4 April 2024

4 April

Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli - composer

Neapolitan who snubbed Napoleon wrote 37 operas

The composer Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli, who wrote 37 mainly comic operas and more than 500 pieces of sacred music, was born on this day in 1752 in Naples.  His success made him one of the principal composers of opera and religious music of his time. At various points in his career, he was maestro di cappella - music director - at Milan Cathedral, choir master at the Sistine Chapel and director of the Naples Conservatory.  Many of Zingarelli’s operas were written for Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Early in his career he worked in Paris, which held him in good stead later when he was arrested after refusing to conduct a hymn for the newly-born son of the Emperor Napoleon, who at the time was the self-proclaimed King of Italy.  Sometimes known as Nicola, the young Zingarelli studied from the age of seven at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, which was the original conservatory of Naples, dating back to 1537. He was tutored by Fedele Fenaroli, whose pupils also included Domenico Cimarosa and, later, Giuseppe Verdi, and also by Alessandro Speranza.  As a young man, Zingarelli earned a living as a violinist, while also composing.  Read more…


Francesco De Gregori - singer-songwriter

Performer inspired by songs of hero Bob Dylan

The singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori - popularly known as "Il Principe dei cantautori" (the prince of the singer-songwriters) – was born on this day in 1951.  Born in Rome, De Gregori has released around 40 albums in a career spanning 45 years, selling more than five million records.  Famous for the elegant and often poetic nature of his lyrics, De Gregori was once described by Bob Dylan as an “Italian folk hero”.  De Gregori acknowledges Dylan as one of his biggest inspirations and influences, along with Leonard Cohen and the Italian singer Fabrizio de André.  Covers of Dylan songs have regularly featured in his stage performances. He made an album in 2015 entitled Love and Theft: De Gregori Sings Bob Dylan.  Born into a middle class family – his father was a librarian, his mother a teacher - De Gregori spent his youth living in Rome or on the Adriatic coast at Pescara. He began to develop his musical career at the Folkstudio in Rome’s Trastevere district, where Dylan had performed in 1962.   He became friends with fellow singer-songwriters Antonello Venditti, Mimmo Locasciulli and Giorgio Lo Cascio.  Read more…


Irene Pivetti – journalist and politician

From top political office to TV presenter

Irene Pivetti, who was only the second woman to become president of thebusine Italian Chamber of Deputies, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.  Once a key figure in Italy’s Lega Nord party, Pivetti has now quit politics for a career as a television presenter.  Pivetti obtained an honours degree in Italian literature from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and afterwards worked in publishing, editing books on the Italian language. In this she was following in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, Aldo, a renowned linguist.  While working as a journalist, she became involved with the Lega Lombardia (Lombard League), which later became the Lega Nord (Northern League) and in 1992 was elected as a deputy, the Italian equivalent of a Member of Parliament.  Two years later, after the vote had gone to a fourth ballot, Pivetti was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies. At the age of 31, she was the youngest president in the Chamber’s history. She occupied the role from 1994 to 1996.  Pivetti was re-elected as a deputy in the 1996 election but later that year was expelled from the Lega Nord because of her opposition to some of their ideas.  Read more…


Daniela Riccardi - businesswoman

Head of luxury glassware company trained as a ballet dancer

Born on this day in 1960, Daniela Riccardi in 2013 became chief executive of Baccarat, the luxury glass and crystal manufacturer that originated in the town of the same name in the Lorraine region of France in the 18th century.  Formerly CEO of the Italian clothing company Diesel, she is one of Italy's most successful businesswomen, yet might easily have forged alternative careers as a dancer or a diplomat.  Born in Rome, she began dancing when she was five and studied ballet for 12 years at the National Dance Academy in Rome, with the aim of becoming a professional dancer.  When it became clear that she would not quite be good enough to grace the world's great stages, she remained determined to have a career that would satisfy her desire to experience many countries and cultures and went to Rome University to study political science and international studies, with the aim of working in diplomacy.  However, during a postgraduate year at Yale University in the United States, she spent a brief period as an intern at Pepsi, where she was so impressed by the energy and leadership of the company's management she realised that this was the career she really wanted.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart, by Mitchell Cohen 

A wide-ranging look at the interplay of opera and political ideas through the centuries The Politics of Opera takes readers on a fascinating journey into the entwined development of opera and politics, from the Renaissance through the turn of the 19th century. What political backdrops have shaped opera? How has opera conveyed the political ideas of its times? Delving into European history and thought and an array of music by such greats as Lully, Rameau, and Mozart, Mitchell Cohen reveals how politics - through story lines, symbols, harmonies, and musical motifs - has played an operatic role both robust and sotto voce. Cohen begins with opera's emergence under Medici absolutism in Florence during the late Renaissance--where debates by humanists, including Galileo's father, led to the first operas in the late 16th century. Taking readers to Mantua and Venice, where composer Claudio Monteverdi flourished, Cohen examines how early operatic works such as Orfeo used mythology to reflect on governance and policy issues of the day, such as state jurisdictions and immigration. Cohen explores France in the ages of Louis XIV and the Enlightenment and Vienna before and during the French Revolution, where the deceptive lightness of Mozart's masterpieces touched on the havoc of misrule and hidden abuses of power. Cohen also looks at smaller works, including a one-act opera written and composed by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Essential characters, ancient and modern, make appearances throughout: Nero, Seneca, Machiavelli, Mazarin, Fenelon, Metastasio, Beaumarchais, da Ponte, and many more. An engrossing book that will interest all who love opera and are intrigued by politics, The Politics of Opera offers a compelling investigation into the intersections of music and the state.

Mitchell Cohen is an author, political essayist and, since 1991, co-editor of Dissent, one of America's leading intellectual quarterlies. Born in New York in 1952, he received his doctorate from Columbia University. He is professor of political science at Baruch College and the Columbia University New York Graduate Center.

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