the  fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the
fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Work on the fountain began in 1732 but Salvi died in 1751 when it was only half finished. Made from Travertine stone quarried in Tivoli near Rome, the fountain was completed by Giuseppe Pannini, with Oceanus (god of all water), designed by Pietro Bracci, set in the central niche.

Coins are traditionally thrown into the fountain using the right hand over the left shoulder. This was the theme of the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain and the award-winning song of that name.

An estimated 3000 euros are now thrown into the fountain each day and the money is used to subsidise a supermarket for needy people in Rome.

Travel tip:

One of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s most spectacular works in Rome is the fountain of the Four Rivers, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, in Piazza Navona, with four marble figures symbolising the four major rivers of the world. It was designed in 1651 for Pope Innocent X.

The Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
The Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
Travel tip:

The Fountain of the Tritons, Fontana del Tritone, in Piazza Barberini in Rome was designed and built by Bernini near the entrance to Palazzo Barberini, the home of Pope Urban VIII’s family.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Angelo Bruno - Mafia boss

Sicilian head of Philadelphia mob known as 'the Gentle Don'

Angelo Bruno was the head of the  Philadelphia crime family for 20 years
Angelo Bruno was the head of the
Philadelphia crime family for 20 years
Angelo Bruno, a mobster who ran the Philadelphia Mafia for two decades, was born Angelo Annaloro in Villalba, in the province of Caltanissetta, in Sicily, on this day in 1910.

Bruno was known as “the Gentle Don” because he preferred to solve problems and consolidate his power through non-violent means, such as bribery, and commissioned murders only as a last resort.

The son of a grocer, he emigrated to the United States in his teens and settled in Philadelphia. He became a close associate of New York crime family boss Carlo Gambino. Bruno dropped the name Annaloro and replaced it with his paternal grandmother's maiden name, Bruno.

Bruno’s dislike of violence was not driven by any compassion for his fellow man.  During his early days in Philadelphia, he worked for a series of bosses and did not shirk the tasks he had to perform in order to be rise through the ranks, which included carrying out killings himself.

But in 1959, when he succeeded Joseph Ida as boss of the Philadelphia crime family, he decided it was in his interests and those of his criminal organisation to operate in a way that avoided attracting unwanted attention.

Bruno's strategic policy of avoiding violence  earned him the nickname 'the Gentle Don'
Bruno's strategic policy of avoiding violence
earned him the nickname 'the Gentle Don'
In other cities, the tendency of Mafia families to embark on campaigns of violence to strengthen their powerbase inevitably resulted in the authorities cracking down on mob activity.

Bruno, whose longest time in prison was two years after he refused to testify before a grand jury, reasoned that keeping his operations relatively low key was the best way to achieve success.

Therefore, he preferred to remove obstacles to his progress by bribery rather than murder, and was able to operate for two decades with only minimal interference from law enforcement officers.

However, it was his old-school methods that ultimately proved his downfall.

Under Bruno’s rule, involvement of the Philadelphia family in narcotics trafficking was off-limits. He insisted that the family maintained its focus on more traditional Cosa Nostra operations, such as bookmaking, prostitution and loansharking.

However, by allowing other gangs, notably members of the Gambino family, to distribute heroin in Philadelphia in return for a share of the proceeds, he attracted opposition from inside the family from individuals who felt they were missing out on an opportunity to make big profits.

Meanwhile, as Atlantic City, traditionally part of the Philadelphia empire, grew as a gambling centre, Bruno allowed Gambino gangs to take a slice of that lucrative market, too.

How the Philadelphia Daily News announced Bruno's murder in 1980
How the Philadelphia Daily News
announced Bruno's murder in 1980
Several factions within the Philadelphia crime family began to conspire against Bruno, who was murdered on March 12, 1980, as he returned to his home in South Philadelphia after going out to dinner. He was killed in his car by an assailant who shot him in the back of the head.

There were several suspects, three of whom were themselves found dead within weeks of Bruno’s murder.  Antonio Caponigro, Bruno’s consigliere – advisor – and who was believed to have ordered the execution of his boss, was murdered before police were able to track him down, as were Frank Sindone and John Simone, the Mafiosi suspected of carrying out the killing.

Bruno's driver, John Stanfa, who escaped with only minor injuries, was also a suspect in the murder. He was not killed but would eventually be sentenced to eight years in jail for refusing to testify during the trials.

The turnout for Bruno’s funeral in Philadelphia was substantial. The procession involved more than 100 cars and about 1,000 people turned up at the Holy Cross Cemetery for the service.

Travel tip:

Villalba, a town of around 1,800 inhabitants, is known as the città bianca – white city - because of the large number of white houses. It is situated in a hilly inland area of western Sicily some 98km (61 miles) south-east of Palermo and 51km (32 miles) north of Caltanissetta.  The town grew in size in the 18th century, which saw the building of its two main churches, the Chiesa Madre and the Chiesa della Conciliazione and the palace of Nicolò Palmieri Morillo, also built during the 18th century, who owned much of the land.

The church of San Sebastiano in the city of Caltanissetta
The church of San Sebastiano in the
city of Caltanissetta
Travel tip:

The city of Caltanissetta has a population of more than 80,000 and despite being in an area of volcanic activity – notably the mud volcanoes of the so-called Hill of the Volcanoes  a short distance outside the city – has many notable and well preserved buildings.  The Cathedral of Santa Maria La Nova, built over the late 16th and early 17th centuries, has a Renaissance style that is unusual in the area and contains frescoes by the Flemish painter Guglielmo Borremans.  In front of the cathedral on Piazza Garibaldi is the church of San Sebastiano, built in the 16th century as a gesture of thanks to San Sebastian for deliverance from the plague.  Formerly a major centre for sulphur mining, the town now is famous for the production of the liqueur Amaro Averna.

More reading:

Did Carlo Gambino inspire Mario Puzo to write The Godfather?

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Albano Carrisi - singer

Performer best known as Al Bano has sold 165 million records

Al Bano Carrisi
The singer Albano Carrisi, better known as Al Bano, was born on this day in 1943 in Cellino San Marco, a town in Puglia about 30km (19 miles) from Lecce.

He enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist in the late 1960s but became more famous still in Italy and across mainland Europe for his collaboration with the American singer Romina Power – daughter of the actor Tyrone Power.

They met during the shooting of a film - one of several, mainly romantic comedies and a vehicle for his songs, in which he starred during the 1970s.

They not only formed a professional partnership but were married for almost 30 years.  They twice performed as Italy’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing seventh on both occasions, and appeared several times at Italy’s prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, winning the top prize in 1984.

They divorced in 1999 but re-united on a professional basis in 2013 and when they performed at the Arena di Verona in 2015 before a sell-out crowd of 11,000 the show was broadcast by the Italian TV network Rai and shown in seven other countries, with a combined audience estimated at 51 million.

Carrisi’s total record sales as Al Bano are said to be in the region of 165 million, mainly in Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Romania and Germany.

Albano Carrisi with Romina Power in a publicity
picture for the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest
When he was born during the Second World War, his mother, Iolanda Ottino, named him Albano because at the time his father Carmelo Carrisi was fighting in Albania for the Royal Italian Army.

The name established a link with the country that remained with him. In 2016 he was awarded Albanian citizenship.

He made his debut as a singer in 1966 and won the Disco per l'Estate, an Italian song contest, with Pensando a te in 1968. More hits followed. His song, Nel sole, sold more than a million copies.

His musical collaboration with Romina Power began soon afterwards and would last for almost 30 years. They took part in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 in The Hague with the song We'll Live It All Again (Noi lo rivivremo di nuovo), which finished seventh behind winners The Brotherhood of Man, from the UK.

They returned in 1985 in Gothenburg with Magic Oh Magic, which also finished seventh. The contest was won by the Norwegian duo Bobbysocks.

They entered Sanremo five times and won first prize in 1984 with Ci sarà.

Albano Carrisi in one of his films, Nel sole
Following their breakthrough hit Sharazan in 1981, which reached number two in the Italian charts, they had two number ones with Felicità (1982) and Ci sarà.  Their commercial success continued well into the 1990s, with many records selling in Spain, Germany and Austria.

Al Bano returned to his solo career in 1996 and to Eurovision in 2000, providing backing vocals for the Swiss entry (performed in Italian) La vita cos'è? by Jane Bogaert. After starring with his daughter Romina Carrisi in the 2005 edition of the Italian reality show L'isola dei Famosi – an equivalent of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and Celebrity Survivor – he entered Sanremo in his own right in 2007, finishing second will Nel perdono.

Although he has made his name in the pop world, Carrisi’s tenor voice is of such quality that he is comfortable singing opera, which was his passion growing up.  He released an album of operatic arias in 1997 and once performed alongside Placido Domingo and José Carreras as a stand-in for Luciano Pavarotti.

Carrisi pictured in 2014
Even at the age of 74, Carrisi still tours and remains is a familiar face on Italian television. He had heart surgery in December 2016 and was admitted to hospital in March this year following a scare but returned to work after a brief rest, insisting he did not want to disappoint his fans.

He and Romina Power had four children although they suffered personal tragedy when Yelena Maria, the oldest of their three daughters, disappeared at the age of 23 in New Orleans in January 1994 while backpacking. Carrisi never established what happened despite employing several investigators and in 2013 after almost 20 years requested that she be declared as presumed dead.

After his divorce, he had two more children with his girlfriend, Loredana Lecciso, a former showgirl almost 30 years his junior.

He still lives in Cellino San Marco.

Travel tip:

Cellino San Marco is a town of just under 7,000 people a little more than 20km (12 miles) south of Brindisi and about 14km (9 miles) inland from the coast. It was the site of a so-called ‘oven grave’ – a mass burial place with an entrance resembling that of a stone oven thought to date back to the Bronze Age. Its main attraction today is the nearby Carrisiland aquatic theme park.

Travel tip:

The port of Brindisi has been an important city in Italy since ancient Greek times, mainly because of its natural harbour and its strategic position on the heel of Italy.  The Romans connected it to Rome via the Appian Way (Via Appia) and it remains a busy port to this day, the main point of departure for trade with Greece and the Middle East.  Although it has an industrial feel to parts of the city, there is an attractive promenade and some interesting buildings, including an 18th-century reproduction of the 11th century cathedral destroyed in an earthquake, two castles and the 16th century Renaissance style Palazzo Granafei-Nervegna.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Andrea Pirlo - footballer

Midfielder who won multiple honours with AC Milan and Juventus

Andrea Pirlo made 119 career appearances for the Italian national team
Andrea Pirlo made 119 career appearances for the
Italian national team
The footballer Andrea Pirlo, who some commentators bracket with Roberto Baggio as one of the two best Italian footballers of the last 25 years, was born on this day in 1979.

The 38-year-old midfielder, who currently plays for the Major League Soccer team New York City, has played in six Italian championship-winning teams and is a double winner of the Champions League among a host of honours as a club player.

In international football he has a World Cup winner’s medal as a member of the 2006 Italian national team that lifted the trophy in Germany.  The fulcrum of the Azzurri midfield, he scored one goal and was credited with the assist for three other goals during the tournament.

One of those assists resulted in the crucial opening goal for Italy scored by Fabio Grosso in the classic semi-final against the host nation.  He was also one on Italy’s successful penalty takers during the shoot-out that decided the final against France.

He was named man of the match three times in the tournament, more than any other player.  He matched that achievement six years later at Euro 2012, when Italy were beaten in the final.

In all he won 119 caps for his country, the fourth highest total of all Italian internationals. Fellow players nicknamed him l’architetto – the architect – for his ability to design and construct attacking moves.

Although he began his career as an attacking midfielder or sometimes even a second striker, Pirlo excelled as a deep-lying central midfielder, a playmaker with wonderful vision and the ability to hit accurate passes over any distance.

Pirlo won three Serie A titles with Juventus
Pirlo won three Serie A titles with Juventus
He also acquired renown as a free kick specialist, capable of curling the ball into the net beyond the reach of the goalkeeper. He claims he honed his technique by watching Baggio train at Brescia, the club at which Baggio wound down his career and Pirlo began his.

Pirlo was born in Flero, Italy, in the province of Brescia and began his career with the Flero youth side. He joined Brescia in 1994 and made his debut in Serie A in May the following year at the age of 16, although it took him a further 18 months to win consistent selection for the senior side.

When he did, Brescia won the Serie B title and with it promotion to Serie A in 1998. It won him a move to Internazionale of Milan but could not break into the first team permanently and was loaned to Reggina for the 1999-2000 season and then back to Brescia in 2000-01, where he played alongside Baggio, his childhood idol.

Because Baggio occupied the attacking midfield position for Brescia, manager Carlo Mazzone decided to deploy Pirlo in the deep-lying playmaker role that he would make his own. Years later, Pirlo still described the moment he delivered a long pass that enabled Baggio to score against Juventus as one of the high spots of his career.

After three seasons on Inter’s books, Pirlo was sold to city rivals AC Milan for 33 billion Italian lire – just over 17 million euro – in June 2001.

Pirlo's brilliance as a playmaker emerged under Carlo Ancelotti at AC Milan
Pirlo's brilliance as a playmaker emerged
under Carlo Ancelotti at AC Milan
It was at Milan, in particular under Carlo Ancelotti, where Pirlo at last began to realise his talent and became a world class player.

Recalling Mazzone’s use of him at Brescia, Ancelotti decided to position Pirlo just in front of his defence, which allowed him more time on the ball to pull the strings in terms of setting up attacks, where he could use his, anticipation, imagination and inventiveness to best effect.

He was a key player in a period of consistent success as Italian football became dominated by Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan and MassimoMoratti’s Inter.

Milan won two Champions Leagues (2003 and 2007), two UEFA Super Cups (2003 and 2007), two Serie A titles (2004 and 2011), a FIFA Club World Cup (2007), a Supercoppa Italiana (2004), and a Coppa Italia (2003) during Pirlo’s time.

Baggio himself sang his praises. “Andrea can visualise and anticipate plays before everyone else. His vision, what he can do with the ball, and what he's able to create, make him a true superstar,” he said.

After Ancelotti left to become Chelsea manager in 2009, soon failing with a bid to take Pirlo with him, Pirlo remained with Milan for a further two seasons, winning the scudetto again in 2011, but new coach Massimiliano Allegri used him differently and his final season was restricted to 17 appearances for Serie A, which prompted him to seek a change of direction.

Pirlo left Juventus to join MLS  club New York City
Pirlo left Juventus to join MLS
club New York City
But Milan’s loss turned out to be Juventus’s gain after the so-called Old Lady of Italian football, without a trophy since 2003 after two Serie A titles in 2005 and 2006 were stripped from them over the match-fixing scandal, signed him on a free transfer.

Under coach Antonio Conte he added three more Serie A titles (2012, 2013, 2014), as well as two more Supercoppa Italiana titles (2012 and 2013). When Conte left to become national manager, Pirlo again worked with Allegri but more successfully this time, playing his part in a league and cup double in 2015 before leaving for New York.

His final appearance was in the Champions League final – his fourth – in which Juventus were beaten 3-1 by Barcelona.

One of two children – he has a brother Ivan – Pirlo was married for 13 years to Deborah Roversi, with whom he had two children, Niccolò and daughter Angela.

His father founded a metal trading company in Brescia in 1982 called Elg Steel, in which Pirlo has a stake. A wine connoisseur, he also runs his own vineyard.  In 2013, his autobiography, Penso Quindi Gioco - I Think, Therefore I Play) – became a bestseller.

Travel tip:

Flero, where Andrea Pirlo was born, is a town in Lombardy of just under 9,000 residents, situated a few kilometres south of Brescia in the flat plain of the Po Valley, although close enough to the Italian pre-Alps for snow-capped mountains to be visible on clear winter days.  Lake Garda and Lake Iseo are a short distance away.  Flero itself is a typical northern Italian commuter town, orderly and clean with a couple of churches and a few modern shops.

Travel tip:

The city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists compared with nearby Bergamo or Verona, partly because of the counter-attraction of the lakes.  Yet it has plenty of history, going back to Roman times, and many points of interest, including two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the attractive Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre.  The Torre dell’Orologio clock tower bears similarities to the one in St Mark’s Square in Venice.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ezio Pinza - opera and Broadway star

Poor boy from Rome who made his home at the Met

Ezio Pinza
The opera star Ezio Pinza, who had 22 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1926 to 1948 and sang to great acclaim at many other of the world’s most famous opera houses, was born on this day in 1892 in Rome.

Pinza, a bass who was blessed with a smooth and rich voice and matinee idol looks, also had a successful career in musical theatre on Broadway and appeared in a number of Hollywood films.

Born Fortunio Pinza in relative poverty in Rome, he was the seventh child born to his parents Cesare and Clelia but the first to survive.  He was brought up many miles away in Ravenna, which is close to the Adriatic coast, about 85km (53 miles) from Bologna and 144km (90 miles) from Venice.

He dropped out of Ravenna University but studied singing at Bologna’s Conservatorio Martini and made his opera debut at Cremona in 1914 in Bellini’s Norma.

Pinza signed up to fight for his country in the First World War, after which he resumed his career in 1919. Within a short time he was invited to perform at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he came under the baton of the brilliant but demanding conductor, Arturo Toscanini.

Toscanini recognised his talent and under his guidance, Pinza began to prosper. For a bass his voice had unusual beauty and Pinza had a great drive to make the most of the opportunity it gave him.

Ezio Pinza in the Broadway production of South
Pacific that made his name in musical theatre
His family’s circumstances had meant that he missed out on a formal education.  As a consequence, he was not able to read music, yet he had a sharp ear. He would listen to his part played on the piano and then sing it accurately, even picking up stylistic nuances.

Seen as a successor to the great Italian basses Francesco Navarini, Vittorio Arimondi and Nazzareno De Angelis, by November 1926 he had been invited to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his debut in Spontini's La vestale, which starred the popular American soprano Rosa Ponselle in the title role.

As he became established, Pinza became associated with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Figaro and Sarastro, as well as many roles in the Italian operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, which was sung in Italian.

Engagements at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, soon followed. He sang in London from 1930 to 1939 and was invited to sing at the Salzburg Festival in 1934-1937 by the German conductor Bruno Walter.

Like many Italians, he felt at home in America. Pinza sang again under the baton of Toscanini in 1935, this time with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall as the bass soloist in performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of which was broadcast on radio and recorded.

His life was rudely interrupted in 1942 after America had entered the Second World War.  All Italians and Germans living in the United States came under close scrutiny from the authorities and Pinza was accused of having a connection with Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator.

With no warning, plain clothes FBI officers arrived at his house at Mamaroneck in Westchester County, overlooking Long Island Sound, and arrested him. After being taken to the Foley Square courthouse in Manhattan, where he was not allowed an attorney, he was detained at Ellis Island.

Pinza was only four months away from being granted his American citizenship and, fortunately for him, his fame afforded him more consideration than most of his compatriots and he was allowed to go free again after 12 weeks.

Pinza's grave
After the war, he announced his retirement from opera in 1948, when the Metropolitan Opera honoured him by naming the fountains at the new Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre after him.

He was not finished as a singer. Embarking on a second career in Broadway musicals, he achieved more success. His role in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, in which the lead male part of the French planter Emil de Becque and the classic song Some Enchanted Evening were created specifically for him, turned him into a still bigger celebrity. In 1950, he received a Tony Award for best lead actor in a musical.

The fame brought him movie and television work and enabled him to buy a plush house next to the golf course at Westchester Country Club at Rye, where he was a member.  Sadly, he died suddenly in 1957 at the age of 64, having suffered a stroke. He is buried at Putnam Cemetery at Greenwich, Connecticut.

Travel tip:

Ravenna was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until its collapse in 406. The city’s Basilica of San Vitale, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, is famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside Turkey, including masterpieces studded with gold, emerald and sapphire. The city was where the poet Dante lived in exile until his death in 1321. His tomb can be found in the Basilica of San Francesco, and the pretty Piazza del Popolo.

Travel tip:

The Conservatorio Martini, where Pinza received his formal musical education, can be found in Bologna’s Piazza Rossini, adjacent to the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, about 10 minutes’ walk from the city’s central square, Piazza Maggiore. Opened in 1804 as the Liceo Filarmonico di Bologna, its prestige was enhanced by its association with the composer Gioachino Rossini, who had attended the conservatory as a student, and returned later in life as a consultant.