Showing posts with label 1778. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1778. Show all posts

3 August 2016

La Scala - opera and ballet theatre

First night at the world’s most famous opera house

La Scala opera house is located in the heart of Milan
La Scala opera house is located in the heart of Milan

Milan’s Teatro alla Scala was officially inaugurated on this day in 1778.

Known to Italians simply as La Scala, the theatre has become the leading opera house in the world and many famous artists have appeared there.

A fire had destroyed the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had previously been the home of opera in Milan. A group of 90 wealthy patrons, the owners of private boxes in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este asking that a new theatre be built.

The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how the theatre got its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished to make way for the theatre. 

With the cost of the project met by the 90 patrons, who paid in advance for boxes, the new theatre was designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini and at the official opening on 3 August 1778, Antonio Salieri’s opera L’Europa Riconosciuta was premiered.

As with most theatres at the time, the main floor had no seats, with audience members standing to watch the performances. This had the effect of making the theatre a meeting place, but also a venue for business dealings, and sometimes the noise generated by the traders would bring complaints from genuine opera-lovers that their enjoyment was impaired.

Oil lamps illuminate the venue at first. Mindful of the fire hazard this posed, the theatre managers always made sure that there were hundreds of buckets of water to hand in rooms adjoining the auditorium.

The world’s finest singers have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years and the theatre has hosted the premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.

La Scala’s original 18th century structure was renovated in 1907 and, after bomb damage during the Second World War, it had to be rebuilt and was reopened in 1946, the occasion marked with a concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who was twice La Scala's principal conductor, with a soprano solo by Renata Tebaldi.

The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
The beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Travel tip:

Teatro alla Scala is in Piazza della Scala in the centre of Milan across the road from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an elegant arcade lined with cafes, shops and restaurants which was built to link Piazza della Scala with Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s cathedral square.

Travel tip:

La Scala has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza della Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and a few days when it is closed in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

(Photo of Galleria by Emily Chochkova CC BY-SA 3.0)


20 February 2016

Laura Bassi – scientist

Ground-breaking academic paved the way for women

This portrait of the physicist Laura Bassi is said to date back to 1732
A portrait of the physicist Laura Bassi,
thought to have been painted in 1732
Brilliant physicist Laura Bassi died on this day in 1778 in Bologna.

She had enjoyed a remarkable career, becoming the first woman to earn a Chair in Science at a university anywhere in the world.

When she was just 13 her family’s physician had recognised her potential and took charge of her education.

When she was 20 he invited philosophers from the University of Bologna along with the Archbishop of Bologna, who later became Pope Benedict XIV, to examine her progress.

They were all impressed and Bassi was admitted to the Bologna Academy of Sciences as an honorary member, the first female ever to be allowed to join.

Her theses at the university showed influences of Isaac Newton’s work on optics and light. She was a key figure in introducing his ideas about physics to Italy.

When she received her degree from the university there was a public celebration in Bologna.

Another of her theses about the property of water led to her being awarded the post of Professor of Physics at the university.

As a woman, she was not allowed to teach at the university so she gave lessons and did experiments in her own home.

She was appointed to the Chair of experimental physics at Bologna University in 1776.

She died two years later, having made physics a lifelong career and broken new ground for women in academic circles.

A street in Bologna and a crater on Venus are named after her.

Laura Bassi was married at the Basilica of San Petronio in 1738
The Basilica of San Petronio in the centre of
Bologna, where Laura Bassi married
Travel tip:

Laura Bassi married Giovanni Giuseppe Veratti, a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Bologna  in 1738 at the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. A street in the city to the south of the university is now named Via Laura Bassi Veratti in honour of her.

Bologna hotels by

Travel Tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, where Laura Bassi was married, is the main church of Bologna, located in Piazza Maggiore in the centre of the city. It is the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world. Building work began on the church in 1390 and it was dedicated to San Petronio, who had been the Bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. The facade was designed by Domenico da Varignana and started in 1538 by Giacomo Ranuzzi but was never finished. Despite being Bologna’s most important church, San Petronio is not the city’s cathedral. This is the Duomo di San Pietro, which stands nearby on Via Indipendenza. In the 16th century, the basilica staged the coronation of Charles V to Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Clement VII.

More reading:

How astronomer Caterina Scarpellini discovered a new comet

The particle physicist who scored a first for women in science

Margherita Hack, the astrophysicist who tried to make science fun

Also on this day:

6 February 2016

Ugo Foscolo – poet

Revolutionary who expressed his feelings in verse

Ugo Foscolo: this portrait by Francois-Xavier Fabre is housed in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence
Ugo Foscolo: this portrait by Francois-Xavier
Fabre is in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence
Writer Ugo Foscolo was born Niccolò Foscolo on this day in 1778 on the island of Zakynthos, now part of Greece, but then part of the Republic of Venice.

Foscolo went on to become a revolutionary who wrote poetry and novels that reflected the feelings of many Italians during the turbulent years of the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and Austrian rule. His talent was probably not sufficiently appreciated until after his death, but he is particularly remembered for his book of poems, Dei Sepolchri - Of the Sepulchres.

After the death of his father, Andrea, who was an impoverished Venetian nobleman, the family moved back to live in Venice.

Foscolo went on to study at Padova University and by 1797 had begun to write under the name Ugo Foscolo.

While at University he took part in political discussions about the future of Venice and was shocked when Napoleon handed it over to the Austrians in 1797.

He denounced this action in his novel Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis - The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis.

Foscolo moved to Milan where he published a book of sonnets. Still putting his faith in Napoleon, he decided to serve as a volunteer in the French army and was later wounded and taken prisoner.

When he was released he returned to Milan to carry on writing. In 1807 he wrote Dei Sepolchri, a patriotic poem in blank verse. Written as a protest against Napoleon’s decree forbidding tomb inscriptions, it considers using the past as a refuge from the misery of the present and the darkness of the future.

He was appointed to the chair of Italian eloquence at Pavia and delivered a lecture urging his fellow countrymen to study literature to help both individual and national growth. Napoleon then issued a decree abolishing the chair of Italian eloquence at all universities.

When the Austrians arrived in Milan, Foscolo moved to Switzerland and then went to live in London, where he died in 1827.

In 1871 his remains were brought back to Italy by order of King Victor Emmanuel II and he was buried with great ceremony in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence .

The courtyard at Palazzo Bo, the main
building of Padua University
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

The main building of Padua University, where Ugo Foscolo studied, is Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua. The building used to house the medical faculty and you can take a guided tour of the building and see the lectern used by Galileo when he taught there between 1592 and 1610.

Travel tip:

The street named after the poet in Milan, Via Ugo Foscolo, links one side of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with Piazza del Duomo. Work began in 1865 to build the elegant, glass roofed Galleria, an arcade of shops and restaurants that links Piazza della Scala with Piazza del Duomo. Work on the Duomo began in 1386 but the magnificent church was not completed until the 19th century, when Napoleon, who was crowned King of Italy there, ordered the façade to be finished. 

More reading:

The Italian revolutionary who became a British knight

The politically astute poet who ruled an Italian state

The sonnet writer who satirised life in 19th century Rome

Also on this day:

1453: The birth of the poet Girolamo Benivieni

1577: The birth of Beatrice Cenci, the murderess who became a Roman heroine

1908: The birth of Amintore Fanfani, politician who proposed a 'third way'

(Picture credit: Padua University by Sailko via Wikpedia Commons)