2 August 2023

2 August

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…


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…


Carlo 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…


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…


Book of the Day: Understanding Italian Opera, by Tim Carter

Opera is often regarded as the pinnacle of high art. A "Western" genre with global reach, it is where music and drama come together in unique ways, supported by stellar singers and spectacular scenic effects. Yet it is also patently absurd -- why should anyone break into song on the dramatic stage? -- and shrouded in mystique. In Understanding Italian Opera, an engaging and entertaining guide, renowned music scholar Tim Carter unravels its many layers to offer a thorough introduction to Italian opera from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.  Carter  offers explorations of five of the most enduring and emblematic Italian operas: Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea; Handel's Julius Caesar in Egypt; Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; Verdi's Rigoletto; and Puccini's La Boheme. Shedding light on the creative collusions and collisions involved in bringing opera to the stage, the various, and varying, demands of the text and music, and the nature of its musical drama, Carter also shows how Italian opera has developed over the course of music history.

Tim Carter, professor of music at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has published widely on music in late Renaissance and early Baroque Italy, Mozart's operas, and American musical theater in the 1930s and '40s.

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