28 March 2024

28 March

Anselmo Colzani - opera star

Baritone who had 16 seasons at the New York Met

Anselmo Colzani, an operatic baritone who was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as La Scala in his home country, was born on this day in 1918 in Budrio, a town not far from Bologna.  His stage career continued until 1980, when he made his final stage appearance in one of his signature roles as Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.  Although his repertoire was much wider, his reputation became strongly associated with the works of Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi, with Jack Rance in Puccini's Fanciulla del West and the title role of Verdi's Falstaff, as well as Amonasro in Aida and Iago in Otello among his most famous roles.  Colzani’s association with the Met began in March 1960 after he was approached by Rudolf Bing, the opera house’s general manager,  following the sudden death of Leonard Warren on stage during a performance of La Forza del Destino.  A few weeks later, Colzani took over Warren's role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It was not only the first time he had sung at the Met, but the first time he had sung the role.  Read more…


Vincenzo Capone - prohibition agent

'War hero'-turned-lawman hid his family identity

Vincenzo Capone, older brother of the notorious mobster Al Capone, was born on this day in 1892 in Angri, a town in Campania located between Salerno and Naples.  While Al drifted into crime as a teenager, Vincenzo wanted a different life. After running away to join a circus, he changed his name and invented a new background to conceal his true identity. He acquired a reputation as a war hero before forging a career in law enforcement, notably pitting himself against the criminal gangs of his brother’s world as an agent for the Bureau of Prohibition.  The first in a family of nine children, Vincenzo had just one sibling, his brother Ralph, when his father, Gabriele, a barber, and his mother, Teresa, emigrated to the United States in 1895. His father continued to work as a hairdresser, while Teresa’s skills as a seamstress enabled her to find a job. They settled in Brooklyn.  Over the years that followed, the family grew and Vincenzo and Ralph were joined by Frank, Alphonse, Ermina, John, Albert, Matthew and Mafalda. Sadly, Ermina did not survive her infancy.  As they grew up, most of his younger brothers became involved with petty crime.  Read more…


Alberto Grimaldi - film producer

Spaghetti Western trilogy gave Naples producer his big break

Film producer Alberto Grimaldi, who boasts an extraordinary list of credits that includes Last Tango in Paris, The Canterbury Tales, Man of La Mancha, Fellini's Casanova, 1900, Ginger and Fred and Gangs of New York, was born in Naples on this day in 1925. Grimaldi trained as a lawyer and it was in that capacity that he initially found work in the cinema industry in the 1950s.  However, he could see the money-making potential in production and in the early 1960s set up his own company, Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA).  His first three productions, cashing in on the popularity in Italy of westerns, enjoyed some success but it was a meeting with Sergio Leone, the Italian director, that earned him his big break. Leone, whose first venture into the western genre, A Fistful of Dollars, had been an unexpected hit both for him and the young American actor, Clint Eastwood, was busy planning the sequel when a dispute arose with his producers over the cost of the movie.  As it happened, Grimaldi's first production, The Shadow of Zorro, had been filmed, like A Fistful of Dollars, on location in Spain.  Read more…


Fra Bartolommeo - Renaissance great

Friar rated equal of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo

Fra Bartolommeo, the Renaissance artist recognised as one of the greatest religious painters, was born on this day in 1472 in Savignano di Vaiano, in Tuscany.  Also known as Baccio della Porta, a nickname he acquired because when he lived in Florence his lodgings were near what is now the Porta Romana, Bartolommeo created works that chart the development of artistic styles and fashion in Florence, from the earthly realism of the 15th century to the grandeur of High Renaissance in the 16th century.  His most famous works include Annunciation, Vision of St Bernard, Madonna and Child with Saints, The Holy Family, The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, God the Father with SS Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene and Madonna della Misericordia.  Bartolommeo always prepared for any painting by making sketches, more than 1,000 in total over the years he was active.  Around 500 of them were discovered at the convent of St Catherine of Siena in Florence in 1722, where nuns were unaware of their significance.  He is also remembered for his striking profile portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical priest under whose influence he came in the 1490s.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Grand Opera: The Story of the Met, by Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron

The Metropolitan in New York has stood among the grandest of opera companies since its birth in 1883. Tracing the offstage/onstage workings of this famed New York institution, Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron tell how the Met became and remains a powerful actor on the global cultural scene. In this first new history of the company in 30 years, each of the chronologically sequenced chapters surveys a composer or a slice of the repertoire and brings to life dominant personalities and memorable performances of the time. From the opening night Faust to the recent controversial production of Wagner's Ring cycle, Grand Opera: The Story of the Met is a remarkable account of management and audience response to the push and pull of tradition and reinvention. Spanning the decades between the Gilded Age and the age of new media, this story of the Met concludes by tipping its hat to the hugely successful Live in HD simulcasts and other 21st-century innovations. Grand Opera's appeal extends far beyond the large circle of opera enthusiasts. Drawing on unpublished documents from the Metropolitan Opera Archives, reviews, recordings, and much more, this richly detailed book looks at the Met in the broad context of national and international issues and events.

Charles Affron is professor emeritus of French at New York University. He is the author of Lillian Gish: Her Legend and Life, and co-author or editor of several other titles. Mirella Jona Affron is a professor of cinema studies at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where she was provost from 1995 to 2002, and at the Graduate Center/CUNY. 

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