Showing posts with label 1797. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1797. Show all posts

26 October 2017

Giuditta Pasta – soprano

The first singer to perform the roles of Anna Bolena and Norma

Giuditta Pasta was a mezzo-soprano much in demand among 19th century composers
Giuditta Pasta was a mezzo-soprano much in
demand among 19th century composers
Singer Giuditta Pasta, whose voice was so beautiful Gaetano Donizetti wrote the role of Anna Bolena especially for her, was born on this day in 1797 in Saronno in Lombardy.

Her mezzo-soprano voice was much written about by 19th century opera reviewers and in modern times her performance style has been compared with that of Maria Callas.

Indeed, Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, which Callas would turn into her signature role, was actually written for Pasta in 1831.

Pasta was born Giuditta Negri, the daughter of a Jewish soldier. She studied singing in Milan and made her operatic debut there in 1816.

Later that year she performed at the Theatre Italien in Paris as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, but it was not until 1821 that her talent was fully recognised when she appeared in Paris as Desdemona in Gioachino Rossini’s Otello.

Giuditta married another singer, Giuseppe Pasta, in 1816 and as well as being her regular leading man he handled her business affairs and identified likely roles and composers who might wish to work with her.

An illustration of Giuditta Pasta in the  premiere of La Sonnambula
An illustration of Giuditta Pasta in the
premiere of La Sonnambula
She sang regularly in Milan, Naples, Paris and London and her unique voice attracted a lot of attention.

The French writer Stendhal wrote about her: ‘She can achieve perfect resonance on a note as low as bottom A and can rise as high as C sharp or even to a slightly sharpened D, and she possesses the rare ability to be able to sing contralto as easily as she can sing soprano.’

He argued for a score to be composed expressly for Pasta. Donizetti responded with the role of Anna Bolena in the opera of the same name and Pasta performed it at Milan’s Teatro Carcano in 1830, giving the composer the greatest success of his career to that point.

Bellini wrote for her the part of Amina in La Sonnambula and the protagonist’s part in Norma and these were also major successes for Pasta in 1831. She retired from the stage in 1835 when her voice began to deteriorate.

After her husband’s death, she taught singing and among her pupils were contralto Emma Albertazzi, soprano Marianna Barbieri-Nini, and the English soprano Adelaide Kemble. Another pupil, Carolina Fermi, who also became a noted Norma, taught the soprano Eugenia Burzio, whose recordings are known for their passionate expression.

Pasta died in Blevio in the province of Como at the age of 67.

The Sanctuario della Madonna dei Miracoli in Saronno
The Sanctuario della Madonna dei Miracoli in Saronno
Travel tip:

Saronno, where Giuditta Pasta was born, is a large town in Lombardy in the province of Varese. It is well known for the production of amaretti di Saronno, small almond-flavoured biscuits, and the liqueur, amaretto. One of the town’s most beautiful buildings is the Santuario della Madonna dei Miracoli, built in 1498, which has a stunning fresco, The Concert of Angels, by Gaudenzio Ferrari.

The Teatro Carcano is in Corso di Porta Romana on the  south-east side of Milan city centre
The Teatro Carcano is in Corso di Porta Romana on the
south-east side of Milan city centre
Travel tip:

The Teatro Carcano in Milan, where Giuditta sang the role of Anna Bolena for the first time in 1830, is still a working theatre and can be found in Corso di Porta Romana. Although it now presents mainly plays and ballets, it was an opera house for most of the 19th century. It was built in 1803 on the site of a former convent for Milanese aristocrat and theatre-lover Giuseppe Carcano. The world premiere of Anna Bolena took place at the theatre on December 26, 1830 and the world premiere of La Sonnambula on March 6, 1831.

16 September 2017

Sir Anthony Panizzi - revolutionary librarian

Political refugee knighted by Queen Victoria

Panizzi was a friend of the British Lord Chancellor, Henry Broughton
Panizzi was a friend of the British Lord
Chancellor, Henry Broughton
Sir Anthony Panizzi, who as Principal Librarian at the British Museum was knighted by Queen Victoria, was a former Italian revolutionary, born Antonio Genesio Maria Panizzi in Brescello in what is now Reggio Emilia, on this day in 1797.

A law graduate from the University of Parma, Panizzi began his working life as a civil servant, attaining the position of Inspector of Public Schools in his home town.

At the same time he was a member of the Carbonari, the network of secret societies set up across Italy in the early part of the 19th century, whose aim was to overthrow the repressive regimes of the Kingdoms of Naples and Sardinia, the Papal States and the Duchy of Modena and bring about the unification of Italy as a republic or a constitutional monarchy.

He was party to a number of attempted uprisings but was forced to flee the country in 1822, having been tipped off that he was to be arrested and would face trial as a subversive.

Panizzi found a haven in Switzerland, but after publishing a book that attacked the Duchy of Modena, of which Brescello was then part, he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Modena.

Threatened with expulsion from Switzerland, with Modena pressing the Swiss government to allow his arrest, he fled again, which is how he came to arrive in England in 1823.

Almost destitute by the time he reached London, he met a fellow revolutionary, the poet Ugo Foscolo, who was exiled in England, who gave him a letter of recommendation that enabled him to find work in Liverpool as a teacher of Italian.

Sir Anthony Panizzi was the subject of a caricature in Vanity Fair magazine
Sir Anthony Panizzi was the subject
of a caricature in Vanity Fair magazine
The job made him only a meagre living, but while in Liverpool he was befriended by Henry Broughton, a lawyer and politician who was destined for high office.  When Broughton became Lord Chancellor in 1830, he remembered Panizzi and smoothed the way for him to be appointed Professor of Italian at the newly-formed University of London (now University College, London).

Soon afterwards Panizzi obtained the post of Extra-Assistant Keeper of Books at the British Museum library and in time worked his way through the levels of administration at the museum to be Assistant Librarian (1831–37), Keeper of Printed Books (1837–56) and finally Principal Librarian (1856–66).

His appointment in that role met with some opposition, partly because, despite being a British subject since 1832, he was seen as unsuitable on account of his non-British heritage.  There were also stories that he had been so poor in his early days in London he had resorted to hawking items on the street in order to feed himself.

Yet Panizzi had impressed the hierarchy at the British Museum during his tenure as Keeper of Printed Books, when he increased the library’s stock from 235,000 to 540,000 books, making it at the time the largest library in the world.  

Although he ceased to be involved directly in the Risorgimento movement in Italy, he continued to further the cause of Italian liberty through his friendships with influential Liberal statesmen in England, including two prime ministers in Lord Palmerston and William Ewart Gladstone, whom he took to Naples to see for himself the inhumane conditions in which political prisoners were kept.

Panizzi met the exiled poet Ugo Foscolo in London
Panizzi met the exiled poet Ugo
Foscolo in London
He could, in fact, have taken an active role in Italian politics after unification, but declined invitations from Giuseppe Garibaldi and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the first prime minister of the united Italy, to serve as a senator or as a member of the Council of Public Instruction.

Instead, he remained in London, where he was knighted in 1869, three years after retiring, for his extraordinary services to the British Museum library.

His achievements covered a diverse range, from devising a new system for cataloguing books using the 91 Rules code, from which the current ISBD (International Standard Bibliographic Description) system evolved, to designing a shelf support – the ‘Panizzi pin’ – to stop wooden book shelves from wobbling.

Panizzi died in London in 1879 and was buried in the Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery.

The British Museum library became simply the British Library in 1973, although it continued to be housed in the museum’s buildings on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury until moving to a new purpose-built facility on Euston Road in 1997.

The British Library has a staff meeting room called the Panizzi Room and the former Principal Librarian is remembered in the annual Panizzi Lectures.

Piazza Matteotti and the church of Santa Maria Nascente
Piazza Matteotti and the church of Santa Maria Nascente
Travel tip:

The small town of Brescello is about 25km (16mls) northwest of Reggio Emilia, on the south bank of the Po river. It has a pleasant central square, the Piazza Matteotti, dominated by the parish church of Santa Maria Nascente.  Brescello makes a good deal of its association with the Don Camillo novels of author Giovannino Guareschi, having been chosen as the setting for a series of films made in the 1950s and 1960s about a local priest, Don Camillo, and his constant run-ins with Peppone, the communist mayor, in what was meant to be a typical small town in rural Italy in the years after the Second World War.  There is a museum dedicated to the two characters, while visitors to the church of Santa Maria Nascente can see the crucifix that appeared in the films to speak to Don Camillo.  

Piazza Prampolini is an attractive square in Reggio Emilia
Piazza Prampolini is an attractive square in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Positioned between Parma and Modena along the path of the Roman road known as the Via Emilia, the city of Reggio Emilia is often missed out on the tourist trail but the wealth of attractive squares within the hexagonal lay-out of the old city are well worth a traveller’s time. The city – or, at least, the surrounding province – is thought to be the home of Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, and is also credited with being the area of Italy from which the country adopted the tricolore as the national flag, with evidence that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green. 

17 October 2016

The end of the Venetian Republic

Peace treaty saw Venice given away to Austria

Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the  18th century artist Canaletto
Venice in the days of Austrian rule, as depicted by the
18th century artist Canaletto
A peace settlement signed in a small town in north-east Italy on this day in 1797 heralded a dark day for Venice as the Most Serene Republic officially lost its independence after 1,100 years.

The Treaty of Campo Formio, drawn up after the Austrians had sought an armistice when faced with Napoleon Bonaparte's advance on Vienna, included an exchange of territory that saw Napoleon hand Venice to Austria.

It marked the end of the First Coalition of countries allied against the French, although it was a short-lived peace.  A Second Coalition was formed the following year.

The Venetian Republic, still a playground for the rich but in decline for several centuries in terms of real power, had proclaimed itself neutral during the Napoleonic Wars, wary that it could not afford to sustain any kind of conflict.

But Napoleon wanted to acquire the city nonetheless, seeing it as a potential bargaining chip in his empire-building plans and had his eye on its vast art treasures.  In May 1797 he provoked the Venetians into attacking a French ship and used this as an excuse to declare war.

The reaction of the Venetian Grand Council and the last of its Doges, Ludovico Manin, was to vote the Republic out of existence and surrender, which put the city under French rule.  When the city and the nearby islands had been secured, 4,000 soldiers of Napoleon's army staged a parade in Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). It was a humiliation for Venice, the first time that foreign troops had set foot in the city.

Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, in
a portrait by Barnardino Castelli
Systematically, the French began a programme of asset stripping, their plunder including the bronze Lion of Venice in St Mark's Square.

Within six months, however, the peace accord with the Austrians gave Napoleon the chance to use Venice as part of the settlement, taking Lombardy and the area of Belgium then known as the  Austrian Netherlands in return.

The city became part of Napoleon's newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1805 but the Austrians seized control again when Napoleon was defeated in 1814.

Venice's resentment of the French was matched by their dislike for the Austrians, even though the city's new rulers were instrumental in building the railway that connected them to the mainland, opening the way for a new era of prosperity.

The Venetians rose up in rebellion in 1848, staging a general strike and recruiting a militia of 4,000 men, briefly driving the Austrians out. The new Republic of San Marco declared independence in March 1848 and a year passed before the Austrians reclaimed the city, its navy sailing into the lagoon and laying siege until, starving and fighting a cholera epidemic, Venice surrendered.

The Austrians were finally driven out by Victor Emanuele II's army during the wars of Italian unification, at which point Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy via the Treaty of Vienna. 

Travel tip:

The town known as Campo Formio at the time of the Treaty subsequently changed its name to Campoformido.  Situated just to the south-west of Udine, the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the town is also historically important as the seat from the 12th century onwards of the Parliament of Friuli, one of the oldest parliaments in the world.  The Treaty was signed at the Villa Manin, the country home of Ludovico Manin, the last Doge of the Venetian Republic.

The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
The Lion of Venice sits atop one of two columns
at the end of the Piazzetta of St Mark's
Travel tip:

The Lion of Venice, which sits atop one of two granite columns, standing guard at the lagoon end of the Piazzetta adjoining St Mark's Square, was lifted down and taken to France in 1797, where it remained until being repatriated in 1815 with the fall of Napoleon.  It was badly damaged on both legs of the journey, losing its griffin-like wings, its tail, its front paws and the gospel book upon which they rested on the outward journey.  Restored and mounted in the Place des Invalides in Paris, it was dropped as workmen lifted it down for the return to Venice, where it arrived in 20 pieces.  The fragments were pieced together by the sculptor Bartolomeo Ferrari.

More reading:

Napoleon crowns himself King of Italy

Austrians driven out in Battle of Marengo

Battle of Solferino and the birth of the Red Cross


7 January 2016

Il tricolore

Flag represented people’s hopes for a united Italy

The Italian flag, with its panels of green, white and red, was first hoisted on this day in 1797 in Reggio Emilia.

The Italian flag is known as Il Tricolore
Il tricolore
Photo: Jacopo Prisco
(CC BY-SA 3.0)
Long before Italy became a united country, an early form of the tricolore was being flown in a part of the country then known as the Cispadane Republic, where it had been agreed to make universal “the standard or flag of three colours, green, white and red”.

The Cispadane Republic (Repubblica Cispadana) was founded with the protection of the French Army in 1796 in what is now Emilia Romagna. The republic organised a congress on 7 January in Reggio Emilia and adopted the first ever tricolore as its flag.

But it was many years and many battles later before the flag as we know it now was formally adopted by the Italian republic in 1948.

It is thought the Cispadane republic chose panels of red and white because they were the colours of the flag of Milan and green because it was the colour of the uniform of the Milan civic guard.

Some believe the green panel (on the hoist side of the flag as it is used now) represents Italy’s plains and hills, the white panel, the snow capped alps and the red panel, the blood spilt in Italy’s fight for independence from foreign domination.

A religious interpretation is that green represents hope, white represents faith and red represents charity.

Football fans unite behind the Italian flag at major tournaments
Football fans delight in waving the tricolore
when Italy competes for the World Cup
Many forms of the flag were adopted in different parts of Italy in the years before unification, but the tricolore became the symbol of the Risor- 
gimento, the movement fighting for independence.

In 1861 the flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia was declared to be the flag of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. This was the Italian tricolore with the emblem of the House of Savoy on it.

The flag remained like this until the birth of the republic in 1946. Then the flag of green, white and red vertical panels was formally adopted.

Italians fly the flag with particular pride when the national football team competes in the World Cup and it was prominent at the 150th celebrations of the unification of Italy in 2011.

Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, where the first ever tricolore was hoisted, is a city in the Emilia Romagna region surrounded by medieval walls built in a hexagonal design. It has a wealth of 16th century palaces and churches and is famous for producing Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Victor Emanuel completed the unification of Italy when he entered Rome in 1870
The Italian flag flies at the momument
to Victor Emanuel II in Rome
Photo: Nicolai Schafer (CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)
Travel tip:

Rome remained under French control after the first Italian parliament proclaimed Victor Emanuel II  King of Italy, despite attempts by nationalists to liberate it. But after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III withdrew some of his troops. Italian soldiers seized their chance and after a brief bombardment entered Rome on 20 September 1870 through a breach in the walls at Porta Pia. Victor Emanuel took up residence in the Quirinale Palace, the tricolore was hoisted and Italy was declared officially united. A marble plaque commemorating the liberation of Rome was placed near Porta Pia where the Italian troops first got through.