14 November 2021

14 November

Giuseppina Strepponi – soprano

Death of the woman who inspired Donizetti and Verdi

Opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi died on this day in 1897 at the village of Sant’Agata in the province of Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  She was the second wife of the composer Giuseppe Verdi and is often credited with helping him achieve his first successes, having starred in several of his early operas.  Strepponi was born Clelia Maria Josepha Strepponi in Lodi, a little over 40km south-east of Milan, in 1815.  Her father was the organist at Monza Cathedral and also a composer and he gave her piano lessons when she was very young. At the age of 15 she was enrolled at the Milan Conservatory and she won first prize for singing in her final year.  Strepponi made her professional debut in 1834 at the Teatro Orfeo in Taranto and enjoyed her first success the following spring in Trieste, singing the title role in Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran. She quickly became a celebrity, singing Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini roles all over Italy to great acclaim.  She made her debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1839 as Leonora in the first production of Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, Oberto.  Her strong performance was one of the main reasons the opera was received so well.  Read more…


Enzo Cucchi - artist

Enjoyed prominence as part of Transavanguardia movement

The artist Enzo Cucchi, who was a prominent member of the Italian Transavanguardia movement, was born on this day in 1949 in Morro d'Alba, a walled town set among hills about 10km (6 miles) inland from the Adriatic and 24km (15 miles) west of Ancona in the Marche region.  The Transavanguardia, which peaked during the 1980s, was part of an international revival of expressionist painting. Other Italians who could be considered part of the movement included Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Nicolo de Maria and Mimmo Paladino.  Cucchi’s most important works include the frescoes of the Chapel of Monte Tamaro near Lugano, designed by the architect Mario Botta, which he painted between 1992 and 1994, and the design of the curtain for the theater La Fenice of Senigallia (1996), not far from Morro d’Alba.  In his early years, although his self-taught skills as a painter attracted praise, Cucchi was more interested in writing poetry. Some of his writing was published by La Nuova Foglio di Macerata, a small publishing house, through whom he met art critic Achille Bonito Oliva, who became an important figure in his career.  It was Oliva who came up with the term transavanguardia.  Read more…


Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce

The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.  His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.  It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.  Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.  Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto.  Read more…


Aleardo Aleardi - poet and patriot

History-loving writer dreamed of a united Italy

Patriotic poet Aleardo Aleardi was born on this day in 1812 in Verona.  At the height of his success he was hailed as an important figure in the Risorgimento movement and there is now a school named after him in the city of his birth.  Aleardi’s poems are mostly about events in Italian history and his love for his home country, which was under Austrian occupation while he was growing up.  He was originally named Gaetano Maria but changed his name to Aleardi, the surname of his father, Count Giorgio Aleardi, when he started writing.  Aleardi studied law at Padova University but gradually became more interested in poetry, influenced by some of his fellow students who were involved in the romantic Risorgimento movement.  Risorgimento, which means resurgence, was the name for the political and social movement that led to the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy during the 19th century. Most historians agree that the process began in 1815 with the end of Napoleonic rule in Italy and was completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the new united Italy.  Read more…


Maria Cristina of Savoy

Pious princess was beatified by Pope Francis

Princess Maria Cristina Carlotta Giuseppina Gaetana Elisa of Savoy was born on this day in 1812 in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.  She was the youngest child of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia and his wife Queen Maria Teresa of Austria-Este.  Maria Cristina was described as beautiful, but she was also modest and pious and in 2014 she was beatified by the current Pope, Francis.  As a Savoy princess she had been expected to make an advantageous marriage alliance and when she was just 20 years of age she was married to Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, in an attempt to keep southern Italy on friendly terms, at a ceremony in Genoa.  Modest and reserved, she was never comfortable at the royal court in Naples and she was unhappy with Ferdinand. But she was said to be loved by the ordinary people of the Two Sicilies, who were charmed by her beauty and kindness.  She had always been a devout Catholic and her commitment to God and the Church along with her beauty caused people to regard her as an angelic figure.  She gave birth to her only child, who would grow up to become Francis II of the Two Sicilies, in January 1836.  Read more…


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