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.

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.





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