Showing posts with label Luciano Pavarotti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Luciano Pavarotti. Show all posts

25 July 2019

Carlo Bergonzi – operatic tenor

Singer whose style was called the epitome of Italian vocal art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More reading:

How Italy mourned the loss of Giuseppe Verdi

Why Franco Corelli was called 'the prince of tenors'

Pietro Mascagni - a reputation built on one brilliant opera

Also on this day:

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

1654: The birth of baroque musician Agostino Steffani

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



8 September 2018

Magda Olivero - soprano

Singer who performed into her 80s and lived to 104

Magda Olivero made her debut in an opera broadcast for radio in 1932
Magda Olivero made her debut in an opera
broadcast for radio in 1932
The opera singer Magda Olivero, who became known as the last verismo soprano, died on this day in 2014. She was almost halfway through her 105th year, having been born in 1910.

Olivero became associated with the works among others of Francesco Cilea, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Giordano and Franco Alfano, all of whom she actually worked with in person, her longevity providing a 21st century link with the world of 19th century Italian opera. She missed the chance to know and work with Giacomo Puccini only narrowly, the composer passing away at the age of 66 when Olivero was 14.

Born in Saluzzo in Piedmont, Olivero made her operatic debut eight years after Puccini’s death in a radio production in Turin in 1932. She gave her last stage performance 49 years later in 1981, although even that was not the end of her career. Her last recording of her signature role - Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur - did not come until 1994, when she was still able to control her pitch and tone at the age of 83.

Born as Maria Maddalena Olivero to a well-to-do family who gave her a good education, she built on her radio debut - singing Nino Cattozzo's oratorio, I misteri dolorosi - to establish a successful career, performing alongside pre-War stars such as Ebe Stignani, Beniamino Gigli and Francesco Merli.

Olivero with Mario del Monaco appearing in Giordano's Fedora in Naples in 1965
Olivero with Mario del Monaco appearing in
Giordano's Fedora in Naples in 1965
In addition to Adriana, her most famous roles included Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Mascagni's Iris, Riccardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, and Giordano's Fedora. She sang Jules Massenet's Manon at Verona with Giuseppe di Stefano as Des Grieux, and Margherita in Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele to the Faust of Ferruccio Tagliavini.

The conductor Tullio Serafin helped her with her technique, although he was less helpful, she later claimed, after she refused his amorous advances. She said that her relationship with the tenor, Tito Schipa, also became strained after he became similarly enamoured with her.

In fact, in 1940 she decided to retire from the stage at the age of only 30 after she married Aldo Busch, an industrialist, hoping they would raise a large family. One of her last performances was of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur in Ravenna and it was Cilea, almost a decade later, who would persuade her to make a comeback, telling her that she was the only singer who could do justice to the character.  She performed the role again in Brescia in 1951, shortly before the composer died.

That work was to become her calling card, and she sang it many times, as well as featuring often in leading roles in Puccini’s La Bohème, Madame Butterfly and Manon Lescaut, and in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

Magda Olivero at the age of 95 in 2005
Magda Olivero at the age of 95 in 2005
She made her London debut at the Stoll Theatre, in 1952 and in 1963 she substituted for Renata Tebaldi at the Edinburgh Festival in Adriana Lecouvreur, its first performance in Britain for 60 years.

Her first appearance in the United States came in Dallas in 1967, followed by Kansas and San Francisco. By now her fame as an interpreter of the verismo genre, in which the characters are ordinary people and the singers are adept at bringing dramatic expression to the roles, was established and her New York debut as Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1975 was a much-hyped sensation, even though by then she was 65.

According to the New York Times report, when she made her first entrance, the audience began screaming and cheering, forcing the conductor Jan Behr to stop the music; arias were interrupted by bursts of spontaneous applause and at the end she was given a 20-minute ovation, one of the longest in the theatre's history. She reprised her Tosca for the Met in 1979, opposite Luciano Pavarotti. 

For all her success, though, she never really escaped the shadow of Maria Callas or Renata Tebaldi, who were always seen as more marketable and therefore enjoyed more recording contracts than Olivero, whose only complete opera recordings are Turandot and Fedora (1969), in which she was partnered by Mario del Monaco and Tito Gobbi.

After her second retirement, she settled in Milan, telling visitors to her home that the secret of her long life was yoga and a vegetarian diet. She lived for 31 years following the death of her husband in 1983, her wish for a family having never come to pass.

The early 15th century Cathedral of the Assumption in Piazza Risorgimento in Saluzzo
The early 15th century Cathedral of the Assumption in
Piazza Risorgimento in Saluzzo
Travel tip:

Saluzzo, where Olivero was born, is a hill town about 33km (20 miles) north of Cuneo and 61km (38 miles) south of Turin, in Piedmont. Most of its 15th century old town is intact, with numerous cobbled streets, steep staircases, churches and elegant palaces to explore. In the Piazza Risorgimento is Cathedral of the Assumption, built between 1491 and 1511 in the Lombard-Gothic style. Another attraction is the Castiglia, a castle built at the summit of the town in the 13th century by the Marquis Tommaso I and renovated in 1492 by Ludovico II of Saluzzo, at the time when the town was a powerful city-state.

The Teatro degli Arcimboldi, which was built in a converted Pirelli tyre factory in Milan
The Teatro degli Arcimboldi, which was built in a
converted Pirelli tyre factory in Milan
Travel tip:

Milan’s best-known theatre is the opera house and ballet theatre Teatro alla Scala, inaugurated in 1778, but it is not the only theatre. Other respected venues are Teatro Sala Fontana, set within the beautiful cloisters of the church of Santa Maria alla Fontana in the northern part of the city, the Teatro Manzoni in Via Alessandro Manzoni, not far from Porta Nuova, and the ultra-modern Teatro degli Arcimboldi, which was built in 2001 in anticipation of the closure and renovation of La Scala opera house, in a converted Pirelli tyre factory about 7km (4.5 miles) from the city centre, in an area known as Bicocca.

More reading:

The beautiful work of Francesco Cilea

Giacomo Puccini - the musical genius who took the baton from Verdi

Pietro Mascagni and a career built on one great opera

Also on this day:

1474: The birth of poet Ludovico Ariosto

1504: The unveiling of Michelangelo's David in Florence


24 July 2017

Giuseppe Di Stefano – tenor

Singer from Sicily who made sweet music with Callas

Giuseppe Di Stefano was one of Italy's greatest tenors
Giuseppe Di Stefano was one of
Italy's greatest tenors
The opera singer Giuseppe Di Stefano, whose beautiful voice led people to refer to him as ‘the true successor to Beniamino Gigli’, was born on this day in 1921 in Motta Sant’Anastasia, a town near Catania in Sicily.

Di Stefano also became known for his many performances and recordings with the soprano, Maria Callas, with whom he had a brief romance.

The only son of a carabinieri officer, who later became a cobbler, and his dressmaker wife, Di Stefano was educated at a Jesuit seminary and for a short while contemplated becoming a priest.

But after serving in the Italian army he took singing lessons from the Swiss tenor, Hugues Cuenod. Di Stefano made his operatic debut in Reggio Emilia in 1946 when he was in his mid-20s, singing the role of Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. The following year he made his debut at La Scala in Milan in the same role.

Di Stefano made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1948 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto. After his performance in Manon a month later, a journalist wrote in Musical America that Di Stefano had ‘the rich velvety sound we have seldom heard since the days of Gigli.’

Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on stage in Tokyo, at around the time they had a brief affair
Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on stage in Tokyo,
at around the time they had a brief affair
He made his Royal Opera House debut in 1961 as Cavaradossi in Tosca.

He was admired for his excellent diction, passionate delivery and the sweetness of his soft singing.

In his Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Faust he attacked the high C forte and then softened the sound to a pianissimo. Sir Rudolf Bing, the Met's general manager wrote in his memoirs: ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound.’

Di Stefano was chosen by EMI to record all the popular Italian operas with Maria Callas. Their 1953 studio recording of Tosca is considered one of the greatest performances in the history of the gramophone.

The two also performed well together on stage from 1951 onwards. He sang with Callas in the famous Visconti production of La Traviata in 1955 at La Scala and the last time they sang together in an opera was in Un ballo in maschera at La Scala in 1957.

In 1973 Di Stefano accompanied Callas on her final recital tour. Critics said they were both losing their voices but they were enthusiastically received everywhere. It was during this tour that the two had a brief romance.

Di Stefano also made recordings with a wealth of other opera stars.

Di Stefano's albums sold millions of copies
Di Stefano's albums sold millions of copies
His final operatic role was as the aged emperor in Turandot in July 1992.

In 2004 Di Stefano suffered a brutal beating by unknown assailants near his home in Diani Beach in Kenya after he was ambushed in his car with his wife, Monika Curth.

The singer was still unconscious a week after the attack and had several operations.

He was flown to Milan and admitted to the San Raffaele clinic where he slipped into a coma.

Eventually he came out of his coma but his health never fully improved and he died at his home in Santa Maria Hoè, between Bergamo and Como, in 2008 at the age of 86.

Luciano Pavarotti said he modelled himself on Di Stefano, who was his idol. He said Di Stefano had ‘the most incredible, open voice you could hear.’ Di Stefano is also said to be the tenor who most inspired José Carreras.

Travel tip:

Motta Sant'Anastasia, with a snow-covered Mount  Etna in the background
Motta Sant'Anastasia, with a snow-covered Mount
Etna in the background
Motta Sant’Anastasia, where Di Stefano was born, is a municipality nine kilometres (5.5 miles) west of Catania, built on a rocky outcrop not far from Mount Etna. It was inhabited by Greeks in the fifth century BC. Roman coins and a Roman mosaic have also been discovered there. The Tower of Motta was built in the 11th century as a defensive structure to protect the area from Saracen invasions.

Travel tip:

Di Stefano performed regularly on the stage of Teatro alla Scala in Milan from 1949 onwards. The theatre was officially inaugurated in 1778 after being built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala to the design of Giuseppe Piermarini. It is across the road from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an elegant arcade lined with shops, cafes and restaurants which links Piazza alla Scala with Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s cathedral square. La Scala’s museum displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza alla Scala and it is open every day except Bank Holidays.

20 May 2017

Albano Carrisi - singer

Performer best known as Al Bano has sold 165 million records

Al Bano Carrisi
The singer Albano Carrisi, better known as Al Bano, was born on this day in 1943 in Cellino San Marco, a town in Puglia about 30km (19 miles) from Lecce.

He enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist in the late 1960s but became more famous still in Italy and across mainland Europe for his collaboration with the American singer Romina Power – daughter of the actor Tyrone Power.

They met during the shooting of a film - one of several, mainly romantic comedies and a vehicle for his songs, in which he starred during the 1970s.

They not only formed a professional partnership but were married for almost 30 years.  They twice performed as Italy’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing seventh on both occasions, and appeared several times at Italy’s prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, winning the top prize in 1984.

They divorced in 1999 but re-united on a professional basis in 2013 and when they performed at the Arena di Verona in 2015 before a sell-out crowd of 11,000 the show was broadcast by the Italian TV network Rai and shown in seven other countries, with a combined audience estimated at 51 million.

Carrisi’s total record sales as Al Bano are said to be in the region of 165 million, mainly in Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Romania and Germany.

Albano Carrisi with Romina Power in a publicity
picture for the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest
When he was born during the Second World War, his mother, Iolanda Ottino, named him Albano because at the time his father Carmelo Carrisi was fighting in Albania for the Royal Italian Army.

The name established a link with the country that remained with him. In 2016 he was awarded Albanian citizenship.

He made his debut as a singer in 1966 and won the Disco per l'Estate, an Italian song contest, with Pensando a te in 1968. More hits followed. His song, Nel sole, sold more than a million copies.

His musical collaboration with Romina Power began soon afterwards and would last for almost 30 years. They took part in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 in The Hague with the song We'll Live It All Again (Noi lo rivivremo di nuovo), which finished seventh behind winners The Brotherhood of Man, from the UK.

They returned in 1985 in Gothenburg with Magic Oh Magic, which also finished seventh. The contest was won by the Norwegian duo Bobbysocks.

They entered Sanremo five times and won first prize in 1984 with Ci sarà.

Albano Carrisi in one of his films, Nel sole
Following their breakthrough hit Sharazan in 1981, which reached number two in the Italian charts, they had two number ones with Felicità (1982) and Ci sarà.  Their commercial success continued well into the 1990s, with many records selling in Spain, Germany and Austria.

Al Bano returned to his solo career in 1996 and to Eurovision in 2000, providing backing vocals for the Swiss entry (performed in Italian) La vita cos'è? by Jane Bogaert. After starring with his daughter Romina Carrisi in the 2005 edition of the Italian reality show L'isola dei Famosi – an equivalent of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and Celebrity Survivor – he entered Sanremo in his own right in 2007, finishing second will Nel perdono.

Although he has made his name in the pop world, Carrisi’s tenor voice is of such quality that he is comfortable singing opera, which was his passion growing up.  He released an album of operatic arias in 1997 and once performed alongside Placido Domingo and José Carreras as a stand-in for Luciano Pavarotti.

Carrisi pictured in 2014
Even at the age of 74, Carrisi still tours and remains is a familiar face on Italian television. He had heart surgery in December 2016 and was admitted to hospital in March this year following a scare but returned to work after a brief rest, insisting he did not want to disappoint his fans.

He and Romina Power had four children although they suffered personal tragedy when Yelena Maria, the oldest of their three daughters, disappeared at the age of 23 in New Orleans in January 1994 while backpacking. Carrisi never established what happened despite employing several investigators and in 2013 after almost 20 years requested that she be declared as presumed dead.

After his divorce, he had two more children with his girlfriend, Loredana Lecciso, a former showgirl almost 30 years his junior.

He still lives in Cellino San Marco.

Travel tip:

Cellino San Marco is a town of just under 7,000 people a little more than 20km (12 miles) south of Brindisi and about 14km (9 miles) inland from the coast. It was the site of a so-called ‘oven grave’ – a mass burial place with an entrance resembling that of a stone oven thought to date back to the Bronze Age. Its main attraction today is the nearby Carrisiland aquatic theme park.

Travel tip:

The port of Brindisi has been an important city in Italy since ancient Greek times, mainly because of its natural harbour and its strategic position on the heel of Italy.  The Romans connected it to Rome via the Appian Way (Via Appia) and it remains a busy port to this day, the main point of departure for trade with Greece and the Middle East.  Although it has an industrial feel to parts of the city, there is an attractive promenade and some interesting buildings, including an 18th-century reproduction of the 11th century cathedral destroyed in an earthquake, two castles and the 16th century Renaissance style Palazzo Granafei-Nervegna.

9 May 2017

Ottavio Missoni - fashion designer

Former prisoner of war was also an Olympic hurdler

The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni with his wife Rosita on the lawn of their mansion in Sumirago in 1975
The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni with his wife Rosita on
the lawn of their mansion in Sumirago in 1975
The fashion designer Ottavio Missoni died on this day in 2013 at the age of 92 following an extraordinary life.

He passed away at his home in Sumirago, 55km (34 miles) north-west of Milan, having requested his release from hospital in order to spend his last days with his family.

Missoni was the co-founder of the Italian fashion brand Missoni, which he set up in 1953 with his wife, Rosita. The company became known around the world for its brightly coloured geometric knits and zigzag patterns and were among the pioneers of Italian ready-to-wear clothing lines.

Earlier, he had been an infantryman during the Second World War, fighting at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. He was captured by the 7th Armoured Division of the British Army, popularly known as the Desert Rats, and spent the remainder of the war in an English prisoner-of-war camp in Egypt.

After the war, he pursued his passion for competitive athletics, becoming good enough to be selected in the Italian team for the 1948 Olympics in London, where he reached the final of the 400m hurdles event.

Missoni was born in Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast, in 1921. His mother was a countess, his father, Vittorio, a Friulian sea captain who had moved to Dalmatia while it was under Austrian rule. He grew up in Zadar, now part of Croatia but then called Zara and part of Italian territory, before going to college in Trieste and Milan.

The Missoni logo
He had participated in athletics events before the war. A member of the Italian national team at 16, he took part in an international meeting in Milan in 1937 in which he won the 400m in a time of 48.8 second, which remains the fastest for his age in Italian track history. In 1939, over the same distance, he won a gold medal at the International University Games in Vienna.

Sport provided his entry into the fashion business. Back home after the war, Missoni and his fellow athlete Giorgio Oberweger opened a business in Trieste making wool tracksuits, which they called Venjulia suits.

The tracksuits featured zippered legs, which Missoni has been credited with inventing. The Venjulia suits recognised the need of athletes for functional, warm garments enabling freedom of movement. In fact, they were worn by the Italian Olympic team in 1948.

It was while in London that he met 16-year-old Rosita Jelmini, an English student from Golasecca, Italy, who watched him compete.  They married in 1953, and their first son, Vittorio, was born in 1954. Luca (1956) and Angela (1958) followed.

Rosita’s family had a textiles business, making shawls, and together she and Ottavio set up a machine-knitwear workshop in Gallarate, not far from Sumirago and the town in which Rosita grew up. 

Soon they were supplying designs to the Biki boutique in Milan and to La Rinascente, the department store, where the first Missoni-labelled garments, a line of colourful vertically striped shirt-dresses, were displayed in the window in 1958. 

Ottavio Missoni in 2010
They held their first catwalk show in 1966, and the following year, presented a show at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, which landed them in controversy after the show’s lighting had the effect of turning the models’ clothing see-through, a misfortune made worse by the fact that most of the models went without underwear so as not to spoil the line of the clothes they were showing off. The show was likened to a bawdy cabaret and the Missonis were not invited back.

However, the publicity the scandal attracted helped the Missonis. Their next presentation, in Milan, drew much press attention and, as Milan grew as a fashion capital, the Missonis went on to feature in many leading fashion magazines. 

With a new factory in Sumirago, in a beautiful country setting in the shadow of Monte Rosa, they opened their first in-store boutique at Bloomingdale's in New York in 1970. Their first directly-owned boutique in Milan followed in 1976. 

The company enjoyed such heights of prestige that in 1983 they were invited to design the stage costumes for a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, starring Luciano Pavarotti, and in 1990 some of the costumes for the opening ceremony for the football World Cup.

In 1997, Ottavio and Rosita retired, entrusted the future of the business in their children, appointing Vittorio as marketing director and Angela as creative director, with Luca taking a technical role. The company expanded into furniture and car interiors and even set up a chain of boutique hotels.

Sadly, tragedy struck the family shortly before Ottavio died when Vittorio was killed, along with his wife, Maurizia, when a small plane in which they were travelling crashed off the coast of Venezuela.

Travel tip:

As the crow flies, the city of Zadar in Croatia is 206km (128 miles) south-east of Trieste along the Dalmatian coast. At the time of Missoni’s birth it was called Zara, and was on Italian territory as part of the settlement of the Treaty of Rapallo, which rewarded Italy’s participation on the side of the Triple Entente (France, Russia and the United Kingdom) in defeating Germany in the First World War. With considerable Venetian influence, having for many years between the 13th and 18th centuries been part of the Republic of Venice, it is a city with a strong Italian flavour, retaining its beauty despite being bombed heavily during the Second World War.

Travel tip:

Sumirago, where Missoni made his home, is 15km (9 miles) south of Varese, a pleasant town a short distance from Lake Maggiore and overlooking its own picturesque lake. Well known as the location of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which is scaled along a 2.5km path that passes 14 monuments built in the early part of the 17th century, it is also home of the imposing Palazzo Estense and Villa Recalcati. Varese also has a cathedral, the Basilica di San Vittore, who can be found in an elegant square in the historic centre.

4 March 2017

Lucio Dalla - musician

Cantautore inspired by the great Caruso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Pavarotti and Lucio Dalla on stage at Modena in 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotels in Bologna from

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

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

19 February 2017

Vittorio Grigolo - opera singer

Tenor courted public popularity as way to land 'serious' roles

Vittorio Grigolo in a picture for his album The Italian Tenor
Vittorio Grigolo in a picture for
his album The Italian Tenor
The operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo was born on this day in 1977 in Arezzo in Tuscany.

Grigolo has performed at many of the world's leading opera houses and is currently starring in Werther by Jules Massenet at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Yet he has achieved fame as a serious performer after first releasing an album of popular songs and using reality TV shows to put himself in the public eye.

Brought up in Rome, Grigolo was a child prodigy who began to sing at the age of four, his love for music inspired by his father, who liked the family house to be filled with the sound of opera arias.

He won a place at the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir School by the time he was nine and at 13 appeared on the same stage as the opera legend Luciano Pavarotti as the shepherd boy in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca at the Rome Opera House.  It earned him the nickname Il Pavarottino - the little Pavarotti.

Grigolo's progress continued to be rapid.  At 18 he joined the Vienna Opera Company and became the youngest tenor to perform at Teatro alla Scala in Milan at the age of 23.

Grigolo performs in the role of Nemorino in  Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
Grigolo performs in the role of Nemorino in
Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
But in the years that followed, he felt his career reached a plateau. It was this lull that persuaded him to switch his attention to the pop world, cashing in on the vogue for classically trained voices singing contemporary songs by releasing in 2006 the album, In the Hands of Love, a collection of pop ballads and songs from the musicals.

As part of his promotion campaign, he appeared with Pavarotti and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the Classical Brit Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, sang numbers from the album at a Miss Universe 2006 evening gown competition in Los Angeles, performed alongside Lionel Richie at the 'Proms in the Park' in Hyde Park, London and sang at a charity event sponsored by Macy's department store in New York.

While in America, he appeared in the third series of the hit show Dancing with the Stars - based on the British show Strictly Come Dancing and mimicked in Italy with Ballando con le Stelle - although not as a competitor but a guest artist.  He also accepted an invitation to appear on the dating game show The Bachelor.

Watch Grigolo perform E lucevan le stelle from Tosca in Verona in 2012

The effect was as he had hoped.  His profile raised, as well as his talent he now had box-office appeal. Better roles at more prestigious venues began to come his way. By 2010 Grigolo had made his debut at both the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (as Le Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet's Manon) and at the Met (as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème).

Grigolo cashed in on the popularity of pop songs performed by operatic voices
Grigolo cashed in on the popularity of pop
songs performed by operatic voices
Known for his exuberant, impassioned performances, it was feared that he would burn out quickly but critics agree that he has managed his voice well despite a hectic schedule.  Not a fan of the faddy diets some opera performers follow, he allows himself a glass of wine with his lunch even when he is singing in the evening, keeping his vocal chords supple by sucking peppermint bonbons.

He has recorded five more albums since In the Hands of Love.  Most consist of opera arias, although one of them, entitled Ave Maria, is of songs he remembers from his time with the Sistine Chapel Choir.

A music lover with eclectic tastes, he has not ruled out future dalliances in the pop world but for the moment his focus is on serious opera.  Not one to bother with false modesty, in one recent interview he claimed he had succeeded Pavarotti as "the Italian tenor, the voice of Italy" and was "proud to carry the flag for Italy" - even though he actually lives in Lugano, across the border from Italy in tax-friendly Switzerland.

Although it may seem Grigolo's destiny was to sing, the world of opera almost lost him to his other great passion, cars.

At the same time as supporting him in his development as a singer, Grigolo's father, a successful designer, also agreed to sponsor his ambitions as a racing driver, helping him progress through karting right up to Formula 3000, a now defunct feeder class for Formula One.

He even tested for Benetton in Formula One after signing up with F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella's manager, but after an accident left him with two broken ribs and a cancelled concert appearance he had to make a choice.  He plumped for singing.

The distinctive, sloping Piazza Grande is a feature of Arezzo
The distinctive, sloping Piazza Grande is a feature of Arezzo
Travel tip:

Grigolo's home city of Arezzo in Tuscany, situated about 80km (50 miles) south-west of Florence, is a medieval city that has grown into a modern conurbation of around 100,000 people, although the historic centre remains an attractive spot on the Tuscan tourist trail.  The main sights include the sloping Piazza Grande, which sits just behind the 13th century Romanesque apse of Santa Maria della Pieve and was once the main marketplace of the city.  A few streets away, the city's Duomo - the Cathedral of Santi Pietro e Donati - contains among other artistic treasures a wooden choir designed by Giorgio Vasari and a painting of Mary Magdalene attributed to Piero della Francesca.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel was renamed after Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480.  As well as being a place of religious activity, the chapel is the meeting place for the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The Sistine Chapel is notable too for the frescos that decorate the interior, most particularly the ceiling and The Last Judgment, painted by Michelangelo.

More reading:

Why Luciano Pavarotti is among Italy's greatest opera stars

Andrea Bocelli - the perfect voice for pop and opera

The musical genius of Giacomo Puccini

Also on this day:

1743: The birth of cellist Luigi Boccherini

1953: The birth of comic actor and director Massimo Troisi

(Picture credit: Arezzo piazza by Enlightenmentreloaded via Wikimedia Commons)


28 October 2016

Eros Ramazzotti - singer-songwriter

Best-selling Italian star is 53 today

Eros Ramazzotti on stage in 2015
Eros Ramazzotti on stage in 2015

The best-selling Italian singer and songwriter Eros Ramazzotti was born on this day in 1963 in Rome.

Ramazzotti, whose style has developed from pure pop to a contemporary soft rock genre with elements of classical crossover, has sold around 65 million records in a career spanning almost 35 years, putting him among the top 12 Italian recording artists of all time.

He is popular throughout Europe and in Spanish-speaking countries in South America, so much so that he records most of his albums in Spanish as well as Italian.

Among his 13 studio albums, three compilations and six live albums, 12 have reached No 1 in the Italian charts and 10 in the Swiss charts.  In addition, Ramazzotti has had No 1s in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

Twice - with 9 in 2003 and e2 in 2007 – he sold more records in that year in Italy than any other artist.

Ramazzotti's distinctive voice is part of his appeal
Ramazzotti's distinctive voice is
part of his appeal
Other major selling albums have been In ogni senso, Tutte storie, Dove c'è musica, Stilelibero and Calma apparente.

His appeal is said to stem from his unique voice - a vibrant, slightly nasal tenor – his energetic delivery of catchy pop numbers and the passion he brings to often semi-autobiographical ballads, a genre very popular with Italian audiences who like songs with which they can identify.

Ramazzotti was born in Cinecittà Est, a suburb of Rome that takes its name from the huge film studio complex that was built in the area in the 1930s and subsequently became the hub of the Italian movie industry.

His parents, Rodolfo and Raffaela, named him Eros after the Greek god of love. They were not wealthy but bought him a guitar when he was seven and he began to write songs with his father, who played the piano, in his teens. 

Owing to a lack of musical background, his application to study at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the pre-eminent music conservatory in Rome, was declined and his first serious work was as a bookkeeper.

Occasionally, he appeared as an extra in films at Cinecittà, but his ambition was to be a pop star.

Listen to Eros Ramazzotti perform one of his biggest hits Più Bella Cosa

His talent became clear in 1981 when he took part in a music contest, Voci Nuove di Castrocaro (New Voices of Castrocaro Terme) with the song "Rock 80".  Although the contest was won by Zucchero and the female singer Fiordaliso, Ramazzotti reached the final and earned his first recording contract with a studio in Milan, moving to the northern city soon afterwards. 

His first single was not particularly successful but then his song "Terra promessa" (Promised Land) won the Newcomers' category at the 1984 Sanremo Festival. 

In 1985, Ramazzotti took part in the Sanremo Festival again with the song "Una storia importante" (An Important Story), taken from his debut album Cuori agitati (Troubled Hearts). He finished only sixth but the song was released as a single and became a hit in many European countries. 

Eros Ramazzotti on stage in Alicante, Spain
Eros Ramazzotti on stage in Alicante, Spain
His second album Nuovi eroi (New Heroes), released in 1986, gave him his first No 1 and the single from the album, "Adesso tu" (Now You) won Sanremo outright. 

Since then, his career has been one of almost unremitting success, with other performers eager to share the spotlight. Ramazzotti has filled large venues performing alongside such stars as Cher, Tina Turner, Andrea Bocelli, Patsy Kensit, Anastacia, Joe Cocker, Luciano Pavarotti and Laura Pausini among others. 

Away from the stage and studio, Ramazzotti has led a very public private life.

In 1998 he married the Swiss model and TV presenter, Michelle Hunziker, with whom he had already had a child, Aurora Sophie. His hit song "Più bella cosa"(The best thing) was dedicated to Michelle, the follow-up single "L’aurora" (The aurora) to his daughter. They were considered the perfect couple but their marriage ended in divorce and a custody battle that the tabloids lapped up. 

In June 2014 Ramazzotti married Italian model and actress Marica Pellegrinelli, who is 24 years’ his junior.  They have a daughter, five-year-old Raffaela Maria, and a son, Gabrio Tullio, aged 18 months. 

A football fan, despite his links with Rome and Milan he supports the Turin club, Juventus.

The Cinecittà film studio complex is near Ramazzotti's childhood home in the Rome suburbs
The Cinecittà film studio complex is near Ramazzotti's
childhood home in the Rome suburbs
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, it is the hub of the Italian film industry. Built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio, the studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there.

Travel tip:

Eros Ramazzotti’s first record company was based close to the commercial heart of Milan in Via della Spiga, which forms part of the so-called Fashion Quadrilateral, bordered by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via Sant'Andrea and Corso Venezia.  Via della Spiga is home to many designer stores.

More reading:
(Photo of Cinecitta by JRibaX CC BY-SA 3.0)

12 October 2016

Luciano Pavarotti - tenor

Singer who became known as ‘King of the High Cs’

Luciano Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti, one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time, was born on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.

Pavarotti made many stage appearances and recordings of arias from opera throughout his career. He also crossed over into popular music, gaining fame for the superb quality of his voice.

Towards the end of his career, as one of the legendary Three Tenors, he became  known to an even wider audience because of his concerts and television appearances.

Pavarotti began his professional career on stage in Italy in 1961 and gave his final performance, singing the Puccini aria, Nessun Dorma, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He died the following year as a result of pancreatic cancer, aged 71.

The young Pavarotti had dreamt of becoming a goalkeeper for a football team but he later turned his attention to training as a singer.

His earliest influences were his father’s recordings of the Italian tenors, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Enrico Caruso. But Pavarotti has said that his own favourite tenor was the Sicilian, Giuseppe di Stefano.

Pavarotti with the Australian soprano Joan Sutherland
Pavarotti with the Australian
soprano Joan Sutherland
Pavarotti experienced his first singing success as a member of a male voice choir from Modena, in which his father also sang. The choir won first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Wales in 1955.

He was later to say that this was the most important experience of his life and had inspired him to become a professional singer.

Pavarotti made his debut as Rodolfo in La Bohème at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia in 1961.

He sang with Joan Sutherland on a tour of Australia and America and then returned to Italy to make his debut at La Scala in Milan in La Bohème with his childhood friend from Modena, Mirella Freni, singing Mimi opposite his Rodolfo.

His first performance as Tonio in Donizetti’s La fille du regiment took place at the Royal Opera House in London in 1966. This role was later to earn him the title, ‘King of the High Cs’, on account of the aria, Pour mon âme, which requires the singer to deliver the most challenging of notes nine times. Pavarotti, at his peak, was able to hit it every time with no loss of power.

Pavarotti with Placido Domingo (left) and Jose Carreras at the Three Tenors concert at the Baths of Caracalla in 1990
Pavarotti with Placido Domingo (left) and Jose Carreras
at the Three Tenors concert at the Baths of Caracalla in 1990
Pavarotti became world famous when his rendition of the aria, Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, was taken as the theme tune for the BBC’s coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Italy in 1990. Then came the hugely successful Three Tenors concert on the eve of the World Cup Final with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome. A recording of this concert was to become the biggest selling classical record of all time.

In 2004 Pavarotti gave his last opera performance, as the painter Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Watch Pavarotti sing Nessun Dorma in Central Park

Every summer he hosted an annual ‘Pavarotti and Friends’ concert in Modena, singing with other popular artists to raise money for humanitarian causes. Having helped to raise money for the elimination of landmines worldwide, he became a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was also dedicated to the cause. Pavarotti attended her funeral at Westminster Abbey in 1997.

His own funeral was to take place in Modena Cathedral ten years later and, like Princess Diana’s funeral, it was also televised and watched by a huge international audience.

The Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival Hall flew black flags in mourning for the great tenor.

The Duomo at Modena, where the funeral of Pavarotti took place in 2007
The Duomo at Modena, where the funeral
of Pavarotti took place in 2007
Travel tip:

Modena is a city on the south side of the Po Valley in the Emilia-Romagna region. The ancient Cathedral of Modena in Piazza Grande, where Pavarotti’s funeral was held, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its first stone was laid in 1099 but the building was not finished until 1184 and its Gothic Campanile was added in 1319.

Travel tip:

The Baths of Caracalla in Rome, where the first Three Tenors concert was held in 1990, were public baths that had been built in Rome between 211 and 217. They were used free of charge by local people until the sixth century, when the hydraulic installations were destroyed by invaders. During the 1960 Summer Olympics, gymnastic events were hosted there and the Rome Opera company now perform there in the summer. The Baths of Caracalla have become a popular concert venue, following the success of the Three Tenors concert.

More reading:

(Top photo of Pavarotti by Pirlouiiiit CC BY-SA 2.0)