12 October 2019

12 October

Luciano Pavarotti - tenor

Singer who became known as ‘King of the High Cs’

Luciano Pavarotti, one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time, was born on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.  Pavarotti made many stage appearances and recordings of arias from opera throughout his career. He also crossed over into popular music, gaining fame for the superb quality of his voice.  Towards the end of his career, as one of the legendary Three Tenors, he became known to an even wider audience because of his concerts and television appearances.  Pavarotti began his professional career on stage in Italy in 1961 and gave his final performance, singing the Puccini aria, Nessun Dorma, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He died the following year as a result of pancreatic cancer, aged 71.  The young Pavarotti had dreamt of becoming a goalkeeper for a football team but he later turned his attention to training as a singer.  His earliest influences were his father’s recordings of the Italian tenors, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Enrico Caruso. But Pavarotti has said that his own favourite tenor was the Sicilian, Giuseppe di Stefano. Pavarotti experienced his first singing success as a member of a male voice choir from Modena, in which his father also sang.  Read more…


NEW  Ascanio Sobrero - chemist

Professor who discovered nitroglycerine

The chemist Ascanio Sobrero, who discovered of the volatile compound that became known as nitroglycerine, was born on this day in 1812 in Casale Monferrato in Piedmont.  Nitroglycerine has a pharmaceutical use as a vasodilator, improving blood flow in the treatment of angina, but it is more widely known as the key ingredient in explosives such as dynamite and gelignite.  Its commercial potential was exploited not by Sobrero but by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish businessman and philanthropist who gave his name to the annually awarded Nobel Prizes.  Sobrero, aware of how much damage it could cause, had actually warned against nitroglycerine being used outside the laboratory.  Little is known about Sobrero’s early life, apart from being born in Casale Monferrato, a town about 60km (37 miles) east of Turin.  He studied medicine in Turin and Paris and then chemistry at the University of Giessen in Germany, earning his doctorate in 1832. In 1845 he returned to the University of Turin, becoming a professor there.  Sobrero had acquired some knowledge of explosives from the French chemist Théophile-Jules Pelouze, who had taught at the University of Turin while he was a student.  Read more…


Piero della Francesca - Renaissance painter

Mathematician famous for exploring perspective

Piero della Francesca, recognised as one of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance, died on this day in 1492 in what was then Borgo Santo Sepolcro, near Arezzo.  He was thought to have been around 77 years old – his exact birth date is not known – and it has been popularly theorised that he was blind in the later years of his life, although evidence to support the claim is sketchy.  Della Francesca’s work was characterised by his exploration of perspective and geometric form, which was hardly surprising since in his own time he was as famous among his peers as a mathematician and geometer as well as an artist.  He came to be recognized in the 20th century as having made a major contribution to the Renaissance.  His fresco cycle The History – or Legend – of the True Cross in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, painted between 1452 and 1466, and his diptych – two-panelled – portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza - the Dukes of Urbino, dated at between 1465 and 1472, which can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, are among his best-known works.  Read more…


Gillo Pontecorvo - film director

Most famous film was banned in France

The film director Gillo Pontecorvo, whose best-known film, La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and was nominated for three Academy Awards, died on this day in 2006 in Rome, aged 86.  A former journalist who had been an Italian Resistance volunteer and a member of the Italian Communist Party, Pontecorvo had been in declining health for some years, although he continued to make documentary films and commercials until shortly before his death.  Although it was made a decade or so after the peak years of the movement, La battaglia di Algeri is in the tradition of Italian neorealism, with newsreel style footage and mainly non-professional actors.  Pontecorvo also won acclaim for his 1960 film Kapò, set in a Second World War concentration camp, and Burn! (1969) - titled Queimada in Italy - which was about the creation of a so-called banana republic on the fictitious Caribbean island of Queimada, starring Marlon Brando and loosely based on the failed slave revolution in Guadeloupe.  Kapò was also was nominated for an Oscar.  Read more…


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