Showing posts with label Ennio Morricone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ennio Morricone. Show all posts

16 October 2018

Dino Buzzati - author

Novelist likened to Camus whose short stories remain popular

Dino Buzzati was a journalist, author and painter in an extraordinary career
Dino Buzzati was a journalist, author and
painter in an extraordinary career
The multi-talented author Dino Buzzati, whose output included five novels, several theatre and radio plays, a children’s novel, five opera libretti, some poetry, a comic book in which he also drew the illustrations, and several books of short stories, was born on this day in 1906 in Belluno.

Buzzati’s most famous novel, Il deserto dei Tartari (1940), titled The Tartar Steppe in the English translation, saw Buzzati compared to Albert Camus and Franz Kafka as a work of existentialist style, but it is for his short stories that he still wins acclaim.

A new collection entitled Catastrophe and Other Stories, which showcases Buzzati’s talent for weaving nightmarish fantasy into ordinary situations, was published earlier this year.

Buzzati, who worked as journalist for the whole of his adult life and also painted prolifically, was the second of four children born to Giulio Cesare Buzzati, a distinguished professor of international law, and Alba Mantovani, a veterinarian born in Venice.

The family’s main home was in Milan but they had a summer villa in San Pellegrino, a village just outside Belluno in the foothills of the Dolomites, which was where Dino was born.

Dino Buzzati, pictured in his studio, was almost as prolific as a painter as he was a writer
Dino Buzzati, pictured in his studio, was almost as
prolific as a painter as he was a writer
After studying at high school in the Brera district of Milan, Buzzati enrolled in the law faculty at the University of Milan in respect for his father, who had died when he was only 14. After graduating, he joined the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, beginning a relationship that would be maintained until his death in 1972.

At different times he was a war correspondent, embedded with the Italian navy, editor, essayist, foreign correspondent, crime reporter and art critic.

He began to write fiction in the early 1930s with two novels set in the mountains, inspired by the landscapes around Belluno. Barnabò delle montagne (Barnabus of the Mountains, 1933) and Il segreto del bosco vecchio (The Secret of the Ancient Wood, 1935), both of which were made into films in the 1990s, introduced the Kafkaesque surrealism, symbolism, and absurdity that was a characteristic of all his writing.

Buzzati pictured near the offices of Corriere della Sera on Via Solferino in Milan
Buzzati pictured near the offices of Corriere
della Sera
on Via Solferino in Milan
The novel generally considered his finest, Il deserto dei Tartari, a tale of garrison troops at a frontier military post, poised in expectancy for an enemy who never comes and unable to go forward or retreat, drew comparisons with Camus’s philosophical essay The Myth of Sysyphus.

The novel was turned into a movie in 1976 under the direction of Valerio Zurlini and starring Vittorio Gassman and Giuliano Gemma, with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.

Buzzati’s collections of short stories include Sessanta racconti (Sixty Tales, 1958), while other novels include Il grande ritratto (Larger Than Life, 1960), a science fiction novel, and Un amore (A Love Affair, 1963). 

Of his plays, which were hugely popular, the most important is Un caso clinico (A Clinical Case, 1953), a Kafkaesque horror story in which medical specialists and machinery freakishly kill a perfectly healthy man. His children’s novel, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia (The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, 1945) is still a favourite today.

Buzzati’s paintings ranged from his early landscapes, depicting his beloved mountains, to the Italian black comic art and the pop art that dominated his work in the 1960s.  His most famous painting is probably his Piazza del Duomo (1952), in which Milan cathedral’s distinctive grid of pinnacles and spires becomes a jagged Dolomite mountain, surrounded by green pastures.

He was also a devotee of the opera, writing the libretto for four operas for which the music was composed by his friend, Luciano Chailly.  Away from his extraordinary productivity in words and pictures, he would spend every September in the mountains around Belluno, climbing difficult routes in the company of mountain guides.

Buzzati, who did not marry until he was almost 60 years old, died in 1972 after developing pancreatic cancer. His ashes were scattered on Croda di Lago, a mountain in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Piazza dei Martiri is one of the central squares in the beautiful town of Belluno in northern Veneto
Piazza dei Martiri is one of the central squares in the
beautiful town of Belluno in northern Veneto
Travel tip:

Belluno, in the Veneto region, is a beautiful town in the Dolomites, situated just over 100km (62 miles) north of Venice, more than 325km (200 miles) from Milan. It occupies an elevated position above the Piave river surrounded by rocky slopes and dense woods that make for an outstanding scenic background. The architecture of the historic centre has echoes of the town's Roman and medieval past. Around the picturesque Piazza Duomo can be found several fine buildings, such as the Palazzo dei Rettori, the Cathedral of Belluno and Palazzo dei Giuristi, which contains the Civic Museum.

The Villa Buzzati is now available for guests to stay in  bed and breakfast accommodation
The Villa Buzzati is now available for guests to stay in
bed and breakfast accommodation
Travel tip:

Visitors to Belluno can stay at Buzzati’s family villa in Via Visome, about 4km (2.5 miles) from the centre of the town. It is managed by Valentina Morassutti, whose grandmother was Dino Buzzati’s sister.  The Villa Buzzati has two rooms that are available all year round for guests wishing to stay on a bed and breakfast basis. On the first Sunday of each month from April to October, Morassutti can arrange small-group visits to the Villa and the places that were dear to Buzzati.

More reading:

Why Alberto Moravia is remembered as a major literary figure

The brilliance of Strega Prize winning novelist Corrado Alvaro

What made Vittorio Gassman one of Italy's finest actors

Also on this day:

1885: The birth of athlete Dorando Pietri, famous for being disqualified

1978: The election of Pope John Paul II


29 August 2018

Tiziana ‘Tosca’ Donati - singer

Versatile performer whose range spans musicals to sacred songs

The singer Tiziana Donati, known as Tosca, during one of her stage performances
The singer Tiziana Donati, known as Tosca, during
one of her stage performances
The singer Tiziana Donati, who performs under the stage name Tosca, was born on this day in 1967 in Rome.

Winner of the Sanremo Festival in 1996, Tosca has recorded 10 studio albums, released the same number of singles and has recorded duets with many other artists.

She has enjoyed a successful stage career, appearing in numerous theatrical productions, and has been invited to perform songs for several movies, including the title track for Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Jane Eyre in 1996. She also sang and spoke the part of Anastasia in the Italian dubbed version of the Disney cartoon of the same name.

At Christmas in 1999, she participated in concerts in churches in Italy where she performed Latin songs set to music by Vincenzo Zitello and Stefano Melone.

Following this she began a collaboration with the Vatican, taking part in several televised events to commemorate the Jubilee of 2000, and was chosen to sing the Mater Iubilaei, the Marian anthem of the Jubilee, in a ceremony led by Pope John Paul II.

Throughout 2000, she toured with Musica Caeli, a concert made up of never-before performed sacred chants, staged in some of the biggest churches and cathedrals around the world.

Tosca was spotted singing in a piano bar in Rome in the 1990s before winning the Sanremo Festival in 1996
Tosca was spotted singing in a piano bar in Rome in the
1990s before winning the Sanremo Festival in 1996
Tiziana said her love of singing began as a child when she suffered from acute articular rheumatism, a debilitating health condition affecting the joints that prevented her taking part in normal activities.  She did, however, accompany her grandmother to church almost every day and soon set her heart on becoming a member of the choir.

She went along to choir practice and was accepted and drew a sense of pride and self-worth from being asked to stand on a chair and sing at family occasions. Singing and later acting gave her a sense of purpose.

In her teens, Donati joined a theatre company in Rome and began singing in a piano bar in the city, where she was spotted by Renzo Arbore, a musician and television presenter, who invited to sing on the show Il caso Sanremo, a unique programme in which winning songs from different years of the Sanremo Festival were placed on “trial” in a set made to resemble a courtroom.

The exposure propelled her into the public eye. She adopted Tosca as a stage name and released her first album in 1992.

Tiziana Donati pictured during a studio recording session with fellow musician Chico Buarque
Tiziana Donati pictured during a studio recording
session with fellow musician Chico Buarque
Her big break, though, was winning Sanremo itself in 1996 with Vorrei incontrarti fra cent'anni - I Want To Meet You In One Hundred Years - a song written by Rosalino Cellamare, who performed under the stage name Ron, and who also provided backing vocals and guitar.

After another appearance at Sanremo the following year, she released an album, entitled Incontri e passaggi of songs written for her by artists such as Lucio Dalla, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Grazia Di Michele, Ennio Morricone and Mariella Nava, which won her the Targa Tenco prize as the year’s outstanding performer.

Since 2000, Donati has mixed concerts with stage shows and musicals and has recently worked as a section director at the Pasolini Workshop in Rome, a venture - named in honour of the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini - run in collaboration with the University of Rome and the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia to unearth and nurture new talent.

Still in demand today for high-profile roles, recently starring at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in the touring show Donne come noi - Women Like Us - based on a book of the same name about 100 Italian women who have changed their lives and those of others.

Last year, Tosca celebrated her life in music with a sell-out concert at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome in which she was joined on stage by artists including Nicola Piovani, Danilo Rea and Joe Barbieri, all of whom had become friends at different points of her career.

The saxophonist Bobby Watson has performed at Gregory's in Rome
The saxophonist Bobby Watson has
performed at Gregory's in Rome
Travel tip:

One of Rome’s traditional music venues is the jazz club Gregory’s, which can be found in Via Gregoriana, a short walk from Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti. The club has a ‘hall of fame’ that includes the likes of Bobby Durham, Victor Lewis, Steve Grossman, Gregory Hutchinson, Bobby Watson and Scott Hamilton, all of whom have performed at the venue.  The club hosts live sets almost every night, starting at around 9.30pm. A sister venue, Gregory’s By The River, stages live music during the summer months on the edge of the Tiber at Castel Sant’Angelo.

The Teatro Argentina in Rome is one of the city's  oldest opera houses, inaugurated in 1732
The Teatro Argentina in Rome is one of the city's
oldest opera houses, inaugurated in 1732
Travel tip:

The Teatro Argentina, where Tosca recently performed in the show Donne come noi, is a traditional opera venue in the square Largo di Torre Argentina. Built over the Curia of Pompey - the meeting hall in which Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC - it is one of the oldest theatres in the city, commissioned by the Sforza-Cesarini family and inaugurated in 1732. Rossini's The Barber of Seville was given its premiere there in February 1816. It has staged drama productions as well as opera and music. In the mid-20th centuries, works by Luigi Pirandello, Henrik Ibsen and Maxim Gorky were performed there for the first time.

More reading:

How Enrico Caruso inspired Lucio Dalla

Why Sanremo winner Adriano Celentano is Italy's biggest-selling recording artist of all time

The Barber of Seville premieres at Teatro Argentina

Also on this day:

1875: The birth of flautist Lorenzo De Lorenzo

1991: Anti-Mafia hero Libero Grassi is murdered in Palermo


27 May 2018

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films in his native Sicily
Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films
in his native Sicily
The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.

The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by the composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting theme captures the beautiful poignancy of the movie.

Morricone worked with Tornatore on many of his films, including two other magically crafted works in Baarìa, set in his home town of Bagheria, and Malèna, which has the model and actress Monica Bellucci in the title role, another Sicilian story of a 12-year-old boy’s obsessive love for a beautiful young woman.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most
famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Tornatore initially worked as a photographer, seeing his efforts published in various photographic magazines. By the age of 16, he staged had staged two plays, by Luigi Pirandello and Eduardo De Filippo, and then began making documentary films for TV, beginning a long association with Rai in his early 20s.

In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with Il camorrista, starring the American actor Ben Gazzara, taken from a book by Giuseppe Marrazzo about a petty criminal in Naples, Raffaele Cutolo, who uses a spell in the Poggioreale prison to form the mafia organisation Nuova Camorra Organizzata, which would go on to become one of the most powerful criminal groups in Italy.  The movie earned him a Silver Ribbon as best new director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Cinema Paradiso was only his second film, confirming the arrival of a new talent to rival some of the greats of the post-War era of Italian cinema, although the movie was almost written off as a flop.  When it was released in Italy in 1988, it did little to excite Italian audiences and takings were poor.

Yet the manager of a small cinema in Sicily, who had warmed to its theme, kept it on, inviting cinema-goers to watch it for nothing and then pay at the end if they liked it.  The offer was taken up in increasing numbers and gradually the film acquired almost a cult following. It won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which gave it the springboard that would eventually lead to the Oscars the following year.

Tornatore’s body of work is not huge, amounting to only a dozen feature films in more than 30 years. The love of his native Sicily is a recurring theme and inevitably his movies are beautifully crafted.

In addition to the Oscar and Golden Globe for Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore has won four Best Director awards at the David di Donatellos - the premier awards ceremony in Italy - for L’uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1986), La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (The Legend of 1900, 1998), La sconoscuita (The Unknown Woman, 2006) and his English language film The Best Offer (2013).

The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic
Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
Travel tip:

Just 15km from Palermo in a southeast direction along the coast, Bagheria, which occupies an elevated position a short distance from the sea, has an atmosphere of a traditional Sicilian town and as well as featuring both in Cinema Paradiso and Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - it was also used for some scenes in The Godfather Part III. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.

The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for open-air concerts in the summer months
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for
open-air concerts in the summer months
Travel tip:

Very much mimicking the Oscars, the David di Donatello awards were conceived in 1955 as a way to recognise the best of Italian cinema and promote the movie industry. Like the Oscars, the award itself is a gold-plated statuette, in this case a replica of the statue of David sculpted by Donatello, probably in around 1430-40, and currently housed in the Bargello museum in Florence. Between 1957 and 1980, the awards were presented at the open air Greek Teatre in Taormina.

Also on this day:

1508: The death of Lucrezia Crivelli, the 'mystery' woman of a Da Vinci painting

1944: The birth of Bruno Vespa, the face of Italy's long-running late night politics show Porta a Porta


15 May 2018

Pippo Barzizza - band leader

Musician was an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing 

Pippo Barzizza became known in Italy as the 'king of jazz' in the 1930s
Pippo Barzizza became known in Italy as the
'king of jazz' in the 1930s
The musician and bandleader Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Barzizza, who helped popularise jazz and swing music in Italy during a long and successful career, was born on this day in 1902 in Genoa.

Barzizza was active in music for eight decades but was probably at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 40s, when he led the Blue Star and Cetra orchestras.

He continued to be a major figure in popular music until the 1960s and thereafter regularly came out of retirement to show that his talents had not waned.  He died at his home in Sanremo in 1994, just a few weeks before his 93rd birthday.

As well as arranging the music of others, Barzizza wrote more than 200 songs of his own in his lifetime, and helped advance the careers of such singers as Alberto Rabagliati, Otello Boccaccini, Norma Bruni, Maria Jottini and Silvana Fioresi among others.

In addition to his skills as a writer, conductor and orchestra leader, Barzizza was an accomplished player of a range of instruments, including violin, piano, saxophone, banjo and accordion.

A child prodigy on the violin, Barzizza was able to play a Mozart symphony almost before he could read. He listened to his father’s records - in those days phonographic cylinders - and had an enthusiasm for classical music and opera.

Barzizza, third from the right, with members of his famous Blue Star orchestra
Barzizza, third from the right, with members of his
famous Blue Star orchestra
He continued to study music through secondary school and college, while at the same time obtaining high level qualifications as an engineer. By then he had acquired an increasing fund of musical knowledge and was at home on the piano or in the brass section as on the violin. While not studying, he was lead violinist at the Teatro Politeama in Genoa and played music to accompany the silent movies at the cinema near his home.

Living in Genoa meant there were opportunities to play not only in theatres but on cruise ships and ocean liners and it was when he sailed to New York that he first heard jazz and swing music.

In 1922 he joined the orchestra of Armando di Piramo, a famous conductor and arranger of the day, and though his career was immediately interrupted by national service he put his time in the Italian Army to good use by founding a military orchestra. After he was demobbed, he settled in Milan.

There he made his first recording, on the saxophone, and began to write music both for Di Piramo and others. In 1925 came the foundation of the Blue Star orchestra, which was to make him famous. Composed of musicians Barzizza had hand picked, applying exacting standards for their musical proficiency, Blue Star made their debut at the Sempioncino variety theatre in Milan in July 1925.

Alberto Rabagliati, the singer Barzizza turned into a major star
Alberto Rabagliati, the singer Barzizza
turned into a major star
By the early 1930s, Barzizza was already considered the "king of Italian jazz", his arrangements combining American swing with the traditions of Italian popular songs. He and Rabagliati, a young vocalist who was his discovery, were in the vanguard of a surging revival in Italian music in the 1930s and 40s.

Their fame accelerated by the popularity of radio in Italy, Blue Star toured in France and Switzerland and even Constantinople, generating financial rewards for Barzizza that enabled him to buy an apartment in the upmarket Pegli neighbourhood of Genoa for his parents and a smart Fiat car for himself.

After Blue Star broke up, Barzizza spent several years mainly in the recording studios. Then, in 1936, came an invitation from the state radio broadcaster EIAR - forerunner of RAI - to conduct the Cetra Orchestra, based in Turin, which soon became known as the best Italian jazz orchestra.

EIAR headquarters suffered serious damage during bombing in the Second World War, forcing the orchestra to move to Florence, but they were back in Turin by the end of 1943, although EIAR had been commandeered by the Germans.

After the war, Cetra’s activity continued and Barzizza began also to compose film soundtracks, working with great comic actor Totò among others. In 1948 he composed the soundtrack for Fifa e Arena, starring Totò and his own actress daughter, Isa Barzizza. The song Paquito Lindo, taken from the film, set a sales record for 78 rpm recordings.

Barzizza with his daughter, Isa, who would become a movie actress, and son Renzo, a future director and producer
Barzizza with his daughter, Isa, who would become a movie
actress, and son Renzo, a future director and producer
In 1951 he moved to Rome, the Cetra Orchestra ended and until 1954 he conducted The Modern Orchestra, with 50 musicians, whose number included a young Ennio Morricone.

Over the next few years Barzizza worked in London and Paris as well as Rome, while spending more time with his wife, Tatina, in Sanremo, where they had settled.

He continued to enjoy success. Indeed, while working with a line-up of 36 musicians in Rome in the 1960s he felt he produced some of the best work of his career, helping him overcome two losses in his personal life when the death of his father in December 1959 was followed only a few months later by a road accident that killed his son-in-law, Isa's husband, the screenwriter and director Carlo Alberto Chiesa. 

As the years began to take their toll on his own health, Barzizza nonetheless continued to work in a studio he built at his home, doing some recording but largely teaching.  He died at the age of 92 in 1994.

The resort of Sanremo, with the harbour in the foreground
The resort of Sanremo, with the harbour in the foreground
Travel tip:

Sanremo in Liguria, the Italian Riviera resort that is famous as the home of the Sanremo Festival, is a historic Italian holiday destination that was one of the first to benefit when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold in the mid-18th century, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, made it his permanent home.

The promenade at Pegli, an upmarket area of Genoa
The promenade at Pegli, an upmarket area of Genoa
Travel tip:

Pegli is still a mainly residential area of Genoa but boasts a lively seafront promenade and a number of hotels. There are good links by road, rail and boat to the central area of Genoa, a bustling commercial city built around its busy port, but which offers many historic attractions, the most notable of which is probably the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, with its striking black slate and white marble exterior, originally built in the sixth century.


16 February 2018

Edda Dell’Orso – vocalist

Soprano was wordless voice of Morricone soundtracks

Dell'Orso was 29 when she began her long association with Ennio Morricone
Dell'Orso was 29 when she began her long
association with Ennio Morricone
The singer Edda Dell’Orso, best known for the extraordinary range of wordless vocals that have featured in many of composer Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film soundtracks from the 1960s onwards, was born on this day in 1935 in Genoa.

Her collaboration with Morricone began when he was contracted in 1964 to provide the musical score for A Fistful of Dollars, the first of Sergio Leone’s so-called spaghetti western trilogy that was to make Clint Eastwood an international star.

Leone’s producers could only offer Morricone a small budget, which meant his access to a full orchestra was limited, forcing him to improvise and create sound effects in different ways. One idea he had was to replace instruments with human voices, which is where Dell’Orso, a distinctive soprano, came into her own.

Born Edda Sabatini, she had pursued her musical interests with the support of her father who, while not musical himself, could see that she had potential as a pianist.

The quality of her voice became clear when she enrolled at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, the renowned music school in Rome, where she graduated in 1956 in singing and piano and met her future husband, Giacomo.

Edda Dell'Orso has enjoyed a long career in the Italian cinema
Edda Dell'Orso has enjoyed a long career
in the Italian cinema
At the time, there was work to be had in Rome’s recording studios, providing backing vocals for TV and film productions, as well as recording artists.  Working for the composer Franco Potenza, Dell’Orso once performed with Frank Sinatra during a visit to Rome by the American singer, whose family originated in Sicily.

In the early 1960s, she joined I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Choristers), a choral group run by the composer Alessandro Alessandroni, a lifelong friend of Morricone and the man to whom he turned when he needed to be imaginative in his soundtrack for Leone.

It was Alessandroni’s musicians who provided the whistling and the twanging guitar in the scores for all of the Dollars trilogy. On hearing Dell’Orso, the group’s solo soprano, Morricone realised, he said later, that he had "an extraordinary voice at my disposal".

As Dell’Orso recalled in a recent interview, it was hardly glamorous work.  Rather than turning up on set and rubbing shoulders with the stars, she would report to the studio, and after one quick read of the musical score be required to either sing with the orchestra in the hall or step into a booth, wearing headphones, to sing along with a recording.

Often, she would be at the studio all day, recording several pieces for different composers of different soundtracks. Although she would keep notes in her diary of which film and which maestro she had performed for, there were so many that she found it difficult to keep track.  Moreover, the singers had no way of knowing if a piece would be used and sometimes did not find out until a movie was released.

Listen to Dell'Orso's voice on the Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone

Nonetheless, it was the making of her.  Capable of infusing her voice with high drama, playful humour or haunting poignancy, she was called upon time and again, not only by Morricone but many other composers, including Bruno Nicolai, Piero Piccioni, Luis Bacalov and Roberto Pregadio.

In all, she worked on the soundtracks of around 60 films, for which Morricone was the lead composer in more than 30, from the Dollars trilogy to, in more recent times, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 2013 romantic mystery La migliore offerta (The Best Offer), which was entitled Deception when released in the UK.

Despite rarely being asked to sing words, many albums of Dell’Orso’s music have been released and even in her 80s she is still performing.  She lives in Rome with Giacomo, to whom she has been married for 57 years.

The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa
The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa
Travel tip:

Genoa, Dell’Orso’s home city, is the most westerly port city in the Italian mainland, situated just 177km (110 miles) from the French border.  Clinging to the coastline between the Mediterranean and the sharply rising northwestern Apennines, its metropolitan area stretches for about 30km (19 miles) from east to west, although the centre is relatively compact, comprising the centro storico (historic centre) and the Porto Antico.  Worth visiting are the Palazzo Ducale, on Piazza Matteotti, and the 12th century Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, handsomely fashioned from black granite and white marble.

The entrance to the Cinecittà complex in Rome
Travel tip:

The heart of the Italian film industry is Cinecittà, the studio complex on Via Tuscolana, about 10km (6 miles) southeast of the centre of Rome.  Built in the Fascist era as Benito Mussolini tried to revive the at-the-time flagging Italian movie business, it is the largest studio complex in Europe.  In the 1950s, nowhere outside Hollywood produced more movies. Scenes from Roman Holiday, Beat the Devil, The Barefoot Contessa and Ben-Hur were all shot there during the 1950s, and the studios became closely associated with the director Federico Fellini.  More recently, the complex has provided sets representing the interiors of both St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel for a 2016 TV series, The Young Pope.

More reading:

(Picture credits: Ducal Palace at Genoa by Andrzej Otrębski; Cinecittà Studios by Emanuela Meme Giudici; via Wikimedia Commons)

28 November 2017

Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

Mario Nascimbene
Mario Nascimbene
The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for composing the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.

Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.

Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.

It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.

Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side as before, only to fling it open and find Mankiewicz standing on his front step, ready to explain that he had been impressed by his work in Italian cinema and did indeed want to hire him.

The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa
The movie poster for Joseph Mankiewicz's
The Barefoot Contessa
The Barefoot Contessa, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien, won an Oscar for O’Brien as Best Supporting Actor and was a box office hit, gaining Nascimbene a level of exposure he had never before known.

More work in America soon came his way and more success, his scores for Robert Rossen’s Alexander the Great, starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, A Farewell to Arms, starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, Mankiewicz’s The Quiet American, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave, and The Vikings, a swashbuckling romp starring Kirk Douglas, establishing his reputation.

He cracked the British market, too, with his commission to score the 1959 movie Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton and nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for Simone Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Neil Paterson.

Nascimbene himself won three Nastro d'Argento awards for best score for Rome 11:00 (1952), Violent Summer (1960) and  for Pronto... c'è una certa Giuliana per te (1968).

In 1991, Nascimbene was awarded a "Career David" from the David di Donatello Awards, honouring his lifetime achievements.

Nascimbene's work is overshadowed by Ennio Morricone
Nascimbene's work is overshadowed
by Ennio Morricone (above)
Born in Milan, Nascimbene attended the  "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music under the guidance of Ildebrando Pizzetti, studying composition and orchestral conducting.  After graduating, he wrote several pieces of chamber music and a ballet.

His first film work came in 1941 for the Italian movie Love Song and the success of that project encouraged him to concentrate his energy on the cinema, where he came to be regarded as one of the finest movie composers of his lifetime.

Nascimbene was particularly appreciated for inventing ‘Mixerama’, a revolutionary style that allowed him to incorporate into his scores the sounds of non-orchestral instruments, such as the jaw harp and harmonica, and even everyday noises such as the ticking of a clock, the ring of a bicycle bell or, famously, the clacking of typewriters in Giuseppe de Santis’s neorealist Rome 11:00.

Having worked briefly but successfully with Federico Fellini on Amore in Città (Love in the City) in 1953, he was disappointed that Fellini eventually chose Rota as his favoured composer, but established good relationships of his own with De Santis and Roberto Rossellini, composing the score for the latter’s 1975 epic The Messiah.

Nascimbene, who also did some work in contemporary opera and jazz music, was twice married.  He died in Rome in 2002 at the age of 88.

Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Colourful Via Abramo Lincoln
Travel tip:

One of the quirkier attractions in Milan can be found to the east of the city centre at the centre of a block just beyond Porta Vittoria, bordered to the south by Corso XXII Marzo and to the north by Corso Indipendenza.  Running parallel with Via Pasquale Sottocorno and accessed from Via Benvenuto Cellini, the narrow, tree-lined Via Abramo Lincoln is the most unusual street in the context of the city, a collection of small, terraced houses, each painted a different colour from its neighbour.  It has the feel of London’s Notting Hill and is all that exists of a dream of a workers’ co-operative in the late 19th century to create an area of small, affordable houses which, largely because of economic turmoil and the First World War, never progressed beyond a single street.

Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica  of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, behind the Basilica
of San Lorenzo Maggiore
Travel tip:

Another less well-known place to visit in Milan is the Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II, not far from the Navagli canal district in an area known as Ticinese, a stretch of green public space that links to basilicas, the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio to the south and to the north the magnificent Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, with its Corinthian columns left behind from a 3rd century Roman temple.

10 December 2016

Amedeo Nazzari - movie star

Sardinian actor seen as the Errol Flynn of Italian cinema

Amedeo Nazzari in a scene from the 1950s film by Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria
Amedeo Nazzari in a scene from the 1950s film by
Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria
The prolific actor Amedeo Nazzari, who made more than 90 movies and was once one of Italian cinema's biggest box office names, was born on this day in 1907 in Cagliari.

Likened in his prime to the Australian-American star Errol Flynn, with whom he had physical similarities and the same screen presence, Nazzari enjoyed a career spanning five decades.

One of his first major successes, in the title role of the 1938 drama Luciano Serra, Pilot, in which he played a First World War veteran, established him as Italy's leading male star in 1930s and he maintained his popularity in the 40s and 50s.

He is remembered also for his appearance in Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, which won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.

Towards the end of his career, he featured in Henri Verneuil's 1969 Mafia caper The Sicilian Clan, for which the score was composed by Ennio Morricone.  His last big screen appearance came in 1976 in A Matter of Time, an Italian-American musical fantasy directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring his daughter, Liza Minnelli.

Nazzari was born Amedeo Carlo Leone Buffa, the son of a pasta manufacturer, Salvatore Buffa, and Argenide Nazzari, who was the daughter of the President of the Court of Appeal in Cagliari, Amedeo Nazzari, whose name he decided to take as his stage name.

The poster advertising Nazzari's first big success, Luciano Serra, Pilot
The poster advertising Nazzari's first
big success, Luciano Serra, Pilot
Salvatore Buffa died when Amedeo was only six and the family moved to Rome, where his mother guided him through his teenage years and hoped he would develop a career as an engineer. After joining a drama society, however, Amedeo became infatuated with theatre and, ultimately, cinema.

After the death of Rudolph Valentino, the movie sex symbol of the 1920s, he entered a competition organised by Twentieth Century Fox to find an Italian who could step into his shoes.  He was rejected on the grounds that he was too tall and too thin and that he had a gloomy expression.  There was no putting him off, however, and he continued to pursue his dream.

His first big break came in 1936, when the emerging actress Anna Magnani saw him on stage in the theatre and, impressed with his energy, recommended him to her husband, the director Goffredo Alessandrini for a lead role in his next film, Cavalry.  The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival and subsequently played to full houses all over Italy.

A man of strong principals, he turned down Benito Mussolini's invitation to join the Fascist party after the success of Luciano Serra, Pilot.  Nazzari had become a matinee idol and Mussolini wanted to promote him as a symbol of Italian masculinity but Nazzari allegedly told him: 'Thank you, Duce, but I would prefer not to concern myself with politics, occupied as I am with more pressing artistic commitments.'

Given that Mussolini, the driving force behind the Cinecittà complex in Rome that was in time to be known as 'Hollywood on the Tiber', was keen to ally himself with the stars of the movie industry, Nazzari risked his stand being interpreted as a snub but in the event it had no detrimental effect on his career, perhaps because he willingly participated in some wartime productions that were blatantly propagandist, in particular the 1942 film Bengasi, an anti-British war film set in Libya.

A year earlier, in 1941, the Venice Film Festival had awarded Nazzari the title of Best Actor for the film Caravaggio, il pittore maledetto - Caravaggio, the cursed painter - also directed by Alessandrini. Earlier in 1942, he had starred in La cena delle beffe - the dinner of mockery - a costume drama that takes place in the Florence of the Medici, directed by Alessandro Blasetti.

Later, Nazzari would turn down the chance to play opposite Marilyn Monroe in Let's Make Love, his proposed role going to Yves Montand after Nazzari expressed doubt over his ability to play convincingly in an English-speaking part and confessed that he feared his attempts to sing and dance would attract ridicule.

Amedeo Nazzari in the 1950 film Il brigante Musolino
Amedeo Nazzari in the 1950 film Il brigante Musolino
In fact, he rejected most approaches to play comedy roles in Italy, preferring meatier parts such as that of the brave Neapolitan magistrate who stands up to the Camorra in Luigi Zampa's Processo alla città - A city on trial.

Married in 1957 to Irene Genna, an Italian-Greek actress, he had a daughter, Maria Evelina, who followed him into acting and established a successful career in theatre and television.

In his later years he developed kidney problem and died in Rome in November 1979, aged 71, a few months before his daughter gave birth to his first grandchild, Leonardo.

He is buried at the monumental cemetery of Verano in Rome under the name of Amedeo Nazzari Buffa.

Cagliari as seen by travellers arriving by sea
Cagliari as seen by travellers arriving by sea
Travel tip:

Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, is an industrial centre and one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean but is also a city of considerable beauty and history.  When D.H. Lawrence arrived in the 1920s, witnessing the confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades that seemed to be piled on top of one another as he approached from the sea, he likened the city to Jerusalem, describing it as 'strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.’

Travel tip:

Rome's Cinecittà studios were founded in 1937 by Mussolini, his son Vittorio and the Fascist government's head of cinema, Luigi Freddi, under the slogan 'Cinema is the Most Powerful Weapon'. The Fascist leader had propaganda in mind but he was also keen to revive the Italian film industry, which was in crisis at the time.  Later, Cinecittà would become closely associated with the director Federico Fellini, who filmed La Dolce Vita, Satirycon and Casanova there, among other productions.  It is also used for shooting television shows and houses the set for Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother.

More reading:

Anna Magnani - Oscar-winning actress famous for Rossellini's Rome, Open City

Four-times Oscar winner Federico Fellini left huge legacy of influence

Rudolph Valentino - heartthrob actor who died tragically young

Also on this day:


10 November 2016

Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks

Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, pictured in 2012
Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.

Still working even as he enters his 89th year, Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.

Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.

Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.

He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Much of Morricone's film music, as well as his more than 100 classical compositions and numerous jazz and pop songs from the 1960s and 70s, has been recorded and his commercial sales have topped 70 million records worldwide.

Listen to Morricone's beautiful Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission

Morricone, whose parents moved to Rome from Arpino, an ancient hill town near Frosinone in southern Lazio, was brought up in the Trastevere district of the capital, one of five children raised by his father, Mario, a professional musician who played the trumpet, and mother Libera, who ran a small textile business.

He learned the fundamentals of music from his father before entering the National Academy of St Cecilia, where he first met Sergio Leone.

Sergio Leone, the director behind the 'Dollars' trilogy
Sergio Leone, the director  behind
 the 'Dollars' trilogy
On graduating, he had some success writing for the theatre as well as for radio. After marrying his girlfriend of six years, Maria Travia, in 1956, and becoming a father a year later, he began supporting his family by playing in a jazz band and arranging pop songs for the Italian public broadcaster, RAI.

Over the next few years he composed pop songs for Rita Pavone, Mario Lanza, Paul Anka and Francoise Hardy among many others.

He branched into film music for the first time in the early 1960s, taking the commission that was to change his life when Leone, his friend from St Cecilia's, asked him to write the score for his groundbreaking Western, A Fistful of Dollars.

Starring the 34-year-old American actor, Clint Eastwood, in his first major role, A Fistful of Dollars was a huge success, spawning two more in the genre that became known as 'Spaghetti Westerns'.  For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly each grossed more than $20 million.

A Fistful of Dollars made $14.5 million, which was incredible given that Leone made it on a budget of less than $250,000.  With only limited access to a full orchestra, Morricone had to improvise, incorporating gunshots, cracking whips, a whistle, a jew's harp, trumpets, and a Fender electric guitar into his score, as well as using human, mainly female voices as musical instruments. The result was a highly distinctive score that it became a classic in the history of cinema music, as instantly recognizable today as it was then, and several of Morricone's innovative measures became part of his repertoire.

Listen to Morricone's music for the opening scene of The Hateful Eight

The trilogy began a relationship with Sergio Leone that would last 20 years and opened many doors for Morricone, whose career prospered from then on.

His first nomination for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards came in 1979 for Days of Heaven, directed by the American Terence Malick.  There were two nominations in the 1980s, for Joffé's The Mission in 1986 and De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987, and probably would have been a third had the American distributors of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) submitted the paperwork on time.

Morricone was particularly disappointed not to win with The Mission, which features the wonderful melody Gabriel's Oboe as its main theme, complaining that jazz musician Herbie Hancock's score for Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight, while beautifully done, used existing music.

The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
The Hateful Eight: Morricone's score for
Quentin Tarantino's film won an Oscar
Further nominations came for Barry Levison's Bugsy (1991) and Tornatore's Malena (2000), and by the second decade of the new millennium Morricone's 50-year movie career had brought him 44 major awards.

It appeared, though, that the award he craved above all would elude him, and an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his overall contribution to film music seemed a slightly hollow consolation prize.

But then, late in 2014, just past his 86th birthday, he was approached by Quentin Tarantino, with whom he had collaborated previously but had had a difficult relationship. Morricone had not scored a complete Western for 35 years and had not worked on a high-profile Hollywood production since 2000 but The Hateful Eight, set just after the American Civil War, appealed to him.

He produced a score that was magnificent, one that would sit comfortably alongside anything he had done previously, from the sweeping L'Ultima Diligenza per Red Rock that accompanies the chillingly atmospheric opening scenes, to Regan's Theme, a melody of gathering pace with echoes of what he did for Leone half a century previously.

It earned Morricone his third Golden Globe, to go with The Mission and the ragtime-jazz score he wrote for Tornatore's Legend of 1900 and then, at the 87th Academy Awards night of February 22, 2016, the one he thought would never come and which made him, at 87 years, the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.

Morricone, who has never left Italy despite being offered a villa in Hollywood by one of the studios he worked with, remains an active composer.  He and Maria had four children - Marco, Alessandra, Andrea, who himself became a film music composer, and Giovanni, who is a film director and producer in New York.

UPDATE: Morricone died in July 2020, aged 91, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall. Following a private funeral, he was entombed in Cimitero Laurentino in Rome.

The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
The unspoilt hill town of Arpino
Travel tip:

Arpino, home of Morricone's parents, is a hill town situated about 120km south-east of Rome, 46km north-west of Frosinone in Lazio. Clinging to a ridge on top of a hill, it is relatively accessible from a nearby station on one of the Rome-Naples railway lines, yet attracts few tourists and therefore has the unspoilt feel of a traditional southern Italian community.

Travel tip:

The Trastevere district of Rome, which sits alongside the River Tiber, is regarded as one of the city's most charming neighbourhoods, full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses.  Increasingly fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, it has an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.

More reading:

How Shakespeare adaptations made Franco Zeffirelli a household name

Sergio Leone - distinctive style of 'Spaghetti Western' creator

How Nino Rota found fame for The Godfather theme

Also on this day: 

1816: Lord Byron, the English poet and aristocrat, sets foot in Venice for the first time.

(Picture credit: First photo of Morricone by Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons)
(Videos from YouTube)


25 September 2016

Zucchero Fornaciari – singer

Sweet success for writer and performer

Zucchero is known for the passion and emotion of his stage performances
Zucchero is known for the passion and
emotion of his stage performances
The singer/songwriter now known simply as Zucchero was born Adelmo Fornaciari on this day in 1955 in Roncocesi, a small village near Reggio Emilia.

In a career lasting more than 30 years, he has sold more than 50 million records and has become popular all over the world.

He is hailed as ‘the father of the Italian blues’, having introduced blues music to Italy, and he has won many awards for his music. He has also been given the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

As a young boy, Zucchero lived in the Tuscan seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi, where he sang in the choir and learned to play the organ at his local church.

He became fond of soul music and began to write his own songs and play the tenor saxophone. He started playing in bands while studying veterinary medicine but gave up his studies to follow his dream of becoming a singer.

He took the stage name of Zucchero, the Italian word for sugar, which was a nickname one of his teachers had given him.

Zucchero with U2 lead singer Bono at a U2 concert in Turin in 2015
Zucchero with U2 lead singer Bono at a U2
concert in Turin in 2015
Zucchero took part in the San Remo song contest for the second time in 1985 and although his song ‘Donne’ did not win, it went on to become a hit single.

His 1987 album Blues became the highest selling album in Italian history and made Zucchero a household name. His next album Oro, Incenso e Birra, which included guest spots by Ennio Morricone, Eric Clapton and Rufus Thomas, then outsold it.

Zucchero has sung in duets with Paul Young, Sting, and Luciano Pavarotti and his collaboration on the song Miserere with the young Andrea Bocelli won popularity for the up-and-coming tenor.

He sang regularly in the concerts organised by Pavarotti to raise money for children in war zones and more recently he has sung at the Concert for Emilia, to raise money for earthquake victims, and in the Voices for Refugees concert in Vienna in 2015.

Watch Zucchero on stage at the Arena in Verona

His new single, Streets of Surrender, which is dedicated to the victims of the recent Paris attacks, will be among the songs he will perform in his concerts at the Arena in Verona taking place between now and 28 September.

Travel tip:

Roncocesi, where Zucchero was born, is a hamlet – frazione -- of Reggio Emilia, situated about seven kilometres outside the city. Reggio Emilia is an ancient walled city in Emilia-Romagna that has many beautiful buildings within the hexagonal shape of its historic centre. Roman remains mingle with medieval palaces and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.

Stage construction under way at the Arena di Verona
Stage construction under way at the Arena di Verona 
Travel tip:

The Arena di Verona, where Zucchero is appearing in concert between 16 and 28 September, is a wonderful surviving example of a first-century Roman amphitheatre, which has now become a famous location for large-scale, outdoor productions of opera each summer.

See Zucchero's back catalogue of music at

(Main photo of Zucchero by Danielle dk CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Bono & Zucchero photo by angelo freddo)