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

27 April 2019

Renato Rascel - actor, singer and songwriter

Film and TV star who wrote the iconic song Arrivederci Roma

Renato Rascel enjoyed a remarkable career as a  singer, songwriter and actor
Renato Rascel enjoyed a remarkable career as a
singer, songwriter and actor
Renato Rascel, whose remarkable career encompassed more than 60 movies, a hit 1970s TV series, representing Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest and writing one of the most famous Italian songs of all time, was born on this day in 1912 in Turin.

Rascel was Italy’s entry at Eurovision 1960 in London, singing Romantica, with which he had won the Sanremo Music Festival earlier in the year. Romantica finished eighth overall in London.

He is arguably most famous, however, for the song Arrivederci Roma, which he wrote for the 1955 film of the same name, in which he starred with the Italian-American tenor and actor Mario Lanza, which was subsequently released for English and American cinema audiences with the title Seven Hills of Rome.

Arrivederci Roma quickly became a favourite Italian song and scores of big-name singers recorded cover versions, including Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Vic Damone.

Only a year earlier, Rascel had written the best-selling Italian song of 1954 in Te voglio bene tanto tanto (I Love You So Much).

Rascel performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in London in 1960
Rascel performing at the Eurovision Song
Contest in London in 1960
Yet, those achievements were just one part of Rascel’s career in the entertainment business, a life he was born into literally. His mother, Paola Ranucci, gave birth to him backstage in a theatre in Turin, where he and her husband, Cesare, both opera singers, were performing.

As Renato Ranucci, he grew up in his parents’ home city, Rome, and sang in a choir at St Peter's Basilica.  At the age of 14, he began to play drums in ballrooms around Rome before breaking into the growing comedy revue scene as an actor, dancer and clown. His first major stage role was in the operetta Al cavallino bianco, by the Austrian composer Ralph Benatzky.

In 1941 he launched his own theatre company and he began to develop a distinctive kind of humour that became known as ‘non-sense’ and which won him huge popularity. He made play of his small stature - he was only 5ft 2ins tall - becoming known as the il piccoletto nazionale - The Tiny Italian - and exaggerated his smallness by wearing oversized coats.

One of the characters he created for his stage act was called ‘Il Corazziere’, an irony based on the fact that the Corazziere division in the Italian army recruited only soldiers over six feet tall.

His style of humour was seen as ideal for the big screen, where comic characters were all the rage. His movie debut came in 1942 in Pazzo d’amore (Crazy For Love) and began a new phase in his career that saw him appear in more than 60 comedy or drama features.

Renato Rascel starred in Alberto Lattuada's 1952 film Il cappotto (The Overcoat)
Renato Rascel starred in Alberto Lattuada's 1952
film Il cappotto (The Overcoat) 
These included Figaro here, Figaro there alongside the king of comic actors, Totò, Alberto Lattuada’s Il cappotto (The Overcoat), which won Rascel a Nastro Argento award for his performance in the lead role, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, in which he had played alongside Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.

Rascel continue his film career well into his 60s, appearing as the blind man in Franco Zaffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth in 1977.

He also made his mark in a big way in television. When Rai began broadcasting as Italy’s first national TV network in the 1950s, Rascel was chosen as host for the first Saturday night variety shows, among them Rascel la nuit and Stasera Rascel City.

In the 1970s he achieved fame all over again when he was chosen to play the crime-solving priest Father Brown in a series based on the character created by the English novelist G K Chesterton. The series ran for several seasons.

Rascel died in Rome of heart failure at the age of 78 in 1990.

Carlo Mollino's modern auditorium is a feature of the  rebuilt Teatro Regio in Turin
Carlo Mollino's modern auditorium is a feature of the
rebuilt Teatro Regio in Turin
Travel tip:

The main opera venue in Turin is the Teatro Regio, which opened originally in 1740 and was re-opened in 1973 after a long closure following a fire. Architect Carlo Mollino created a striking contemporary interior design behind a reconstruction of the original facade. One of the oldest and most important theatres not only in Turin but in Italy is the Teatro Carignano in Turin, which is believed to date back to 1711, although it has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. Today it is owned by the city of Turin and is used mainly to stage plays.

The facade, designed by Carlo Maderno, of the vast St Peter's Basilica in Rome
The facade, designed by Carlo Maderno, of the vast
St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Travel tip:

From conception to completion, St Peter's Basilica in Rome, where Rascel sang in a choir as a schooboy, took more than 150 years to build.  Suggested by Pope Nicholas V in about 1450, at which time the original St Peter's was near collapse, it was not finished until 1615.  Although the principal design input from the laying of the first stone in 1506 came from Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini, contributions were also made by Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo.  Michelangelo became involved with reluctance, ironically, after Pope Paul III's first choice as architect, Giulio Romano, died before he could take up the post and second choice Jacopo Sansovino refused to leave Venice.

More reading:

Why Totò is still remembered as Italy's funniest performer

The Oscar-winning talents of Anna Magnani

Mario Monicelli - the father of Commedia all'Italiana

Also on this day:

1937: The death of left-wing intellectual Antonio Gramsci

1942: The birth of the entrepreneur and film producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori

2014: The canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II


18 January 2019

Katia Ricciarelli - operatic soprano

Star whose peak years were in ‘70s and ‘80s

Katia Ricciarelli was at her peak
for about two decades
The opera singer Katia Ricciarelli, who at her peak was seen as soprano who combined a voice of sweet timbre with engaging stage presence, was born on this day in 1946 at Rovigo in the Veneto.

She rose to fame quickly after making her professional debut as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème in Mantua in 1969 and in the 1970s was in demand for the major soprano roles.

Between 1972 and 1975, Ricciarelli sang at all the major European and American opera houses, including Lyric Opera of Chicago (1972), Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1973), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1974) and the Metropolitan Opera (1975).

In 1981, she began an association with the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro that she maintained throughout the ‘80s.

In addition to her opera performances, Ricciarelli also appeared in a number of films.

Ricciarelli performed at most of Europe and America's major opera houses
Ricciarelli performed at most of Europe and
America's major opera houses
She was Desdemona in Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in 1986, alongside Plácido Domingo. In 2005 she won the best actress prize Nastro d'Argento, awarded by the Italian film journalists, for her role in Pupi Avati's La seconda notte di nozze (2005).

During her peak years, Desdemona was one of her signature roles, while she was also lauded for her Giulietta in Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and for her interpretations of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Ricciarelli’s most well received Rossini roles were Bianca in Bianca e Falliero, Elena in La donna del lago and and Amenaide in Tancredi.

As her career progressed, however, critics felt her voice became weaker and without some of its former lustre, which some have attributed to her being pushed into heavy, highly dramatic roles, such as Puccini’s Tosca or Verdi’s Aida, which were not suited to her voice.

Ricciarelli often performed alongside José
Carreras, with whom she enjoyed a romance
Some opera audiences are notoriously unforgiving. Her Aida at the Royal Opera House in 1983 was greeted with whistles, while in 1986 in Trieste her debut as Bellini’s Norma provoked a similar reaction.

Her career as a singer at the top level ended in the early 1990s. She made her last appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1990 alongside Domingo in Otello.

Born Catiuscia Mariastella Ricciarelli to a poor family in Rovigo, she was brought up by her mother after her father died while she was very young.

She loved singing as a child and, once she was old enough to work, began to save money so that she could enrol at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Venice, where she had the opportunity to study with the soprano Iris Adami Corradetti.

Essentially a lyric soprano, following her operatic debut in 1969 she won the Voci Verdiane competition, organised by Italy’s national broadcaster Rai, and established herself as a superb Verdi singer, hailed as the “new Tebaldi” after Renata Tebaldi, a soprano popular in the postwar years who, coincidentally, had made her stage debut in Rovigo in 1944, two years before Ricciarelli was born.

Katia Ricciarelli has appeared regularly on Italian TV since she ended her career in opera
Katia Ricciarelli has appeared regularly on Italian TV
since she ended her career in opera
Although her operatic prowess began to wane, Ricciarelli’s career did not. She took up the position of artistic director of the Teatro Politeama di Lecce in 1998 and in the first decade of the new century turned increasingly to acting and appeared in television dramas such as Don Matteo alongside Terence Hill.

In 2005, after being nominated artistic director of the Sferisterio Opera Festival in Macerata, she began her professional relationship with the director Pupi Avati, who would later cast her in his film The Friends of the Margherita Bar (2009).

The following years brought a brief flirtation with politics as a centre-left candidate for the municipal council elections in Rodi Garganico, a beach resort near Foggia where she spent many summer holidays, more television work, an autobiography published in 2008 and a performance at La Fenice in Venice to mark her 40 years in music, in which she performed duets with pop singers Massimo Ranieri and Michael Bolton, among others.

A regular guest on variety and talk shows on Italian television, in 2006 she participated in the reality show La fattoria (Italian version of The Farm) on Canale 5.

Ricciarelli was married for 18 years to the TV presenter Pippo Baudo, the couple divorcing in 2004. She had previously had a relationship with her fellow opera star José Carreras that spanned 13 years.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is Rovigo's main square
Travel tip:

Rovigo is a town of around 52,000 people in the Veneto, which stands on the plain between the Po and the Adige rivers, about 80km (50 miles) southwest of Venice and 40km (25 miles) northeast of Ferrara, on the Adigetto Canal.  The architecture of the town has both Venetian and Ferrarese influences. The main sights include a Duomo dedicated to the  Martyr Pope Steven I, originally built before the 11th century, but rebuilt in 1461 and again in 1696, and the Madonna del Soccorso, a church best known as La Rotonda, built between 1594 and 1606 by Francesco Zamberlan of Bassano, a pupil of Palladio, to an octagonal plan, and with a  campanile, standing at 57m (187ft), that was built according to plans by Baldassarre Longhena (1655–1673). The walls of the interior of the church are covered by 17th centuries paintings by prominent provincial and Venetian artists, including Francesco Maffei, Domenico Stella, Pietro Liberi, Antonio Zanchi and Andrea Celesti. There are the ruins of a 10th century castle, of which two towers remain.

The beach at Roci Garganico is famed for  its soft sand and shallow waters
The beach at Roci Garganico is famed for
its soft sand and shallow waters
Travel tip:

Rodi Garganico is a seaside resort in the Apulia region, a 100km (62 miles) drive northeast from Foggia on a promontory east of the Lago di Varano lagoon. It part of the Gargano National Park.  It has for centuries been a major centre for the production of citrus fruits such us Arance del Gargano (Gargano Oranges) and the Limone Femminiello del Gargano (Gargano Lemons), both with DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status under European Union regulations.  As well as its many kilometres of sandy beaches, Rodi Garganico attracts visitors for the local cuisine, which features orange salad, salad with wild onions, many fish dishes and a good variety of local wines.

More reading:

Alessandro Safina - the pop-opera star who made his stage debut alongside Katia Ricciarelli

Why Renata Tebaldi was said to have 'the voice of an angel'


16 January 2019

Renzo Mongiardino - interior and set designer

Favourite of wealthy clients known as the ‘architect of illusion’

Renzo Mongiardino in his studio, where he created designs for some of Italy's finest houses
Renzo Mongiardino in his studio, where he created
designs for some of Italy's finest houses
Lorenzo ‘Renzo’ Mongiardino, who became Italy’s leading classic interior designer and a creator of magnificent theatre and film sets, died in Milan on this day in 1998.

He was 81 years old and had never fully recovered from an operation the previous November to install a pacemaker.

Mongiardino, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction during his career, worked on interior design for an international clientele that included the industrialist and art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the business tycoons Aristotle Onassis and Gianni Agnelli, the former Russian prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and his socialite wife Lee Radziwill, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, the Rothschild family and the Hearst family.

Nonetheless, he habitually rejected his reputation as the eminence grise of interior design. ''I'm a creator of ambiance, a scenic designer, an architect but not a decorator,'' he once said.

The only son of Giuseppe Mongiardino, a theatre impresario who introduced colour television to Italy, Mongiardino grew up in an 18th-century palazzo in Genoa and attributes his fascination with houses to the memory of standing with his mother in the palace’s vast entrance hall and hearing her lament how difficult it would be to furnish.

A detail from Gianni Versace's Rome residence, in Via Appia Antica, which Mongiardino decorated
A detail from Gianni Versace's Rome residence, in
Via Appia Antica, which Mongiardino decorated
It sparked his imagination and a desire to study design and architecture, although his parents insisted he enrolled at university to study law. Only after he failed numerous exams did they relent and allow him to abandon law in favour of architecture, in which his marks were outstanding.

As an architecture student in 1930s Milan he was exposed to the new orthodoxies of the Modern Movement, but, fortified by his belief in the classicism of the family home, he resisted their pull.

A man whose appearance prompted the New York Times to describe him as a “scholarly bohemian whose noble profile and fastidiously combed fan-like beard gave him an uncanny resemblance to Giuseppe Verdi”, Mongiardino's distinguished career in theatre and film set design included the 1964 Covent Garden production of Tosca, starring Maria Callas and La Traviata at La Fenice in 1972, directed by Giancarlo Menotti.

Later, Mongiardino moved into the cinema, collaborating especially with Franco Zeffirelli on films such as The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Romeo & Juliet (1968) - for both of which he was nominated for an Academy Award - and Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1971). He also decorated Zeffirelli’s house in Positano.

Mongiardino in a sauna he designed for a house in Turin known as the Fetta di Polenta for its unusual shape
Mongiardino in a sauna he designed for a house in Turin
known as the Fetta di Polenta for its unusual shape 
His first design project outside theatre sets was a house for his sister. In early 1950s, he accepted a friend's offer to decorate an apartment and felt he had found his vocation.

Though he was not against the use of rare fabrics and expensive antiques, ingenious fakery was a consistent element of Mongiardino's decors, hence the description once given to him of “the architect of illusion”.

Although money was not an object for many of his clients, he was more interested in the effects he could create than the materials he was using and maintained a loyal stable of painters, carpenters, gilders and model makers assembled in his theatrical work, who brought the tricks of the stage trade to their work on houses.

Consequently, intricate mosaics were often nothing more than paint and supposedly marble walls were actually layered with marble-pattern paper. One of his trusted artisans was expert at recreating the look and feel of materials such as Cordoba leather with the help of pressed cardboard and felt-tip pens.

At the time of his death, Mongiardino was working on two big projects. One was an ideal city in the tradition of Urbino or Pienza, for which he had the backing of a group of Italian businessmen. The other was the faithful reconstruction of La Fenice opera house in Venice, which had been gutted by fire in 1996 and was being restored by the architect Gae Aulenti

The Doge's Palace is one of many grand buildings in the wealthy Ligurian city of Genoa
The Doge's Palace is one of many grand buildings
in the wealthy Ligurian city of Genoa
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, boasts many fine buildings thanks to the wealth generated by its history as a powerful trading centre and later by the growth of its shipyards and steelworks. Many of those buildings have been restored to their original splendour, of which the Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

The rectorate of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci
The rectorate of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza
Leonardo da Vinci
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano - the Polytechnic University of Milan - from which Mongiardino graduated, is the largest technical university in Italy, with about 42,000 students. Founded in 1863, it is the oldest university in Milan. It has two main campuses in Milan city, plus other satellite campuses in Como, Lecco, Cremona, Mantua and Piacenza. The central offices and headquarters are located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. According to the World University Rankings, it is in the top 10 in the world for both design and architecture.

More reading:

Gio Ponti, the visionary of design who helped shape modern Milan

How Gae Aulenti blazed a trial for women in Italian design

Renzo Piano - the Genoese architect behind the Shard and the Pompidou Centre

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of opera composer Niccolò Piccinni 

1749: The birth of playwright and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini


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


21 August 2018

Lino Capolicchio - actor

Acclaimed for role in Vittorio de Sica classic

Lino Capolicchio's acting talents shone on the  stage, television and the big screen
Lino Capolicchio's acting talents shone on the
 stage, television and the big screen
The actor and director Lino Capolicchio, who starred in Vittorio de Sica’s Oscar-winning film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, was born on this day in 1943 in Merano, an alpine town in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy.

Capolicchio appeared in more than 70 films and TV dramas, and dubbed the voice of Bo Hazzard in the Italian adaptation of the American action-comedy The Dukes of Hazzard.

As a director, he won awards for Pugili, a drama-documentary film set in the world of boxing based on his own storylines, but it is for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, for which he won a David di Donatello award for best actor, that he is best remembered.

The movie is about a wealthy Jewish family in Ferrara in the 1930s, whose adult children, Micol and Alberto, enjoy blissful summers entertaining friends with tennis and parties in the garden the family’s sumptuous villa.

Capolicchio’s character, Giorgio, from another middle-class Jewish family, falls in love with Micol but she only toys with his attentions. In any event, everything changes with the outbreak of war as northern Italy’s Jewish population become targets for the Nazis and their Fascist allies.

Capolicchio with his co-star Dominique Sanda in Vittorio de Sica's Oscar winner The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Capolicchio with his co-star Dominique Sanda in Vittorio
de Sica's Oscar winner The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
The movie won De Sica one of his four Oscars as a director. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow both won Best Foreign Language Film, while Bicycle Thieves and Sciuscià were both awarded honorary Oscars.

Trained at the Silvio D’Amico Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, Capolicchio made his stage debut in 1964 at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano in a play by Carlo Goldoni under the direction of Giorgio Strehler, who also used him in some subsequent Shakespeare productions.

By 1967 his acting talents were held in such high regard that he was given a small role in Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

His first major starring role came in Escalation (1968), a drama directed by Roberto Faenza, before the chance to play Giorgio in The Garden of the Finzi-Contadinis followed in 1970. The movie was such a success, winning critical acclaim as well as public popularity, that Capolicchio became famous almost overnight.

Capolicchio continued to work well into his 70s with a number of TV roles
Capolicchio continued to work well into his
70s with a number of TV roles
Many more parts followed, including several films for the director Pupi Avati, including his 1976 movie La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with the Laughing Windows), the 1984 film Noi tre (The Three of Us), in which he plays Mozart’s father, and Ultimo minuto (Last minute) in 1988.

For a period in the late 80s, Capolicchio focussed on teaching, taking the acting chair at the Experimental Centre of Cinematography in Rome. During this period he discovered new talents such as Francesca Neri, Sabrina Ferilli and Jaja Forte.  Later, while he was holding auditions for his film Pugili, he came across a young actor of great talent who has gone on to enjoy a successful career in Pierfrancesco Favino.

Pugili, shot in 1995, was named Best Film by the international press at the Turin Film Festival.  Awarded the Vittorio de Sica Award in 2012 for best actor and director, he continued working into his 70s, with parts in TV dramas such as La piovra and the massively popular Una grande famiglia.

Updated August 2022: Lino Capolicchio sadly passed away in Rome in May, 2022, at the age of 78.

Trauttmansdorff Castle is one of the attractions of Merano
Trauttmansdorff Castle is one of the attractions of Merano
Travel tip:

Located in a basin surrounded by mountains that rise up to almost 3,350m (11,000ft), Merano is a town of around 40,000 inhabitants in Trentino-Alto Adige, known also as the South Tyrol, which is most famous for its spas. The writers Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound were both residents at one time or another. Among the attractions for visitors are the Gothic St. Nicholas' Church and, a little outside the town, the Trauttmansdorff Castle and its gardens.

The Rotonda Foschini in Ferrara
The Rotonda Foschini in Ferrara
Travel tip:

Apart from the impressively well preserved Castello Estense right at the heart of the city, Ferrara - situated midway between Bologna and Venice in Emilia-Romagna - has many notable architectural gems, including many palaces from the 14th and 15th centuries.  Among them is the striking Palazzo dei Diamanti, so-called because the stone blocks of its facade are cut into the shape of diamonds. The palace holds the National Picture Gallery, which houses many works from the  masters of the 16th-century School of Ferrara, including Lorenzo Costa, Dosso Dossi, Girolamo da Carpi and Benvenuto Tisi.

More reading:

Vittorio de Sica - the maestro behind Bicycle Thieves and other classics in Italian cinema history

The Shakespeare adaptations that made Franco Zeffirelli into a household name

How La Dolce Vita actor Marcello Mastroianni became the epitome of Italian cool

Also on this day:

1862: The birth of adventure novelist Emilio Salgari

1969: The death of Giuseppe Meazza, Italian football's first superstar


22 April 2018

Fiorenza Cossotto - operatic mezzo-soprano

Career overshadowed by story of ‘row’ with Maria Callas

Fiorenza Cossotto is considered among the finest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century
Fiorenza Cossotto is considered among the
finest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century
Fiorenza Cossotto, a singer considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1935 in Crescentino in Piedmont.

Cossotto was hailed for her interpretations of the major mezzo and contralto roles from mid-19th-century Italian operas, particularly those of Giuseppe Verdi such as Aida, Il trovatore and Don Carlos, but also Gaetano Donizetti, Amilcare Ponchielli, Vincenzo Bellini and the other important composers of the day.

Yet she is often remembered for a supposed spat with Maria Callas that led the Greek-American soprano to walk off the stage during her final performance at the Opéra in Paris of her signature role in Bellini’s Norma in 1965.

The incident in question took place immediately after Callas, as Norma, and Cossotto, as Adalgisa, had joined in their duet ‘Mira, o Norma’.

Callas, by that stage a little below her prime, was notoriously temperamental and within moments onlookers were imagining a row, theorising that Cossotto had tried to sabotage Callas’s performance by holding her own high notes longer and singing over Callas.

It did not help that Franco Zeffirelli, whose production it was, and at least one other member of the cast, would not deny that this had happened.

Cossotto led a long and highly successful career
Cossotto led a long and highly
successful career
Cossotto herself, now entering her 84th year, insists that the story is a fabrication concocted “to enrich books and articles” and that she was trying only to help Callas, who was unwell with a cold but felt obliged to sing because Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon with whom she shared her life, had brought with him his entire entourage to witness the performance.

In interviews many years later she said that when Callas tried to sing the high ‘C’ required of her in the piece no sound came out. She said: “I thought it was better I sing my ‘A’ calmly so people won't notice, just in case. Instead, they started to say, 'Look, she sings when the other one doesn't sing anymore!'”

Cossotto also claims that Callas, whom she counted as a friend, not only asked for her in person to be Adalgisa to her Norma in the production but, during the performance, asked her not to leave the theatre after her involvement ended so that they could take the curtain calls together, something she would not have done had the two been at odds.

As a girl, Cossotto attended the Turin Academy of Music and studied with Mercedes Llopart. She made her operatic debut in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites in 1957 at La Scala in Milan. Her part was so small he had only one line to deliver.

Maria Callas: Cossotto denied that the two fell out, insisting they were good friends
Maria Callas: Cossotto denied that the two
fell out, insisting they were good friends
Her international debut came at the 1958 Wexford Festival as Giovanna Seymour in Donizetti's Anna Bolena and she performed at Covent Garden for the first time in 1959 as Neris in Luigi Cherubini's Médée, with Callas in the title role.

Cossotto began to attract wide acclaim following her 1962 performance of the lead in Donizetti’s La favorita at La Scala. She made her American debut in the same role in 1964 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and as Amneris at the Metropolitan Opera in 1968.

In two spells at the Met, in 1967–68 and 1988–89, Cossotto gave 148 performances.

During her career, she was Adalgisa alongside the Normas of Callas, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Leyla Gencer, Elinor Ross and Elena Souliotis, although she said she drew more satisfaction from singing Amneris in Aida and Azucena in Il trovatore.

Cossotto was married to the Italian bass Ivo Vinco until they divorced after more than 40 years together.  They had a son, Roberto.

She celebrated her 70th birthday in 2005 by appearing in Giacomo Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica at the Théâtre Royal in Liège, Belgium.  Since retiring as a performer, she has accepted a number of invitations to teach.

She still lives in Crescentino, as does her son and his family.  Ivo Vinco died in 2014.

Crescentino, with the rice fields in the distance
Crescentino, with the rice fields in the distance
Travel tip:

Crescentino is a village in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, located about 35km (22 miles) northeast of Turin and about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Vercelli.  Some of the village was destroyed during the Second World War when houses were set on fire by German troops as part of an ongoing conflict with Italian partisans. After the war the area prospered through rice production in the Po Valley.  The main square, Piazza Vische, contains a 13th century church and the 31m Civic Tower. On the outskirts of the village is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Palazzo.

The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli
The Piazza Cavour in Vercelli
Travel tip:

The rice fields of the Po Valley form the largest rice production area in the whole of Europe, mainly centred on the province of Vercelli, between Milan and Turin, in which the town of Vercelli is surrounded in the summer months by submerged paddy fields, for which water is supplied by a canal from the Po River.  Rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century.

More reading:

The diva who came to blows with a rival on stage

How Franco Zeffirelli bestrode the opera and the cinema

Verdi: When Italy mourned the loss of a national icon

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of racing car engine designer Vittorio Jano

2006: The death of actress Alida Valli


28 March 2018

Anselmo Colzani - opera star

Baritone who had 16 seasons at the New York Met

Anselmo Colzani in his signature role, Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Anselmo Colzani in his signature role,
Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Anselmo Colzani, an operatic baritone who was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as La Scala in his home country, was born on this day in 1918 in Budrio, a town not far from Bologna.

His stage career continued until 1980, when he made his final stage appearance in one of his signature roles as Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.

Although his repertoire was much wider, his reputation became strongly associated with the works of Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi, with Jack Rance in Puccini's Fanciulla del West and the title role of Verdi's Falstaff, as well a Amonasro in Aida and Iago in Otello among his most famous roles.

Colzani’s association with the Met began in March 1960 after he was approached by Rudolf Bing, the opera house’s general manager, following the sudden death of Leonard Warren onstage during a performance of La Forza del Destino.

A few weeks later, Colzani took over Warren's role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It was not only the first time he had sung at the Met, but the first time he had sung the role, which he had to learn it in a matter of days.

Yet so impressive was he that he returned to the Met for the next 16 seasons, making 272 appearances either in New York or on tour. A measure of the stature he achieved there in a short space of time was that he was the baritone chosen for the title role in the first performance of Franco Zeffirelli’s acclaimed production of Falstaff in 1964, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Colzani with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, with whom he starred many times
Colzani with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, with
whom he starred many times
Brought up in a musical family, Colzani joined the Italian Army before beginning to study singing formally, signing up as an 18-year-old in 1936. His service required him to fight in the Second World War. Thankfully he survived and in 1945 began attending the Bologna Conservatory under the tutelage of Corrado Zambelli.

He made his debut at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in 1947 in the small role of the Herald in Wagner's Lohengrin. Also in the cast and making her house debut was the  soprano Renata Tebaldi, with whom he would later be reunited in New York.

Colzani made his bow at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, in 1952, as the murderous Alfio in Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, and he continued to sing there until 1970, his last appearance being also as Alfio.

He was soon in demand throughout Italy for the dramatic baritone roles of Verdi in particular, becoming a major draw  in Naples, Verona and in Rome, where he enjoyed several seasons at the Baths of Caracalla.

He made his United States debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1956, but it was at the Met that he established an enduring foothold, appearing there with many of the major stars of the day, including Maria Callas, Franco Corelli and Carlo Bergonzi.

Colzani's last Met performance was as Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur, by Francesco Cilea, in 1978. He continued singing until 1980, when he gave his final performance in Tosca, reprising the Scarpia role in which he most frequently appeared during his years at the Met.

Married twice - his first wife died young - Colzani died in 2006, a few days before what would have been his 88th birthday. He was survived by his second wife, Ada, and his two children, Bianca and Miriam.

One of the towers that formed part of
Budrio's medieval 
Travel tip:

Colzani’s home town, Budrio, is 15km (9 miles) east of Bologna. A former Roman settlement, it is notable for the remains of the four corner towers of a castle rebuilt in the 14th century, inside which the original village was contained. Each year, the town stages an international opera competition in Colzani’s memory.

Travel tip:

Bologna has a tradition of presenting opera that goes back to the early 17th century. The Teatro Comunale, where Colzani made his debut, came into being in 1763 as the Nuovo Teatro Pubblico, designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena, who won a competition to design a new theatre for the city after another one, Teatro Mavezzi, had been destroyed by fire.  Arturo Toscanini, who went on to be musical director at La Scala, the Met and the New York Philharmonic, conducted there many times in the early part of his career.

More reading:

Why Renata Tebaldi was said to have the 'voice of an angel'

How Arturo Toscanini became a conductor by chance

Tito Gobbi - the baritone who enjoyed a movie career

Also on this day:

1472: The birth of the great Renaissance painter Fra Bartolommeo

1925: The birth of legendary film producer Alberto Grimaldi


26 February 2018

Dante Ferretti – set designer

Three-times Oscar winner worked with Fellini and Scorsese

Dante Ferretti has worked in the film industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti has worked in the film
industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti, who in more than half a century in movie production design has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won three, was born on this day in 1943 in the city of Macerata, in the Marche region of central Italy.

Ferretti, who works in partnership with his wife, the set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, won two of his Oscars for films directed by Martin Scorsese, with whom he has enjoyed a collaboration that began 25 years ago this year.

Nominated for his first film with Scorsese, The Age of Innocence (1993) and subsequently for Kundun (1998) and Gangs of New York (2003), he was successful with The Aviator (2005) and Hugo Cabret (2012).

Both Oscars, for Best Scenography, were shared with Lo Schiavo, with whom he also shared an Oscar for Tim Burton’s 2008 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Ferretti also enjoyed long collaborations with Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and worked with a string of other major directors, including Elio Petri, Ettore Scola, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Minghella, Brian de Palma, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh.

Born a few months before Macerata would become something of a battleground in the Second World War, occupied by Nazi troops in the wake of Mussolini’s downfall and then subjected to allied bombing, Ferretti had design in his blood, coming from a family of furniture makers.

Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built
by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
After completing school, he went to Rome, graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and, fascinated with the film industry, began working at the Cinecittà studios, where he would eventually have his own permanent office.

After cutting his teeth as an assistant on a number of Pasolini titles, he landed his first appointment as set director for Pasolini’s 1969 film Medea

His work on that movie caught with attention of Fellini, his partnership with whom he described as a “dream come true”.  Notable successes over the next two decades included The City of Women and Ginger and Fred.

In the mid-1980s, he worked outside Italy for the first time, on such titles as The Name of the Rose (1986), French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film version of the novel by Umberto Eco, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), directed by the former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on
nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
His association with Scorsese did not begin until 1993, although they had met some years earlier at Cinecittà. To date, they have made nine films together, the most ambitious and challenging of which, he said in a recent interview, was Gangs of New York, the epic period drama set in the notorious Five Points district of New York, for which Ferretti constructed full-scale models of New York street scenes within Cinecittà. There was even a set designed to represent the Hudson River, complete with a full-size ship.

More recently, he and Lo Schiavo worked on Scorsese’s Silence, his film about Jesuits in Japan persecuted for their Christian faith in the 17th century, which involved reconstructions of the Japanese city of Nagasaki and the Chinese port of Macau.

A passionate fan of opera, Ferretti has also designed sets for some of the world’s most famous opera houses, including Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra in Paris, the Royal Opera House in London and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

The Ben Hur set at Cinecittà World, outside Rome
Travel tip:

As well as admiring his work on the screen, fans of Ferretti’s sets can see examples of his creativity at first hand at the Rome theme park, Cinecittà World, which was opened in 2014 in the grounds of the former studio complex Dinocittà, which was set up in the 1960s by the producer Dino De Laurentiis. Containing 26 sets to represent different themes and genres in cinema history, all of which were designed by Ferretti, the park is at Castel Romano, about 25km (16 miles) south of Rome in the Decima Malafede nature reserve.

The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
Travel tip:

The city of Macerata, home to about 43,000 people, is situated in an inland area of Marche, about 48km (30 miles) south of Ancona and 30km (19 miles) from the coastal town of Civitanova Marche. Not a well-known tourist destination, it nonetheless has a charming hilltown feel, with a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and one of Italy’s oldest universities, dating back to 1290. It is the setting each summer for a month-long opera festival at the atmospheric Arena Sferisterio, which has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars.

2 November 2017

Luchino Visconti – director and writer

The aristocrat of Italian cinema

Luchino Visconti came from a family that once ruled Milan
Luchino Visconti came from a family
that once ruled Milan
Luchino Visconti, who most aficionados of Italian cinema would place among the top five directors of all time, was born in Milan on this day in 1906.

Visconti’s movies include Ossessione, Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, Death in Venice and The Innocent.

One of the pioneers of neorealism – arguably the first to make a movie that could be so defined – Visconti was also known as the aristocrat of Italian cinema, figuratively but also literally. 

He was born Count don Luchino Visconti di Modrone, the seventh child of a family descendant from a branch of the House of Visconti, the family that ruled Milan from the late 13th century until the early Renaissance.

Paradoxically, although he maintained a lavish lifestyle, Visconti’s politics were of the left. During the First World War he joined the Italian Communist Party, and many of his films reflected his political leanings, featuring poor or working class people struggling for their rights.

He enraged Mussolini with his grim portrayal of Italy's poverty in Ossessione (1943), based on James M Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. His first movie as a director, and the film that spawned the neorealist genre that would be the hallmark of post-War Italian cinema, depicted Fascist Italy as a destitute, windblown country, robbed of its dignity. Visconti found himself for several months hounded by the Fascist regime.

The movie poster for the Visconti classic Rocco and His Brothers
The movie poster for the Visconti classic
Rocco and His Brothers
Visconti, who had not helped himself by allowing Communist agitators to hold clandestine meetings in the family palazzo in Milan, was arrested more than once and believed he would have been executed as a subversive had the Allied invasion not driven Mussolini from power.

He continued to explore neorealism in his 1948 movie La Terra Trema – The Earth Trembles – set in the post-War poverty of Sicily, and to an extent in Rocco and His Brothers (1960), a story of the brutal life of Southern Italians trying to better themselves in Milan, said to have influenced Martin Scorsese in his making of Mean Streets and Raging Bull and Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation of Mario Puzo’s narrative in The Godfather.

Other Visconti films looked at social change as it affected the wealthy, but with a sense of empathy. The Leopard (1963), based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel of the same name, was about the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy at the time of the Renaissance, while The Damned (1969) focussed on a wealthy German industrialist, whose lavish and decadent lifestyle collapses as the Nazis consolidate their grip on power in the 1930s.

Death in Venice (1971), the film for which he is most well known along with as Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard, was largely concerned with the homosexual obsession of Dirk Bogarde’s character with a teenage boy, played by Bjorn Andresen.

Visconti with the actors Sergio Garfagnoli and Bjorn Andresen (right) on the set of Death in Venice
Visconti with the actors Sergio Garfagnoli and Bjorn
Andresen (right) on the set of Death in Venice
Visconti himself was openly gay and had relationships with the Austrian actor Helmut Berger, who appeared in a number of his films, and his fellow Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who worked with Visconti in the theatre.

Away from the big screen, Visconti was a huge fan of opera and directed productions at La Scala in Milan, several of which featured the great soprano Maria Callas, the Royal Opera House in London and the Vienna State Opera.

A heavy smoker, said to have worked his way through up to 120 cigarettes a day, he suffered a stroke in 1972 but continued to smoke and died in Rome from complications following another stroke on 1976.

From the 1950s, Visconti would frequently retreat to his villa on the island of Ischia, La Colombaia, built to have the look of a French medieval castle, which he had purchased from a baron and renovated to an impeccably high standard.

The villa now houses a foundation in his name and a museum dedicated to his life.

Visconti's villa on the island of Ischia
Visconti's villa on the island of Ischia
Travel tip:

Ischia is a volcanic island in the Bay of Naples, less famous than its neighbour, Capri, but some would argue to be more beautiful. Famous for its thermal springs and its mineral-rich mud, Ischia has been used as the backdrop for many films.  It has an impressive Aragonese castle, built on a rock near the island in 474 and accessed by a stone bridge.

The Visconti palace in Via Cina del Duca in Milan
The Visconti palace in Via Cina del Duca in Milan
Travel tip:

Visconti grew up in the Palazzo Visconti di Modrone, a 16th century palace that can be found in Via Cino del Duca, about one kilometre from the centre of Milan.  It came into the possession of the modern Visconti family in the 19th century, when it changed hands for 750,000 lire Milanese.  The building, spread over three floors, is one of the richest examples of Milanese rococo.