Showing posts with label 1866. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1866. Show all posts

24 June 2018

Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian 13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle
The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian
13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle.
An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.

Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.

King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.

The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.

The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.

The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia. The Austrians led by Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg marched west from Verona to the north of the Italian position, so as to cut them off from the rear.

But on June 24, La Marmora changed the direction of his front and ended up colliding head on with the Austrians.

When the Austrians reacted by attacking them, the Italians panicked and took up a defensive position. By the middle of the day La Marmora had ordered a retreat, little realising that by then another Italian division had captured Belvedere Hill, overlooking Custoza. The troops on the hill found themselves isolated and after a bombardment by Austrian guns were driven out of Custoza.

However, for a number of reasons the Austrian did not pursue the Italians, squandering the chance to destroy their army. Only a month later the Austrians were forced to surrender to the Prussians and give up Venetia.

Scenes from the Italian side of the Battle of Custoza were recreated in the 1954 Luchino Visconti film, Senso.

The Ossario di Custoza
The Ossario di Custoza
Travel tip:

Custoza is a village in the province of Verona in the Veneto. In memory of the two famous battles fought there during the wars for Italian independence, a memorial building, the Ossuary of Custoza - Ossario di Custoza - was built on the Belvedere Hill in 1879. Today, June 24, a ceremony will be held there to remember the soldiers who died on this day in the Battle of Custoza. For more information about the memorial, visit

The village of Custoza in the Veneto
The village of Custoza in the Veneto
Travel tip:

Custoza is also famous for producing the prestigious white wine, Bianco di Custoza, which is sometimes referred to as the white equivalent of the red wine, Bardolino, produced nearby in the town of Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. Bianco di Custoza is dry and smooth with flowery and fruity notes, with hints of apples, lemon peel and peaches that linger on the tongue. The wine is best drunk within a year of the grape harvest.


25 January 2017

Antonio Scotti - baritone

Neapolitan singer who played 35 seasons at the Met

Antonio Scotti in his most famous role as Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Antonio Scotti in his most famous role as
Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
The operatic baritone Antonio Scotti, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for a remarkable 35 consecutive seasons, was born on this day in 1866 in Naples.

Scotti's career coincided with those of many fine baritones and experts did not consider his voice to be among the richest. Yet what he lacked in timbre, he compensated for in musicality, acting ability and an instinctive grasp of dramatic timing.

Later in his career, he excelled in roles that emerged from the verismo movement in opera in the late 19th century, of which the composer Giacomo Puccini was a leading proponent, drawing on themes from real life and creating characters more identifiable with real people.

For a while, Scotti's portrayal of the chief of police Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, for example, was the yardstick against which all performances were measured, at least until Tito Gobbi's emergence in the 1930s.  Indeed, in 1924 the Met chose a gala presentation of Tosca as a fitting way for Scotti to mark the 25th anniversary of his debut there.

Scotti's parents in Naples were keen for him to enter the priesthood but he chose to pursue his ambitions in music. He received his first serious training at the Naples Conservatory under Esther Trifari-Paganini and Vincenzo Lombardi, who was the vocal coach employed by Enrico Caruso.

Most accounts of Scotti's career say he made his debut in Malta in 1889 in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida but some suggest he had already performed in public at the Circolo Filarmonico in Naples in Gaspare Spontini's La vestale.  What is agreed is that audiences and critics were impressed by the young baritone and he was soon being booked to appear elsewhere, not only in Italy but in Spain and Portugal, Russia and South America.

Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where Scotti made his debut in 1898 in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger
Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where Scotti made his debut
in 1898 in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger
His status as a singer destined for an illustrious career was confirmed when he made his debut at La Scala in Milan in 1898 in the role of Hans Sachs in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini.

He performed at Covent Garden in London for the first time in 1899 as Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera of the same name, in which he also made his New York debut in the same year.  He would return to Covent Garden almost every year until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Scotti's association with Baron Scarpia in Tosca began in 1901, when he became the first artist to sing the role in America.  He would go on to perform the role a further 216 times, playing opposite 15 different Toscas, including the beautiful American soprano Geraldine Farrar, with whom he was said to be infatuated.

Farrar had an affair with Toscanini and was rumoured to be involved romantically also with Caruso, who became Scotti's close friend, their careers at the Met running parallel.  Scotti was Rigoletto to Caruso's Duke of Mantua when the latter made his debut at the house in Verdi's opera in 1903 and they would share the stage on many occasions.

A dapper Antonio Scotti pictured in New  York in 1915 at the height of his fame
A dapper Antonio Scotti pictured in New
York in 1915 at the height of his fame
By the time he retired, Scotti had clocked up more than 1,200 performances with the Metropolitan Opera House Company, either in New York or on tour.  Among his other notable roles, he was Puccini's Marcello in La bohème and Sharpless in Madame Butterfly, each on more than 100 occasions.

From 1919 he also toured with his own troupe of singers, under the name of the Scotti Opera Company, although the venture was not a financial success.

His final Met appearance came in January 1933, shortly before his 67th birthday, when he sang Chim-Fen in Franco Leoni's one-act opera L'Oracolo, a role he had premiered at Covent Garden in 1905 and which he played in New York several times.  Despite a voice that was by then beginning to fail, a dynamic performance was still hailed as a fitting send-off.

Scotti made a number of recordings, including several duets with Caruso, Farrar and with the Polish coloratura soprano, Marcella Sembrich, although he did not enjoy the commercial success that came the way of Caruso.

He returned to Naples, intending to enjoy retirement in the city of his birth, but had not been able to turn his years of celebrity in New York into financial security and after three years in reduced circumstances, relying on money he was sent occasionally by sympathetic friends and fans in the United States, he died in hospital in 1936 from arterial disease.

Travel tip:

Milan's famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala - popularly known as La Scala - came into being in 1778.  It was at first called the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, having been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Hapsburg, of which the Duchy of Milan was at the time a part, as replacement for the Teatro Regio Ducale following a fire in 1776.  It was built on the site of the former church of Santa Maria alla Scala.  As with many theatres of the time, La Scala was also a casino, and opera-goers in the early days had to contend with the distraction of gambling activities taking place at the same time as the cast were performing on the stage.

The Naples Music Conservatory is next to the
Church of San Pietro a Majella 
Travel tip:

The Naples Music Conservatory occupies the former monastery adjoining the church of San Pietro a Majella at the western end of Via dei Tribunali, one of the three parallel streets running from east to west that mark the grid of the historic centre of the city, one of which - Via San Biagio dei Librai - is more commonly known as Spaccanapoli.  Formerly housed in the monastery of San Sebastiano, on the eastern side of Piazza Dante, the Conservatory moved to its present location in 1826.

More reading:

Also on this day:

1348: Devastating earthquake hits Friuli Venezia Giulia

(Picture credit: Church of San Pietro a Majella by Armando Mancini; via Wikimedia Commons)


23 July 2016

Francesco Cilea – opera composer

Calabrian remembered for beautiful aria Lamento di Federico 

The composer Francesco Cilea
Francesco Cilea
Composer Francesco Cilea was born on this day in 1866 in Palmi near Reggio di Calabria.

He is particularly admired for two of his operas, L’Arlesiana and Adriana Lecouvreur.

Cilea loved music from an early age. It is said that when he was just four years old he heard music from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, Norma, and was moved by it.

When he became old enough, he was sent to study music in Naples and at the end of his course of study there he submitted an opera he had written, Gina, as part of his final examination. When this was performed for the first time it attracted the attention of a music publisher who arranged for it to be performed again.

Cilea was then commissioned to produce a three-act opera, meant to be along the lines of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, by the same publisher.

The resulting work, La Tilda, was performed in several Italian theatres, but the orchestral score has been lost, which has prevented it from enjoying a modern revival.

In 1897, Cilea’s third opera, L’Arlesiana was premiered at the Teatro Lirico in Milan.

In the cast was the young Enrico Caruso, who performed, to great acclaim, the famous Lamento di Federico. This beautiful aria - often known by its opening line, È la solita storia del pastore, has kept the name of the opera alive until present day and it has been performed and recorded by many famous tenors over the years, including Luciano Pavarotti.

Enjoy Pavarotti singing Lamento di Federico

In 1902, Cilea’s opera, Adriana Lecouvreur was received enthusiastically at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, again starring Enrico Caruso. Around the same time, Cilea accompanied Caruso on the piano when he made one of his early recordings for the gramophone.

Cilea’s last opera, Gloria, was premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1907 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, but it was a failure and was withdrawn after only two performances.

After this Cilea turned his attention to teaching and became director of the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo, although he continued to compose chamber and orchestral music.

The Cilea Mausoleum in Palmi
The Cilea Mausoleum in Palmi
He supported the career of the Italian soprano, Magda Olivero, whose performances, in the title role of Adriana Lecouvreur, he particularly admired.

Cilea spent the last years of his life living in Varazze, near Savona in Liguria, and he died there in 1950.

Travel tip:

Palmi, where Francesco Cilea was born, is a small commune in the province of Reggio di Calabria in southern Iraly. A seaside resort, Palmi has been referred to as ‘the terrace on the strait of Messina.’ A mausoleum decorated with scenes from the myth of Orpheus, was built there in memory of Cilea.

The Teatro Cilea in Reggio di Calabria
The Teatro Cilea in Reggio di Calabria
Travel tip:

Reggio di Calabria, often referred to as Reggio Calabria, or simply Reggio, is the biggest city in the region of Calabria in southern Italy. The theatre in the city was renamed Teatro Comunale Francesco Cilea in the composer’s memory.

More reading:

The genius of Puccini

The dominance of Giuseppe Verdi

Lasting appeal of Enrico Caruso

(Photo of Cilea Mausoleum by Palminellafede CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Teatro Cilea by Franc rc CC BY-SA 3.0)