Showing posts with label Franco Corelli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Franco Corelli. Show all posts

25 July 2019

Carlo Bergonzi – operatic tenor

Singer whose style was called the epitome of Italian vocal art

Carlo Bergonzi made his professional opera debut in the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville
Carlo Bergonzi made his professional opera debut in
the role of Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville
Carlo Bergonzi, one of the great Italian opera singers of the 20th century, died on this day in 2014 in Milan.

He specialised in singing roles from the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, helping to revive some of the composer’s lesser-known works.

Between the 1950s and 1980s he sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the New York Times, in its obituary, described his voice as ‘an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivalled subtlety’.

Bergonzi was born in Polesine Parmense near Parma in Emilia-Romagna in 1924. He claimed to have seen his first opera, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, at the age of six.

He sang in his local church and soon began to appear in children’s roles in operas in Busseto, a town near where he lived.

Bergonzi spent two years in a prisoner of war camp during World War II
Bergonzi spent two years in a prisoner
of war camp during World War II 
He left school at the age of 11 and started to work in the same cheese factory as his father in Parma.  At the age of 16 he began vocal studies as a baritone at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma.

During World War II, Bergonzi became involved in anti-Fascist activities and was sent to a German prisoner of war camp. After two years he was freed by the Russians and walked 106km (66 miles) to reach an American camp.

On the way he drank unboiled water and contracted typhoid fever. He later recovered, but when he returned to the Arrigo Boito Conservatory after the war he weighed just over 36kg (80lb).

Bergonzi made his professional debut as a baritone in 1948 singing the role of Figaro in Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Other baritone parts followed but Bergonzi soon realised the tenor repertoire was more suited to his voice. After retraining he made his debut as a tenor in the title role of Andrea Chenier at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari in 1951.

The same year he sang at the Coliseum in Rome in a 50th anniversary concert commemorating Verdi’s death. The Italian radio network RAI engaged Bergonzi for a series of broadcasts of the lesser-known Verdi operas.

Carlo Bergonzi and Maria Callas (left) performed together at the Metropolitan Opera
Carlo Bergonzi and Maria Callas (left) performed
together at the Metropolitan Opera
These included I due Foscari, Giovanna d’Arco and Simon Boccanegra.

He made his La Scala debut in 1953 creating the title role in Jacopo Napoli’s opera Mas’Aniello. His London debut came in 1953 and his American debut followed in 1955 in Chicago.

After he appeared at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time the following year he received a glowing review from the New York Times.

He continued to sing at the Met for the next 30 years, appearing opposite such famous sopranos as Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price. He sang in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Met in 1964 in memory of President John F. Kennedy, under the baton of Georg Solti. His last role at the Met was Rodolofo in Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1988.

Bergonzi’s chief Italian tenor rivals during his career were Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco but he outlasted them both, continuing to sing in concerts into the 1990s.

Franco Corelli's was one of Bergonzi's  rivals among Italian operatic tenors
Franco Corelli's was one of Bergonzi's
rivals among Italian operatic tenors
In May 2000 it was announced he was to sing the title role in Verdi’s Otello in a concert in New York. It attracted a great deal of interest and Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti were all in the audience.

Sadly, Bergonzi was unable to finish the performance because his voice had been affected by the air conditioning in his dressing room and a substitute tenor had to sing in his place.

After retiring, Bergonzi mentored many famous tenors and the soprano, Frances Ginsberg, was also one of his pupils.

Bergonzi died 12 days after his 90th birthday in Milan, leaving a widow and two sons. He was laid to rest in the Vidalenzo Cemetery, not far from Polisene Parmense.

He left a legacy of beautiful recordings of individual arias and complete operas, including works by Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo.

The church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto
The church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto
Travel tip:

The village of Polisene Parmense, where Bergonzi was born, is about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Parma and around 20km (12 miles) south of Cremona. In January 2016 it merged with Zibello to form the new municipality of Polesine Zibello.  The village contains two buildings of interest - the church of the Beata Vergine di Loreto, also known as Madonnina del Po, which was built between 1846 and 1920 to preserve an effigy fresco of Our Lady of Loreto that had been discovered in an ancient shrine, and the nearby Antica Corte Pallavicina, a fortress that dates back to the 13th century.

The entrance to Bergonzi's restaurant in Busseto, I due Foscari
The entrance to Bergonzi's restaurant in Busseto, I due Foscari
Travel tip:

Busseto, where Bergonzi sang as a child, is a town in the province of Parma, about 40km (25 miles) from the city of Parma. Verdi was born in the nearby village of Le Roncole but moved to Busseto in 1824. Bergonzi owned a house there and after his retirement also opened a restaurant and hotel there, I due Foscari, named after the Verdi opera about court intrigue in Venice. At the time of his death, I due Foscari was still being run by his son, Marco.

More reading:

How Italy mourned the loss of Giuseppe Verdi

Why Franco Corelli was called 'the prince of tenors'

Pietro Mascagni - a reputation built on one brilliant opera

Also on this day:

1467: The Battle of Molinella sees artillery used for the first time in warfare

1654: The birth of baroque musician Agostino Steffani

1883: The birth of Alfredo Casella, the musician who revived interest in Vivaldi



11 September 2018

Manrico Ducceschi - partisan

Brave freedom fighter whose death is unsolved mystery

Manrico Ducceschi operated under the codename Pippo as he fought as an Italian partisan
Manrico Ducceschi operated under the codename
Pippo as he fought as an Italian partisan
Manrico ‘Pippo’ Ducceschi, who led one of the most successful brigades of Italian partisans fighting against the Fascists and the Nazis in the Second World War, was born on this day in 1920 in Capua, a town in Campania about 25km (16 miles) north of Naples.

Ducceschi’s battalion, known as the XI Zona Patrioti, are credited with killing 140 enemy soldiers and capturing more than 8,000. They operated essentially in the western Tuscan Apennines, between the Garfagnana area north of Lucca, the Valdinievole southwest of Pistoia, and the Pistoiese mountains.

He operated under the name of Pippo in honour of his hero, the patriot and revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini.

Ducceschi's success in partisan operations led to him being placed at the top of the Germans' ‘most wanted’ list. Even his relatives were forced to go into hiding.

After the war, he was honoured by the Allies for the help he provided in the Italian campaign but oddly his deeds were never recognised by the post-war Italian government, nor even by his own comrades in the National Association of Italian Partisans (Anpi).

Moreover, he died in mysterious circumstances in 1948 when he was found hanged in his house in Lucca. His family refused to accept the official verdict of suicide delivered by magistrates investigating his death, believing he was murdered, although a new inquiry opened in the 1970s could not find any evidence to contradict the original verdict.

Manrico Ducceschi's battalion is credited with killing more than 140 enemy soldiers
Manrico Ducceschi's battalion is credited with
killing more than 140 enemy soldiers
Although born in Capua after his mother went into premature labour while travelling, Ducceschi was brought up in Pistoia, where the family lived. He went to high school there and after attending a liceo classico in Lucca he enrolled to study literature and philosophy at the University of Florence, although the outbreak of war meant he never graduated.

He was serving with the Alpini Corps of the Italian Army in Tarquinia in Lazio when Italy formally surrendered to the Allies on September 8, 1943, but managed to evade capture by the Germans and made his way back to Pistoia - a distance of 250km (155 miles) - mainly on foot.

There he became involved with resistance groups. His organisational skills and training with the Alpini saw him quickly assume leadership roles and by March 1944 he was head of the XI Zona Patrioti. Many of his fellow freedom fighters were political activists but Ducceschi insisted that his group was not aligned with any particular party.

In addition to regular engagements with the enemy, the group scored a major success when they intercepted, at the Abetone Pass in the mountains above Pistoia, a Rear Admiral of the Japanese navy. They seized documents that proved highly useful for the subsequent war operations of the Allies in the Pacific.

This led to closer ties with the Allies, who supplied them with uniforms and equipment, and entrusted them with a 40km (25 miles) stretch of the Gothic Line, the line of German defensive positions from the Tuscan coast to the Adriatic for control of which the Allies fought between October 1944 and the following spring. Ducceschi’s partisans participated in the liberation of Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Piacenza and Lodi, and were among the first soldiers to arrive in Milan on April 25, 1945.

The terrain around the Abetone Pass. north of Pistoia, where Duccesci's brigade made a noteworthy capture
The terrain around the Abetone Pass. north of Pistoia,
where Duccesci's brigade made a noteworthy capture
At the end of the war, Ducceschi was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for military valour by the Allies, but had no recognition either from the partisan organisations or from the Italian State.

Family members have since offered a number of hypotheses as to why this might have been and why they believed his death in 1948 was not suicide, but rather a murder made to look like one, with several potential suspects.

These include fellow partisans who opposed his continuing co-operation with the Americans after the war, mainly because he supplied them with information about their political activities. The Americans were concerned about the growth of the Italian Communist Party and Ducceschi, having helped achieve the fall of one dictator in Benito Mussolini, feared an Italy run by the Communists would simply be another dictatorship.

Others they believed had a motive to kill him were those who he discovered to be secretly selling impounded weapons to foreign regimes, including the newly formed state of Israel. They included Franco Corelli, a former partisan colleague and a neighbour in Lucca, who he also suspected of having romantic designs on his wife, Renata.

The inquiry into Ducceschi’s death discovered that Corelli visited him at his home in Lucca shortly before his body was discovered, as did his former right-hand man in XI Zona Patrioti, Giuliano Brancolini.  Both men left Italy before the investigation into the death was concluded, Corelli fleeing to Brazil.

At the time of his death, Renata and the couple’s baby daughter, Roberta, were staying at the family’s holiday home in the mountains. When Ducceschi failed to join them at an appointed time, his father, Fernando, went to the house in Lucca and discovered his body.

In his testimony, Fernando said he heard footsteps on the stairs in the house soon after he found his son’s body. He also claimed that his son’s clothes were soiled in a way that suggested his body had been dragged from somewhere else. Yet the investigation, conducted jointly by Italian, British and American authorities, still reached a verdict of suicide.

The octagonal Baptistry of San Giovanni in Corte in
Pistoia's Piazza del Duomo
Travel tip:

Pistoia, where Manrico Ducceschi grew up, is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany, about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Florence. The city developed a reputation for intrigue in the 13th century and assassinations in the narrow alleyways were common, using a tiny dagger called the pistole, made by the city’s ironworkers, who also specialised in manufacturing surgical instruments. At the centre of the town is the Piazza del Duomo, where the Cathedral of San Zeno, which has a silver altar, adjoins the octagonal Battistero di San Giovanni in Corte baptistery. On the same square is the 11th century Palazzo dei Vescovi.

The Piazza dell'Antifeatro, on the site of a former  amphitheatre, is part of the charm of Lucca
The Piazza dell'Antifeatro, on the site of a former
amphitheatre, is part of the charm of Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca, where Ducceschi settled at the end of the Second World War, is situated in western Tuscany, just 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, and 80km (50 miles) from Florence. Its majestic Renaissance walls are still intact, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.  The city has many charming cobbled streets and a number of beautiful squares, plus a wealth of churches, museums and galleries and a notable musical tradition, being the home of composers Alfredo Catalani, Luigi Boccherini and the opera giant, Giacomo Puccini.

More reading:

How trade union leader Teresa Noce led a secret partisan unit in France

Mysterious death of partisan who helped capture Mussolini

Alcide de Gasperi - prime minister who rebuilt Italy

Also on this day:

1555: The birth of naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi

1871: The birth of adventurer Scipione Borghese


29 October 2016

Franco Corelli - 'Prince of Tenors'

Self-taught singer who wowed New York

Franco Corelli's movie star looks added to the quality of his voice
Franco Corelli's movie star looks added to
the quality of his voice
The great Italian tenor Franco Corelli died in Milan on this day in 2003 aged 82 after suffering heart problems.

Corelli was renowned for the power and vibrancy of his voice, described by some as generating a 'white heat' on the stage when he performed.  In a career spanning more than a quarter of a century he mastered all the major tenor roles and appeared at the greatest opera theatres in the world.

He was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he performed 19 roles over 15 seasons in some 365 appearances.  As well as possessing outstanding vocal range, he used his natural assets – he stood 6ft 1ins tall and weighed 200lbs – to develop a charismatic stage presence.

Blessed with movie star looks, he had the appearance of an opera-singing Errol Flynn. He was nicknamed the 'Prince of Tenors'.

Corelli was born in 1921 in Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast, in a house just yards from the shore.
His father was a shipbuilder for the Italian navy and as he neared adulthood it seemed that Corelli’s destiny was to pursue the same profession. He obtained a place at Bologna University to study naval engineering.

It was while he was in Bologna that a friend dared him to enter a singing competition. He did not win but the judges were impressed enough with his voice to tell him that with proper training he could have a career as a professional singer if he wanted.

Clearly, he had inherited some of the talent of his grandfather, Augusto, who had been an operatic tenor, and two uncles, who had both been in the chorus of the Teatro delle Muse in Ancona.

Mario del Monaco's style influenced Corelli
Mario del Monaco's style
influenced Corelli
Corelli entered the Conservatory of Pesaro but despite the expert coaching he received felt that the experience made his voice worse rather than better. After finding himself unable to reach notes that were previously within his capabilities, he decided he would be better off developing his own technique and declared voice teachers to be ‘dangerous people.’

Although he took advice from the voice coach of another great tenor, Mario del Monaco, he was essentially self taught, identifying Enrico Caruso, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Beniamino Gigli among a small group of singers he chose to study.

He developed a vocal power similar to that enjoyed by Del Monaco and after winning a competition at the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence made his opera debut at Spoleto in 1951 as Don Jose in Carmen.

By 1954 he was performing opposite Maria Callas at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, gaining the respect of the brilliant soprano as a co-star whose acting ability matched hers.  His debut at the Met came in 1961 in a production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

Not all critics were fans. Like Del Monaco, he was accused of sacrificing finesse for power and found some opera writers expressed their disapproval after his debut at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1957, when in Act II of Puccini’s Tosca he stretched Cavaradossi’s defiant cry of ‘Vittoria!’ to a full 12 seconds to show how good he was at holding a high note. The audience was in raptures but critics panned him for showing off.

Watch Franco Corelli sing the aria E Lucevan le stelle from Tosca

Later in his career, it surprised no one that he should have behaved in such a way as he developed a reputation as someone who had a sharp sense of his own importance.

Prone to temperamental outbursts, he was said to be incensed, during a Met production of Puccini’s Turandot in Boston, when the Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson held a high ‘C’ for longer than he had. Later in the performance, Ms Nilsson claimed he took the opportunity presented by a scene in which he was required to plant a stage kiss her cheek to bite her on the neck, something Corelli denied but his co-star insisted was true.

Franco Corelli as he appeared in the title role in Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier
Franco Corelli as he appeared in the title
role in Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier
On another occasion at Teatro San Carlo in Naples he reacted to being heckled from a third-tier box by leaving the stage, in full costume as Manrico in Il Trovatore, climbing three flights of stairs and breaking down the locked door of the box with his shoulder, then waving his costume sword at the terrified occupant. It took the intervention of two ushers to restrain him.

Ahead of any performance he was nervous and ritualistic, making it a contractual obligation on the part of the theatre to prepare him steak tartare with lemon juice and raw garlic, which he consumed immediately before going on stage with no regard for the sensitivities of his leading lady, whatever her stature. On the other hand, he neither smoked nor drank alcohol at any time.

Away from performing, he had a taste for the high life. He modelled clothes for Town and Country magazine and had a passion for expensive cars and cameras. At one point during his years of fame in America he had a Jaguar, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a Lincoln Continental and a Cadillac in his garage and he could pick from any one of 12 cameras when he decided he wanted a day to indulge his interest in photography.

In 1958 he met Loretta di Lelio backstage at the Rome Opera House and they married, at which point the fledgling soprano gave up her career to become his secretary, business manager, agent and translator.  A forceful negotiator, she won him many lucrative contracts.

Corelli was at his peak between 1950 and 1970, after which he began to scale back his appearances sharply. He retired in 1976, having decided his vocal powers were beginning to decline and unwilling to expose his ego to the harsh criticisms that he knew would come if he overstayed his welcome.
It was a wise decision, ensuring his place among the greats of opera would be preserved.

An aerial view of the Adriatic port of Ancona
An aerial view of the Adriatic port of Ancona 
Travel tip:

Ancona is the capital of the Marche region. A port city of more than 100,000 inhabitants, it is known for its beaches, such as the Spiaggia del Passetto, and for the 12th century Cathedral of San Ciriaco, which sits on a hilltop. The Fontana del Calamo, with bronze masks of mythic figures, is a feature in the city centre. On opposite sides of the port are the ancient  Arch of Trajan and the 18th century quarantine station, the Lazzaretto.

Travel tip:

The ancient city of Spoleto in Umbria, where Corelli made his stage debut, is famous for its Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds), founded in 1958, which is held annually in late June-early July. It has developed into one of Italy’s most important cultural events, with a three-week schedule of music, theatre and dance performances.

More reading:

Tito Gobbi - baritone who found fame on screen and stage

Luciano Pavarotti - maestro remembered as 'King of the Hugh Cs'

Andrea Bocelli - today's modern superstar tenor