Showing posts with label Enrico Caruso. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Enrico Caruso. Show all posts

3 February 2019

Giulio Gatti-Casazza - impresario

Manager who transformed the New York Met

Gatti-Casazza was manager at La Scala in Milan before working in New York
Gatti-Casazza was manager at La Scala in
Milan before working in New York
Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the impresario who as general manager transformed the Metropolitan Opera in New York into one of the world’s great houses, was born on this day in 1869 in Udine in northeast Italy.

The former general manager at La Scala in Milan, Gatti-Casazza was in charge of the Met for 27 years, from 1908 to 1935.

In that time, having brought with him from Milan the brilliant conductor and musical director Arturo Toscanini, he not only attracted almost all of the great opera singers of his era but set the highest standards for the company, which have been maintained to the present day.

Gatti-Casazza also pulled off the not inconsiderable feat of rescuing the Met from the brink of bankruptcy after the stock market crash of 1929.

The young Gatti-Casazza had studied engineering after leaving school, graduating from the Genoa Naval School of Engineering, yet the love of opera was in the family. His father was manager of the Teatro Comunale, the municipal theatre in Ferrara, where they had moved when Giulio was young, and he succeeded his father in that role in 1893.

He proved very effective, combining his knowledge of opera with a natural gift for management. His success attracted attention and in 1898, at the age of just 29, he was recommended by the composer Arrigo Boito as a suitable candidate to be general manager at Teatro alla Scala - universally known as La Scala - in Milan.

A photograph taken at a dinner held in honour of Gatti- Casazza and Toscanini at the Hotel St Regis in New York
A photograph taken at a dinner held in honour of Gatti-
Casazza and Toscanini at the Hotel St Regis in New York
Gatti-Casazza was appointed at the same time as Toscanini, also 29, was hired as principal conductor, having made his mark already in Buenos Aires and Turin.

At La Scala, he undertook a complete administrative overhaul and redefined the house’s purpose, turning it from a commercial theatre to a centre of excellence, dedicated to the advancement of the musical arts. It soon came to be seen as a temple of opera in Europe comparable with the opera houses of Paris and Vienna.

Again, his achievements were soon noted further afield, and in 1908 came an offer from Otto Kahn, chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Opera, to go to New York. 

Toscanini was persuaded to go with him, while another bonus was the opportunity to work again with Enrico Caruso, the brilliant Neapolitan tenor who had been given his debut at La Scala by Gatti-Casazza in 1900. Caruso had been at the Met since 1903, hired by the Austrian impresario Heinrich Conried, Gatti-Casazza's predecessor as general manager.

Gatti-Casazza with his first wife, the soprano Frances Alda, in 1921
Gatti-Casazza with his first wife, the
soprano Frances Alda, in 1921
Early in their tenure, Gatti-Casazza and Toscanini arranged for the great composer Giacomo Puccini, whose fame had been established by the success of La Bohème and Tosca, to oversee a production of Madama Butterfly as well as commissioning him to write La Fanciulla del West for Caruso and their Czech soprano Emmy Destinn. The opera had its world premiere at the Met in 1910.

Under Gatti-Casazza's leadership, the Met’s reputation grew exponentially and most of the world’s celebrated singers in the early 20th century were only too eager to appear there, including Frances Alda, Amelita Galli-Curci, Lily Pons, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Titta Ruffo and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi.

Gatti-Casazza became the toast of the New York cultural scene, twice featuring on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the first Italians to be afforded that honour.

Although he suffered a blow in 1915 when Toscanini decided to return to Italy, by far the biggest crisis to face Gatti-Casazza in New York was the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which prevented a planned move of the company to a new home at the Rockefeller Centre and revealed large holes in the Met’s finances.

Along with other staff, Gatti-Casazza took a cut in salary in a bid to keep the business going. But it was mainly his willingness to embrace new opportunities that enabled him to ride out the storm.

One of the first to see records as a way to build a Metropolitan Opera brand, he had responded to the travel restrictions of the First World War by encouraging and promoting American singers and when Paul Cravath, who had succeeded Khan as chairman of the board, signed a contract with the National Broadcasting Company to deliver weekly radio broadcasts of concerts - beginning with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on Christmas Eve, 1931 - Gatti-Casazza took on the challenge with typical entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

Twice married - first to the New Zealand-born soprano Frances Alda and later to the Italian ballerina Rosina Galli, he retired from his position at the Met in 1935 and returned to Italy, working again in Ferrara until his death in 1940.

The Piazza della Libertà is the architectural showpiece of the northeastern city of Udine
The Piazza della Libertà is the architectural showpiece
of the northeastern city of Udine
Travel tip:

Udine is an attractive and wealthy provincial city and the gastronomic capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Udine's most attractive area lies within the medieval centre, which has Venetian, Greek and Roman influences. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, features the town hall, the Loggia del Lionello, built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style, and a clock tower, the Torre dell’Orologio, which is similar to the clock tower in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square - in Venice.  The city was part of the Austrian Empire between 1797 and 1866 and retains elements of a café society as legacy from that era, particularly around Piazza Matteotti, known locally as il salotto di Udine - Udine's drawing room.

Find hotels in Udine with TripAdvisor

The Castello Estense, built in the later years of the 14th century, dominates the centre of Ferrara
The Castello Estense, built in the later years of the 14th
century, dominates the centre of Ferrara
Travel tip:

The Este family ruled the city of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna between 1240 and 1598, the character of the urban landscape established in that time still visible in the narrow, medieval streets to the west and south of the city centre, between the main thoroughfares of Via Ripa Grande and Via Garibaldi. The centre is dominated by the magnificent, moated Este Castle (Castello Estense), on which work began in 1385 and which was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line. The castle was purchased for 70,000 lire by the province of Ferrara in 1874 to be used as the headquarters of the local prefecture.

More reading:

The chance career-change that turned Arturo Toscanini from cellist to world famous conductor

Arrigo Boito, the composer and patriot who fought with Garibaldi

Enrico Caruso, the tenor some call the greatest of all time

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of Sicilian architect Giovanni Basttista Vaccarini

1757: The birth of eye surgeon Giuseppe Forlenza

1857: The birth of sculptor Giuseppe Moretti

(Picture credit: Castello Estense by Massimo Baraldi)


28 December 2018

Francesco Tamagno - operatic tenor

19th century star was first to sing Verdi’s Otello

Francesco Tamagno was a world-renowned star of 19th century opera
Francesco Tamagno was a world-renowned
star of 19th century opera
The operatic tenor Francesco Tamagno, most famous for singing the title role at the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1887, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.

Tamagno, whose powerful voice and range put him a category of singers known as heroic tenors by being naturally suited to heroic roles, developed a reputation that enabled him to command high fees around the world and amass a considerable fortune.

During a career that spanned 32 years from his debut in 1873 to his premature death at the age of 54, Tamagno sang in some 55 operas and sacred works in 26 countries.

In addition to his association with Otello, he also was the first Gabriele Adorno in Verdi's 1881 revision of Simon Boccanegra, and appeared in the premiere of Verdi's Italian-language version of Don Carlos when it was staged at La Scala in 1884.

Five other operas in which Tamagno is acknowledged as the creator of leading roles include Carlos Gomes' Maria Tudor, Amilcare Ponchielli's Il figliol prodigo and Marion Delorme, Ruggero Leoncavallo's I Medici and Isidore de Lara's Messaline.

From a large family in the Borgo Dora area of Turin, Tamagno was the son of a wine seller who also kept a small trattoria.  He took music lessons at the city’s Liceo Musicale from the conductor and composer Carlo Pedrotti, who was able to arrange for him to sing some small parts at Turin's Teatro Regio, of which he was the director.

Tamagno as Otello in the 1887 premiere of Verdi's opera
Tamagno as Otello in the 1887
premiere of Verdi's opera
One of Tamagno's earliest opportunities to perform in a major role came in January 1874 at the Teatro Bellini in Palermo, where he attracted considerable attention for an outstanding performance as Riccardo in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.

Quickly given more engagements, he made his debut at La Scala in 1877, as Vasco de Gama in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine.

Over his career, Tamagno was lauded for his interpretations of many established parts, such as Manrico in Il trovatore (Verdi), Don Alvaro in La forza del destino (Verdi), the titles role in Ernani (Verdi) and Poliuto (Gaetano Donizetti), Arnold in Guillaume Tell (Gioachino Rossini), John of Leyden in Le prophète (Meyerbeer), Raoul in Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), Vasco in L'Africaine, Robert in Robert le diable (Meyerbeer) and Eleazar in La Juive (Fromental Halévy).

Conductors of the standing of Franco Faccio, Luigi Mancinelli and Arturo Toscanini toured with Tamagno, who appeared opposite some of the most illustrious sopranos, baritones and basses in operatic history.

He witnessed the rise to fame of Enrico Caruso, predicting that the young Neapolitan would go on to become the leading Italian tenor of the 20th century. Tamagno and Caruso actually appeared on the same stage in February 1901, during a concert at La Scala organised by Toscanini as a tribute to Verdi, who had died the previous month.

Tamagno recognised the talent of Enrico Caruso, with whom he once shared a stage
Tamagno recognised the talent of Enrico
Caruso, with whom he once shared a stage
A big man with a physique to match his powerful voice, Tamagno developed chronic heart problems that caused his health to deteriorate in his late 40s, forcing him to quit the operatic stage. He would appear in concerts but had to give his last in 1904, in Ostend, Belgium.  Some recordings were preserved from the last two years of his professional life.

He retired to the villa in Varese, Lombardy, that he had owned since 1885, but his health did not improve and died in August 1905, from a heart attack. His body was buried in an elaborate mausoleum at Turin's General Cemetery.

Although Tamagno sang in the great opera houses of Barcelona, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, New York, London, San Petersburg and Lisbon, he never deserted his roots and would periodically return to his neighbourhood around the Porta Palazzo in Turin, where he would meet up with old friends and give free performances to support local charities.

He had a daughter, Margherita, who had been born out of wedlock, but he took a close interest in her upbringing, writing letters to her from around the world as well as willingly giving her financial support. It was she who inherited his estate.

The charming, cobbled Via Borgo Dora winds through the area where Francesco Tamagno grew up
The charming, cobbled Via Borgo Dora winds through
the area where Francesco Tamagno grew up
Travel tip:

Borgo Dora is a small historic district of Turin, just north of Corso Regina Margherita around the Porta Palazzo, bordered to the north by the river Dora Riparia, only a few metres from Piazza Castello at the heart of the city. It is an area with a strong historical identity, the only survivor of the four villages that developed around the old gates of the city.  The Via Borgo Dora, which loops around the area in a southeast direction from the Turin Eye, the tethered hot air balloon situated by the river, is a charming cobbled street with many restaurants and antiques shops. The area is also famed for its markets. The Piazza della Repubblica hosts a massive open air market every Saturday, with between 700 and 1,000 stalls, while the area around the Cortile del Maglio is the home to an enormous flea market every second Sunday in the month.

The picturesque Lake Varese is just outside the city of  Varese in Lombardy, south of the main Italian lakes
The picturesque Lake Varese is just outside the city of
Varese in Lombardy, south of the main Italian lakes
Travel tip:

Varese, where Tamagno retired to a grand villa, is a city in Lombardy, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan and not far from Lake Maggiore. It is rich in castles, villas and gardens, many connected with the Borromeo family, who were from the area. The small Lake Varese is 8.5km (5 miles) long, set in low rolling hills just below Varese. Many visitors to the city are drawn to the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.

More reading:

Mario del Monaco, the 20th century tenor famous for Otello

Franco Corelli: the 'prince of tenors'

Why tenor Tito Schipa divided opinions

Also on this day:

1503: The death of Florentine ruler Piero the Unfortunate

1908: Italy's worst earthquake

1947: The death of exiled King Victor Emmanuel III


22 October 2018

Giovanni Martinelli – tenor

Singer made his fame abroad

Giovanni Martinelli was seen as the  successor to Enrico Caruso
Giovanni Martinelli was seen as the
successor to Enrico Caruso
One of the most famous tenors of the 20th century, Giovanni Martinelli, was born on this day in 1885 in Montagnana in the province of Padua in the Veneto.

Martinelli began his career playing the clarinet in a military band and then studied as a singer with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan. He made his professional debut at the Teatro del Verme in Milan in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani in 1910.

Martinelli became famous for singing the role of Dick Johnson in Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, which he performed in Rome, Brescia, Naples, Genoa, Monte Carlo and also at La Scala in Milan.

He played Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House in London and took on the same role for his first American engagement in 1913. That same year Martinelli portrayed Pantagruel in the world premiere of Jules Massenet’s Panurge in Paris.

He attracted favourable reviews when he played Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He went on to sing 36 different roles for the theatre over 32 seasons.

Martinelli on stage in a production of  Rossini's opera William Tell
Martinelli on stage in a production of
Rossini's opera William Tell
In 1937 Martinelli returned to London to sing opposite the English soprano Eva Turner at Covent Garden.

He retired from the stage in 1950, but gave one final performance in 1967 at the age of 82 as Emperor Altoum in Puccini's Turandot in Seattle.

At the peak of his career Martinelli had a strong high C and exceptional breath control.  In America he was regarded as Enrico Caruso’s successor, even though their voices were different.

He made a number of recordings for Edison and the Victor Talking Machine.

Martinelli was married to Adele Previtali with whom he had three children. He died in 1969 at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Montagnana's walls are some of the best preserved in the whole of Europe
Montagnana's walls are some of the best
preserved in the whole of Europe
Travel tip: 

Montagnana, where Martinelli was born, is one of the borghi più belli d’talia - an association of the most beautiful small towns in Italy - because it has some of the best preserved medieval walls in Europe. The cathedral has a fresco that has recently been attributed to the artist Giorgione.

The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli made his operatic debut in 1910
The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli
made his operatic debut in 1910
Travel tip:

The Teatro del Verme in Milan, where Martinelli made his operatic debut, is in Via San Giovannni sul Muro and was built on the site of a previous theatre. It was used for plays and operas throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today the theatre is a venue for concert, plays and dance performances as well as exhibitions and conferences.

More reading:

Why some still regard Caruso as the greatest of them all

What made Giacomo Puccini one of Italy's all-time finest composers

Baritone Antonio Scotti's 35 seasons at the Met

Also on this day:

1965: The birth of the actress Valeria Golino

1968: Soave wine granted DOC status


18 September 2018

Alberto Franchetti - opera composer

Caruso sang his arias on first commercial record in 1902

Alberto Franchetti enjoyed his peak years in terms of popular success around the turn of the century
Alberto Franchetti enjoyed his peak years in terms
of popular success around the turn of the century
The opera composer Alberto Franchetti, some of whose works were performed by the great tenor Enrico Caruso for his first commercial recording, was born on this day in 1860 in Turin.

Caruso had been taken with Franchetti’s opera, Germania, when he sang the male lead role in the opera’s premiere at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in March 1902.

A month later, Caruso famously made his first recording on a phonograph in a Milan hotel room and chose a number of arias from Germania and critics noted that he sang the aria Ah vieni qui… No, non chiuder gli occhi with a particular sweetness of voice.

A friend and rival of Giacomo Puccini, Franchetti had a style said to have been influenced by the German composers Wagner and Meyerbeer. He was sometimes described as the "Meyerbeer of modern Italy."

Despite the exposure the success of Germania and the association with Caruso brought him, Franchetti’s operas slipped quite quickly into obscurity.

Blame for that can be levelled at least in part at the Fascist Racial Laws of 1938, which made life and work very difficult for Italy's Jewish population.

Franchetti (left), pictured with his friends and fellow composers Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini
Franchetti (left), pictured with his friends and fellow
composers Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini
Franchetti's works were banned from performance during Fascist rule. His fellow composer Pietro Mascagni made a personal plea for tolerance on his behalf directly to Benito Mussolini, but it fell on deaf ears.

Franchetti was the son of Baron Raimondo Franchetti, a Jewish nobleman. He studied in Venice, then at the Munich Conservatory under Josef Rheinberger, and finally in Dresden under Felix Draeseke.

His first major success occurred in 1888 with his opera Asrael, followed in 1892 by Cristoforo Colombo, which many consider to be Franchetti's best work. It did not, however, match the popularity of Germania, the libretto for which was written by Luigi Illica, which went on to be performed worldwide.

Illica is said to have offered his libretto of Tosca to Franchetti. It is not clear why it was taken up instead by Puccini. Some opera historians believe Franchetti was working on the opera but that Puccini asked the publishing house Ricordi to let him have it and that Franchetti was persuaded that the violence in the story made it unsuitable for an opera.

Another version - thought to have the Franchetti family’s seal of authenticity - is that Franchetti waived his rights to the opera because he felt that Puccini would make a better job of it.

Franchetti’s family home in Florence was the substantial Villa Franchetti, in Via Dante Da Castiglione, a short distance from the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), where he would host lavish banquets for his friends from the artistic world. Puccini, Mascagni and the actress Eleonora Duse were regular guests.

During his life, substantial changes were made to the property, with the addition of an annex that served as a concert and dance hall, as well as stables in the grounds.  He decorated and furnished the house with the advice of his brother, Giorgio, a wealthy art collector who at the time owned the Ca d’Oro, the sumptuous palace on the Grand Canal in Venice.

Franchetti, who was director of the Florence College of Music from 1926 to 1928, died in Viareggio in 1942 at the age of 81. His music has been revived recently with new recordings of Cristoforo Colombo and Germania by the Berlin Opera.

He was married twice and had five children, one of whom, his son Arnold Franchetti, was a member of the Italian Resistance in the Second World War before emigrating to the United States and becoming a composer as well as a professor at the University of Hartford, Connecticut.

The Villa Franchetti-Nardi as it looks today
The Villa Franchetti-Nardi as it looks today
Travel tip:

After Franchetti’s death, the Villa Franchetti had a chequered history. It was seized by the Germans, who established it as a command post, during the Second World War, by which time the family’s financial fortunes had suffered badly. After the war it was rented for a few years before being largely abandoned in 1960 and falling into a state of disrepair.  The villa, which has had the status of "Historical Residence of Italy" since 1991, was rescued from its near-dereliction by its current owner Gustavo Nardi. Now known as the Villa Franchetti-Nardi, it opened its doors as a hotel in 2009.

The beautiful facade of the Ca d'Oro on Venice's Grand Canal
The beautiful facade of the Ca d'Oro on Venice's Grand Canal
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Santa Sofia, one of the older palace on the Grand Canal in Venice, is known as Ca' d'Oro - golden house - due to the gilt and polychrome external decorations which once adorned its walls. Built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, since 1927 it has been used as a museum, the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti, named after Alberto’s brother, who acquired the palace in 1894 and personally oversaw its extensive restoration, including the reconstruction of the Gothic stairway in the inner courtyard that had been controversially removed by a previous owner. In 1916, Franchetti bequeathed the Ca' d'Oro to the Italian State.

More reading:

Enrico Caruso - 'the greatest tenor of all time'

How one great opera made Pietro Mascagni immortal

The brilliant talent of Eleonora Duse

Also on this day:

1587: The birth of singer and composer Francesca Caccini

1916: The birth of actor Rossano Brazzi


4 March 2017

Lucio Dalla - musician

Cantautore inspired by the great Caruso

Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
The singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla was born on this day in 1943 in Bologna.

Dalla is most famous for composing the song, Caruso, in 1986 after staying in the suite the great tenor used to occupy overlooking the sea at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento.

Dalla started playing the clarinet when he was young and joined the Rheno Dixieland Band in Bologna along with the future film director, Pupi Avati.

Avati was later to say that his film Ma quando arrivano le ragazze? was inspired by his friendship with Dalla.

In the 1960s the band won first prize in the traditional jazz band category at a festival in Antibes. After hearing Dalla’s voice, his fellow cantautore - the Italian word for singer/songwriter - Gino Paoli suggested he try for a solo career as a soul singer, but his first single was a failure.

Dalla had a hit with 4 Marzo 1943, originally entitled Gesu Bambino, but the title was changed to the singer’s birth date so as not to cause offence.

In the 1970s Dalla started a collaboration with the Bolognese poet Roberto Roversi, who wrote the lyrics for three of his albums.

Watch Pavarotti and Lucio Dalla on stage at Modena in 1992

When the association ended, Dalla decided to write the lyrics for his songs himself and his subsequent Banana Republic album was a success in 1979.

The song, Caruso, released in 1986, was his most famous composition. It has been covered by many other artists since, including Luciano Pavarotti and Julio Iglesias.

Dalla played various instruments,  including saxaphone, as well as singing
Dalla played various instruments,
including saxaphone, as well as singing
In the book Caruso the Song - Lucio Dalla e Sorrento, Raffaele Lauro, a writer from Sorrento, recalls that Dalla booked the very suite at the Excelsior Vittoria that Caruso had occupied during the final weeks of his life in 1921. While staying there Dalla composed the song, inspired by his love for Sorrento, his respect for the great tenor and his fondness for classic Neapolitan songs. The Fiorentino family, who owned the Excelsior Vittoria, were later to dedicate a suite to Dalla.

The version of Caruso sung by Pavarotti sold more than nine million copies and Dalla was invited to sing Caruso in a duet with Pavarotti in a 'Pavarotti and Friends' concert in Modena in 1992.

Andrea Bocelli included his version of the song on his first international album, Romanza, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Dalla was made a Commander and subsequently a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bologna.

The singer songwriter died three days before his 69th birthday in 2012, after suffering a heart attack in a hotel in Montreux in Switzerland, where he had been performing the night before.

About 50,000 people attended his funeral in Bologna and his hit song, Caruso, entered the Italian singles chart after his death, peaking at number two for two consecutive weeks.

The single was also certified platinum by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.

The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
Travel tip:

Dalla was awarded an honorary degree by the University in his home town of Bologna, which had been the first in the world when it was established in 1088. The University attracted popes and kings, as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. You can visit the university’s former anatomy theatre in the oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani, which is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm, admission free. A short distance from the Archiginnasio, in Piazza dei Celestini, a bronze sculpture of Dalla sitting on a bench was unveiled in 2016 close to the house where he lived.

Hotels in Bologna from

The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most  famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most
famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
Travel tip:

The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is a familiar landmark for visitors who approach Sorrento by sea. The three 19th century buildings that comprise the hotel sit high on the cliff above the port of Marina Piccola, where boats arrive from Naples and the islands. The Excelsior Vittoria is probably Sorrento’s most famous hotel and it has now achieved global recognition as part of the Leading Hotels of the World group. From the imposing wrought-iron entrance gates in Piazza Tasso, a long driveway lined with orange trees leads to the entrance and reception area. At the back of the hotel, the terrace has panoramic views over the bay of Naples and of Vesuvius across the water. Tenor Enrico Caruso was famously photographed in front of those views during his final stay in 1921. The Excelsior Vittoria had been opened as a hotel by the Fiorentino family in 1834 and is still, to this day, run by their descendants.

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)


25 December 2016

Lina Cavalieri – soprano

Christmas Day baby became singing beauty

Lina Cavalieri was described as 'the world's most beautiful woman'
Lina Cavalieri was described as 'the
world's most beautiful woman'
Singer and actress Lina Cavalieri was born Natalina - meaning 'Little Christmas' - Cavalieri on this day in 1874, in Viterbo in Lazio.

During her career she starred opposite Enrico Caruso in operas and earned the title of ‘the world’s most beautiful woman', while many of her female contemporaries tried to attain her hour-glass figure by using tight-laced corsetry.

Raised as one of five children in humble circumstances, she was expected to work to supplement the family income.  To this end, she sold flowers and sang on the streets of Rome.

After a music teacher heard her singing, she was offered some music lessons.  Subsequently, she found work as a café singer and then in theatres in Rome.

Increasingly popular both for her voice and her physical beauty, she made her way from Rome first to Vienna and then Paris where she performed in music halls including the Folies-Bergère and worked with singing coaches to develop her voice.

The progression to opera came in 1900, when she made her debut in Lisbon as Nedda in Pagliacci, by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It was in the same year that she married her first husband, the Russian Prince, Alexandre Bariatinsky, whom she had met in Paris and who had encouraged her to believe she should not be content with working in mere music halls.

The Lisbon audience gave her a difficult time, however, and the production was abandoned after only a few nights, at which point Bariatinsky left her.  Cavalieri returned to Paris and might have given up her operatic ambitions without the encouragement of her sister, Ada, who helped her rebuild her confidence.

Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso in Paris and New York
Cavalieri starred opposite Enrico Caruso
in Paris and New York
After successes at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, in Warsaw, Ravenna, Palermo and St Petersburg, a breakthrough moment came when in 1905 she starred opposite Caruso in Umberto Giordano’s opera, Fedora, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris.

The performance was so successful they took the production to the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Cavalieri stayed with the Met for two seasons, performing again with Caruso in 1907 in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Manon Lescaut. She became one of the most photographed stars of the time and women everywhere tried to copy her figure.

She had a brief, second marriage to Robert Winthrop Chanler, an American artist and a member of the Astor and Dudley-Winthrop families.  Married in 1910, the had separated within weeks and were divorced in 1912.

During her career she sang with many famous singers, including the French tenor Lucien Muratore, who became her third husband in 1913.

After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a beauty salon in Paris and wrote an advice column on make-up for a magazine. She also launched her own range of beauty products and perfumes.

A poster for the film 'The World's Most  Beautiful Woman' with Gina Lollobrigida
A poster for the film 'The World's Most
 Beautiful Woman' with Gina Lollobrigida
In 1915 she returned to Italy to make films and then went back to America, where she starred in silent movies, many of which have since been lost.

She moved to Italy again after marrying her fourth husband, the writer Paolo d’Arvanni.

Despite being in her sixties when the Second World War began, she became a volunteer nurse.

Tragically, Cavalieri and her husband were both killed in 1944 after an Allied bombing raid destroyed their home near Florence.

After her death, Cavalieri was painted repeatedly by the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti, who found her face in an old magazine and became obsessed with her, creating hundreds of versions of her image.

In 1955 she was portrayed by Gina Lollobrigida in the film Beautiful but Dangerous, which was alternatively called The World’s Most Beautiful Woman, a French-Italian production directed by Robert Z Leonard.

Travel tip:

Viterbo, where Lina Cavalieri was born, is the largest town in northern Lazio, situated about 80km (50 miles) north of Rome. In the 12th and 13th centuries, with Rome often chaotic as rival families engaged in feuds, Viterbo became a favourite refuge for embattled popes. Much of its most notable architecture, such as the Papal Palace, has echoes of that period. It was bombed heavily during the Second World War but much of its historical centre remained intact and nowadays it is a somewhat overlooked city.

The Villa del Poggio Imperiale outside Florence
The Villa del Poggio Imperiale outside Florence
(picture by Sailko via Wikimedia Commons)
Travel tip:

Lina Cavalieri was killed at her home just outside Florence at Poggio Imperiale, near the imposing neoclassical Villa del Poggio Imperiale, which was once the home of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. It was seized from the Salviati family by the Medici and was then later given to Napoleon’s sister before becoming a girl’s school. Some of the frescoed state rooms are open to the public by appointment.

More reading:

Giuseppina Strepponi - the inspiration for Donizetti and Verdi

How Ruggero Leoncavallo created one of the world's favourite operas

Renata Tebaldi - soprano with the 'voice of an angel'

Also on this day:

Christmas in Italy


21 December 2016

Lorenzo Perosi - priest and composer

Puccini contemporary chose sacred music over opera

Lorenzo Perosi forsook opera in  favour of religious music
Lorenzo Perosi forsook opera in
 favour of religious music
Don Lorenzo Perosi, a brilliant composer of sacred music who was musical director of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican for almost half a century, was born on this day in 1872 in the city of Tortona in Piedmont.

A devoutly religious man who was ordained as a priest at the age of 22, Perosi was a contemporary of Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni, both of whom he counted as close friends, but was the only member of the so-called Giovane Scuola of late 19th century and early 20th century composers who did not write opera.

Instead, he concentrated entirely on church music and was particularly noted for his large-scale oratorios, for which he enjoyed international fame.

Unlike Puccini and Mascagni, or others from the Giovane Scuola such as Ruggero LeoncavalloUmberto Giordano and Francesco Cilea, Perosi's work has not endured enough for him to be well known today.

Yet at his peak, which music scholars consider to be the period between his appointment as Maestro of the Choir of St Mark's in Venice in 1894 and a serious mental breakdown suffered in 1907, he was hugely admired by his fellows in the Giovane Scuola and beyond.

Perosi with Arturo Toscanini before the  premiere of his work Mosè in Milan
Perosi with Arturo Toscanini before the
premiere of his work Mosè in Milan 
Arturo Toscanini conducted his work Mosè on the occasion of its premiere at La Scala in Milan in November 1901, his French admirers included Claude Debussy and Jules Massenet and many of the great opera singers on his day were keen to perform in his works, including Enrico Caruso, Mario Sammarco, Carlo Tagliabue and Beniamino Gigli.

Puccini is quoted as saying that "there is more music in Perosi's head than mine and Mascagni's put together".

Perosi is credited with reviving the oratorio as a musical genre. His grand productions for chorus, soloists, and orchestra based on Latin texts were noted for their bringing together of Renaissance harmony, Gregorian chant, and the flamboyant melodies and orchestrations characteristic of the Giovane Scuola. 

Perosi was one of 12 children born into a pious Catholic family in Tortona, only half of whom survived infancy.  His own birth was said to have been difficult and music historians believe it was probably the cause of the mental health problems he suffered in adulthood.

His father, Giuseppe, was choir director at the cathedral in Tortona and his talent for music was shared with his brothers Carlo, who also became a priest, and Marziano, who would later be musical director at the Duomo of Milan.

Listen to the choir of the church of the Beata Vergine in Mandria, near Padua

Lorenzo enrolled at Milan Conservatory, where he began his association with Puccini and Mascagni, after which he took his first professional post as organist at the Abbey of Montecassino.  He spent a year studying in Germany under Franz Xaver Haberl, where he learnt Renaissance polyphony, but declined a permanent teaching position in Germany in favour of a position nearer home as director of sacred music at the Duomo in Imola.

The bust of Lorenzo Perosi in the  gardens at the Pincio in Rome
The bust of Lorenzo Perosi in the
gardens at the Pincio in Rome
From Imola he went to Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in France to study under the Gregorianists Dom André Mocquereau and Dom Joseph Pothier.

The appointment at St Mark's in Venice came in 1894 and brought Perosi under the influence of Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice who would go on to be elected as Pope Pius X.  It was Sarto who ordained Perosi to the priesthood but just as importantly encouraged his music and was influential in his appointment in Rome.

Perosi's mental health problems began to manifest themselves in 1906, when doctors felt he was suffering from nervous exhaustion as a consequence of the hours he spent writing music in addition to his duties as a priest.

They became so severe following the deaths of both his parents within the space of a few years that at one stage his brother, Carlo, was nominated legal guardian as some doctors deemed him incurable. In time, however, his condition improved and he returned to a normal life.

He added to an already enormous body of work and the popes Pius XI and Pius XII waived the rules regarding mandatory retirement and retained him as 'maestro perpetuo' into his 80s. By the time his health deteriorated irreversibly he had served under five popes.  He died in Rome in October 1956.

The Duomo of Tortona, where Lorenzo Perosi is  buried along with his brother, Carlo
The Duomo of Tortona, where Lorenzo Perosi is
buried along with his brother, Carlo
Travel tip:

Tortona is an elegant small city of around 27,000 inhabitants in the eastern part of Piedmont, roughly halfway between Milan and the Ligurian coast at Genoa.  It sits on the right bank of the Scrivia river between the plain of Marengo and the foothills of the Ligurian Apennines.  Lorenzo Perosi, along with his brother, Carlo, is buried at the Duomo, where his father was the choir director.  The Duomo has a 19th century neoclassical facade but the building itself dates back to the 16th century.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel choir is one of the oldest religious choirs in the world, consisting today of 20 adult professional singers and 30 unpaid boy choristers.   Its reputation today owes much to Lorenzo Perosi, who raised its artistic level to a level as high as any it had known during his time as Maestro di Cappella and supported Pope Pius X in outlawing the use of boys whose voices were preserved by the barbaric practice of castration. Pius declared that only "whole men" should be allowed to be choristers or priests, and the last of the castrati were in time eased out of the choir.  A bust of Perosi can be found in the gardens on Pincian Hill - the Pincio - in Rome.

More reading:

How Giovanni Gabrieli helped popularity of Venetian Baroque

What made Puccini one of the greatest of opera composers

The genius of Venice's musical priest, Antonio Vivaldi

Also on this day:

1401: Birth of the great Renaissance artist Massacio

(Picture credits: bust by Lalupa; Tortona Duomo by Vincenzo da Tortona; both 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)


25 February 2016

Enrico Caruso – opera singer

 Tenor's voice still regarded as greatest of all time 

Enrico Caruso sang in a choir while working  as an apprentice to a mechanical engineer
Enrico Caruso sang in a choir while working
as an apprentice to a mechanical engineer
Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was born on this day in 1873 in Naples.

Believed by many opera experts to be the greatest tenor of all time, Caruso had a brilliant 25-year singing career, appearing at many of the major opera houses in Europe and America.

He made more than 200 recordings of his beautiful voice, some made as early as 1902.

Caruso was born in Via San Giovanello agli Ottocalli in Naples and baptised the next day in the nearby church of San Giovanni e Paolo.

At the age of 11 he was apprenticed to a mechanical engineer and also worked alongside his father in a factory.

At the same time he was singing in his church choir and was told his voice showed enough promise for him to consider becoming a professional singer.

Until she died in 1888, he was encouraged by his mother. To earn money, he started to work as a street singer in Naples, progressing to singing Neapolitan songs as entertainment in cafes. Having decided to become an opera singer, Caruso took singing lessons, keeping up with them even during his compulsory military service.

He made his stage debut in 1895 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in Domenico Morelli’s L’amico Francesco, having been recommended by a musician who had heard him sing.

Listen to Enrico Caruso singing La Donne e Mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto

Caruso went on to perform at other theatres throughout Italy and was given a contract to sing at the prestigious Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1900. On his debut on December 26 of that year, he sang Rodolfo from Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

The following year he appeared in Monte Carlo, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and before the Tsar of Russia in St Petersburg.

Caruso took part in a grand concert at La Scala organised by Toscanini in 1901 to mark the death of Giuseppe Verdi.

Caruso made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Rigoletto in 1903
Caruso in his role as the Duke in Rigoletto, in which
 he made his debut at the Met in New York in 1903
A month later he was engaged to make his first group of recordings for a gramophone company using a hotel room in Milan. The recordings quickly became bestsellers and Caruso’s fame spread.

He travelled to New York in 1903 to take up a contract with the Metroplitan Opera, making his debut in Verdi's Rigoletto in November.

A few months later Caruso began his association with the Victor Talking Machine Company.

His 1904 recording of Vesti la giubba, the moving aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci was the first recording ever to sell a million copies.

He made 863 appearances at the Met, attracting a substantial following from among New York’s Italian immigrants.

He continued to release recordings until close to his death in 1921. Caruso’s voice extended up to high D-flat in its prime and grew in power and weight as he became older. His singing can still be enjoyed by people today as his original recordings have been remastered and issued as CDs and digital downloads.

The singer’s health began to deteriorate in 1920 and he returned to Naples to recuperate. He was planning to go to a clinic in Rome in August 1921, and was staying overnight at the Albergo Vesuvio in Naples on the way, when his condition worsened and he died, aged 48.

The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, opened the Royal Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, for his funeral, which was attended by thousands of people.

The distinctive Basilica of San Francesco di Paolo, overlooks Piazza del Plebiscito in the centre of Naples
The distinctive Basilica of San Francesco di Paolo, overlooks
Piazza del Plebiscito in the centre of Naples
Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Francesco di Paola is on the west side of Piazza del Plebiscito, the main square in Naples . Originally the building had been planned as a tribute to Napoleon but after the Bourbons were restored to the throne of Naples, Ferdinand I made it into a church and dedicated it to San Francesco di Paola. It is similar in design to the Pantheon in Rome with a portico resting on columns and a high dome in the middle. Caruso’s body was taken through the streets of Naples in a horse-drawn hearse and he lay in state before his funeral so that people could pay their respects.

Find a hotel in Naples with Tripadvisor

Caruso loved the resort of Sorrento and the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria
Caruso on the balcony of the Grand Hotel
Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento
Travel tip:

Caruso loved the resort of Sorrento and his stay at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in July 1921 is recognised by a plaque at the entrance gate to the hotel, which is just off Piazza Tasso, the main square in Sorrento. The photograph of Caruso in front of the view from the Excelsior Vittoria’s terrace was one of the last images taken of the tenor. The hotel later furnished Suite Caruso with the piano and writing desk used by the opera singer during his visit. The suite inspired the song ‘Caruso’ to be written by Italian pop singer Lucio Dalla in the late 1980s while he was staying at the Excelsior Vittoria.

Sorrento hotels from

More reading:

How a chance opportunity set Arturo Toscanini on the path to fame

Guiseppe Verdi: Italy mourns the loss of a national symbol

Franco Corelli - the 'prince of tenors'

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, 'father' of pathology

1707: The birth of playwright Carlo Goldoni

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

Selected books:

Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death, by Dorothy Caruso