Showing posts with label Lecce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lecce. Show all posts

27 December 2017

Tito Schipa – operatic tenor

Star on two continents whose voice divided opinions

The tenor Tito Schipa enjoyed success on two continents
The tenor Tito Schipa enjoyed success
on two continents
Tito Schipa, one of the most popular opera singers in the first half of the 20th century who sang to packed houses in the United States and South America as well as in Italy, was born on this day in 1888 in Lecce.

The tenor, whose repertoire included Verdi and Puccini roles in the early part of his career and later encompassed works by Donizetti, Cilea and Massanet, rose from modest beginnings to find fame with the Chicago and New York Metropolitan opera companies in America.

He also appeared regularly in Buenos Aires in Argentina and later in his career starred regularly at Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Rome Opera.

Some critics said his voice lacked power and had too narrow a range for him to be considered a genuinely great tenor, yet he overcome his perceived limitations to become extremely popular with the public wherever he performed.

Schipa was born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa in the Le Scalze district of Lecce, a fairly working class neighbourhood in the Puglian city.  His family were of Albanian heritage. His father was a customs officer.

His talent was first noted by a primary school teacher in Lecce and soon afterwards by a Catholic bishop, Gennaro Trama, a music enthusiast who had a reputation as something of a talent scout, and who encouraged him to join his local seminary.

Schipa often performed opposite the
soprano Amelita Galli-Curci
Eventually, feeling his opportunities in Lecce were limited, Schipa made the bold decision to move to Milan to work with Emilio Piccoli, an opera singer who had become a distinguished voice teacher.

With Piccoli’s help he was able to make his stage debut in Vercelli in Piedmont as Alfredo in a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata in 1909 at the age of 21.

He was by no means an overnight success, spending the next few seasons appearing at small opera houses around Italy. But in 1913 he had the opportunity to travel to South America. He had already displayed his linguistic versatility by singing in Spanish for audiences in Madrid and he was a hit with operagoers in both Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

On his return to Italy, a brilliant performance in Puccini’s Tosca on his debut at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1914 earned rave reviews and suddenly Schipa was regarded as a major talent.

He developed a professional relationship with the soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, whose voice blended perfectly with his. It was alongside Galli-Curci that he made his US debut in Chicago in 1919, having been invited by the Scottish soprano Mary Garden and the impresario Cleofonte Campanini, who were managers of the Civic Opera.

His debut in Verdi’s Rigoletto began a 20-year association with the Chicago Opera Company, although from 1932, as the financial recession hit Chicago in particular, he was dividing his loyalties between the Illinois city and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Schipa waves farewell from the steps of an American ship en route to New York
Schipa waves farewell from the steps of
an American ship en route to New York
Schipa’s career was boosted by the growing popularity of the gramophone. He made numerous audio recordings of arias and songs during his career from 1913 onwards. His 78-rpm set of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, made in 1932, is considered so good that it remains in circulation on CD.

Away from the theatre, Schipa led a colourful social life, although his associations with characters in the circle of the Mafia boss Al Capone often resulted in him losing money through dubious ‘investments’ presented to him.

He was married for the first time in 1920 to the French actress Antoinette Michel d'Ogoy, with whom he had two daughters, Elena and Liana.  During the Second World War he had a long affair with the Italian actress Caterina Boratto, although it was to another Italian starlet, Teresa Borgna, that he was married after Antoinette’s death in 1947. The marriage produced a son, Tito junior.

Schipa was a conductor as well as a singer and towards the end of his career, after he had retired from the operatic stage, was the director of a singing school in Budapest.  He had another singing school in New York, and was living in Manhattan at the time of his death, in 1965, at the age of 78, from diabetes.

Piazza Duomo in the Baroque city of Lecce
Piazza Duomo in the Baroque city of Lecce
Travel tip:

Lecce, Schipa’s birthplace, has such a rich cultural heritage it is sometimes called the Florence of the South. It is the main city on Puglia's Salento peninsula. It became a centre for the ornate architecture called Barocco Leccese. Its historic centre, compact and easy to explore, is filled with Baroque monuments. There are many restaurants, too, that offer fine food typical of Puglia.

The Piazza Cavour is at the heart of historic Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli, where Schipa made his operatic debut, is a city of around 46,500 people situated about 80km (50 miles) northeast of Turin near the Sesia river.  It is one of the oldest urban settlements in northern Italy, founded in around 600BC and has numerous Roman relics and several noteworthy towers, including the Torre dell’Angelo that overlooks the market square, Piazza Cavour.  The Basilica di Sant’Andrea is one of the best preserved Romanesque monuments in Italy.

9 February 2017

Vito Antuofermo - world champion boxer

Farmer's son from deep south who won title in Monaco

Vito Antuofermo won the European light-middleweight title in 1976 and became world middleweight champion in 1979
Vito Antuofermo won the European light-middleweight title
in 1976 and became world middleweight champion in 1979
Vito Antuofermo, who went from working in the fields as a boy to becoming a world champion in the boxing ring, was born on this day in 1953 in Palo del Colle, a small town in Apulia, about 15km (9 miles) inland from the port of Bari.

He took up boxing after his family emigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s.  After turning professional in 1971, he lost only one of his first 36 fights before becoming European light-middleweight champion in January 1976.

In his 49th fight, in June 1979, he beat Argentina's Hugo Corro in Monaco to become the undisputed world champion in the middleweight division.

Antuofermo's success in the ring, where he won 50 of his 59 fights before retiring in 1985, opened the door to a number of opportunities in film and television and he was able to settle in the upper middle-class neighbourhood of Howard Beach in New York, just along the coast from John F Kennedy Airport.  He and his wife Joan have four children - Lauren, Vito Junior, Pasquale and Anthony.

He grew up in rather less comfort. The second child of Gaetano and Lauretta Antuofermo, who were poor tenant farmers, he was working in the fields from as young as seven years old.

Antuofermo (left) in action against Britain's Alan Minter
Antuofermo (left) in action against Britain's Alan Minter
Often travelling two hours even before starting work, young Vito would help to harvest grapes, olives and almonds, sometimes trudging along behind a mule-drawn plough attempting to break up sun-baked earth to prepare for planting crops.

It was physically hard work from which it was difficult for his family to make a living and after a series of severe droughts in southern Italy, they decided to move to the United States, where Lauretta had an uncle living in Brooklyn, New York.  Leaving Gaetano to follow later, she took her two oldest boys, hoping they would find opportunities for a better life. For Vito, one came along - although not in a way he had planned.

Picked up by the police with two other young men after a fight in the street, he was lucky that his arresting officer was a boxing fan and a friend of Joe LaGuardia, the ex-boxer in charge of the gym at the Police Athletic League. Instead of taking the three into the police station, the officer took them to the gym, instructing LaGuardia to “see if you can do something with them."

Vito Antuofermo in 2006 after his induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame
Vito Antuofermo in 2006 after his
induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame
LaGuardia saw potential in Antuofermo, who lacked physical strength but packed a good punch and never backed off his opponent.  He inspired him by talking about Rocky Marciano, another son of southern Italian immigrants, who was world heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956, and Antuofermo became fixated with the idea of becoming world champion too.

As an amateur, he won the New York Golden Gloves championship in 1970, turning professional the following year after it became clear his status would not allow him to compete for Italy or the United States in the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

He began to rack up wins and good purses as a professional, even winning the approval of his father, who had initially opposed his ambitions to box.

Victories over former world champions Denny Moyer and Emile Griffith in November 1974 confirmed Antuofermo's potential, and he claimed his first major title by defeating Germany's Eckhard Dagge on his home soil in Berlin to become European champion in January 1976.

His reign was short-lived, the British fighter Maurice Hope taking the crown from him nine months later.  It was another British boxer, Alan Minter, who deprived him of his world title in March 1980, again after only nine months, although Antuofermo did have the satisfaction of making one successful defence, against America's Marvin Hagler, who would go on to beat Minter for the title in 1980 and hold on to it for seven years.

Antuofermo quit the ring after losing to Hagler in 1981 but make a comeback in 1984, winning four more bouts before defeat to Canada's Matthew Hilton in Quebec in October 1985 prompted him to retire for good.

Antuofermo played a bodyguard in The Godfather Part III
Antuofermo played a bodyguard
in The Godfather Part III
After retirement, Antuofermo enjoyed success as an actor. He was picked for a small role in The Godfather Part III as the chief bodyguard of gangster Joey Zasa and was a mobster in the hit television show The Sopranos.  After Godfather star Al Pacino persuaded him to take acting lessons, he also landed a series of parts in theatre plays.

Never afraid of hard work, he was employed by the Port Authority of New York as a crane operator for a sizeable part of his fight career, while his business pursuits included stints working in marketing for Coca-Cola and for an Italian beer company, and running a landscaping company in Long Island.

Travel tip:

Often overlooked in favour of Lecce and Brindisi when tourists venture towards the heel of Italy, Bari is the second largest urban area after Naples in the south of the country. It has a busy port and some expansive industrial areas but plenty of history, too, especially in the old city - Bari Vecchia - which sits on a headland between two harbours.  Fanning out around two Romanesque churches, the Cattedrale di San Sebino and the Basilica of St Nicholas, the area is a maze of medieval streets with many historical buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants.  There is also a castle, the Castello Svevo.

Find a hotel in Bari with

Bari's San Sebino cathedral by night
Bari's San Sebino cathedral by night
Travel tip:

Bari's more modern centre is known as the Centro Murattiano, or the Murat quarter, in that it was built during the period in the early 19th century in which Joachim Murat, for a long time Napoleon's most trusted military strategist, ruled the Kingdom of Naples, of which Bari was a part.  Set out in a grid plan between Bari's main railway station and the sea, the area is the commercial heart of the city and the home of the most prestigious shops, but also of a vibrant night life in a city with a large student population.

More reading:

Angelo Siciliano - the Brooklyn Italian who became Charles Atlas

How Bruno Sammartini dodged wolves and Nazis in Abruzzo before finding fame in the wrestling ring

Why charismatic Joachim Murat's life was ended by a firing squad

Also on this day:

1621: Alessandro Ludovisi becomes Pope Gregory XV

1770: The birth of classical guitar composer Ferdinando Carulli

31 July 2016

Antonio Conte - football coach

Southern Italian roots of the new boss of Chelsea

Antonio Conte, the Italian coach who is Chelsea's new manager
Antonio Conte, the Italian coach who
is Chelsea's new manager

Antonio Conte, the coach who led Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 and is now first team manager at Chelsea in the English Premier League, celebrates his 47th birthday today.

Formerly a hugely successful player and manager with Juventus, Conte was born on this day in 1969 in Lecce, the Puglian city almost at the tip of the heel of Italy.

As a midfield player for Juventus, he won five Serie A titles and a Champions League. He also played in the European Championships and the World Cup for the Italy national team.

After returning to the Turin club as head coach, he won the Serie A title in each of his three seasons in charge before succeeding Cesare Prandelli as Italy's head coach.

Conte hails from a close-knit family in which his parents, Cosimino and Ada, imposed strict rules, although as a child Antonio was allowed to spend many hours playing football and tennis in the street with his brothers, Gianluca and Daniele.

He began to play organised football with Juventina Lecce, an amateur team coached by his father, but it was not long before US Lecce, the local professional club, recognised his potential and offered him an opportunity.   Juventina received compensation of 200,000 lire - the equivalent of about €300 or £250 in today's money - plus eight new footballs.

Conte quickly moved up through the Under-15s and Under-20s teams and made his senior debut aged just 16 in 1986 after Lecce had won promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history.

Antonio Conte's played his first senior football for his home town club, US Lecce
Antonio Conte's played his first senior football
for his home town club, US Lecce
They were relegated after just one year and Conte's career was interrupted by a broken tibia in his left leg but he fought back, as did Lecce under coach Carlo Mazzone, returning to the top flight and finishing a respectable ninth in 1988-89, the season in which Conte scored his first Serie A goal.

The move north to Juventus came about in 1991 when coach Giovanni Trapattoni identified him as a prime target and the club paid Lecce seven billion lire, which would translate to a fee of around €6.1 million or £5.2 million today.

He remained with the bianconeri for 13 seasons, playing under just three coaches - Trapattoni, Marcello Lippi (twice) and Carlo Ancelotti - often as captain, usually in a central midfield role.  He was called up by Arrigo Sacchi to represent Italy in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, in which the azzurri finished runners-up to Brazil, and by Dino Zoff for the 2000 European Championships, in which they again reached the final, although Conte could not play because of injury.

As a coach, Conte had unsuccessful stints with Arezzo, Bari and Atalanta before winning promotion to Serie A with Siena in 2010-11, joining Juventus in 2011.  Regarded as a highly talented tactician and an astute man-manager, the only area in which he has yet to make a real impact as a coach is in the Champions League.

He has been married since 2013 to Elisabetta, although they have been a couple since 2004.  They met by chance at a bar in Corso Vinzaglio in central Turin where Conte was having coffee with one of his neighbours, who happened to be her father.

Travel tip:

Lecce, renowned for the extravagance of its Baroque architecture, is sometimes nicknamed the Florence of the South but has far fewer tourists, mainly because it is almost at the bottom of the heel of Italy and difficult to reach.  The ruins of a Roman amphitheatre are preserved in the city centre but most of the buildings are 17th century in origin, including the sumptuous Basilica di Santa Croce.

The Palazzo Madama in Turin's Piazza Castello
The Palazzo Madama in Turin's Piazza Castello
Travel tip:

Turin, the city of Juventus, is the capital 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, notably around Piazza Castello, where visitors can find the Royal Palace and the Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate.

More reading:

Marcello Lippi - World Cup winning coach

How Arrigo Sacchi changed Italian football

Dino Zoff - the World Cup's oldest winner

(Photo of Antonio Conte by Nicola Genati CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Palazzo Madama by Geobia CC BY-SA 4.0)


9 July 2016

Fourth World Cup for the Azzurri

Triumph in Berlin for Marcello Lippi's team

Fabio Grosso, who scored Italy's winning penalty in the final
Fabio Grosso, who scored Italy's
winning penalty in the final
Italy's footballers won the World Cup for the fourth time on this day in 2006, defeating France in the final in Berlin with the outcome determined by a penalty shoot-out.

The victory made Italy only the second nation after five-times champions Brazil to win the World Cup four times or more.  They were successful previously in 1934, 1938 and 1982 and have been runners-up twice, in 1970 and 1994.

Italy reached the final in 2006 by defeating hosts Germany in the semi-final in Dortmund, an attacking match determined by two goals in the final moments of extra time from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero after goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had pulled off some stunning saves.

In football terms, the final was a much less captivating spectacle, with each team scoring in the first 20 minutes but unable to find a second goal. It was marred by the sending off of France's Zinedine Zidane in his last competitive match before retiring from the game.

Zidane was shown the red card for head-butting the Italian defender Marco Materazzi 10 minutes into extra time.

The two had been the key figures during the 90 regulation minutes, Zidane having given France the lead with a seventh-minute penalty controversially awarded for a foul on him by Materazzi.

Materazzi equalised in the 19th minute with a header from a corner, scoring his second goal in a tournament in which he had also received a red card, in the round-of-16 match against Australia in which the Italians only just scraped through.

The incident that led to Zidane's expulsion came after the two appeared to engage in a brief conversation on the field.  The French player began to walk away from the Italian but then suddenly turned round and head-butted Materazzi in the chest with such force that he knocked him to the ground.

Italian fans celebrate at the Circus Maximus in Rome, where captain Fabio Cannavaro and his team showed off the trophy after winning the 2006 World Cup
Italian fans celebrate at the Circus Maximus in Rome, where
captain Fabio Cannavaro and his team showed off the trophy
The final was overshadowed by the sending-off, only the fourth in a World Cup final and there were lasting repercussions.  Zidane was fined by football's international governing body FIFA and volunteered for community service in place of a suspension from football because his retirement meant any ban from playing was meaningless.

Materazzi was also fined and given a two-match ban after he admitted using insulting language to Zidane. However, he always denied that he made comments of a racist nature and after a two-year fight won damages from three English newspapers over allegations that he had done.

In the penalty shoot-out, David Trezeguet's miss for France enabled semi-final hero Fabio Grosso to be Italy's man of the moment again when he then scored his spot kick, giving Italy a 5-3 win.

Italy had lost all three previous World Cup shoot-outs in which they had been involved, including the 1990 semi-final against Argentina when they were hosts, and the 1994 final in the United States, when Brazil won.

On their return to Italy, captain Fabio Cannavaro and his squad met Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and prime minister Romano Prodi, with all of the players, plus coach Marcello Lippi and his technical staff, awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic.

This was followed by an open-top bus parade through Rome to the Circus Maximus, where the players assembled on a stage to show off the trophy.  An estimated 500,000 people turned out to salute their heroes.

The elaborately decorated facade of the Basilica di Santa Croce, one of many fine buildings in Lecce
The elaborately decorated facade of the Basilica
di Santa Croce, one of many fine buildings in Lecce
Travel tip:

Marco Materazzi hails from Lecce, a city in Puglia renowned for its Baroque architecture and sometimes nicknamed the Florence of the South.  The attractive city centre contains the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre but much of what visitors see was built in the 17th century, including the elaborately decorated Basilica di Santa Croce.

Travel tip:

Circus Maximus is the site of a Roman chariot racing stadium in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, not far from the Colosseum.  The stadium alone could accommodate more than 150,000 spectators and the remains can be seen in what is now a vast area of parkland, regularly used as a venue for open air concerts because of the potential for huge audiences.

More reading:

How Paolo Rossi's hat-trick stunned Brazil

Marcello Lippi - the coach who masterminded 2006 victory

Italia 90: Semi-final agony for Azeglio Vicini

Italia 90: Schillaci matches Rossi by winning the Golden Boot

(Photo of Fabio Grosso by David Ruddell CC BY-SA 2.0)
(Photo of fans in Circus Maximus by Alessio Damato CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Basilica di Santa Croce by Tango 7174 CC BY-SA 4.0)