Showing posts with label 1816. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1816. Show all posts

19 March 2020

Filippo Mazzei – physician

Liberal thinker was praised by John F Kennedy

Filippo Mazzei contributed to the wording of America's Declaration of Independence
Filippo Mazzei contributed to the wording
of America's Declaration of Independence
Globe-trotting doctor Filippo Mazzei, who was a close friend of the American president, Thomas Jefferson, died on this day in 1816 in Pisa in Tuscany.

During the American Revolutionary War, Mazzei had acted as an agent for Jefferson, purchasing arms for Virginia.

President John F Kennedy paid tribute to Mazzei’s contribution to the Declaration of Independence in his book, A Nation of Immigrants.

Mazzei was born in 1730 in Poggio a Caiano in Tuscany. He studied medicine in Florence and then practiced in both Italy and Turkey. He moved to London in 1755 and set himself up in business as an importer, while also working as an Italian teacher.

In London he met both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who would become two of America's Founding Fathers, and came up with the idea of importing Tuscan products, such as wine and olive trees, to the New World.

In 1773 Mazzei boarded a ship from Livorno to Virginia, taking with him plants, seeds, silkworms and farmers from Lucca.

He visited Jefferson at his estate in Virginia and was given a large piece of land to start an experimental plantation.

Thomas Jefferson and Filippo Mazzei shared similar political values
Thomas Jefferson and Filippo Mazzei
shared similar political values
Mazzei and Jefferson started what was to become the first commercial vineyard in Virginia. They were both interested in politics and discovered they shared similar liberal values, becoming good friends.

After Mazzei returned to Italy in 1779 he became a secret agent for the state of Virginia, buying and shipping arms to them.

He also travelled through Europe promoting Republican ideals, writing a political history of the American Revolution, which he published in Paris in 1788.

While in the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth, Mazzei became attached as a Privy Councillor to the court of King Stanislaus II. The King then sent him to be Poland’s representative in Paris.  After Poland was partitioned between Russia and Prussia in 1795, Mazzei was given a pension by Russia.

While in France, Mazzei became active in the politics of the French Revolution under the Directorate, but when Napoleon overthrew that Government, Mazzei returned to Pisa, where he died in 1816. He was buried in the Pisa Suburbano cemetery.

It has been claimed that Jefferson had a falling out with George Washington over a letter he had sent to Mazzei in Italy that criticised Washington’s administration. The letter was eventually published overseas and in the US.

A plaque marks the house in Via Giordano Bruno in Pisa where Filippo Mazzei died on March 19, 1816
A plaque marks the house in Via Giordano Bruno in Pisa
where Filippo Mazzei died on March 19, 1816
But John F Kennedy acknowledges Mazzei’s contribution to the Declaration of Independence in his book: A Nation of Immigrants. He states: ‘The great doctrine ‘All men are created equal’ and incorporated into the declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson was paraphrased from the writing of Philip Mazzei, an Italian-born patriot and pamphleteer, who was a close friend of Jefferson.’

Kennedy said in his book that scholars try to discredit Mazzei as the creator of this statement but he insists that it was written in Italian in Mazzei’s own hand several years before the Declaration was written.

Kennedy writes: ‘No one man can take complete credit for the ideals of American democracy.’

In 1980 a 40-cent US airmail stamp was issued to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mazzei’s birth. The World War II Liberty Ship SS Filippo Mazzei was also named in his honour.

Mazzei lived his final years in a house in Via Giordano Bruno in Pisa, which is identified to visitors by a plaque on the wall. He was said to have been a regular visitor to the Caffè dell’Ussero, a coffee house frequented by intellectuals that occupies the ground floor of the Palazzo Agostini, a striking four-storey Gothic building by the river on Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti.

The Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, where visitors can view apartments used by the Medici family
The Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, where visitors can
view apartments used by the Medici family
Travel tip:

Poggio a Caiano, where Filippo Mazzei was born, is a town and comune in the province of Prato in Tuscany. It lies nine kilometres south of the provincial capital of Prato. One of the most famous sights in the area is the Villa Medici, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in around 1480. Today it is a public building housing a museum and the historic apartments where members of the Medici family used to stay.

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Pisa's Torre Pendente - the leaning tower - is a monument recognised all over the world
Pisa's Torre Pendente - the leaning tower -
is a monument recognised all over the world
Travel tip:

Pisa, where Filippo Mazzei died and was buried, is famous for its leaning tower, Torre Pendente, which is one of the four buildings that make up the cathedral complex in the Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). The Duomo was the first to be constructed and then the Baptistery was added. While work on the tower was being carried out, a cemetery (Campo Santo) was added. During the summer the tower is open to visitors from 08.30 to 22.00. Tickets to climb the tower are limited and booking in advance is recommended if you want to avoid queuing. For more details, visit

20 February 2018

The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

Rival fans wreck debut of Rossini’s most famous opera

A typical costume for the main character, the barber Figaro
A typical costume for the main
character, the barber Figaro
The Barber of Seville, the work that would come to be seen as Gioachino Rossini’s masterpiece of comic opera, was performed for the first time on this day in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome.

Commissioned by the theatre’s owner, Duke Francesco Sforza-Cesarini, it had a libretto by Cesare Sterbini based on the French comedy play Le Barbier de Séville and was originally entitled Almaviva or The Useless Precaution, out of deference to Giovanni Paisiello, the most popular composer in Italy in the 18th century, whose own version of Il barbiere di Siviglia had been very successful.

The second part of the same text, by Pierre Beaumarchais, was behind Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered four years after Paisiello’s.

Nonetheless, Paisiello’s loyal fans saw Rossini’s opera as an attempt to steal their favourite’s thunder, whatever name he gave it, and organised what was nothing short of an act of sabotage, packing the theatre on opening night and proceeding to jeer, shout and catcall throughout the whole performance, unsettling the cast and leading to a number of mishaps on stage.

Rossini, who had conducted the opening performance, was so outraged and embarrassed he stayed away the following night, handing the baton to a deputy.

Rossini wrote the part of Figaro specifically for his friend, the baritone Luigi Zamboni
Rossini wrote the part of Figaro specifically
for his friend, the baritone Luigi Zamboni
Yet, having already made his mark with hits such as Tancredi, L’Italiana in Algeri and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, Rossini had a following of his own and the audience for the second night, on hearing the now unmistakable arias for the first time, declared the opera a resounding success, their enthusiasm such that a crowd gathered outside his residence later in the evening to voice their approval.

Luigi Zamboni, the bass-baritone Rossini had in mind when he wrote the score – in the space of just 12 days, he later claimed – gave a bravura performance as Figaro, the barber of the title and something of a Mr Fixit, as in “Largo al factotum” – “Make way for the factotum” – the resounding aria that marks his entry on to the stage in the first act.

Count Almaviva, the Spanish nobleman who enlists Figaro’s help in wooing the rich ward of an elderly physician, was sung by the tenor, Manuel Garcia, who had worked with Rossini before, with the role of Rosina, the object of his affections, played by the contralto Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi. The bass Bartolomeo Botticelli was cast as her guardian, Dr Bartolo, whose motive for wishing to keep Rosina from running off with a handsome young suitor was that he wished to marry her himself when she came of age.

It was not long before the opera was being performed in cities across Europe, becoming known so generally as The Barber of Seville that the original title was, in time, discarded.

It made its London debut at the King’s Theatre in March 1818, followed by a version in English at Covent Garden in October of the same year.  The same translation, by John Fawcett and Daniel Terry, was performed at the Park Theatre in New York in 1819, becoming the first Italian opera staged in America to be sung in the original language when it returned to the Park Theatre in 1825, with Garcia again in the role of Almaviva.

More than 200 years later, according to Operabase, the respected collator of opera statistics, The Barber of Seville is the seventh most performed opera in the world, just ahead of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. On performance numbers, Verdi’s La Traviata is the world’s favourite.

The  Teatro Argentina, where the Barber of Seville was performed for the first time,  is one of  Rome's oldest theatres
The  Teatro Argentina, where The Barber of Seville was
performed for the first time,  is one of  Rome's oldest theatres
Travel tip:

The Teatro Argentina opera house in Rome is one of the oldest theatres in the city, constructed in 1731 to designs by Gerolamo Theodoli, on behalf of the Sforza-Cesarini family. It takes its name from its location on the Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that was named not after the South American country but by a Papal Master of Ceremonies who hailed from Strasbourg, the Latin name for which was Argentoratum. The theatre stands on the site of the Curia Pompeia, the meeting hall in which Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC.

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The Palazzo Ducale is a typical palace in Pesaro
The Palazzo Ducale is a typical palace in Pesaro
Travel tip:

Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro, now a seaside resort in the northern part of Marche, about 40km (25 miles) south of the much better known resort of Rimini, in Emilia-Romagna.  Like many Italian Adriatic resorts, it has an old town distinctly different from the hotel-lined avenues close to the sea, in Pesaro’s case built on the site of an old Roman settlement that changed hands many times over the centuries until it became capital of the duchy of the Della Rovere family, who built many of the palaces that survive in the old town. It was still part of the Papal States when Rossini was born in 1792.

13 February 2016

Fire at Teatro di San Carlo

Royal theatre reopens quickly after blaze 

The damage wreaked by the 1816, captured in a painting by an unknown artist
The damage wreaked by the 1816 fire, captured in a
painting by an unknown artist
Fire broke out during a dress rehearsal for a ballet at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples on this day in 1816.

The flames spread quickly, destroying a large part of the building in less than an hour.

The external walls were the only things left standing, but on the orders of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, the prestigious theatre was rebuilt at once.

It was reconstructed following designs drawn up by architect Antonio Niccolini for a horseshoe-shaped auditorium with 1,444 seats. A stunning fresco was painted in the centre of the ceiling above the auditorium depicting a classical subject, Apollo presenting to Minerva the greatest poets of the world.

The rebuilding work took just ten months to complete and the theatre reopened to the public in January 1817.

Teatro di San Carlo had opened for the first time in 1737, way ahead of Teatro alla Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.

Gioachino Rossini is among the former artistic directors at San Carlo
Gioachino Rossini is among the former
artistic directors at San Carlo
Built in Via San Carlo close to Piazza Plebiscito, the main square in Naples, Teatro di San Carlo had quickly become one of the most important opera houses in Europe, known for its excellent productions.

The original theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I, and took only eight months to build.

The official inauguration was on the King’s saint’s day, the festival of San Carlo, on the evening of November 4. There was a performance of Achille in Sciro by Pietro Metastasio with music by Domenico Sarro, who also conducted the orchestra for the music for two ballets.

This was 41 years before La Scala and 55 years before La Fenice opened. San Carlo is now believed to be one of the oldest remaining opera houses in the world, if not the oldest.

Both Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti served as artistic directors at San Carlo and the world premieres of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini’s Mosè were performed there.

During the Second World War the theatre was damaged by bombs but after the liberation of Naples in 1943 it was repaired and was able to reopen.

Between 2008 and 2009 a major refurbishment was carried out but the theatre reopened again to the public in 2010.

Inside Teatro di San Carlo, looking down  from above the royal box
Inside Teatro di San Carlo, looking down
from above the royal box
Travel tip:

In the magnificent auditorium, the focal point is the royal box surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Opera enthusiasts can take a guided tour of the theatre and see the foyers, the auditorium, the boxes and the royal box. Tours run at 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 14.30, 15.30 and 16.30 between Monday and Saturday and at 10.30, 11.30 and 12.30 on Sundays. Booking is recommended.

Travel Tip:

Close to Teatro di San Carlo in the centre of ‘royal’ Naples, there are many other sights, such as Galleria Umberto I, Caffè Gambrinus, the church of San Francesco di Paola and Palazzo Reale, that are all well worth visiting.

More reading:

The 1996 fire that destroyed La Fenice opera house in Venice

How Pietro Metastasio progressed from street entertainer to renowned librettist

Donizetti - the musical genius born in a darkened basement

Also on this day:

(Painting: Rossini portrait by Vincenzo Camuccini, Museo del Teatro alla Scala in Milan) 

10 November 2015

Lord Byron in Venice

Romantic English poet finds renewed inspiration

Aristocratic English poet Lord Byron and his friend, John Cam Hobhouse, arrived in Venice for the first time on this day in 1816.

They put up at the Hotel Grande Bretagne on the Grand Canal and embarked on a few days of tourism.

Byron spent first night at an hotel on Grand Canal
But it was not long before Byron decided to move into an apartment just off the Frezzeria, a street near St Mark's Square, and settled down to enjoy life in the city that was to be his home for the next three years.

Byron has become one of Venice’s legends, perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of all its residents.

Tourists who came afterwards expected to see Venice through his eyes. Even the art critic, John Ruskin, has admitted that on his first visit he had come in search of Byron’s Venice.

Byron once wrote that Venice had always been ‘the greenest island of my imagination’ and he never seems to have been disappointed by it.

He also wrote in a letter to one of his friends that Venice was ‘one of those places that before he saw them he thought he already knew’. He said he appreciated the silence of the Venetian canals and the ‘gloomy gaiety’ of quietly passing gondolas.

He found the city inspiring for his poetry and was particularly impressed with the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and the Pozzi Prison, settings that were to feature in two of his dramas, Marino Faliero and The Two Foscari.

Byron wrote: “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, A palace and a prison on each hand…”
The Bridge of Sighs links the palace to the prison
It is believed he went to see the Bridge of Sighs on 11 November, the first morning after his arrival in the city and actually stood on the Ponte della Paglia, the bridge that stands between the Bridge of Sighs and the lagoon.

According to Ruskin, the view he saw that day became “the centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice’.

Travel tip:

From the San Zaccharia vaporetto stop head towards the Ponte della Paglia (literally Bridge of Straw) over the Rio di Palazzo canal that separates the Doge’s Palace from the prison. If the bridge is crowded, wait for a spot by the balustrades to become free to make sure you see the same view of the Bridge of Sighs that Byron had found so inspiring.

Travel tip:

To see Byron’s first lodgings in Venice, where he conducted his affair with the landlord’s wife, Marianna Segati, look for Calle della Piscina, off the Frezzeria, which is close to St Mark’s Square. Number 1673 marks the entrance to the rooms Byron rented nearly 200 years ago.