Showing posts with label Metropolitan Opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metropolitan Opera. Show all posts

3 February 2019

Giulio Gatti-Casazza - impresario

Manager who transformed the New York Met

Gatti-Casazza was manager at La Scala in Milan before working in New York
Gatti-Casazza was manager at La Scala in
Milan before working in New York
Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the impresario who as general manager transformed the Metropolitan Opera in New York into one of the world’s great houses, was born on this day in 1869 in Udine in northeast Italy.

The former general manager at La Scala in Milan, Gatti-Casazza was in charge of the Met for 27 years, from 1908 to 1935.

In that time, having brought with him from Milan the brilliant conductor and musical director Arturo Toscanini, he not only attracted almost all of the great opera singers of his era but set the highest standards for the company, which have been maintained to the present day.

Gatti-Casazza also pulled off the not inconsiderable feat of rescuing the Met from the brink of bankruptcy after the stock market crash of 1929.

The young Gatti-Casazza had studied engineering after leaving school, graduating from the Genoa Naval School of Engineering, yet the love of opera was in the family. His father was manager of the Teatro Comunale, the municipal theatre in Ferrara, where they had moved when Giulio was young, and he succeeded his father in that role in 1893.

He proved very effective, combining his knowledge of opera with a natural gift for management. His success attracted attention and in 1898, at the age of just 29, he was recommended by the composer Arrigo Boito as a suitable candidate to be general manager at Teatro alla Scala - universally known as La Scala - in Milan.

A photograph taken at a dinner held in honour of Gatti- Casazza and Toscanini at the Hotel St Regis in New York
A photograph taken at a dinner held in honour of Gatti-
Casazza and Toscanini at the Hotel St Regis in New York
Gatti-Casazza was appointed at the same time as Toscanini, also 29, was hired as principal conductor, having made his mark already in Buenos Aires and Turin.

At La Scala, he undertook a complete administrative overhaul and redefined the house’s purpose, turning it from a commercial theatre to a centre of excellence, dedicated to the advancement of the musical arts. It soon came to be seen as a temple of opera in Europe comparable with the opera houses of Paris and Vienna.

Again, his achievements were soon noted further afield, and in 1908 came an offer from Otto Kahn, chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Opera, to go to New York. 

Toscanini was persuaded to go with him, while another bonus was the opportunity to work again with Enrico Caruso, the brilliant Neapolitan tenor who had been given his debut at La Scala by Gatti-Casazza in 1900. Caruso had been at the Met since 1903, hired by the Austrian impresario Heinrich Conried, Gatti-Casazza's predecessor as general manager.

Gatti-Casazza with his first wife, the soprano Frances Alda, in 1921
Gatti-Casazza with his first wife, the
soprano Frances Alda, in 1921
Early in their tenure, Gatti-Casazza and Toscanini arranged for the great composer Giacomo Puccini, whose fame had been established by the success of La Bohème and Tosca, to oversee a production of Madama Butterfly as well as commissioning him to write La Fanciulla del West for Caruso and their Czech soprano Emmy Destinn. The opera had its world premiere at the Met in 1910.

Under Gatti-Casazza's leadership, the Met’s reputation grew exponentially and most of the world’s celebrated singers in the early 20th century were only too eager to appear there, including Frances Alda, Amelita Galli-Curci, Lily Pons, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Titta Ruffo and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi.

Gatti-Casazza became the toast of the New York cultural scene, twice featuring on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the first Italians to be afforded that honour.

Although he suffered a blow in 1915 when Toscanini decided to return to Italy, by far the biggest crisis to face Gatti-Casazza in New York was the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which prevented a planned move of the company to a new home at the Rockefeller Centre and revealed large holes in the Met’s finances.

Along with other staff, Gatti-Casazza took a cut in salary in a bid to keep the business going. But it was mainly his willingness to embrace new opportunities that enabled him to ride out the storm.

One of the first to see records as a way to build a Metropolitan Opera brand, he had responded to the travel restrictions of the First World War by encouraging and promoting American singers and when Paul Cravath, who had succeeded Khan as chairman of the board, signed a contract with the National Broadcasting Company to deliver weekly radio broadcasts of concerts - beginning with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on Christmas Eve, 1931 - Gatti-Casazza took on the challenge with typical entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

Twice married - first to the New Zealand-born soprano Frances Alda and later to the Italian ballerina Rosina Galli, he retired from his position at the Met in 1935 and returned to Italy, working again in Ferrara until his death in 1940.

The Piazza della Libertà is the architectural showpiece of the northeastern city of Udine
The Piazza della Libertà is the architectural showpiece
of the northeastern city of Udine
Travel tip:

Udine is an attractive and wealthy provincial city and the gastronomic capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Udine's most attractive area lies within the medieval centre, which has Venetian, Greek and Roman influences. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, features the town hall, the Loggia del Lionello, built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style, and a clock tower, the Torre dell’Orologio, which is similar to the clock tower in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square - in Venice.  The city was part of the Austrian Empire between 1797 and 1866 and retains elements of a café society as legacy from that era, particularly around Piazza Matteotti, known locally as il salotto di Udine - Udine's drawing room.

Find hotels in Udine with TripAdvisor

The Castello Estense, built in the later years of the 14th century, dominates the centre of Ferrara
The Castello Estense, built in the later years of the 14th
century, dominates the centre of Ferrara
Travel tip:

The Este family ruled the city of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna between 1240 and 1598, the character of the urban landscape established in that time still visible in the narrow, medieval streets to the west and south of the city centre, between the main thoroughfares of Via Ripa Grande and Via Garibaldi. The centre is dominated by the magnificent, moated Este Castle (Castello Estense), on which work began in 1385 and which was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line. The castle was purchased for 70,000 lire by the province of Ferrara in 1874 to be used as the headquarters of the local prefecture.

More reading:

The chance career-change that turned Arturo Toscanini from cellist to world famous conductor

Arrigo Boito, the composer and patriot who fought with Garibaldi

Enrico Caruso, the tenor some call the greatest of all time

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of Sicilian architect Giovanni Basttista Vaccarini

1757: The birth of eye surgeon Giuseppe Forlenza

1857: The birth of sculptor Giuseppe Moretti

(Picture credit: Castello Estense by Massimo Baraldi)


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.

18 May 2017

Ezio Pinza - opera and Broadway star

Poor boy from Rome who made his home at the Met

Ezio Pinza
The opera star Ezio Pinza, who had 22 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1926 to 1948 and sang to great acclaim at many other of the world’s most famous opera houses, was born on this day in 1892 in Rome.

Pinza, a bass who was blessed with a smooth and rich voice and matinee idol looks, also had a successful career in musical theatre on Broadway and appeared in a number of Hollywood films.

Born Fortunio Pinza in relative poverty in Rome, he was the seventh child born to his parents Cesare and Clelia but the first to survive.  He was brought up many miles away in Ravenna, which is close to the Adriatic coast, about 85km (53 miles) from Bologna and 144km (90 miles) from Venice.

He dropped out of Ravenna University but studied singing at Bologna’s Conservatorio Martini and made his opera debut at Cremona in 1914 in Bellini’s Norma.

Pinza signed up to fight for his country in the First World War, after which he resumed his career in 1919. Within a short time he was invited to perform at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he came under the baton of the brilliant but demanding conductor, Arturo Toscanini.

Toscanini recognised his talent and under his guidance, Pinza began to prosper. For a bass his voice had unusual beauty and Pinza had a great drive to make the most of the opportunity it gave him.

Ezio Pinza in the Broadway production of South
Pacific that made his name in musical theatre
His family’s circumstances had meant that he missed out on a formal education.  As a consequence, he was not able to read music, yet he had a sharp ear. He would listen to his part played on the piano and then sing it accurately, even picking up stylistic nuances.

Seen as a successor to the great Italian basses Francesco Navarini, Vittorio Arimondi and Nazzareno De Angelis, by November 1926 he had been invited to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his debut in Spontini's La vestale, which starred the popular American soprano Rosa Ponselle in the title role.

As he became established, Pinza became associated with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Figaro and Sarastro, as well as many roles in the Italian operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, which was sung in Italian.

Engagements at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, soon followed. He sang in London from 1930 to 1939 and was invited to sing at the Salzburg Festival in 1934-1937 by the German conductor Bruno Walter.

Like many Italians, he felt at home in America. Pinza sang again under the baton of Toscanini in 1935, this time with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall as the bass soloist in performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of which was broadcast on radio and recorded.

His life was rudely interrupted in 1942 after America had entered the Second World War.  All Italians and Germans living in the United States came under close scrutiny from the authorities and Pinza was accused of having a connection with Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator.

With no warning, plain clothes FBI officers arrived at his house at Mamaroneck in Westchester County, overlooking Long Island Sound, and arrested him. After being taken to the Foley Square courthouse in Manhattan, where he was not allowed an attorney, he was detained at Ellis Island.

Pinza was only four months away from being granted his American citizenship and, fortunately for him, his fame afforded him more consideration than most of his compatriots and he was allowed to go free again after 12 weeks.

Pinza's grave
After the war, he announced his retirement from opera in 1948, when the Metropolitan Opera honoured him by naming the fountains at the new Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre after him.

He was not finished as a singer. Embarking on a second career in Broadway musicals, he achieved more success. His role in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, in which the lead male part of the French planter Emil de Becque and the classic song Some Enchanted Evening were created specifically for him, turned him into a still bigger celebrity. In 1950, he received a Tony Award for best lead actor in a musical.

The fame brought him movie and television work and enabled him to buy a plush house next to the golf course at Westchester Country Club at Rye, where he was a member.  Sadly, he died suddenly in 1957 at the age of 64, having suffered a stroke. He is buried at Putnam Cemetery at Greenwich, Connecticut.

Travel tip:

Ravenna was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until its collapse in 406. The city’s Basilica of San Vitale, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, is famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside Turkey, including masterpieces studded with gold, emerald and sapphire. The city was where the poet Dante lived in exile until his death in 1321. His tomb can be found in the Basilica of San Francesco, and the pretty Piazza del Popolo.

Travel tip:

The Conservatorio Martini, where Pinza received his formal musical education, can be found in Bologna’s Piazza Rossini, adjacent to the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, about 10 minutes’ walk from the city’s central square, Piazza Maggiore. Opened in 1804 as the Liceo Filarmonico di Bologna, its prestige was enhanced by its association with the composer Gioachino Rossini, who had attended the conservatory as a student, and returned later in life as a consultant.