9 August 2022

9 August

Romano Prodi – politician


Il professore became prime minister and European Commission president

Romano Prodi, who has twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1939 in Scandiano in Emilia-Romagna.  A former academic, who was nicknamed Il professore by the Italians, Prodi was also president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004.  Prodi graduated from the Catholic University in Milan in 1961 and studied as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics.  After moving up to become professor of economics at Bologna University, Prodi served the Italian government as minister for industry in 1978.  In 1996 after two productive stints as chairman of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, Prodi set his sights on becoming Italy’s prime minister and built a centre-left base of support known as the Olive Tree coalition.  While Silvio Berlusconi used television to campaign, Prodi went on a five-month bus tour around Italy, calling for more accountability in government. His approach appealed to the voters and his coalition won by a narrow margin.  Prodi was appointed prime minister of Italy for the first time on May 17, 1996.  He remained prime minister for two years and four months.  Read more…

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

Poor foundations created tourist attraction by accident

Work began on the construction of a freestanding bell tower for the Cathedral in Pisa on this day in 1173.  The tower’s famous tilt began during the building process. It is believed to have been caused by the laying of inadequate foundations on ground that was too soft on one side to support the weight of the structure.  The tilt became worse over the years and restoration work had to be carried out at the end of the 20th century amid fears the tower would collapse.  At its most extreme the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees but since the restoration work undergone between 1990 and 2001 the tower leans at about 3.99 degrees.  The identity of the architect responsible for the design of the tower is not clear but the problem with the structure began after work had progressed to the second floor in 1178.  It is thought the tower would have toppled had construction not been halted for almost a century while Pisa, a Tuscan seaport, fought battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. This allowed time for the soil beneath the tower to settle.  When construction resumed in 1272, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other to compensate for the tilt.  Read more…

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Filippo Inzaghi - football manager

World Cup winning player turned successful coach

The former Azzurri striker Filippo Inzaghi, who was a member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad, was born on this day in 1973 in Piacenza.  A traditional goal poacher, known more for his knack of being in the right place at the right moment than for a high level of technical skill, Inzaghi scored 313 goals in his senior career before retiring as a player in 2012 and turning to coaching. He spent the 2019-20 season in charge of Serie B side Benevento, near Naples.  Inzaghi came off the substitutes’ bench to score the second goal as Italy beat the Czech Republic 2-0 to clinch their qualification for the knock-out stage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany but found it impossible to win a starting place in competition with Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero in Marcello Lippi’s squad.  He also picked up a runners-up medal in Euro 2000, hosted jointly by Belgium and the Netherlands, where he scored against Turkey in the opening group game and against Romania in the quarter-final but was overlooked by coach Dino Zoff in his team for the final.  Read more…

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8 August 2022

8 August

Dino De Laurentiis – film producer

Campanian pasta seller helped make Italian cinema famous 

The producer of hundreds of hit films, Agostino ‘Dino’ De Laurentiis was born on this day in 1919 at Torre Annunziata, near Naples in Campania.  He made Italian cinema famous internationally, producing Federico Fellini’s Oscar- winning La Strada in 1954 in Rome.  After moving to the US he enjoyed further success with the film Serpico in 1973.  De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a salesman during his teens.  While selling pasta in Rome in the 1930s he decided on impulse to enrol at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the city as an actor.  He quickly realised he had more talent for producing and after gaining experience in the different sectors of the industry made his first film, L’Amore Canta - Love Song - in 1941 when he was just 22.  After serving in the army during the Second World War, De Laurentiis became an executive producer at one of Rome’s emerging film companies, Lux.  Among the films he produced for Lux was Riso Amaro - Bitter Rice - starring Silvana Mangano, whom he later married and had four children with. The film was a box-office success both at home and abroad.  Read more…

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Danilo Gallinari - basketball player

Giant from Lodi province who plays in America’s NBA

Danilo Gallinari, the only Italian-born player currently active in America’s National Basketball Association, was born on this day in 1988 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiani in Lombardy.  Only nine Italian-born players have participated in the NBA – America’s premier basketball league – since its formation in 1946.  Gallinari, who stands 6ft 10ins tall, has played for six NBA teams, the latest of which is Boston Celtics. Previously he had played for New York Knicks, under the coaching of Mike D’Antoni, is an American-born former player who is now an Italian citizen, the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks.  Gallinari, whose father, Vittorio, played professional basketball for teams in Milan, Pavia, Bologna and Verona, began his career in 2004 with Casalpusterlengo, a third-level Italian team from a town about 25km (15 miles) from his home in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano.  He moved up a tier in 2005 by joining Armani Jeans Milano and then Edimes Pavia, where in 2006 he was named best Italian player in the Italian League Second Division, despite missing half the season through injury.  Read more…

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Ugo Bassi - priest and patriot

Unarmed chaplain was a follower of Garibaldi

Catholic priest Ugo Bassi was executed by firing squad on this day in 1849 in Bologna.  Bassi had been a preacher of eloquent sermons that attracted large crowds and had travelled all over Italy helping the poor, often himself not having enough food to eat.  He was also strongly patriotic and had been a follower of Giuseppe Garibaldi in his fight for a united, independent kingdom of Italy. It was while he was with Garibaldi’s army battling French troops loyal to the Pope in Rome that he was captured and sentenced to death on a false charge of carrying a weapon.  His execution was said to have enraged Liberals all over Europe.  Bassi was born in 1801 in Cento, a small town in the province of Ferrara, in what is now Emilia Romagna. Although he was baptised as Giuseppe Bassi, he later changed his name to Ugo in honour of the patriotic and revolutionary poet, Ugo Foscolo.  An unhappy love affair led to Bassi becoming a novice in the Barnabite order at the age of 18 and, after studying in Rome, he entered the priesthood in 1833.  In 1848, when the revolutionary movement began in Italy, Pope Pius IX was known to be an Italian nationalist and liberal.  Read more…

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Leo Chiosso – songwriter

Writer of lyrics and scripts was inspired by crime fiction

Prolific songwriter Leo Chiosso was born on this day in 1920 in Chieri, a town to the south of Turin in Piedmont.  He became well known for the songs he wrote in partnership with Fred Buscaglione, a singer and musician, but Chiosso also wrote many scripts for television and cinema.  Chiosso met Buscaglione in 1938 in the nightclubs of Turin, where Buscaglione was working as a jazz singer. They formed a songwriting duo that went on to produce more than 40 songs.  However, their friendship was interrupted by the Second World War.  Chiosso was taken prisoner and deported to Poland, where he became friends with the writer Giovanni Guareschi, while Buscaglione was sent to a US internment camp in Sardinia.  It was only when Chiosso heard Buscaglione playing in a musical broadcast by the Allied radio station in Cagliari that he knew his friend was still alive.  They were reunited in Turin after the war and continued to write songs together. Chiosso was an avid reader of American crime fiction, which inspired his lyrics and also suited Buscaglione’s amiable gangster image.  Their first hit was Che bambola in 1956, which turned humorous tough guy Buscaglione into a celebrity.  A subsequent hit was Love in Portofino, recently recorded by Andrea Bocelli and also the inspiration for one of his albums.  Read more…


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7 August 2022

7 August

Vincenzo Scamozzi – architect

Follower of Palladio had his own distinctive style

The architect and writer Vincenzo Scamozzi, whose work in the second half of the 16th century had a profound effect on the landscape of Vicenza and Venice, died on this day in 1616 in Venice. Scamozzi’s influence was later to spread far beyond Italy as a result of his two-volume work, L’idea dell’Architettura Universale - The idea of a universal architecture - which was one of the last Renaissance works about the theory of architecture. Trained by his father, Scamozzi went on to study in Venice and Rome and also travelled in Europe. The classical influence of Andrea Palladio is evident in many of the palaces, villas and churches that Scamozzi designed in Vicenza, Venice and Padua.  His work influenced English neoclassical architects such as Inigo Jones and many others who came after him.  Scamozzi was also an important theatre architect and stage set designer. He completed Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza in 1585, adding his own design for a stage set constructed of timber and plaster, using trompe-l'œil techniques to create the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon.  Read more…

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Giorgetto Giugiaro - automobile designer 

Creative genius behind many of the world’s most popular cars

Giorgetto Giugiaro, who has been described as the most influential automotive designer of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1938 in Garessio, a village in Piedmont about 100km (62 miles) south of Turin.  In a career spanning more than half a century, Giugiaro and his companies have designed around 200 different cars, from the high-end luxury of Aston Martin, Ferrari, Maserati and DeLorean to the mass production models of Fiat, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Daewoo and SEAT.  The Volkswagen Golf and the Fiat Panda, two of the most successful popular cars of all time, were Giugiaro’s concepts.  In 1999, a jury of more than 120 journalists from around the world named Giugiaro “Designer of the Century.”  Giugiaro’s father and grandfather both painted in oils and Giugiaro became passionately interested in art. He enrolled at the University of Turin to study art and technical design.  He took an interest in styling automobiles only after one of his professors suggested that the motor industry would pay big money for someone of his artistic vision who could come up with elegant and practical designs.  Read more…

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Alfredo Catalani - composer

Music from Loreley and La Wally lives on 

Opera composer Alfredo Catalani died on this day in 1893 in Milan at the age of just 39.  He is best remembered for his operas, Loreley, written in 1890, and La Wally, written in 1892, which are still to this day passionately admired by music experts.  Catalani was born in Lucca in Tuscany in 1854 and went to train at the Milan Conservatoire.  His work is said to show traces of Wagner and his style sometimes resembled that of Massenet and Puccini but his early operas were not successful.  Loreley premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin in 1890. Later it was performed at Covent Garden in London in 1907 and in Chicago in 1919.  La Wally was first performed at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1892 to great acclaim.  The opera is best known for its aria, Ebben? Ne andro lontana - Well then, I’ll go far away - sung when Wally decides to leave her home forever.  American soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez sang this aria in the 1981 film, Diva, in which a young Parisian is obsessed with an American soprano.  In the opera, the heroine throws herself into an avalanche at the end, a scene which is difficult to stage in the theatre and therefore the opera is not performed regularly, but Wally’s principal aria is still sung frequently.  Read more…

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Gerry Scotti - television show host

One-time politician who presented Chi vuol essere milionario?

Gerry Scotti, the host of Italy’s equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and one of the most familiar faces on Italian television, was born on this day in 1956 in Camporinaldo, an agricultural village in Lombardy.  The presenter, whose career in television began in the 1980s, was also a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies between 1987 and 1992, having won the Lombardy 1 district in the Milan college for Bettino Craxi’s Italian Socialist Party.  But he is best known as the face of Chi vuol essere milionario?, which he fronted when it launched in Italy in 2000 and continued in the role after Italy’s entry into the single currency in 2002 required the show to make a subtle change of name.  Originally Chi vuol essere miliardario – billionaire – the title was changed to milionario – millionaire – with a new top prize of 1,000,000 euro replacing the 1,000,000,000 lire of the original.  Scotti continued to host the show until it aired for the last time in Italy in 2011, at which time he held a Guinness World Record for the number of editions presented of the show, which was created for the British network ITV in 1998 and exported to 160 countries. Read more…


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6 August 2022

6 August

Marisa Merlini - actress

Fifties star who turned down Oscar-winning role

The actress Marisa Merlini, whose 60-year movie career was at its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, was born in Rome on this day in 1923.  Although she had built a solid reputation in a string of movies as the foil to the comedic genius of Totó, the role with which Merlini is most often associated is the midwife Annarella in Luigi Comencini’s 1953 romantic comedy Pane, amore e fantasia - Bread, Love and Dreams - which presented an idyllic view of Italian rural life.  The movie won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and Merlini’s performance was hailed by both audiences and critics, bringing many offers to play similar characters.  Co-star Vittorio De Sica was impressed with Merlini’s acting skills and when he turned to directing he had her earmarked for the part of Cesira, the widowed shopkeeper in La Ciociara, the 1960 wartime drama based on Alberto Moravia’s novel Two Women.  It was a chance for Merlini to break free of her comedy typecasting and prove herself as a serious actress. Yet she turned down the role, deciding that at 36 she was not yet ready to play older women. The part instead went to Sophia Loren, whose portrayal of Cesira won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  Read more…

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Domenico Modugno – singer and songwriter

Artist who gave us a song that conjures up Italy

Domenico Modugno, who was one of the writers of the iconic Italian song, Volare, died on this day in 1994 in Lampedusa, Sicily.  Modugno wrote Volare with Franco Migliacci and performed it in the San Remo music festival in 1958 with Johnny Dorelli.  Sometimes referred to as Nel blu dipinto di blu, the song won San Remo and became a hit all over the world. It was the Italian entry in the 1958 Eurovision song contest. It came only third, yet received two Grammy Awards and sold more than 22 million copies.  Modugno was born in 1928 at Polignano a Mare near Bari in Apulia. After completing his military service he enrolled in drama school and had a number of parts in films while still studying.  The success of Volare proved to be the turning point in his career. He won the San Remo music festival again in 1959 and came second in 1960.  He also represented Italy in the Eurovision song contest for a second time in 1959. In 1962 he won San Remo for a third time and represented Italy at Eurovision again in 1966 with his song Dio come ti amo. It was recorded in Italian and also in English as Oh How Much I Love You by other artists.  Read more…

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Barbara Strozzi – composer

One of few 17th century women to have her own music published

The talented singer and composer Barbara Strozzi was baptised on this day in 1619 in the Cannaregio district of Venice.  Strozzi had been recognised by the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi as his adopted daughter. It was thought at the time she was likely to have been an illegitimate daughter he had fathered with his servant, Isabella Garzoni.  Giulio Strozzi encouraged his adopted daughter’s musical talent, even creating an academy where she could perform to an audience. She became one of only a few women in the 17th century to publish her own compositions.  The Academy of the Unknown - Accademia degli Incogniti - was a circle of intellectuals in Venice that met to discuss literature, ethics, aesthetics, religion and the arts. They were supporters of Venetian opera in the late 1630s and 1640s. Giulio Strozzi formed a musical sub-group, Academy of the Like-Minded - Accademia degli Unisoni - where Barbara Strozzi performed as a singer and even suggested topics for discussion.  In addition to her vocal talent she showed herself to be a gifted composer and so her father arranged for her to study with the composer, Francesco Cavalli.  Read more…

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Battle of Meloria

Naval loss that sparked decline of Pisa as trading power

The decline of the Republic of Pisa as one of Italy’s major naval and commercial powers began with a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Meloria on this day in 1284.  A fleet of 72 galleys was routed by the forces of the rival Ligurian Sea port of Genoa in a confrontation fought close to the islet of Meloria, about 10km (6 miles) off the coast, near what is now Livorno.  More than 5,000 Pisan crew were killed with 10 galleys sunk and at least 25 captured before other vessels fled the scene and the Genovese claimed victory.  Pisa and Genoa had once been allies, joining forces to drive the Saracens out of Sardinia in the 11th century, but subsequently became fierce rivals for trade, particularly from the eastern Mediterranean and the Byzantine Empire.  The city’s participation in the Crusades secured valuable commercial positions for Pisan traders in Syria, and thereafter Pisa grew in strength to rival Genoa and Venice.  However, in the 13th century, Genoa conquered numerous settlements in Crimea, establishing a colony at Caffa. The Byzantine Empire granted free trading rights to Genoa, increasing their wealth and simultaneously reducing commercial opportunities for Venice and Pisa.  Read more…


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5 August 2022

5 August

NEW
- Leonardo Leo - composer

Baroque musician known for his sense of humour

A prolific composer of comic operas, Leonardo Leo was born on this day in 1694 in San Vito degli Schiavoni (now known as San Vito dei Normanni) in Apulia.  His most famous comic opera was Amor vuol sofferanza - Love requires suffering - which he produced in 1739. It later became better known as La finta frascatana, and received a lot of praise, but Leo was equally admired for his serious operas and sacred music. He has been credited with forming the Neapolitan style of opera composition.  He was enrolled as a young boy as a student at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini in Naples and was a pupil first of Francesco Provenzale and later of Nicola Fago. It has been speculated that he may have been taught by Alessandro Scarlatti, but it has since been proved by music historians that he could not possibly have studied with the composer, although he was obviously influenced by his compositions.  Leo’s earliest known work was a sacred drama, L’infidelta abbattuta, which was performed by his fellow students in 1712, while he was still a teenager.  His first opera, Pisistrato, was produced at the court theatre in Naples in 1714 and was much admired.  Read more…

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Felice Casson - politician and magistrate

His investigations revealed existence of Operation Gladio

Felice Casson, the magistrate whose investigations exposed the existence of the NATO-backed secret army codenamed Gladio, was born on this day in 1953 in Chioggia, near Venice.  A former mayor of Venice and a representative of the Democratic Party in the Italian Senate, Casson devoted much of his career in the judiciary to fighting corruption and rooting out terrorists.  In 1984, his interest in terrorism led him to examine the unsolved mystery of the Peteano bombing in 1972, in which three Carabinieri officers were killed by a car bomb placed under an abandoned Fiat 500 in a tiny hamlet close to the border with Yugoslavia in the province of Gorizia.  Casson discovered flaws in the original investigation into the bombing, which at the time was blamed on the left-wing extremist group the Red Brigades, who would later be responsible for the kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro, a former prime minister.  Afterwards, Italy launched a nationwide crackdown on left-wing organisations and made more than 200 arrests.  But Casson found no record of any investigation of the scene of the bombing.  Read more…

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Antonio Barberini – Cardinal

Pope’s nephew amassed fortune and became patron of the arts

Catholic cardinal, military leader and patron of the arts Antonio Barberini was born on this day in 1607 in Rome.  As one of the cardinal-nephews of Pope Urban VIII he helped to shape the politics, religion, art and music of 17th century Italy and took part in many papal conclaves.  He is sometimes referred to as Antonio the Younger, or Antonio Barberini Iuniore, to distinguish him from his uncle, Antonio Marcello Barberini.  Antonio was the youngest of six children born to Carlo Barberini and Costanza Magalotti. Like his brothers, he was educated at the Collegio Romano.  His brother, Francesco Barberini, became Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition.  His uncle, Maffeo Barberini, was elected as Pope the day after Antonio’s 16th birthday and became Pope Urban VIII.  Urban VIII was notorious for nepotism and he appointed Antonio as a cardinal just after his 20th birthday.  Nepotism was commonplace among popes from the Middle Ages up to the 17th century. The word derives from the Latin nepos (Italian: nipote), meaning nephew, to describe the practice among popes, who had taken vows of chastity and therefore could have no legitimate children, of appointing nephews to key positions.  Read more…

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Franco Lucentini – author

Writer was one half of a famous literary partnership

The novelist Franco Lucentini, who achieved success with Carlo Fruttero in a remarkable literary association, died on this day in 2002 in Turin.  A news correspondent and editor, Lucentini met Fruttero in 1953 in Paris and they started working together as journalists and translators.  But they were best known for the mystery thrillers they produced together, which they composed in a businesslike manner.  After choosing a subject they would take it in turns to write and then edit the material until a novel was complete.  Their most popular books were The Sunday Woman (La donna della domenica), which was later made into a film and The D Case (La verità sul caso D), which was based on an unfinished work by Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Lucentini fell foul of the Fascist regime while studying Philosophy at the University of Rome because of distributing anti-war messages among his fellow students and had to spend two months in prison.  But after the Second World War he was hired by the Allies to work as a junior editor for their news agency in Naples. Lucentini then went on to work in Rome for Italy's ANSA news agency.  Read more…

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Antonio Cesti – opera composer

Singer and organist wrote operas and church music

Composer Pietro Marc’Antonio Cesti was baptised on this day in 1623 in Arezzo in Tuscany. It was also probably the date of his birth.  One of the leading composers of the 17th century, Cesti is said to have written about 100 operas, although only 15 are known today.  He joined the order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans, a Catholic religious group founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1637.  Cesti studied first in Rome and then moved to Venice, where his first known opera, Orontea, was produced in 1649.  In 1652 he became chapel master to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at Innsbruck and from 1669 he was vice chapel master to the imperial court in Vienna.  Throughout the 17th century his operas were widely performed in Italy. His most famous operas, Il pomo d’oro, Dori and Orontea, have survived to this day.  Il pomo d’oro was a lavish production, written for the wedding of Emperor Leopold I in 1666 in Vienna.  An important manuscript collection of 18 secular and three sacred cantatas by Cesti are preserved in Oxford.  His cantatas and religious works show Roman influences, whereas his operas demonstrate the influence of the Venetian school.  Read more…

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Leonardo Leo - composer

Baroque musician known for his sense of humour

Leonardo Leo wrote or contributed to more than 70 operas, mainly comic
Leonardo Leo wrote or contributed to
more than 70 operas, mainly comic
A prolific composer of comic operas, Leonardo Leo was born on this day in 1694 in San Vito degli Schiavoni (now known as San Vito dei Normanni) in Apulia.

His most famous comic opera was Amor vuol sofferanza - Love requires suffering - which he produced in 1739. It later became better known as La finta frascatana, and received a lot of praise, but Leo was equally admired for his serious operas and sacred music. He has been credited with forming the Neapolitan style of opera composition.

He was enrolled as a young boy as a student at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini in Naples and was a pupil first of Francesco Provenzale and later of Nicola Fago. It has been speculated that he may have been taught by Alessandro Scarlatti, but it has since been proved by music historians that he could not possibly have studied with the composer, although he was obviously influenced by his compositions.

Leo’s earliest known work was a sacred drama, L’infidelta abbattuta, which was performed by his fellow students in 1712, while he was still a teenager.

His first opera, Pisistrato, was produced at the court theatre in Naples in 1714 and was much admired.

As an adult Leo held various posts at the royal chapel in Naples while continuing to write for the stage and teach at the conservatory.

Leo was a major influence in the 
development of opera's Neapolitan school 
In 1722 he added comic scenes to Francesco Gasparini’s Bajazet for a performance in Naples. He then started to compose his own comic operas in Neapolitan dialect, such as La ’mpeca scoperta in 1723 and L’Alidoro in 1740.

His most famous serious operas were Demofoonte (1735), Famace (1737) and L’Olimpiade (1737). With L’Olimpiade he became the first composer to introduce the chorus into Neapolitan opera.

Handel was so impressed with Leo’s opera, Catone in Utica, that he used some of the music from it in a performance at the King’s Theatre in London in 1732.

Leo died of a stroke in 1744 while he was composing new arias for a revival of his acclaimed opera, La finta frascatana.

Experts believe Leo was the first composer of the Neapolitan School to achieve a complete mastery over modern harmonic counterpart and agree that in his comic operas he reveals a keen sense of humour. He was to be one of the last major Italian Baroque composers and was well regarded as a teacher, with Niccolò Piccinni and Niccolò Jommelli among his students.

Leo wrote or contributed to about 70 operas, as well as composing oratorios, masses and instrumental works, some of which are still performed and are available on contemporary recordings. His Miserere (🎵Listen 🎵) for double choir and orchestra is regarded as his signature piece.

The Corso Leonardo Leo in San Vito dei Normanni is typical of the town's quaint narrow streets
The Corso Leonardo Leo in San Vito dei Normanni
is typical of the town's quaint narrow streets
Travel tip:

San Vito dei Normanni, where Leonardo Leo was born, is a town with a population of around 20,000, situated about 24km (15 miles) west of Brindisi in the area of Puglia known as Salento. An attractive town of narrow streets lined with baroque-style churches and palaces and numerous restaurants and bars, it was formerly known as San Vito degli Schiavoni on account of a large number of Slavs - Schiavoni in Italian - who settled in the area after migrating from Dalmatia, on the opposite side of the Adriatic, to escape persecution by the Saracens in the 10th century. The town’s history, though, dates back much further, with archaeological remains discovered that show the area was inhabited during the Bronze Age. Things to see include the medieval Castello di Dentice Frasso, sometimes known as the Castello di San Vito, which overlooks the main piazza, and the beautiful Baroque church of San Giovanni Evangelista, built in soft Lecce stone.


Inside the Church of the Pietà dei Turchini, which dates back to the time of the conservatory
Inside the Church of the Pietà dei Turchini, which
dates back to the time of the conservatory
Travel tip:

Founded in 1583, the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini, where Leonardo Leo was a pupil, was the longest running of four Naples conservatories that were ultimately incorporated into the Real Collegio di Musica, which became the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella. Like the Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio a Capuana, another of the four, it had been a charitable institution for the care of orphans and abandoned children. The church of the Pietà dei Turchini, which was built at around the same time as the conservatory, stands in Via Medina in the centre of Naples, not far from the Teatro di San Carlo opera house.


Also on this day:

1607: The birth of cardinal and arts patron Antonio Barberini

1623: The birth of composer Antonio Cesti

1953: The birth of Felice Casson - politician and magistrate

2002: The death of novelist Franco Lucentini


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4 August 2022

4 August

Giovanni Spadolini - politician

The first non-Christian Democrat to lead Italian Republic

Giovanni Spadolini, who was the Italian Republic’s first prime minister not to be drawn from the Christian Democrats and was one of Italy's most respected politicians, died on this day in 1994.  In a country where leading politicians and businessmen rarely survive a whole career without becoming embroiled in one corruption scandal or another, he went to the grave with his reputation for honesty intact.  Although he was an expert on Italian unification and became a professor of contemporary history at the University of Florence when he was only 25, a background that gave him a deep knowledge of Italian politics, he first built a career as a journalist.  He became a political columnist for several magazines and newspapers, including Il Borghese, Il Mondo and Il Messaggero, and was appointed editor of the Bologna daily II Resto del Carlino in 1955, at the age of 30.  In 1968, having doubled Il Resto’s circulation, he left Bologna to become the editor at Corriere della Sera, in Milan, where he remained until 1972.  It was while editing the Corriere that he became known for his anti-extremist stance, condemning violent student activists on the left and terrorists on the right in equal measure.  Read more…

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Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici - banker

Art enthusiast who was Botticelli’s major patron

The Florentine banker and politician Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, who was a significant figure in Renaissance art as the main sponsor and patron of the painter Sandro Botticelli, was born on this day in 1463.  The great-grandson of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, the founder of the Medici bank, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco belonged to the junior, sometimes known as ‘Popolani’ branch of the House of Medici.  In 1476, when he and his brother, Giovanni, were still boys, their father, Pierfrancesco de’ Medici the Elder, died. They became wards, effectively, of their cousin, Lorenzo il Magnifico - Lorenzo the Magnificent - a member of the senior branch of the family and the effective ruler of Florence.  Relations between the two branches had been tense for some years and were not helped when Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco discovered, on becoming an adult, that Lorenzo had plundered a considerable sum from he and his brother’s joint inheritance in order to stave off a threatened bankruptcy of the family’s financial empire.  Although Lorenzo had provided the boys with the best education money could buy - the notable Florentine Renaissance humanists Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano and Giorgio Antonio Vespucci (uncle of Amerigo) were among their tutors - and given them a number of properties in compensation, the incident created a lingering bitterness.  Read more…

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Pope Urban VII

Pope for just 12 days but introduced world's first smoking ban

Pope Urban VII was born Giovanni Battista Castagna on this day in 1521 in Rome.  Although his 12-day papacy in 1590 was the shortest in history, he is remembered as being the first person in the world to declare a ban on smoking.  He was against the use of tobacco generally, threatening to excommunicate anyone who ‘took tobacco in the porchway of, or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe, or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose’.  The ban is thought to have been upheld for the most part until 1724, when Pope Benedict XIII, himself a smoker, repealed it.  Castagna was the son of a nobleman of Genovese origin and studied in universities all over Italy. He obtained a doctorate in civil law and canon law from the University of Bologna.  He served as a constitutional lawyer to Pope Julius III and was then ordained a priest.  He took part in the Council of Trent and then served as an apostolic nuncio in Spain for four years.  Castagna was also Governor of Bologna, apostolic nuncio to Venice and then Papal Legate to Flanders and Cologne.  He is remembered for his charity to the poor.  Read more…

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3 August 2022

3 August

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger - architect

Talented Florentine was commissioned by the Popes

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who left his mark on Rome during the Renaissance, died on this day in 1546 in Terni in Umbria.  Sangallo was the chief architect on St Peter’s Basilica from 1520 onwards and built many other beautiful churches and palaces in the city and throughout the Papal States.  He was born Antonio Cordiani in Florence in 1484. His grandfather had been a woodworker and his uncles, Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo, were architects.  The young man followed his uncles to Rome to pursue a career in architecture and ended up taking the name Sangallo himself.  He became an assistant to Donato Bramante and started by preparing sketches for his master.  Recognising his talent, Bramante gave Sangallo projects to complete with no more than an outline of the design and motifs.  Sangallo’s first major commission was for the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1507.  He came to the attention of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III, and was commissioned to design the Farnese Palace in Piazza Farnese and a palace and church in the Cardinal’s home town of Gradoli.  Read more…

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Imperia Cognati - courtesan

Prostitute who became a celebrity

Imperia Cognati, who acquired celebrity status in Rome in the early 16th century as a courtesan to a number of rich and powerful figures, was born on this day in 1486.  Courtesans were originally the female companions of courtiers of the papal court, whose duties required them to be educated and familiar with etiquette, so that they could participate in the formalities of court life and take part in polite conversation.  In time, however, in some cases their companionship became of a more intimate nature and they became the mistresses of their courtiers, who in the papal court were clerics not permitted to marry.  It was common, too, for courtesans to be the companions of several clients simultaneously.  They were in effect a new class of prostitute, refined and educated enough to hold their own in polite society.  Imperia Cognati acquired her elevated status mainly through being the chosen companion of Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker closely associated with Pope Alexander VI and others and a patron of the Renaissance.  At one time he was thought to be the richest banker in the world.  He lavished Imperia – as she was usually known – to the extent that she could afford to keep both a palace in Rome and a country villa.  Read more…

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Francesco Ferruccio - military leader

Florentine soldier celebrated in Italy’s national anthem 

Francesco Ferruccio, the military leader whose heroic attempt to defend Florence against the powerful army of the Holy Roman Empire is recalled in Italy’s national anthem, died on the battlefield on this day in 1530.  A Florentine by birth, Ferruccio had been charged with leading the army of the Republic of Florence as the city came under attack during the War of the League of Cognac, when the Pope Clement VII connived with the emperor Charles V to overthrow the republic and restore power in Florence to his own family, the Medici.  Despite being outnumbered, Ferruccio’s soldiers engaged the Imperial forces at Gavinana, just outside Florence, killed their leader and drove them back, only for the enemy to be reinforced by the arrival of 2,000 German mercenaries under the leadership of the condottiero, Fabrizio Maramaldo.  His army almost annihilated, Ferruccio was taken prisoner and, despite being wounded, was stabbed in the throat by Maramaldo and bled to death, an act considered against the code of chivalrous conduct that honourable soldiers were expected to observe.  More than 300 years later, Goffredo Mameli, the poet and patriot, recalled Ferruccio in the lyrics of a song, Il Canto degli Italiani, that would later be adopted as the national anthem of the united Italy.  Read more...

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La Scala - opera and ballet theatre

First night at the world’s most famous opera house

Milan’s Teatro alla Scala was officially inaugurated on this day in 1778.  Known to Italians simply as La Scala, the theatre has become the leading opera house in the world and many famous artists have appeared there. A fire had destroyed the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had previously been the home of opera in Milan. A group of 90 wealthy patrons, the owners of private boxes in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este asking that a new theatre be built.  The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how the theatre got its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished to make way for the theatre.  With the cost of the project met by the 90 patrons, who paid in advance for boxes, the new theatre was designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini and at the official opening on 3 August 1778, Antonio Salieri’s opera L’Europa riconosciuta was premiered.  As with most theatres at the time, the main floor had no seats, with audience members standing to watch the performances. This had the effect of making the theatre a meeting place, but also a venue for business dealings. Read more…


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2 August 2022

2 August

NEWCarlo Savina - film composer and musical director

Worked on major scores including The Godfather and Fellini’s Amarcord

Musical director Carlo Savina, who arranged soundtracks written by such luminaries of the film music industry as Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.  Savina was also a prolific film composer in his own right and is credited with writing or arranging the scores of at least 200 movies in a career spanning more than 35 years. He won a David di Donatello award for Best Music for the 1985 crime drama The Pizza Connection, directed by Damiano Damiani and starring Michele Placido, a version of which was released in the United States as The Sicilian Connection.  Yet Savina is more frequently remembered for his work with Rota on the multi-award winning soundtrack of the first film in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy in 1972 and with Federico Fellini the following year on Amarcord, the maestro’s semi-autobiographical film about growing up in a village in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s.  He worked with Fellini and Rota on many projects, including La Dolce Vita (1960), which remains their most famous collaboration.  Read more…

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Pietro Mascagni – composer

One opera was enough to build reputation of musician

Pietro Mascagni, the creator of the opera Cavalleria rusticana, died on this day in 1945 in Rome, at the age of 81.  Cavalleria rusticana was an outstanding success when it was first performed in Rome in 1890 and was said to have single-handedly brought the Verismo movement, in which the characters were ordinary people rather than gods, mythological figures or kings and queens, into Italian opera.  The beautiful intermezzo from the opera was used in the soundtrack of the 1980 film Raging Bull and a production of the opera was used as the setting for the climax of the 1990 film The Godfather Part III, with Michael Corleone’s son Anthony playing Turridu, the opera’s male protagonist. The film ends with the intermezzo playing.  In 2001 Andrea Bocelli recorded a song entitled Mascagni on his Cieli di Toscana album and had an excerpt from Cavalleria rusticana incorporated into the music.  The opera has been so successful that it has led to Mascagni sometimes being dismissed as a one-opera composer, but, in fact, the composer wrote 15 operas, as well as orchestral and piano music and songs.  Read more…

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Bologna railway station bombed

Biggest terrorist atrocity in Italy's history killed 85

Italy suffered the most devastating terrorist outrage in its history on this day in 1980 with the bombing of Bologna's main railway station.   A massive 23kg (51lbs) of explosive packed into a suitcase left in a crowded waiting room was detonated at 10.25am, creating a blast that destroyed much of the main building of the station and badly damaged a train on one of the platforms.  Many people, locals and tourists, Italians and foreign nationals, were caught up in the explosion. Some were killed instantly, others died as a result of the roof of the waiting room collapsing on to the victims. There were 85 deaths and more than 200 other people were wounded.  The bomb was clearly placed to cause mass casualties. It was the first Saturday in the traditional August holiday period, one of the busiest days of the year for rail travel, and the explosive-laden suitcase was left in a room with air conditioning, then still relatively rare in Italy. On a hot day, the room was naturally full of people.  The attack was the deadliest of several during a bleak period of 10-12 years in Italian history that became known as the Years of Lead, when the ideological struggle between the left and right in Italian politics was at its height.  Read more…

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Francis Marion Crawford – author

Novelist found inspiration while living in Sorrento

The American writer Francis Marion Crawford was born on this day in 1854 in Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany.  A prolific novelist, Crawford became known for the vividness of his characterisations and the realism of his settings, many of which were places he had visited in Italy.  He chose to settle in later life in the coastal resort of Sorrento in Campania where he even had a street named after him, Corso Marion Crawford.  Crawford was the only son of the American sculptor, Thomas Crawford. He spent his childhood going backwards and forwards between Italy and America and studied at various American and European Universities.  He spent some time in India where he found the inspiration for his first successful novel, Mr Isaacs, which was published in 1882.  In 1883 he returned to Italy to settle there permanently. He lived at the Hotel Cocumella in the village of Sant’Agnello just outside Sorrento to begin with. He then bought a nearby farmhouse, from which he developed the Villa Crawford, an impressive clifftop residence easily identifiable from the sea by the tall buttresses Crawford added as a safeguard against erosion.  Read more…


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Carlo Savina - film composer and musical director

Worked on major scores including The Godfather and Fellini’s Amarcord

Carlo Savina conducting in during his  time working in TV and radio in the 1950s
Carlo Savina conducting in during his 
time working in TV and radio in the 1950s
Musical director Carlo Savina, who arranged soundtracks written by such luminaries of the film music industry as Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.

Savina was also a prolific film composer in his own right and is credited with writing or arranging the scores of at least 200 movies in a career spanning more than 35 years.

He won a David di Donatello award for Best Music for the 1985 crime drama The Pizza Connection, directed by Damiano Damiani and starring Michele Placido, a version of which was released in the United States as The Sicilian Connection.

Yet Savina is more frequently remembered for his work with Rota on the multi-award winning soundtrack of the first film in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy in 1972 and with Federico Fellini the following year on Amarcord, the maestro’s semi-autobiographical film about growing up in a village in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s.  He worked with Fellini and Rota on many projects, including La Dolce Vita (1960), which remains their most famous collaboration.

Although the music in a film would always be attributed to the headline composer in the credits, the work done by the likes of Savina in matching their music to the scenes and in producing an edited version of the soundtrack for commercial release was invaluable.

Savina came from a musical family. His father was the first clarinet for the orchestra of the public radio broadcaster EIAR, based in their home city.

Savina, who played a wide range of instruments, is shown accompanying a vocal group on guitar
Savina, who played a wide range of instruments,
is shown accompanying a vocal group on guitar
As a child, Savina learned to play the violin and as a student attended the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin, where he studied piano, violin, composition, and conducting. He obtained further qualifications from the National Education Ministry in the 1940s.

Savina explored many avenues in music, for a while conducting small orchestras or playing soloists at dance halls in Turin. 

His early classical compositions included sonatas for clarinet and violin and a quartet for wind instruments. Savina also wrote a small number of operas, one of which was performed at the Teatro dei Rozzi in Siena.

Immediately after the Second World War, he wrote music and songs for the popular market.  In the 1950s, he began to acquire national fame through his work with the national broadcaster Rai, who entrusted him with the direction of a large string orchestra. He had a prominent role in the musical direction on the experimental programmes made for Rai’s early television output in 1953.

Savina was in his 30s before the film industry began to be his focus.  His relationship with some of the world’s most famous film music composers  began at the outset, when he composed the music to Carlo Borghesio’s 1950 comedy Il monello della strada (The Street Brat) in partnership with Rota.

Savina worked with Nino Rota on The Godfather and other titles
Savina worked with Nino Rota
on The Godfather and other titles
He worked with the great commedia all’italiana director Mario Monicelli on Totò cerca pace (Totò seeks peace) in 1954 and thereafter until the late 1960s was writing as many as a dozen soundtracks per year. His individual output, from spaghetti westerns, of which he scored more than 30, to horror films, began to lessen in the 1970s, but by then he was in demand to work with other composers.

As well as Morricone and Rota, he collaborated with Armando Trovajoli, Mario Nascimbene, Stanley Myers, Stephen Sondheim, Philippe Sarde, and Miklós Rózsa among the great big-screen music composers of his time.  

It was his relationship with Rota and Fellini that would prove the most enduring and successful, spanning almost 30 years until Rota’s death in 1979. Their last collaboration was on Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal, a 1978 film in which members of an orchestra go on strike against their conductor.

Savina, who wrote under various pseudonyms in his career, including Herbert Buckman, Charles Hanger and James Munshin, died in Rome in 2002 at the age of 82.

After his death, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Rome’s historic film school, established the Premio Carlo Savina as an annual prize for composers of film music. Winners include Morricone, Davide Cavuti and Franco Piersanti, who among other things wrote the music for the TV series based on Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels.

Elegant streets and a vibrant café culture are a feature of Turin
Elegant streets and a vibrant café
culture are a feature of Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, the capital city of the region of Piedmont, where Carlo Savina was born and grew up, has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.  An elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. In the 19th century, the city’s cafés were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.  The city’s duomo, the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista, as it is also known, was built between 1491 and 1498 in Piazza San Giovanni in Turin, on the site of an old Roman theatre.

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematogrofia in Rome was established in the 1930s
The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematogrofia
in Rome was established in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia has its headquarters in Via Tuscolana in Rome, was established at the time when the city became the hub of the Italian film industry because of the nearby Cinecittà, a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben-Hur, the 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston, the acclaimed soundtrack of which saw Carlo Savina work with the Hungarian-American composer Miklós Rózsa. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and Cinecittà has its own dedicated Metro stop.

Also on this day:

1854: The birth of author Francis Marion Crawford

1945: The death of composer Pietro Mascagni

1980: The bombing of Bologna railway station


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