20 August 2023

20 August

Carla Fracci – ballerina

Brilliant Romantic dancer brought ballet to the people

Destined to become one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, Carolina ‘Carla’ Fracci was born on this day in 1936 in Milan.  Carla became a leading dancer of the La Scala Theatre Ballet in her home town and then worked with the Royal Ballet in London, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, becoming known for her interpretations of leading characters in Romantic ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet.  As a small child during World War Two, she had been sent to live with relatives in the countryside, but after the war ended, she returned to Milan and her mother took her and her sister to sit the La Scala Theatre ballet school entrance exam.  She has said of her early days at the school that she found it boring and a terrible chore, but after performing alongside Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty when she was 12, Carla changed her mind about ballet training and started working hard to make up for lost time.  After joining La Scala Theatre Ballet on graduating, Carla was promoted to a soloist within a year. In 1958 she was asked to fill in for the French ballerina, Violette Verdy, in Cinderella.  Read more…


Pope Pius X

Good hearted pontiff was made a saint

Pope Pius X, who chose to live in poverty and devote his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary, died on this day in 1914 in the Apostolic Palace in Rome.  His body was exhumed from its tomb nearly 30 years later and was found to be miraculously incorrupt and Pius X was made a saint in 1954.  Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto in 1835 in Riese in the province of Treviso, which was then part of the Austrian Empire.  He was the second son of the ten children born to the village postman and his seamstress wife. Although the family were poor, they valued education and, as a young boy, Sarto walked six kilometres (3.7 miles) to attend school every day.  In 1850 he was given a scholarship to attend the seminary in Padua, where he completed classical, philosophical and theological studies with distinction.  After being ordained a priest, he continued to study while carrying out the duties of a parish pastor. He then became an arch priest, a vicar capitular and was appointed Bishop of Mantua and Patriarch of Venice.  Pope Leo XIII made Sarto a Cardinal in 1893 and he progressed to become one of the most prominent preachers in the Catholic Church.  Read more…


Stelvio Cipriani – composer

Musician wrote some of Italy’s most famous film soundtracks

Stelvio Cipriani, an award-winning composer of film scores, was born on this day in 1937 in Rome.  One of his most famous soundtracks was for the 1973 film, La polizia sta a guardare (also released as The Great Kidnapping). The main theme was used again by Cipriani in 1977 for the film, Tentacoli, and also featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in 2007.  Although Cipriani did not come from a musical background, he was fascinated with the organ at his church when he was a child.  His priest gave him music lessons and then Cipriani went to study piano and harmony at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome at the age of 14.  His first job was playing in a band on a cruise ship and then he became the accompanist for the popular Italian singer, Rita Pavone.  Stelvio wrote his first movie soundtrack for the 1966 spaghetti western, The Bounty Killer. This was followed by a score for The Stranger Returns in 1967, starring Tony Anthony. He wrote for other films starring Anthony, as well as for many poliziotteschi - Italian crime films - a type of film popular in the 1970s.  Read more…


Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel – poet and revolutionary

Noblewoman who sacrificed her life for the principle of liberty

A writer and leader of the movement that established the Parthenopean Republic in Naples, Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel was hanged on this day in 1799 in a public square near the port.  A noblewoman, she would have expected her execution to be carried out by beheading, but had given up her title of marchioness when she became involved with the Jacobins, founded by supporters of the French Revolution, who were working to overthrow the monarchy.  Pimentel had asked to be beheaded anyway, but the restored Bourbon monarchy showed her no mercy, reputedly because she had written pamphlets denouncing Queen Maria Carolina as a lesbian. On the day of her execution, Pimentel was reputed to have stepped calmly up to the gallows, quoting Virgil by saying: ‘Perhaps one day this will be worth remembering.’ She was 47 years of age.  Pimentel was born in Rome in 1752 into a noble Portuguese family. As a child she wrote poetry, read Latin and Greek and learnt to speak several languages.  Her family had to move to Naples because of political difficulties between Portugal and the Papal States, of which Rome was the capital.  Read more…


Jacopo Peri – composer and singer

Court musician produced the first work to be called an opera

The singer and composer Jacopo Peri, also known as Il Zazzerino, was born on this day in 1561 in Rome.  He is often referred to as the ‘inventor of opera’ as he wrote the first work to be called an opera, Dafne, in around 1597.  He followed this with Euridice in 1600, which has survived to the present day although it is rarely performed. It is sometimes staged as an historical curiosity because it is the first opera for which the complete music still exists.  Peri was born in Rome to a noble family but went to Florence to study and then worked in churches in the city as an organist and a singer.  He started to work for the Medici court as a tenor singer and keyboard player and then later as a composer, producing incidental music for plays.  Peri’s work is regarded as bridging the gap between the Renaissance period and the Baroque period and he is remembered for his contribution to the development of dramatic vocal style in early Baroque opera.  Peri began working with Jacopo Corsi, a leading patron of music in Florence, and they decided to try to recreate Greek tragedy in musical form. They brought in a poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, to write a text.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Passo dopo passo: La mia storia, by Carla Fracci (in Italian)

Giselle, Giulietta, Cinderella, Medea, Swanilda, Francesca da Rimini... there are more than two hundred characters interpreted by Carla Fracci, more than two hundred roles, interpretations, stories staged with extreme variety and exasperated feeling, because " ballet has a more penetrating language than the theatrical one, perhaps it is precisely the absence of the word that makes it so". In an intimate autobiography, of which the title translates in English as Step by Step: My Story, Carla Fracci recounts her childhood spent in the Lombardy countryside and her entrance to the ballet school of the Teatro alla Scala, the Farewell Pass of the dismissed students and her triumphs with the American Ballet Theater and on the most important stages of the world - Los Angeles, Moscow, Havana, Tokyo, London - opposite stars such as Erik Bruhn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mario Pistoni and Paolo Bortoluzzi. 

Carla Fracci, who died in May 2021, was an Italian prima ballerina assoluta, actress and ballet director. She was considered one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century.

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