Showing posts with label 2013. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2013. Show all posts

29 May 2017

Franca Rame – actress, writer and politician

Artistic collaborator and wife of Dario Fo

Franca Rame in a publicity shot from a brief but unsuccessful movie career
Franca Rame in a publicity shot from a
brief but unsuccessful movie career
The actress and writer Franca Rame, much of whose work was done in collaboration with her husband, the Nobel Prize-winning actor, playwright and satirist Dario Fo, died in Milan on this day in 2013 at the age of 83.

One of Italy's most admired and respected stage performers, her contribution to Dario Fo’s work was such that his 1997 Nobel prize for literature probably should have been a joint award. In the event, on receipt of the award, Fo announced he was sharing it with his wife.

Rame was also a left-wing militant. A member of the Italian Communist Party from 1967, she was elected to the Italian senate in 2006 under the banner of the Italy of Values party, a centre-left anti-corruption grouping led by Antonio di Pietro, the former prosecutor who had led the Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) corruption investigation in the 1990s.

Later she was an independent member of the Communist Refoundation Party.  Her political views often heavily influenced her writing, in which her targets tended to be the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church.  She was also an outspoken champion of women’s rights.

Her politics made her some enemies, however.  In 1973, she was kidnapped at gunpoint on a Milan street by a group of neo-Fascist men who raped and tortured her. When she was released, the group said it was revenge against her and Fo for their political activism.

Franca Rame in 1952, when she began her relationship with Dario Fo after they met through work
Franca Rame in 1952, when she began her relationship
with Dario Fo after they met through work
Born in Parabiago, a town of almost 30,000 people in the north-western quarter of the Milan metropolitan area, Rame was the daughter of an actor and a militant socialist father and a strict Catholic mother. She was almost born on the stage, appearing in a performance with her mother when she was only eight days old.

At the age of 18, and with the photogenic looks of a 1950s blonde bombshell, she began a theatre career in Milan. She met Dario Fo when they were members of the same company. Fo was smitten from an early stage and to his surprise and delight the attraction was mutual. They married in 1954 and their son Jacopo, now himself a writer, was born in 1955.

Rame had a brief but only modestly successful movie career before switching her focus to the theatre. As a professional partnership, she and Fo's first hit, Gli Arcangeli non Giacano a Flipper – Archangels Don’t Play Pinball – played at the Odeon theatre in Milan in 1959, where they were subsequently invited to write and perform a new play every year. 

Subsequent successes included Isabella, Tre Caravelle e un Cacciaballe – Isabella, Three Sailing Ships and a Con Man – set in Spain in the early years of the inquisition, in which Rame played Queen Isabella.

Dario Fo with Franca Rame and their son Jacopo
Dario Fo with Franca Rame and their son Jacopo
In time, however, they gave up commercial theatre in favour of forming co-operative groups and in 1970 founded their own militant theatre group, La Comune, based at the Palazzina Liberty, an abandoned pavilion. It was there that Rame starred in Fo’s acclaimed Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! (Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!) and that she wrote and performed in a one-woman show Tutta Casa, Letto e Chiesa (It’s All Bed, Board and Church).

Their relationship was turbulent at times and at one stage she announced their separation. Yet they patched up their differences and even sent themselves up in a play, Coppia Aperta (The Open Couple).

Rame and Fo were particularly despairing of Italy’s support for Silvio Berlusconi when the country shifted to the right in the 1990s, even more when he was granted a return to power in 2001. Their play L’Anomalo Bicefalo (The Two Headed Anomaly), a satire about a political rally in Sicily which features an assassination attempt on Berlusconi and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, infuriated Berlusconi when Rame’s performance in a comic scene as his wife, Veronica, was praised by Veronica herself.

Her opposition to Berlusconi was part of her motivation for joining forces with Di Pietro, for whom Berlusconi’s scorn had been undisguised during the Mani Pulite trials, prior to her election to the senate.

Rame is buried at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Prepositurale church in Parabiago
The Prepositurale church in Parabiago
Travel tip:

Parabiago grew as an industrial centre in the 1960s, when its footwear industry, established in the late 19th century, enjoyed a boom. It became known as The City of the Shoe. Notable churches include the Prepositurale church dedicated to saints Gervasio and Protasio, built in 1610 on the orders of the Bishop of Milan, San Carlo Borromeo. The neoclassical fa├žade, added between 1780 and 1781, was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini. Parabiago is also home to Villa Maggi-Corvini , or simply Villa Corvini, located at the beginning of the historic Via Santa Maria. The villa is part of the Parco Corvini municipal park, which is open to the public.

The Palazzina Liberty used to be the cafeteria-restaurant at the Verziere market in Milan
The Palazzina Liberty used to be the cafeteria-restaurant
at the Verziere market in Milan
Travel tip:

The Palazzina Liberty in Milan’s Parco Vittorio Formentano, on the eastern side of the city centre, was built in 1908 to house the cafeteria-restaurant in the Verziere fruit and vegetable market but fell into disuse when the market moved to a different location. Dario Fo took it over in the 1970s and in 1980 it became home to Milan’s civic orchestra before being renovated in 1992 and opened as a cultural and recreational facility for the city, hosting orchestral concerts, film festivals and poetry events among other things.

9 May 2017

Ottavio Missoni - fashion designer

Former prisoner of war was also an Olympic hurdler

The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni with his wife Rosita on the lawn of their mansion in Sumirago in 1975
The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni with his wife Rosita on
the lawn of their mansion in Sumirago in 1975
The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni died on this day in 2013 at the age of 92 following an extraordinary life.

He passed away at his home in Sumirago, 55km (34 miles) north-west of Milan, having requested his release from hospital in order to spend his last days with his family.

Missoni was the co-founder of the Italian fashion brand Missoni, which he set up in 1953 with his wife, Rosita. The company became known around the world for its brightly coloured geometric knits and zigzag patterns and were among the pioneers of Italian ready-to-wear clothing lines.

Earlier, he had been an infantryman during the Second World War, fighting at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. He was captured by the 7th Armoured Division of the British Army, popularly known as the Desert Rats, and spent the remainder of the war in an English prisoner-of-war camp in Egypt.

After the war, he pursued his passion for competitive athletics, becoming good enough to be selected in the Italian team for the 1948 Olympics in London, where he reached the final of the 400m hurdles event.

Missoni was born in Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast, in 1921. His mother was a countess, his father, Vittorio, a Friulian sea captain who had moved to Dalmatia while it was under Austrian rule. He grew up in Zadar, now part of Croatia but then called Zara and part of Italian territory, before going to college in Trieste and Milan.

The Missoni logo
He had participated in athletics events before the war. A member of the Italian national team at 16, he took part in an international meeting in Milan in 1937 in which he won the 400m in a time of 48.8 second, which remains the fastest for his age in Italian track history. In 1939, over the same distance, he won a gold medal at the International University Games in Vienna.

Sport provided his entry into the fashion business. Back home after the war, Missoni and his fellow athlete Giorgio Oberweger opened a business in Trieste making wool tracksuits, which they called Venjulia suits.

The tracksuits featured zippered legs, which Missoni has been credited with inventing. The Venjulia suits recognised the need of athletes for functional, warm garments enabling freedom of movement. In fact, they were worn by the Italian Olympic team in 1948.

It was while in London that he met 16-year-old Rosita Jelmini, an English student from Golasecca, Italy, who watched him compete.  They married in 1953, and their first son, Vittorio, was born in 1954. Luca (1956) and Angela (1958) followed.

Rosita’s family had a textiles business, making shawls, and together she and Ottavio set up a machine-knitwear workshop in Gallarate, not far from Sumirago and the town in which Rosita grew up. 

Soon they were supplying designs to the Biki boutique in Milan and to La Rinascente, the department store, where the first Missoni-labelled garments, a line of colourful vertically striped shirt-dresses, were displayed in the window in 1958. 

Ottavio Missoni in 2010
They held their first catwalk show in 1966, and the following year, presented a show at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, which landed them in controversy after the show’s lighting had the effect of turning the models’ clothing see-through, a misfortune made worse by the fact that most of the models went without underwear so as not to spoil the line of the clothes they were showing off. The show was likened to a bawdy cabaret and the Missonis were not invited back.

However, the publicity the scandal attracted helped the Missonis. Their next presentation, in Milan, drew much press attention and, as Milan grew as a fashion capital, the Missonis went on to feature in many leading fashion magazines. 

With a new factory in Sumirago, in a beautiful country setting in the shadow of Monte Rosa, they opened their first in-store boutique at Bloomingdale's in New York in 1970. Their first directly-owned boutique in Milan followed in 1976. 

The company enjoyed such heights of prestige that in 1983 they were invited to design the stage costumes for a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, starring Luciano Pavarotti, and in 1990 some of the costumes for the opening ceremony for the football World Cup.

In 1997, Ottavio and Rosita retired, entrusted the future of the business in their children, appointing Vittorio as marketing director and Angela as creative director, with Luca taking a technical role. The company expanded into furniture and car interiors and even set up a chain of boutique hotels.

Sadly, tragedy struck the family shortly before Ottavio died when Vittorio was killed, along with his wife, Maurizia, when a small plane in which they were travelling crashed off the coast of Venezuela.

Travel tip:

As the crow flies, the city of Zadar in Croatia is 206km (128 miles) south-east of Trieste along the Dalmatian coast. At the time of Missoni’s birth it was called Zara, and was on Italian territory as part of the settlement of the Treaty of Rapallo, which rewarded Italy’s participation on the side of the Triple Entente (France, Russia and the United Kingdom) in defeating Germany in the First World War. With considerable Venetian influence, having for many years between the 13th and 18th centuries been part of the Republic of Venice, it is a city with a strong Italian flavour, retaining its beauty despite being bombed heavily during the Second World War.

Travel tip:

Sumirago, where Missoni made his home, is 15km (9 miles) south of Varese, a pleasant town a short distance from Lake Maggiore and overlooking its own picturesque lake. Well known as the location of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which is scaled along a 2.5km path that passes 14 monuments built in the early part of the 17th century, it is also home of the imposing Palazzo Estense and Villa Recalcati. Varese also has a cathedral, the Basilica di San Vittore, who can be found in an elegant square in the historic centre.