Showing posts with label 1853. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1853. Show all posts

14 December 2016

Errico Malatesta - anarchist

Middle-class boy who became notorious revolutionary

Errico Malatesta in a picture taken in 1890
Errico Malatesta in a picture taken in 1890
Errico Malatesta, one of the most prominent figures in the anarchist movement that flourished in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was born on this day in 1853 in the province of Caserta, in what is now Campania.

A committed revolutionary who was arrested for the first time at the age of 14, he spent more than 10 years of his life in prison and about 35 years in exile.

Apart from his activity in his own country, Malatesta helped organize anarchist revolutionary groups in several European countries, as well as in Egypt, and in North and South America, including Argentina, where he helped bakers form the country's first militant workers' union.

Born into a family of middle-class landowners in Santa Maria Capua Vetere in what was then the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Malatesta was arrested aged 14 for sending an "insolent and threatening letter" to King Victor Emmanuel II.

Although he would become closely associated with the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, Malatesta drew his first inspiration from Giuseppe Mazzini, the Italian revolutionary who was a driving force in the Risorgimento movement that culminated in the unification of Italy in 1871.

He studied medicine at Naples University until he was expelled in 1871 for taking part in a demonstration, after which he joined the Naples section of the International Workingmen's Association, A year later, met Bakunin for the first time at a congress of international socialist, communist and anarchist groups in Switzerland.

Giuseppe Mazzini was an early inspiration for Malatesta
Giuseppe Mazzini was an early
inspiration for Malatesta
Malatesta's ideals were based on the abolition of all government and all organisations that seek to create and impose laws, plus the end of private ownership of land, raw materials and work tools.  He proposed that societies function through the establishment of collective associations of producers and consumers working for the common interest and that patriotic nationalism and rivalries between countries be abolished by the removal of international borders.

To achieve these aims, however, required the overthrow of state rule and capitalism, and Malatesta fervently believed this would be best achieved by armed insurrection, which is why he spent much of his life trying not always successfully to avoid arrest.

After being imprisoned twice for spreading internationalist propaganda, Malatesta joined with fellow Italian anarchist Carlo Cafiero and the Russian Sergius Stepniak and others 1877 in leading an insurrection in the province of Benevento in Campania, which briefly gave them control of two villages, Letino and Gallo, and was greeted with approval by many residents, especially when they made a bonfire of taxation records.

However, they were soon captured by government troops and held in custody for 16 months.  By the time Malatesta was released the state's attitude to anarchism had hardened, particularly after an assassination attempt against King Umberto 1, and after a year of invasive surveillance he decided to live in exile.

He spent time in Egypt, Switzerland, Romania and France before establishing a home in London in 1881, to which he would periodically return for the next 40 years.

Rioters mounted barricades when troops were sent to quell the food riots in Milan in the late 1890s
Rioters mounted barricades when troops were sent
to quell the food riots in Milan in the late 1890s
His periods in Italy were usually terminated by arrest, notably in 1898 when he was drawn to join a growing anarchist movement among dockworkers in Ancona.  During street fights, he was quickly identified by police and spent much of 1898 and 1899 in jail, unable to participate in a period of prolonged social upheaval in Italy characterised by food riots, a massacre of demonstrators by troops in Milan and the beginnings of Fascism.

Malatesta was ultimately sent to a prison on the island of Lampedusa, but escaped and returned to London, where he lived a relatively quiet life as an electrician but gained notoriety by supplying oxyacetylene cutting equipment to a gang of Latvian revolutionaries so that they could break into the safe at a jewellers in Houndsditch.

The Houndsditch robbery, which resulted in the deaths of three policemen, led indirectly to the Siege of Sidney Street, where two of the robbers were tracked down and eventually killed at a house in Stepney.  Malatesta's cutting gear is on permanent display at the City of London Police Museum.

After the First World War, Malatesta returned to Italy for the final time. Soon arrested and imprisones again, he was released just before the Fascists came to power. However, Malatesta then defied Mussolini's ban on independent newspapers by publishing the journal Pensiero e Volontà - Thought and Will.  The publication was closed and Malatesta placed under house arrest.

He spent his final years earning a living as an electrician. He died in Rome from bronchial pneumonia in July, 1932, aged 78.

The remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Santa Maria Capua Vetere, where Malatesta was born
The remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Santa Maria
Capua Vetere, where Malatesta was born
Travel tip:

Santa Maria Capua Vetere, by which the oldest part of the city of Capua, north of Naples, is known, is notable for being the site of the second largest of all known Roman amphitheatres, with a length of 170 metres (560ft) and a width of 140m (460ft). Only the Colosseum in Rome (188m by 156m) is bigger.  Built in the time of Augustus, restored by Hadrian and dedicated by Antoninus Pius, the amphitheatre originally had 80 Doric arcades of four stories each, but only two arches now remain.  The interior is better preserved and beneath the arena is a complex system of subterranean passages.

Travel tip:

The island of Lampedusa, where Malatesta was imprisoned before escaping to London in 1899, is the southernmost part of Italy. It is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento, although the nearest landfall is Tunisia, about 113km (70 miles) away. It has a historic claim to be part of Malta when that island was a British colony.  Lampedusa's Rabbit Beach was once voted as the world's best beach by the travel website, Tripadvisor. In recent years, Lampedusa has become a primary European entry point for migrants from Africa.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

How Republican activist Giovanni Passannante tried to kill Umberto I

Giuseppe Pinelli - anarchist whose 'accidental death' inspired Dario Fo play

Also on this day:

1784: Birth of Maria Antonia, Neapolitan princess who lived sad, short life

(Photo of amphitheatre by Nicolo d'Orta via Wikimedia Commons)


6 March 2016

La traviata - the world's favourite opera

Verdi's masterpiece performed for the first time

The poster advertising the first performance of Verdi's famous opera at Teatro La Fenice in Venice
The poster advertising the first performance of Verdi's
famous opera at Teatro La Fenice in Venice
Giuseppe Verdi's opera, La traviata, was performed in front of a paying audience for the first time on this day in 1853.

The premiere took place at Teatro La Fenice, the opera house in Venice with which Verdi had a long relationship, one that saw him establish his fame as a composer.  La traviata would ultimately cement his reputation as a master of opera after the success of Rigoletto and Il trovatore.

La traviata has become the world's favourite opera, inasmuch as no work has been performed more often, yet the reception for the opening performance was mixed, to say the least.

Reportedly there was applause and cheering at the end of the first act but a much changed atmosphere in the theatre in the second act, during which some members of the audience jeered.  Their displeasure was said to be aimed in part at the two male principals, the baritone Felice Varesi and the tenor Lodovico Graziani, neither of whom was at his best.  There was also criticism of the soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli, the first to be given the role of Violetta, the opera's heroine.

Although an acclaimed singer, Salvini-Donatelli was 38 years old and somewhat overweight, whereas Verdi's character was both young and slight and, of course, would ultimately die from consumption.  Verdi had tried in vain to persuade the manager at La Fenice to re-cast the role with a younger singer.  He had also been overruled over his wish to give the opera a modern setting, in which he had the support of the librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, because the management insisted that the story be set in the past, in around 1700.

Dismayed, Verdi condemned the premiere as a failure, making it clear that he blamed the choice of singers.  Impresarios from other cities were eager to put on their own productions but Verdi was reluctant to allow the opera to be staged anywhere if he could not be given assurances over the casting.

In the end, more than a year after its debut, he allowed the opera to be performed again at Teatro San Benedetto, also in Venice, with the much younger Maria Spezia-Aldighieri in the role of Violetta. This time it was a huge success.

La traviata -- generally translated as 'the fallen woman' -- is the story of the ailing courtesan Violetta, who initially resists but then falls for a young admirer, Alfredo, for whom she gives up her party life in Paris to settle in the countryside.

Their blissful relationship is shattered, however, when Violetta is persuaded by Alfredo's father to turn away from his son for the sake of his daughter, whose own engagement is threatened because of the family's links with a courtesan.

Placido Domingo has played tenor and baritone roles in La Traviata
Plácido Domingo, who has sung both
tenor and baritone roles in La traviata
Photo: Rmm413 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Unaware of the truth, Alfredo suspects Violetta's former lover, Baron Douphal, of being behind her change of heart, and confronts the two at a party in Paris.  Ultimately, having got the better of the Baron at the gaming table, Alfredo insults Violetta by throwing his winnings at her feet as payment for her services.

They are reconciled only when Violetta falls gravely ill with tuberculosis, or consumption as it was then called, and Alfredo's father tells him the truth just in time for him to arrive at her bedside and ask for forgiveness moments before she dies in his arms.

Verdi based the story of that of a real Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who similarly died from consumption but was immortalised by Alexandre Dumas fils, the French writer and dramatist, in his novel, La Dame aux Camélias, based on the relationship he had with Duplessis.

A huge success after it was published just eight months after her death, the novel was turned into a stage drama by Dumas and Verdi is said to have seen it while staying in Paris with his lover, the singer Giuseppina Strepponi.

As well as being performed at opera houses around the world, La traviata has twice been made into a film, notably by Franco Zeffirelli in 1982, when Plácido Domingo starred as Alfredo opposite the Canadian soprano, Teresa Stratas.  Domingo, then only 41, has in more recent years taken the role of Alfredo's father, Giorgio, which is normally assigned to a baritone.

A lavish new production, directed by the American film director Sofia Coppola with the support of the fashion designer, Valentino, is to be staged at the Opera of Rome in May of this year.

The Teatro San Benedetto, which is nowadays a cinema, was Venice's major opera venue before La Fenice
The Teatro San Benedetto, which is nowadays a cinema,
was Venice's major opera venue before La Fenice
Travel tip:

The Teatro San Benedetto, which was situated just 200 metres away from La Fenice's location in the San Marco district of Venice, predates La Fenice and itself staged the premieres of more than 140 operas but after a legal battle in the late 18th century forced a change of ownership the theatre declined in importance.  Its name changed to Teatro Venier, Teatro Gallo and finally Teatro Rossini, in honour of the opera composer Gioachino Rossini but as La Fenice flourished it never regained its position as Venice's major opera venue.  In the 1930s it was remodelled as a cinema and although the original building was demolished in 1951 the theatre was reconstructed on the same site in Salita del Teatro and now forms part of the Multisala Rossini, which is Venice's largest cinema.

The statue of Verdi can be found in his home town of Busetto in Emilia-Romagna
The statue of Verdi in Busseto
Photo: Viva-Verdi (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Verdi was born at Le Roncole, a village in the Parma province of Emilia-Romagna in 1813 and moved in 1824 to the nearby town of Busseto, which stages an annual opera competition, Voci Verdiane (Verdian Voices), and has a number of monuments to the composer, including the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi.  The Casa Barezzi, close to Busseto's main square, was the home of Antonio Barezzi, Verdi's first patron.  Since 2001 it has housed a permanent exhibition of objects and documents relating to Verdi, including his first portrait and a number of letters.  For more information, visit

Busseto hotels from

More reading:

Verdi - Italy's mourning for the death of a national symbol

Rigoletto's debut at La Fenice

How rival fans wrecked the premiere of Rossini's Barber of Seville

Also on this day:

1483: The birth of historian Francesco Guicciardini

1933: The birth of Augusto Odone, inventor of 'Lorenzo's oil'



19 January 2016

Il trovatore – opera

Verdi masterpiece is regularly performed all over the world 

One of the most successful operas composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Il trovatore was first staged on this day in 1853 in Rome.

Verdi's opera Il Trovatore premiered at Teatro Apollo in Rome
Giuseppe Verdi
The four act opera was based on a play by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez about a troubadour, the son of a gypsy woman, who is in love with a lady in waiting at a Spanish castle.

After its premiere, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the opera became a  big success and in the first three years there were 229 productions of it worldwide.

In Naples alone there were 11 different productions in six theatres, including Teatro San Carlo, during the first three years.

The opera was first performed in America by the Max Maretzek Opera Company in 1855. The Metropolitan Opera in New York have performed it more than 600 times since it was first staged there in 1883.

Verdi was asked to prepare a French version of the opera in 1855, Le Trouvère, and to include music for a ballet. It was first performed in French in 1857 in Paris when Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugènie went to see it.

Listen to the Anvil Chorus, performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in 2012

Along with Rigoletto and La traviata, Il trovatore is believed by experts to represent Verdi at the height of his artistry in the middle of his career.

The Anvil Chorus, or Gypsy Chorus, in Act Two has become one of the best-known passages of opera.

Nowadays, almost all performances of Il trovatore are in Italian and the opera is one of the most regularly performed worldwide.

Teatro Apollo, on the banks of the Tiber, staged many Verdi operas
The memorial in Rome on the
site of the Teatro Apollo

Travel tip:

Teatro Apollo in Rome was created from a medieval tower, the Torre dell’Annona, which had once acted as a prison. It became the Teatro Tordinona in the 17th century and then the Teatro Apollo in the late 18th century. The biggest theatre in Rome, it hosted the premieres of two Verdi operas but was demolished in 1888 when the embankments of the Tiber were built. A white marble fountain remains as a memorial, marking the sport where the theatre once stood.

Travel tip:

Teatro San Carlo in Naples is thought to be the oldest opera house in the world, opening in 1737 close to Piazza Plebiscito, the main square in the city. The theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I, and took just eight months to build. In the magnificent auditorium, the focal point is the royal box surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.