24 March 2024

24 March

Ballet performer inspired Beethoven to compose music to suit his choreography

Salvatore Viganò, an innovative dancer who became the ballet master at La Scala opera house in Milan, was born on this day in 1769 in Naples.  He introduced the idea of ‘coreodramma’, a synthesis of dance and pantomime, in dramatic ballets based on historical and mythological themes and Shakespeare’s plays.  Viganò was born into a family of dancers and was the nephew of the composer Luigi Bocherini. When he was young, his main interests were literature and music. He studied composition with his uncle, Bocherini, and was composing his own music by the time he was a teenager.  His mother, Maria, Bocherini’s sister, had been a ballerina, and dance gradually became Viganò’s main interest. In 1788 he appeared as a dancer on the stage in Venice and the following year he performed in the coronation festivities of Charles IV of Spain.  His elder sister, Vincenza Vigano-Mombelli also became a dancer and she wrote the libretto for Rossini’s first opera, Demetrio e Polibio. While performing in Madrid,he met and married the dancer, Maria Medina. He also met the choreographer Jean Dauberval, who he later joined up with in France and England. His friendship with Dauberval stimulated his interest in choreography. Read more...


Mimmo Jodice - photographer

Camera work with shades of metaphysical art

Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Jodice, who has been a major influence on artistic photography in Italy for half a century, was born on this day in 1934 in Naples.  Jodice, who was professor of photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli from 1969 to 1996, is best known for his atmospheric photographs of urban scenes, especially in his home city.  Often these pictures reflected his fascination with how Italian cities habitually mix the present and the future with echoes of the past in their urban landscapes, with the incongruous juxtapositions of ancient and modern that were characteristic of metaphysical art occurring naturally as part of urban evolution.  His books Vedute di Napoli (Views of Naples) and Lost in Seeing: Dreams and Visions of Italy have been international bestsellers and he has exhibited his work all over the world.  Born in the Sanità district of Naples, Jodice was the second of four children. His father died when he was still a boy and the requirement that he find work as soon as he was able meant he had only a limited education.  Nonetheless, he was drawn towards art and the theatre, classical music and jazz.  Read more…


Dario Fo – writer and actor

Prolific playwright put the spotlight on corruption

Playwright and all-round entertainer Dario Fo was born in Leggiuno Sangiano in the Province of Varese in Lombardy on this day in 1926.  His plays have been widely performed and translated into many different languages. He is perhaps most well known for Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.  Fo’s early work is peppered with criticisms of the corruption, crime, and racism that affected life in Italy at the time. He later moved on to ridicule Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi and in later life his targets included the banks and big business.  He was brought up near the shores of Lago Maggiore but moved to Milan to study. During the war he served with several branches of the forces before deserting. He returned to Milan to study architecture but gave it up to paint and work in small theatres presenting improvised monologues. In the 1950s Fo worked in radio and on stage performing his own work. He met and later married actress Franca Rame and they had a son, Jacopo, who also became a writer.  Read more…


Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic

The politician, economist, journalist and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in the province of Cuneo in what is now Piedmont.   Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was elected President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post.  He was actively involved with politics from his university days, when he supported socialist movements.  For a decade he edited a socialist magazine but later took a more conservative position. After being appointed to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in 1919, in the days when the upper house of the Italian parliament was a non-elected body, he was one of the signatories in forming the Italian Liberal Party (PLI).  The PLI initially joined forces with the Italian Fascists and it was through their support that Mussolini was able to win the 1924 general election with an absolute majority.  Einaudi had been both a journalist and an academic since graduating in law from Turin University in 1895.  Read more…


Guido Menasci - poet, librettist and biographer

Respected writer and historian who found fame from an opera

The writer Guido Menasci, who is best known as a co-author of the libretto for composer Pietro Mascagni’s successful opera Cavalleria rusticana but was also a respected historian, was born on this day in 1867 in the Tuscan port of Livorno.  Menasci, a law graduate from the University of Pisa and briefly a prosecutor at the Court of Appeal in Lucca, wrote for a number of literary magazines in Italy and beyond and produced a biography of the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe that is considered a definitive work.  Fluent in French as well as Italian, he published books and gave lectures in Paris, often on the subject of art history, which was another of his fascinations.  Yet he was most famous for his work with Mascagni and his fellow librettist, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, whom he met through his involvement with literary and cultural societies in Livorno, where all three grew up.  They collaborated on a number of operas, the most famous of which by some way was Cavalleria rusticana, which was performed for the first time in 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.   Based on a novella of the same name by Giovanni Verga, Cavalleria rusticana is a simple story of betrayal and revenge.  Read more…


Giorgio Gori - politician

Mayor who steered city of Bergamo through Covid nightmare

The politician Giorgio Gori, who as Mayor of Bergamo became one of the spokespersons for Italy during the first stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, was born in Bergamo on this day in 1960.  Of 158,000 deaths from the virus in Italy since it was identified in a patient from the town of Codogno in February 2020, more than 39,000 have been in the Lombardy region, with the city of Bergamo and the surrounding area suffering the heaviest toll.  Bergamo province lost 4,500 citizens in the first month of the pandemic alone and is haunted by the image of a convoy of military vehicles carrying coffins away for cremation elsewhere because the city’s own crematorium could no longer cope with the numbers of dead.  As television crews descended on the city, Gori regularly agreed to be interviewed on camera and thus was seen by audiences in many countries as the story of Covid-19’s devastating impact on Italy dominated news bulletins.  Gori’s own background is in the media. Educated in the magnificent but traditionally demanding surroundings of the Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi in Bergamo’s historic Città Alta, he went on to study architecture at the University of Milan but at the same time began to contribute to local newspapers, including L’Eco di Bergamo and Bergamo-Oggi, and the city’s own television station, BergamoTV.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Lost in Seeing: Italy, Thirty Years of Visions, by Mimmo Jodice. Words by Francine Prose

Lost in Seeing covers a 30-year journey through the changes of the Italian scene.  Mimmo Jodice, one of the greatest Italian photographers, offers unexpected visions and unseen things, famous places and territories of the imagination. He crossed Italy from the north to the south in his modern Grand Tour, drawing a comprehensive portrait of striking images. Jodice’s magical realism leads us through the Mediterranean islands, the Italian countryside, the restoration of St. Peter’s church in Rome, the decommissioning of Venice-Marghera, the remains of Pompeii, and the urban transformations and the sites of archaeology.  Seen through his lens, Italy takes on a whole new aspect; even its landmarks vibrate with movement and possibility.

Mimmo Jodice is one of the main names in the history of photography and a prominent protagonist of the Italian cultural debate for much of his working and academic life. Francine Prose is an acclaimed author of novels, short stories and non-fiction, a contributing editor at Harper's and writes on art for the Wall Street Journal.

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