Showing posts with label January. Show all posts
Showing posts with label January. Show all posts

31 January 2016

Charles Edward Stuart – royal exile

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heart will forever be in Frascati 

The portrait is part of a collection of the Earl of Wemyss, at Gosford House
A portrait of Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie
Prince Charlie - painted by Allan Ramsey in 1745
The Young Pretender to the British throne, sometimes known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, died on this day in 1788 in Rome. 

The man who would have been King Charles III was born and brought up in Italy where his father, James, the son of the exiled Stuart King James II, had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI.

Charles Edward Stuart was raised as a Catholic and taught to believe he was a legitimate heir to the British throne.

In 1745 Charles sailed to Scotland hoping to gather an army to help him place his father back on the thrones of England and Scotland. 

He defeated a Government army at the Battle of Prestonpans and marched south. He had got as far as Derbyshire when the decision was made by his troops to return to Scotland because of the lack of English support for their cause.

They were pursued by King George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who led troops against them at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Many of his soldiers were shot and killed and the surviving Jacobites fled. They were pursued by Cumberland ’s men, who committed atrocities against them when they were caught. 

Charles had to hide out in the Scottish moors until he could get away by boat to France, as commemorated in the Skye Boat Song.

Bonnie Prince Charlie died in Rome at the age of 67 after suffering a stroke. He was initially buried in the cathedral in Frascati, where his brother Henry Benedict Stuart was the Bishop. 

When Henry died in 1807, the remains of Bonnie Prince Charlie were moved to the crypt of St Peter’s in Rome, where they were laid to rest with his father and brother.

The Cattedrale San Pietro in Frascati, which houses the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart
The Cattedrale San Pietro in Frascati, which
houses the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart
Travel tip:

Frascati is an ancient city 20 kilometres south east of Rome in the Alban Hills. Inside the main church, Cattedrale San Pietro, is the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender. When his body was moved to St Peter’s, his heart was left in Frascati in a small urn under the floor below his monument. Among the art works in the church is a Madonna attributed to Domenichino.

Travel tip:

Bonnie Prince Charlie was born and died in Palazzo Muti in Rome, an ochre-coloured building in Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, which became the official Stuart court in exile. This residence had been given to them by the Pope, who recognised them as the rightful kings of Great Britain and Ireland.

More reading:

The founding of the Papal Swiss Guard

Europe's first free public school opens in Frascati

How Domenichino rivalled Raphael

Also on this day:

1888: The death of the saint, Don Bosco

1933: The birth of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano


30 January 2016

Elsa Martinelli – actress

Tuscan beauty was spotted by Kirk Douglas

The actress Elsa Martinelli in a 1965 appearance in the TV show The Rogues
The actress Elsa Martinelli in a 1965
appearance in the TV show The Rogues
Actress and former model Elsa Martinelli was born Elisa Tia on this day in 1935 in Grosseto.

She moved to Rome with her family as a teenager and was discovered by designer Roberto Capucci in 1953 while working as a barmaid in the city.

Her stunning looks helped her to become a successful fashion model and she eventually began playing small parts in films.

As Elsa Martinelli she appeared in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1954.

Her first important role came a year later when Kirk Douglas is said to have seen her on a magazine cover and told his production company to hire her to appear opposite him in the film, The Indian Fighter.

In 1956 she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for playing the title role in Mario Monicelli’s Donatella.

Martinelli married Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito and they had a daughter, Cristiana, in 1958.

Ten years later, after she had split up with her first husband, Martinelli married photographer and furniture designer Willy Rizzo.

In the 1950s and 1960s she attended lavish parties and events in Rome with celebrities such as Anita Ekberg, Maria Callas, Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti and Harold Robbins.

More reading: Federico Fellini, film director, born 20 January, 1920

Martinelli went on to have a long string of film and television credits to her name.

She appeared in the 1992 comedy film Once Upon a Time and most recently in the television series, Orgoglio, in 2005.

The cathedral in Grossetto, Tuscany, birthplace of Elsa Martinelli
The Cathedral in Grosseto
Photo by Waugsberg (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Grosseto, where Elsa Martinelli was born and lived as a child, is in the centre of Tuscany, about 14 kilometers from the sea and surrounded by walls commissioned by Francesco I de Medici in the 16th century, There is a 13th century Cathedral with a façade of black and white marble as well as many beautiful old palaces in the centre of the city.

Travel tip:

Rome in the late 1950s and early 1960s was considered the most desirable place in the world in which to party. The economy was booming, designers, such as Roberto Capucci, had made the city synonymous with the word glamour and American directors flocked to make their films at Cinecittà, the studio complex south of the city. This golden era is epitomised by Federico Fellini’s film La dolce vita (The Sweet Life), featuring Marcello Mastroianni as a reporter who follows every move of the celebrities who frequent Rome’s exclusive nightclubs and live in the city’s historic, aristocratic villas.


29 January 2016

Fire at La Fenice

Oldest theatre in Venice keeps rising from the ashes

The sign welcoming visitors to Teatro La Fenice, Venice's famous opera house
The sign welcoming visitors to Teatro La Fenice,
Venice's famous opera house
La Fenice, the world famous opera house in Venice, was destroyed by fire on this day in 1996.

It was the third time a theatre had been burnt down in Venice and it took nearly eight years to rebuild.

The theatre had been named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect that it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down.

Disaster struck again in 1836 when La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire but it was quickly rebuilt and opened its doors again in 1837.

The American writer, Donna Leon, chose La Fenice to be the main location in her first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, published in 1992.

But in January 1996, approximately four years after Leon’s novel, Death At La Fenice,was published, the theatre burnt down again, making it front page news all over the world.

Arson was immediately suspected and in 2001 a court found two electricians guilty of setting the building on fire.

More on opera: Death of composer Giuseppe Verdi, 27 January, 1901

They were believed to have burnt it down because their company was facing heavy fines because of delays in the repair work they were carrying out. One of them disappeared after his final appeal was turned down, having been sentenced to seven years in prison. The other went on to serve a six-year prison sentence.

The fugitive electrician was arrested on the Mexico-Belize border in 2007 and extradited to Italy. After serving 16 months in prison he was released on day parole.

La Fenice was rebuilt in the same style as before at a cost of more than 90 million euros and it reopened with an orchestral concert in 2003.

The first opera performed in the rebuilt theatre was a production of Verdi’s La Traviata, staged in November 2004.

Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Campo San Fantin is the oldest theatre in Venice. Its heyday was during the 19th century when the premieres of Rossini’s Tancredi and Semiramide and Verdi’s La Traviata were held there. During the Austrian occupation of Venice,  the audience threw red, white and green flowers on the stage to represent the Italian flag and shouted Viva Verdi. They weren’t just praising the composer, but using the letters of his last name as code for ‘Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia’.

Campiello Santa Maria Nova in Venice,
close to the home of author Donna Leon
Travel tip:

The writer Donna Leon, who lives in Venice, chose to put her character, Brunetti, on the opposite side of the Grand Canal from herself. She lives close to the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Cannareggio while Brunetti’s apartment is supposed to be in Calle Tiepolo near the church of San Polo.

She often describes Brunetti leaving the Questura and jumping on to a police launch that would then head out into the lagoon. But in her novel, A Venetian Reckoning, published in 1996, Brunetti has to go home urgently. Instead of going down to Riva Schiavoni and taking the Vaporetto, he knows it will be quicker to cut through the back streets to Campo Santa Maria Formosa and Campo San Bartolomeo and cross the Grand Canal on a traghetto. Two old ladies are waiting to be rowed across but he waves his police badge at the gondolier and orders him to take him to the end of Calle Tiepolo.

Browse books by Donna Leon at


21 January 2016

Gennaro Contaldo – Chef

TV cook is passionate about Amalfi’s speciality dishes

Celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo was born on this day in 1949 in Minori in Campania.

Gennaro Contaldo inspired Jamie Oliver's interest in Italian food
Gennaro Contaldo
Contaldo has made many appearances on British television alongside chefs such as Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver and James Martin and he has also brought out several cook books.

It is well documented that he is the man responsible for inspiring Jamie Oliver’s interest in Italian food.

Contaldo grew up in the small seaside town of Minori near Amalfi and is a passionate advocate of the style of cooking in the area, cucina amalfitana.

From an early age he was interested in dishes cooked with local produce, going out to collect wild herbs for his mother, and he began helping out in local restaurants at the age of eight.

Contaldo moved to Britain in the late 1960s and travelled around the country working in village restaurants and studying the food growing wild in each area, such as herbs and mushrooms.

He eventually went to London and worked in several restaurants, including Antonio Carluccio’s establishment in Neal Street .

Contaldo opened his own restaurant in London, Passione, which won a Best Restaurant award, but he closed it after a few years when business began to decline.

His first cook book, Passione, dedicated to cucina amalfitana, won an award in 2003.

He mentored Jamie Oliver when they first met and has appeared on many of Oliver’s television shows, also helping him develop the menus for his chain of Italian restaurants in the UK .

Contaldo toured the regions of Italy with Antonio Carluccio for the BBC series, Two Greedy Italians. They then made a second series Two Greedy Italians: Still Hungry.

Contaldo now lives in London with his partner and their twin daughters.

Travel tip:

Minori is a pretty seaside resort on the Amalfi coast in the province of Salerno, with a good beach and plenty of hotels and restaurants. The ruins of a first century Roman villa were discovered there during the 1950s, showing that Minori had been considered a good holiday location more than 2000 years ago.

The Cathedral of St Andrew is Amalfi's architectural pride
The Cathedral of St Andrew
is Amalfi's architectural pride

Travel tip:

The quaint town of Amalfi was once a maritime power but now the boats just bring visitors to look round the narrow streets and enjoy the restaurants and shops. The town’s great architectural treasure, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, which dates back to the ninth century, is up a flight of steps from the main square. Amalfi used to be a centre for the production of paper. Most of the paper mills have now closed but you can still buy beautiful stationery produced by one local business.


18 January 2016

Alfonso Ferrabosco the elder – musician

Court composer could have supplied information as well as music

Alfonso Ferrabosco, the composer who first introduced the madrigal to England, was born on this day in Bologna in 1543.

Ferrabosco was suspected of working
as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I
As well as composing music for Queen Elizabeth I of England, he was also suspected of working as a spy for her.

Ferrabosco had been born into a family of musicians and travelled about in Italy and France while he was young with his father and uncle.

He went to England in 1562 with his uncle and found employment with Elizabeth I, becoming the first composer to introduce the unaccompanied harmony of the madrigal to England, where it later became very popular. Elizabeth is said to have settled an annuity equivalent to £66 on him.

Ferrabosco’s madrigals suited English tastes and were considered very skilful. He also composed sacred music and instrumental music for lutes and viols.

He made periodic trips back to Italy, but these were frowned upon both by the Pope and the Inquisition. England was at war with several Roman Catholic countries at the time and as a result, Ferrabosco lost his Italian inheritance.

At one point he was serving Cardinal Farnese in Rome, but decided he wanted to return to England. Rather than ask permission, Ferrabosco said he had to go back to Bologna for family reasons. He then returned to England, where he got an increase in his allowance from Elizabeth.

Ferrabosco fathered two children during his time in England. The eldest, also named Alfonso, later became an important composer.

During one of Ferrabosco’s periods away in Italy he was accused, in his absence, of robbing and killing another foreigner in England.

He managed eventually to clear his name but as a result of the scandal left England in 1578 and never returned. Elizabeth attempted to get him to come back but did not succeed.

Ferrabosco died in Bologna in 1588. It was claimed after his death that he had been a secret service agent for Elizabeth. No evidence was ever produced, although it was thought he had been unusually well paid for a court musician.

The Archiginnasio in Bologna
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Bologna already had a well established university when Ferrabosco was born in the city. You can visit the oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, which is now a library. It is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is just a short walk from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

Travel tip:

Palazzo Farnese in Rome had already been built by the Farnese family when Ferrabosco worked for them, in Piazza Farnese in the Campo De’ Fiori area. It was originally designed in 1517 but enlarged when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534. Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta were all involved in the design. The palace is currently being used as the French Embassy in Rome.


17 January 2016

Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino

Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472. 

He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.
The portrait by Raphael is housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Raphael's portrait of Guidobaldo da
Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, can be
found at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.

His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.

The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.

Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.

As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.

During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.

Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.

Guidobaldo fought as a captain on behalf of Pope Alexander VI alongside the French troops during the invasion of southern Italy by King Charles VIII of France.

As a condottiero (mercenary military leader) he was later hired by the Republic of Venice to fight against Charles. At one point he was taken prisoner but was freed after a few months.

He had to flee from Urbino in 1502 to escape the armies of Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s son, but was able to return in 1503 after the Pope died.

Guidobaldo adopted as his heir, Francesco Maria della Rovere, his sister’s child. In 1508 Guidobaldo died, aged 36, and was succeeded as Duke of Urbino by his nephew.

Travel tip:

Urbino, which is inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region, is a majestic city on a steep hill.  It was once a centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also in its glory days throughout Europe. The Ducal Palace, a Renaissance building made famous by The Book of the Courtier, is one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Palazzo Ducale in Gubbio
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Gubbio, where Guidobaldo was born, is a small town in Perugia in the region of Umbria that still has many of its medieval buildings. It became absorbed into the territory of the Montefeltro family in the 15th century and Federico Montefeltro, Guidobaldo’s father, had the ancient Palazzo Ducale rebuilt in a similar style to his palace in Urbino.


16 January 2016

Arturo Toscanini - conductor

Talented musician had unexpected career change

World famous orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini died on this day in 1957.

Arturo Toscanini was in his lifetime musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philamonic Orchestra.
Arturo Toscanini
He served as music director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Toscanini was a well-known musician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respected for his amazing musical ear and his photographic memory.

Towards the end of his career he became a household name as director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra because of the radio and television broadcasts and recordings he made.

Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867 and won a scholarship to his local music conservatory where he studied the cello.

He joined the orchestra of an opera company and while they were presenting Aida on tour in Rio de Janeiro the singers went on strike.  They were protesting against their conductor and demanded a substitute. They suggested Toscanini, who they were aware knew the whole opera from memory.

Although he had no previous conducting experience, he was eventually persuaded to take up the baton late in the evening. He led a performance of the long Verdi opera, entirely relying on his memory, and received great acclaim for it. He carried on conducting successfully for the rest of that season, at the age of just 19.

On returning to Italy, Toscanini continued to conduct but also carried on playing the cello in orchestras.

Gradually his success as a conductor began to take over his career. Even the great composer Verdi was impressed with the way Toscanini could interpret his scores.

He was also trusted to conduct at the world premieres of Puccini’s La Boheme and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

By 1898 Toscanini was principal conductor at La Scala. He toured America with the company in 1920 and made his first recordings there.

He conducted the Metropolitan Opera in New York as well as the New York Philharmonic orchestra.

He conducted his first NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast in 1937 and continued to tour with the orchestra and make recordings with them until he retired.

Toscanini died on 16 January 1957 at the age of 89 at his home in New York. His body was returned to Italy and he was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan.

Toscanini became principal conductor at La Scala in 1898
Teatro alla Scala, better known simply as La Scala
Travel tip:

La Scala in Milan, where Toscanini was musical director, has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and a few days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

Parmigano-Reggiano cheese is one of the culinary products for which Parma is famous
Parmigano-Reggiano cheese is one of the
culinary products for which Parma is famous
Travel tip:

Parma, the birthplace of Arturo Toscanini, is one of Italy’s great art cities with a wealth of churches and palaces full of masterpieces. The city in Emilia-Romagna is also famous for its food and culinary specialities. Parmigiano–Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma, as well as many dishes cooked alla parmigiana, all originated here.


15 January 2016

Giambattista De Curtis – songwriter and artist

Talented Neapolitan became captivated with the beauty of Sorrento

Writer, painter and sculptor Giambattista De Curtis died on this day in 1926 in Naples.

De Curtis is famous for the song Torna a Surriento
The bust of Giambattista de Curtis
outside the railway station in Sorrento
A talented poet and playwright, he also wrote the lyrics for many popular songs.

He is perhaps best known for the song Torna a Surriento, although the English words that have now become famous differ from the original verses for the song that he wrote in Neapolitan dialect.

De Curtis is believed to have written the words for Torna a Surriento while on the terrace of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano in 1902, gazing out at the sea whose beauty he was praising.

De Curtis lived for weeks at a time in the hotel and painted frescoes and canvases to decorate the walls for the owner, Guglielmo Tramontano, who was also Mayor of Sorrento at the time.

One theory is that De Curtis was asked to write the song to mark the stay at the hotel of Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Zanardelli.

But another school of thought is that he had already written the words to accompany the beautiful music written by his brother, Ernesto, a few years earlier and that he revived it for the occasion.

Torna a Surriento has often been performed and recorded with its original words, sung by such great performers as Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti.

The opening lines are: Vide’o mare quant’e bello. Spira tanta sentimento. Comme tu, a chi tiene mente .Ca, scetato,’ o faje sunna.

A literal translation of this is: See how beautiful the sea is. It inspires so many feelings. Like you, and he who thinks of you, dream while awake.

But to many people the song has come to mean simply: Come back to Sorrento because it is so beautiful.

De Curtis was born into a noble and talented family in Naples in 1860, the son of a painter and the grandson of a composer.

He loved Neapolitan songs and began collaborating with composer Vincenzo Valente in the 1880s. Their first song A Pacchianella was produced in 1889.

Another song he is remembered for is Duorme Carme, inspired by a girl who lived in Via Fuorimura in Sorrento who told him she liked to spend most of her time sleeping.

De Curtis went to live in the Vomero quarter of Naples in 1916 and continued to write and paint until his death. Ernesto had by then moved to America but was still writing music for his brother’s lyrics. 

A few days after Giambattista passed away on 15 January 1926, a letter from Ernesto arrived at his home. He wrote: “Dear Giambattista, I enclose for you music for the song which you sent me last month. I hope it pleases you.”

The view of Vesuvius from the Imperial Hotel
Tramontano that inspired De Curtis
Travel tip:

In Sorrento there is a bust of Giambattista in the square in front of the railway station that bears the inscription: 'To G Battista de Curtis author of the song Torna a Surriento. Placed by the commune 15 September 1982 .' The Imperial Hotel Tramontano in Via Vittorio Veneto where De Curtis used to stay is also famous as the birthplace of the poet, Torquato Tasso.

Travel tip:

When in Naples,  you can take the funicular railway up the hill to Vomero, where De Curtis lived in his last years, to see fine views over the city and the bay. It is well worth visiting the 14th century Castel Sant’Elmo up there because of the wonderful views you will get from its vantage point.


14 January 2016

Nina Ricci – designer

Creative flair of Italian-born founder of famous fashion house

The prestigious fashion designer Nina Ricci was born Maria Nielli in Turin in 1883.

A Nina Ricci
silk organza dress
Photo: Mabalu
(CC BY-SA 4.0)
Her designs enabled her to build a reputation for graceful, feminine clothes. Ricci was a near-contemporary of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel but in many ways they were polar opposites in that Ricci was neither a public personality nor a headline‐making designer.

She moved with her family to live in
Florence at the age of five and then went to live with them in France when she was 12.

Her interest in fashion began in childhood, when she began dressing her dolls. At the age of 13, having acquired the nickname Nina, she began working as a dressmaker’s apprentice.

She continued working in fashion, eventually joining the house of Raffin as a designer.

In 1904 she married an Italian jeweller named Luigi Ricci and they later had a son, Robert.

The house of Nina Ricci was founded in Paris in 1932. Nina became famous for her romantic, feminine, creations, which she created with the help of "live" models rather than mannequins. Her son, Robert, later joined her in the venture, helping her manage the business side. She was one of the first Paris designers to produce versions of her creations to sell through her boutique at prices that made them more accessible to ordinary women.

Robert created an in-house perfume division in 1941 and in 1948 the house of Nina Ricci launched  the fragrance ‘L’air du temps’, in a glass bottle decorated with doves, which was co-designed by Marc Lalique. This became a world-wide success.

In the 1950s Nina Ricci stepped back from designing and her son continued to run the company with new designers.

Maria (Nina) Ricci died in Paris in 1970 at the age of 87.

More on fashion -- Gianni Versace, born 2 December, 1946.

Turin's Palazzo Reale
Photo: Xadhoomx (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Turin is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It has had a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy and there are many impressive Renaissance, baroque and rococo buildings in the centre of the city. Piazza Castello with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin.

Travel tip:

Florence, capital of the Tuscany region and birthplace of the Renaissance, is a treasure trove of masterpieces of art and architecture. The beautiful Cathedral has a dome designed by Brunelleschi and a bell tower designed by Giotto. The Galleria dell’Accademia houses Michelangelo’s David and the Uffizi Gallery has works by Botticelli and da Vinci on display.


13 January 2016

Carlo Tagliabue – opera singer

Powerful performer remembered for his Don Carlo

A leading Italian baritone in the middle of the last century, Carlo Tagliabue was born on this day in 1898 in Mariano Comense near Como in Lombardy.

Tagliabue became well known for his roles in Verdi operas
Carlo Tagliabue
He particularly excelled in Verdi roles at the height of his career and continued to perform on stage and make recordings when he was well into his fifties.

After studying in Milan, Tagliabue made his debut on stage at a theatre in Lodi in 1922 singing Amonasro, King of Ethiopia, in Aida.

He went on to sing in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, when it was performed in Italian at theatres in Genoa, Turin , Milan , Rome and Naples.

He later became known for his performances in Verdi operas, particularly La forza del destino, Rigoletto, La traviata, Nabucco and Otello and he was consistently praised for the power of his voice.

Tagliabue is also remembered for creating the role of Basilio in the world premiere of Respighi’s La fiamma in 1934.

Listen to Carlo Tagliabue sing Di provenza il mar from Verdi's La Traviata

He went on to sing in Buenos Aires, New York, San Francisco and London but his final performance was in 1955 on the stage of La Scala in Milan as Don Carlo in La forza del destino, singing alongside Maria Callas playing Donna Leonora.

Tagliabue retired to teach in 1958 and died at the age of 80 in Monza in 1978.

More opera -- Giacomo Puccini, born 22 December, 1858.

More music -- Death of violin maker Antonio Stradivari, 18 December, 1737

Travel tip:
The Villa Olmo, an 18th century house set in magnificent grounds, is open to the public
The Villa Olmo in Como
Photo: Geobia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Como, to the north of Mariano Comense, the small town where Tagliabue was born, is right on the edge of Lake Como and a popular tourist destination with palaces, museums, parks and theatres to visit. There is an 18th century house, the Villa Olmo, which is set in magnificent grounds are open to the public and there is a 13th century town hall, known as the Broletto, striped in pink, white and grey, with a pretty balcony that was used for addressing the people.

Travel tip:

Lodi, where Tagliabue made his stage debut, is an historic city south east of Milan that was ruled by the Visconti family in the 15th century. There are still remains of the castle they built there but one of the main attractions is the Church of the Beata Vergine Incoronata, near Piazza della Vittoria, Lodi’s main square, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Lombardy.


12 January 2016

Revolution in Sicily

January revolt meant the beginning of the end for the Bourbons

The Sicilian uprising on this day in 1848 was to be the first of several revolutions in Italy and Europe that year.

Ferdinand was the Bourbon ruler of Sicily
King Ferdinand II
The revolt against the Bourbon government of Ferdinand II in Sicily started in Palermo and led to Sicily becoming an independent state for 16 months.

It was the third revolution to take place on the island against Bourbon rule and signalled the end for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Naples and Sicily had been formally reunited to become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. Back in medieval times they had both been part of a single Kingdom of Sicily.

The 1848 revolt was organised in Palermo and deliberately timed to coincide with King Ferdinand’s birthday.

News of the revolt spread and peasants from the countryside arrived to join the fray and express their frustration about the hardships they were enduring.

Sicilian nobles revived the liberal constitution based on the Westminster system of parliamentary government, which had been drawn up for the island in 1812.

The Bourbon army took back full control of Sicily by force in May 1849 but the revolt proved to be only a curtain raiser for the events to come in 1860 when Giuseppe Garibaldi ended Bourbon rule once and for all.

The island of Sicily became part of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Travel tip:
Palermo's magnificent Teatro Massimo
Photo: Bjs (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Palermo,  the capital of Sicily, is famous for its history, culture, architecture, food and wine. It has examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches and palaces. Palazzo dei Normanni, a marvellous example of Norman architecture, is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly. The Teatro Massimo, the biggest theatre in Italy, has staged operas starring Enrico Caruso.

Travel tip:

Naples has been subjected to persistent foreign domination over the centuries. After the Spanish came the Austrians and in 1734 the Bourbon King, Charles I, renovated the city, building the Villa di Capodimonte and the Teatro di San Carlo. Napoleon conquered Naples in 1806 and made his brother the King, but the Bourbon King, Ferdinand, regained Naples in 1815. In 1861, Garibaldi’s army conquered the city and handed it over to the King of Sardinia, who later became King Victor Emanuel II, the ruler of the newly united Italy.


11 January 2016

Matteo Renzi – politician

Italy's youngest Prime Minister was inspired by the scout movement

Matteo Renzi, the current Prime Minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1975 in Florence.

Renzi became Italy's youngest Prime Minister when he was elected in 2014
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
When he became Prime Minister in February 2014, he was the youngest person to hold the office since Italian unification in 1861.

Celebrating his 41st birthday today, Renzi is still the youngest leader in the G7, the group of seven countries with the most advanced economies.

His father, Tiziano Renzi was a Christian Democrat local councillor in Rignano sull’Arno, where Renzi was brought up as part of an observant Catholic family.

He went to school in Florence and was a scout in the association of Catholic Guides and Scouts of Italy.

On Renzi’s personal website he carries a quote from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement: “Lasciare il mondo un po’ migliore di come lo abbiamo trovato - Leave the world a bit better than how you found it.”

Since forming a Government nearly two years ago, Renzi has reformed labour and employment laws to boost economic growth and has abolished some small taxes.

Renzi became interested in politics while still at school. He graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in Law and at the age of 21 joined the Italian People’s Party. In 2001 he joined The Daisy Party, formed by members of the disbanded People’s party. Three years later he was elected as President of Florence Province.

He then joined the Democratic Party and was elected as Mayor of Florence in 2009. 

He was elected Secretary of the Democratic Party in 2013 and under his leadership the party joined the Party of European Socialists.

Renzi had stated publicly that Italy badly needed a new government with a radical programme of reforms and, after the Prime Minister tendered his resignation in 2014, he was tasked with forming a new government by President Giorgio Napolitano.

After taking up residence in Palazzo Chigi, Renzi appointed his Cabinet, Italy’s youngest ever, with an equal number of male and female ministers.

The author of several books on politics, Renzi is married with three children.

The Palazzo Chigi in Rome, official residence
of the Prime Minister of Italy
Photo: Geobia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel Tip:

Palazzo Chigi, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Italy, is a 16th century palace in Piazza Colonna in Rome. It is just off Via del Corso and is close to the Pantheon.

Travel Tip:

The University of Florence can trace its origins back to the 14th century, but the modern University, where Matteo Renzi studied Law, dates back to 1859, when a number of higher studies institutions were grouped together. The resulting Institute was officially recognised as a University by the Italian parliament in 1923. The Law faculty is in the Novoli district in the north west of Florence, near the courts.

10 January 2016

San Pietro Orseolo – Doge of Venice and monk

Rich powerful Doge made a life-changing decision

Pietro Orseolo, a former Venetian Doge who joined the Benedictine order, died on this day in 987.

Pietro Orseolo was born in Udine
Piazza della Libertà in Udine, birthplace of  Pietro Orseolo.  
He was canonised by Pope Clement XII in 1731 and his feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death on 10 January each year.

Pietro Orseolo became Doge of Venice in 976 but after just two years in office he left his palace in the middle of the night to go to France to become a monk.

Orseolo was originally from a powerful family in Udine and at the age of 20 became commander of the Venetian fleet waging successful campaigns against pirate ships.

He was elected Doge after the previous ruler of Venice had been killed in a revolt. Orseolo restored order to the city, built much needed hospitals and cared for widows and orphans.

He started to rebuild the Doge’s palace and St Mark’s Basilica using his own money. But he suddenly left Venice to travel to southern France with three other Venetians to join a Benedictine abbey. It is believed he told no one about his decision in advance, not even his wife and family.

After some years living as a monk performing menial tasks at the abbey, Orseolo went to live in the surrounding forest as a hermit. He continued to live like this for seven years until he died in 987.

As doge of Venice, Orseolo funded building work on the Basilica and the Doge's Palace
Orseolo funded a rebuilding project on St Mark's Basilica
in Venice before leaving for France.
Forty years after his death he was beatified and 700 years later he was made a saint.

Travel tip:

Udine, the birthplace of San Pietro Orseolo, is a city in the region of Friuli Venezia-Giulia not far from Italy’s border with Slovenia. In the principal square, Piazza della Libertà, there are beautiful 15th century Venetian-style buildings, such as the town hall, Loggia del Lionello, and clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio, which resembles the one in Piazza San Marco in Venice. 

Travel tip:

Bacino Orseolo in Venice, a wide stretch of water where gondolas are moored near Piazza San Marco, is named after Doge Pietro I Orseolo, who established a hospice for pilgrims there in 977, one of the good works he accomplished before he left Venice to become a monk.