19 January 2020

19 January

NEW - Giuseppe Millico - opera singer, composer and teacher


Soprano castrato taught Lord Nelson’s lover

The castrato opera singer and composer Giuseppe Millico, who numbered Lord Nelson’s future lover, Emma Hamilton, as among his pupils as a singing teacher in Naples, was born on this day in 1737 in Terlizzi, a town in Apulia.  As a singer, Millico is best remembered for his performances in the operas of the Bavarian composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. He also compiled a significant body of work of his own, including eight operas, eight cantatas, numerous arias and duets not part of wider works, and 82 canzonets.  Having learned his craft in Naples in the 1750s, Millico returned to the city in 1780 after many years of touring, becoming a teacher as well as a composer. He taught singing to the Bourbon princesses Maria Teresa and Luisa Maria, as well as to Emma, Lady Hamilton, the actress and model, who was living in Naples after her marriage to Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador.  After studying at one of the Naples conservatories, Millico made his performing debut in Rome in 1757. Soon afterwards, he went to Moscow to sing at the Russian court. He remained in Russia for seven years, earning the nickname Il Moscovita on his return.  Read more…


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Paolo Borsellino - anti-Mafia judge


Magistrate slain by Mafia 57 days after colleague Giovanni Falcone

Paolo Borsellino, the judge who was helping to wage a successful war against the Sicilian Mafia when he was murdered in 1992, was born on this day in 1940 in Palermo.  He and his boyhood friend, Giovanni Falcone, became the most prominent members of a pool of anti-Mafia magistrates set up in the 1980s to investigate organised crime and share information. They made considerable progress in weakening the Sicilian Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, in particular through the so-called Maxi Trial of 1986-87, which resulted in 360 convictions and prison sentences totalling 2,665 years.  Yet both were killed within the space of two months, Falcone on May 23 by a bomb placed under the motorway between Sicilian capital Palermo and the city's airport, Borsellino on July 19 by a car bomb as he left his mother's house in the centre of the city.  The two were born and raised within a few streets of one another in the Kalsa district of Palermo, not far from the tree-lined Foro Italico Umberto I, the broad thoroughfare that runs along the city's waterfront.  It was a middle class neighbourhood that suffered severe damage in air raids as the Allies prepared to invade Sicily in 1943.  Read more…


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Il trovatore – opera


Verdi masterpiece is regularly performed all over the world 

One of the most successful operas composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Il trovatore was first staged on this day in 1853 in Rome.  The four act opera was based on a play by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez about a troubadour, the son of a gypsy woman, who is in love with a lady in waiting at a Spanish castle.  After its premiere, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the opera became a  big success and in the first three years there were 229 productions of it worldwide. In Naples alone there were 11 different productions in six theatres, including Teatro San Carlo, during the first three years. The opera was first performed in America by the Max Maretzek Opera Company in 1855. The Metropolitan Opera in New York have performed it more than 600 times since it was first staged there in 1883.  Verdi was asked to prepare a French version of the opera in 1855, Le Trouvère, and to include music for a ballet. It was first performed in French in 1857 in Paris when Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugènie went to see it.  Along with Rigoletto and La traviata, Il trovatore is believed by experts to represent Verdi at the height of his artistry in the middle of his career.   Read more…


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Assunta ‘Pupetta’ Maresca – camorrista


Ex-beauty queen who avenged death of husband

Assunta Maresca, the mobster’s wife who made headlines around the world when she walked into a bar in Naples in broad daylight and shot dead the man she suspected of ordering the murder of her husband on behalf of the Neapolitan Mafia - the Camorra - was born on this day in 1935 in the coastal town of Castellammare di Stabia.  Better known as ‘Pupetta’ – the little doll – on account of her small stature and stunning good looks, Maresca took the law into her own hands after her husband – a young and ambitious camorrista and the father of her unborn child - was assassinated on the orders of a rival.  Her extraordinary act brought her an 18-year prison sentence, of which she served about a third, yet made her a figure of such public fascination that several movies and TV series were made about her life.  She went on to become the lover of another mobster and was alleged to have participated in Camorra activity herself, serving another jail term after she was found guilty of abetting the murder of a forensic scientist, which she denied.  Assunta Maresca was born into a world of crime.  Her father, Alberto, was a smuggler specialising in trafficking cigarettes.  Read more…


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Giuseppe Bonomi - architect


Roman who became famous for English country houses

The architect Giuseppe Bonomi, who became better known by his Anglicised name Joseph Bonomi after spending much of his working life in England, was born on this day in 1739 in Rome.  Records nowadays refer to him as Joseph Bonomi the Elder, to distinguish him from his son of the same name, who became a sculptor, artist and Egyptologist of some standing and tends to be described as Joseph Bonomi the Younger.   Joseph Bonomi the Elder is known primarily for designing a number of English country houses in the last two decades of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th.  Among these are Lambton Castle in County Durham, Barrells Hall in Warwickshire, Longford Hall in Shropshire and Laverstoke House in Hampshire.  He also designed the saloon the in grand house of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Portman Square in London, sadly destroyed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  Bonomi’s father hailed from the Veneto and was an agent to members of the Roman aristocracy. Giuseppe was educated at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit school in Rome that taught pupils from elementary school to university age.  Read more…


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Giuseppe Millico - opera singer, composer and teacher

Soprano castrato taught Lord Nelson’s lover


Giuseppe Millico was for a while a celebrated and in-demand castrato singer
Giuseppe Millico was for a while a celebrated
and in-demand castrato singer
The castrato opera singer and composer Giuseppe Millico, who numbered Lord Nelson’s future lover, Emma Hamilton, as among his pupils as a singing teacher in Naples, was born on this day in 1737 in Terlizzi, a town in Apulia.

As a singer, Millico is best remembered for his performances in the operas of the Bavarian composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. He also compiled a significant body of work of his own, including eight operas, eight cantatas, numerous arias and duets not part of wider works, and 82 canzonets.

Having learned his craft in Naples in the 1750s, Millico returned to the city in 1780 after many years of touring, becoming a teacher as well as a composer. He taught singing to the Bourbon princesses Maria Teresa and Luisa Maria, as well as to Emma, Lady Hamilton, the actress and model, who was living in Naples after her marriage to Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador.

After studying at one of the Naples conservatories, Millico made his performing debut in Rome in 1757. Soon afterwards, he went to Moscow to sing at the Russian court. He remained in Russia for seven years, earning the nickname Il Moscovita on his return.

His links with Gluck began in 1769 in Parma, Gluck was preparing a great celebratory work, Le feste d’Apollo, for the marriage of the Bourbon Duke Ferdinand of Parma and Maria Amalia of Austria. The work incorporated part of his opera Orfeo ed Euridice, which Gluck adapted to suit voice of Millico in the role of Orfeo. The following year, Gluck rewrote the whole of the opera with Millico in mind and invited him to play Orfeo in Vienna. He similarly adapted his opera Alceste and wrote a new work, Paride ed Elena, specifically for him.

One of the many paintings of Emma Hamilton by the English portrait painter, George Romney
One of the many paintings of Emma Hamilton
by the English portrait painter, George Romney
After performing for the composer Antonio Sacchini in Milan, Millico joined Sacchini in London in 1772, becoming primo musico - principal castrato - at the King's Theatre. He performed the leading male roles in the first London operas by Sacchini, Il Cid and Tamerlano, both in 1773.

While he was based in London, Millico travelled extensively, singing in Paris and at several opera houses in Germany, including Mannheim, Schwetzingen and Zweibrücken. He toured the major opera centres in Italy – Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome before returning to Naples.

Some time after 1777, he was appointed Virtuoso di Camera e della Regia Cappella - Virtuoso of the Chamber and Royal Chapel - in Naples, and music master to the Royal princesses, Maria Teresa and Luisa Maria.

It was not long before he had given up performing as a singer in order to dedicated himself to composing and teaching.

His operas included Le cinesi and L’isola disabitata, written for the Bourbon princesses. He wrote two operas to libretti by Pietro Metastasio and one to words by Ranieri de' Calzabigi, who had been Gluck's librettist.  His work La pietà d’amore, commissioned by Antonio Lucchesi-Palli, Prince of Campofranco in Sicily, was interpreted as a message of support for Gluck.

Millico came into contact Emma Hamilton, who was married to Sir William Hamilton in 1791, having become his lover in Naples, probably through Queen Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette and wife of Ferdinand I of Naples, with whom she developed a friendship.

Lady Hamilton became a talented amateur singer under Millico’s tutelage, confidently entertaining guests at her home. Indeed, she was good enough to be approached by the Royal Opera in Madrid, who tried to engage her for a season to compete with their star, the Italian soprano Angelica Catalani. She turned down the offer.

Millico remained in Naples until his death in 1802, at the age of 65.

The Naples waterfront, as depicted in an 18th century view  towards Santa Lucia and Castel dell'Ovo
The Naples waterfront, as depicted in an 18th century view
towards Santa Lucia and Castel dell'Ovo
Travel tip:

Naples in the 18th century was one of Europe's great cities. It featured what was then Italy's largest opera house, the Teatro di San Carlo, and was considered by Grand Tourists to be a stimulating diversion from the stuffier historical splendour of Rome. South of Naples, the newly excavated remains of Herculaneum and Pompeii, the ancient Roman cities buried by volcanic lava in the first century AD, were another attraction.   Part of the Bourbon legacy to Naples is the vast Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace commissioned in 1752 by Charles VII of Naples and built by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli along the lines of the French royal palace at Versailles.

The Roman ruins at Ercolano are in many ways better preserved than at neighbouring Pompeii
The Roman ruins at Ercolano are in many ways
better preserved than at neighbouring Pompeii
Travel tip:

Until 1969, the town now called Ercolano was known as Resina, the name given to the medieval settlement that built on top of the volcanic material left by the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius that also destroyed nearby Pompeii.  The existence of Ercolano - the Roman city of Herculaneum - was not known until the early 18th century, when a farmer sinking a well came across ancient marble columns.  Herculaneum was smaller and less prestigious than Pompeii but is better preserved due to the different volcanic materials that covered the town.  The ruins at Ercolano are better preserved than Pompeii’s, although its more famous neighbour was a bigger city and its destruction particularly well documented.  The ruins at Pompeii and Ercolano can both be reached by using the Circumvesuviana railway, which runs from Naples along the southern stretch of the Bay of Naples, terminating at Sorrento.

Also on this day:

1739: The birth of architect Giuseppe Bonomi, also known as Joseph Bonomi the Elder

1853: Verdi's opera Il trovatore is performed for the first time

1935: The birth of Assunta Maresca, the beautiful gangster's widow famous for murdering a Mafia boss in an act of revenge

1940: The birth of anti-Mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino


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18 January 2020

18 January

Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster – Cardinal


Blessed monk who tried to preach humility to Mussolini

Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, who was a Benedictine monk and served as Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan during World War II, was born on this day in 1880 in Rome.  Towards the end of the war, Schuster attempted to arrange a truce between Mussolini and the partisans, but failed because Mussolini refused to accept the demands for total surrender made by the partisan delegates.  During the unsuccessful meeting between Mussolini and the partisans in the Archbishop’s Palace in Milan, Schuster is reported to have made an attempt to preach humility to the Fascist leader. More than 40 years after his death, Cardinal Schuster was beatified on 12 May 1996 by Pope John Paul II.  Schuster was the son of a Bavarian tailor who had moved to live in Rome and he served as an altar boy at a German Church near St Peter’s Basilica.  In 1898 he joined the Order of Saint Benedict and took the name Ildefonso before entering the monastic community of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  He studied while he was a monk and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in 1903, later receiving a Doctorate in Theology.   Read more…

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Katia Ricciarelli - operatic soprano


Star whose peak years were in ‘70s and ‘80s

The opera singer Katia Ricciarelli, who at her peak was seen as soprano who combined a voice of sweet timbre with engaging stage presence, was born on this day in 1946 at Rovigo in the Veneto.  She rose to fame quickly after making her professional debut as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème in Mantua in 1969 and in the 1970s was in demand for the major soprano roles.  Between 1972 and 1975, Ricciarelli sang at all the major European and American opera houses, including Lyric Opera of Chicago (1972), Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1973), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1974) and the Metropolitan Opera (1975).  In 1981, she began an association with the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro that she maintained throughout the ‘80s.  In addition to her opera performances, Ricciarelli also appeared in a number of films.  She was Desdemona in Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in 1986, alongside Plácido Domingo. In 2005 she won the best actress prize Nastro d'Argento, awarded by the Italian film journalists, for her role in Pupi Avati's La seconda notte di nozze (2005).  During her peak years, Desdemona was one of her signature roles. Read more…

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Alfonso Ferrabosco the elder – musician


Court composer suspected of being a spy

Alfonso Ferrabosco, the composer who first introduced the madrigal to England, was born on this day in Bologna in 1543.  As well as composing music for Queen Elizabeth I of England, he was also suspected of working as a spy for her.  Ferrabosco had been born into a family of musicians and travelled about in Italy and France while he was young with his father and uncle.  He went to England in 1562 with his uncle and found employment with Elizabeth I, becoming the first composer to introduce the unaccompanied harmony of the madrigal to England, where it later became very popular. Elizabeth is said to have settled an annuity equivalent to £66 on him.  Ferrabosco’s madrigals suited English tastes and were considered very skilful. He also composed sacred music and instrumental music for lutes and viols.  He made periodic trips back to Italy, but these were frowned upon both by the Pope and the Inquisition. England was at war with several Roman Catholic countries at the time and as a result, Ferrabosco lost his Italian inheritance.  At one point he was serving Cardinal Farnese in Rome, but decided he wanted to return to England.  Read more…

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Dino Meneghin – basketball player


Italy’s biggest star won 32 trophies and Olympic medal

Dino Meneghin, universally recognised as the greatest Italian player in basketball history, was born on this day in 1950 in Alano di Piave, a village in the Veneto.  The first Italian and only the second European player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team when he was picked by the Atlanta Hawks in 1970, Meneghin enjoyed a professional career spanning 28 years.   He did not retire until he was 44 years old and had played in a professional match against his own son, Andrea, having won 32 trophies including 12 Italian national championships and seven EuroLeague titles.  Meneghin also participated in four OIympic basketball tournaments, winning a silver medal in the 1980 Games in Moscow. His international career amounted to 271 appearances for Italy, in which he scored 2,847 points.  Brought up in Varese in Lombardy, Meneghin was always exceptionally tall, growing to a height of 6ft 9ins (2.06m), and was earmarked for an athletic career.  He and his brother Renzo would train together, Renzo as a middle-distance runner, Dino as a shot-putter and discus thrower.  Read more…


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17 January 2020

17 January

Antonio Moscheni - Jesuit painter


Unique legacy of chapel frescoes in India

The painter Antonio Moscheni, best known for the extraordinary frescoes he created in the chapel of St Aloysius College in Mangalore, India, was born on this day in 1854 in the town of Stezzano, near Bergamo in Lombardy.  St Aloysius, situated in the state of Karnataka in south-west India, was built by Italian Jesuit Missionaries in 1880 and the chapel added four years later.  A beautiful building, it would not look out of place in Rome and the Baroque extravagance of Moscheni's work, which adorns almost every available wall space and ceiling, makes it unique in India.  The chapel welcomes thousands of visitors each year simply to marvel at Moscheni's art for the vibrancy of the colours and the intricacy of the detail. Scenes depicted include the life of St. Aloysius, who as the Italian aristocrat Aloysius Gonzaga became a Jesuit and was studying in Rome when he died at the age of just 23, having devoted himself to caring for the victims of an outbreak of plague.  Also painted are the Apostles, the lives of the Saints and the life of Jesus.  Read more…


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Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome


Important date in Roman and papal history

The French Pope, Gregory XI, returned the papacy to Rome, against the wishes of France and several of his cardinals, on this day in 1377.  The move back to Rome was a highly significant act in history as the papacy, from that date onwards, was to remain in the city.  Gregory was born Pierre-Roger De Beaufort in Limoges. He was the last French pope, and he was also the last pope to reign from Avignon, where he had been unanimously elected in 1370.  He immediately gave consideration to returning the papacy to Rome in order to conduct negotiations for reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches and to maintain papal territories against a Florentine revolt being led by the powerful Visconti family.  But Gregory had to shelve his Roman plan temporarily in order to strive for peace between England and France after another phase in the Hundred Years’ War started.  However, in 1375, he defeated Florence in its war against the Papal States and the following year, he listened to the pleas of the mystic Catherine of Siena, later to become a patron saint of Italy, to move the papacy back to Rome.  Read more…


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Antonio del Pollaiuolo – artist


Paintings of muscular men show knowledge of anatomy

Renaissance painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith Antonio del Pollaiuolo was born on this day in 1433 in Florence.  He was also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo and sometimes as Antonio del Pollaiolo. The last name came from the trade of his father who sold poultry.  Antonio’s brother, Piero, was also an artist and they frequently worked together. Their work showed classical influences and an interest in human anatomy. It was reported that the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject.  Antonio worked for a time in the Florence workshop of Bartoluccio di Michele where Lorenzo Ghiberti - creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery - also received his training.  Some of Antonio’s paintings show brutality, such as his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he painted for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and presents muscular men in action. His paintings of women show more calmness and display his meticulous attention to fashion details.   Antonio was also successful as a sculptor and a metal worker and although he produced only one engraving, The Battle of the Nude Men, it became one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.  Read more…


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Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino


Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472.  He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.  Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.  His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.  The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.  Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.  As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.  During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.  Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.  Read more…


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16 January 2020

16 January

NEW
- Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop


Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.  Viganò, who had occupied one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI set him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.  The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.  Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Read more…

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Renzo Mongiardino - interior and set designer


Favourite of wealthy clients known as the ‘architect of illusion’

Lorenzo ‘Renzo’ Mongiardino, who became Italy’s leading classic interior designer and a creator of magnificent theatre and film sets, died in Milan on this day in 1998.  He was 81 years old and had never fully recovered from an operation the previous November to install a pacemaker.  Mongiardino, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction during his career, worked on interior design for an international clientele that included the industrialist and art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the business tycoons Aristotle Onassis and Gianni Agnelli, the former Russian prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and his socialite wife Lee Radziwill, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, the Rothschild family and the Hearst family.  Nonetheless, he habitually rejected his reputation as the eminence gris of interior design. ''I'm a creator of ambiance, a scenic designer, an architect but not a decorator,'' he once said.  The only son of Giuseppe Mongiardino, a theatre impresario who introduced colour television to Italy, Mongiardino grew up in an 18th-century palazzo in Genoa.  Read more…

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Arturo Toscanini - conductor


Talented musician had unexpected career change

World famous orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini died on this day in 1957.  He served as musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  Toscanini was a well-known musician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respected for his amazing musical ear and his photographic memory.  Towards the end of his career he became a household name as director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra because of the radio and television broadcasts and recordings he made.  Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867 and won a scholarship to his local music conservatory where he studied the cello.  He joined the orchestra of an opera company and while they were presenting Aida on tour in Rio de Janeiro the singers went on strike.  They were protesting against their conductor and demanded a substitute. They suggested Toscanini, who they were aware knew the whole opera from memory.  Although he had no previous conducting experience, he was eventually persuaded to take up the baton late in the evening. He led a performance of the long Verdi opera, entirely relying on his memory.  Read more…

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Niccolò Piccinni – opera composer


Writer drawn into 18th century Paris rivalry

The composer Niccolò Piccinni, one of the most popular writers of opera in 18th century Europe, was born on this day in 1728 in Bari.  Piccinni, who lived mainly in Naples while he was in Italy, had the misfortune to be placed under house arrest for four years in his 60s, when he was accused of being a republican revolutionary.  He is primarily remembered, though, for having been invited to Paris at the height of his popularity to be drawn unwittingly into a battle between supporters of traditional opera, with its emphasis on catchy melodies and show-stopping arias, and those of the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, who favoured solemnly serious storytelling more akin to Greek tragedy.  Piccinni’s father was a musician but tried to discourage his son from following the same career. However, the Bishop of Bari, recognising Niccolò’s talent, arranged for him to attend the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio in Capuana in Naples.  He was a prolific writer. His first opera, a comedy entitled Le donne dispettose (The mischievous women) was staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in 1755.  Read more…

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Count Vittorio Alfieri – playwright and poet


Romantic nobleman inspired the oppressed with his writing

Dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri was born on this day in 1749 in Asti in Piedmont.  He earned himself the title of ‘the precursor of the Risorgimento’ because the predominant theme of his poetry was the overthrow of tyranny and with his dramas he tried to encourage a national spirit in Italy. He has also been called ‘the founder of Italian tragedy.’  Alfieri was educated at the Military Academy of Turin but disliked military life and obtained leave to travel throughout Europe.  In France he was profoundly influenced by studying the writing of Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu and in England he embarked on a doomed affair with an unsuitable woman.  When he returned to Italy in 1772 he settled in Turin and resigned his military commission.  Soon afterwards, he wrote a tragedy, Cleopatra, which was performed to great acclaim in 1775.  He decided to devote himself to literature and began a methodical study of the classics and of Italian poetry.  Since he expressed himself mainly in French, which was the language of the ruling classes in Turin, he went to Tuscany to familiarise himself with pure Italian.  Read more…


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Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop

Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church


Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal ambassador in the United States
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was papal
ambassador in the United States
Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.

Viganò, who had occupied one of the most senior positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI sent him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.

The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.

Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against the American former Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

He also called on Pope Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict when the latter unexpectedly stepped down in February 2013, to resign on the grounds that he had ignored warnings about McCarrick, who was forced to quit in disgrace when his behaviour became public knowledge, and removed sanctions placed on him by Benedict.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Viganò
to his US role in 2011
The letter prompted Pope Francis to order a “thorough study” of all documents in Holy See offices concerning McCarrick.  Interviewed about Viganò’s allegations, Pope Francis said he could not recall being warned about McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington.

The decision to appoint Viganò as Apostolic Nuncio - the official title of papal ambassador - in the United States came at a time when some believed he might be in line to become President of the Vatican City State.

Born into a wealthy family in Varese, Viganò was ordained a priest in 1968. For a period he worked in the Vatican's diplomatic corps, where he held positions at embassies in Great Britain and Iraq, and while he had other overseas postings in Kosovo and Nigeria, he spent much of his career in various roles within the Vatican secretariat of state.  He was made an archbishop in 1992 by Pope John Paul II.

In 2009 he was appointed to the high-ranking position of secretary-general of the governorate of the Vatican City State. There he earned a reputation for financial acumen. He turned  a 10.5 million dollar deficit into a surplus of 44 million dollars in one year.

Viganò called on Pope Francis to resign over sex abuse scandal
Viganò called on Pope Francis to
resign over sex abuse scandal
However, in 2011, he was informed by Cardinal Bertone that Pope Benedict was appointing him Nuncio to the United States, a move that was seen to end Viganò’s hopes of himself being made a Cardinal and attaining the position of President.

In a further controversy in 2018, a court in Milan ordered Viganò to pay his brother, Father Lorenzo Viganò, who suffered a stroke in 1996, a sum equivalent to $2 million plus interest after finding him to have failed to share profits made from a $23 million property portfolio they had jointly inherited from their father, a steel industrialist in Milan.

Carlo Maria Viganò had resigned from his position in the United States in 2016, as he was required to on reaching 75 years old.  Since publishing his 2018 allegations, Vigano has been living in self-imposed exile in a location he keeps secret, although he continues to be critical of Pope Francis.

The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
The Basilica San Vittore in the city of Varese in
Lombardy, between Milan and the lakes
Travel tip:

The city of Varese, in an area in the foothills of the Alps that owes its terrain to the activities of ancient glaciers that created 10 lakes in the immediate vicinity, including Lago di Varese, which this elegant provincial capital overlooks.  Most visitors to the city arrive there because of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.  But the town itself and the handsome villas and palaces in the centre and the surrounding countryside are interesting in their own right, reflecting the prosperity of the area. The grand Palazzo Estense is one, now the city's Municipio - the town hall.

St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is the smallest sovereign state in the world
St Peter's Basilica is part of the Vatican City, which is
the smallest sovereign state in the world
Travel tip:

The Vatican City, which occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens, is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence in 1929 when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.


Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The death of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini 

1998: The death of interior designer Renzo Mongiardino


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15 January 2020

15 January

Giambattista De Curtis – songwriter and artist


Talented Neapolitan became captivated with the beauty of Sorrento

Writer, painter and sculptor Giambattista De Curtis died on this day in 1926 in Naples.  A talented poet and playwright, he also wrote the lyrics for many popular songs.  He is perhaps best known for the song Torna a Surriento, although the English words that have now become famous differ from the original verses for the song that he wrote in Neapolitan dialect.  De Curtis is believed to have written the words for Torna a Surriento while on the terrace of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano in 1902, gazing out at the sea whose beauty he was praising.  De Curtis lived for weeks at a time in the hotel and painted frescoes and canvases to decorate the walls for the owner, Guglielmo Tramontano, who was also Mayor of Sorrento at the time.  One theory is that De Curtis was asked to write the song to mark the stay at the hotel of Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Zanardelli.  But another school of thought is that he had already written the words to accompany the beautiful music written by his brother, Ernesto, a few years earlier and that he revived it for the occasion.  Torna a Surriento has often been performed and recorded with its original words, sung by such great performers as Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti.  Read more…


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Paolo Sarpi – writer and statesman


Patriotic Venetian who the Pope wanted dead

Historian, scientist, writer and statesman Paolo Sarpi died on this day in 1623 in Venice.  He had survived an assassination attack 16 years before and was living in seclusion, still preparing state papers on behalf of Venice, writing, and carrying out scientific studies.  The day before his death he had dictated three replies to questions about state affairs of the Venetian Republic.  He had been born Pietro Sarpi in 1552 in Venice. His father died while he was still a child and he was educated by his uncle, who was a school teacher, and then by a monk in the Augustinian Servite order.  He entered the Servite order himself at the age of 13, assuming the name of Fra Paolo. After going into a monastery in Mantua, he was invited to be court theologian to Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga.  He then went to Milan, where he was an adviser to Charles Borromeo, the archbishop of Milan, before being transferred back to Venice to be professor of philosophy at the Servite convent.  At the age of 27, Sarpi was sent to Rome, where he interacted with three successive popes. He then returned to Venice, where he spent 17 years studying.  Read more…

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Gigi Radice - football coach


Former Milan player steered Torino to only title in 78 years

Luigi 'Gigi' Radice, the only coach to have won the Italian football championship with Torino in the 78 years that have elapsed since the Superga plane crash wiped out the greatest of all Torino teams, was born on this day in 1935 in Cesano Maderno, near Monza, some 24km (15 miles) north of Milan.  Am attacking full-back with AC Milan, where he won the Scudetto three times and was a member of the team that won the 1962-63 European Cup, Radice made five appearances for Italy, including two at the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.  He switched to coaching in 1965 after a serious knee injury ended his playing career prematurely and achieved immediate success with his local club, Monza, whom he guided to promotion as champions in Serie C.  After leading Cesena to promotion to Serie A for the first time in the Emilia-Romagna club's history in 1972-73 Radice had spells with Fiorentina and Cagliari before Torino owner Orfeo Pianelli hired him in 1975.    Torino had finished third in 1971-72 and in the top six in each of the following three seasons but were not close to breaking the dominance of city rivals Juventus.  Read more…


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Paolo Vaccari - rugby player


Italy’s second all-time highest try scorer

The rugby player Paolo Vaccari, who scored 22 tries for the Italian national team in a 64-cap career, was born on this day in 1971 in Calvisano, a town in Lombardy about 30km (19 miles) southeast of Brescia.  A versatile back equally adept at wing, centre or full-back, Vaccari was regarded as a strong defender and an intelligent and technically-sound back who frequently created scoring opportunities for players around him.  Although he was good enough to be selected for the renowned Barbarians invitational XV against Leicester Tigers in 1998, he played all his domestic rugby in Italy, enjoying great success.  He won the double of Italian Championship and Cup with Milan Rugby in 1994-95 and was a title-winner for the second time with his home club Calvisano 10 years later, during a run in which Calvisano reached the Championship final six years in a row, from 2001-06.  Vaccari had won his second Italian Cup medal with Calvisano in 2003-04.  In international rugby, his proudest moment was undoubtedly scoring Italy’s fourth try in their historic 40-32 victory over reigning Five Nations champions France in the final of the FIRA Cup in Grenoble in 1997.  Read more…


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