Showing posts with label Playwrights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Playwrights. Show all posts

3 December 2023

Nino Martoglio - writer, theatre and film director

Journalist and playwright whose movies inspired post-war neorealism 

Nino Martoglio is considered by some as the founder of Sicilian theatre
Nino Martoglio is considered by some
as the founder of Sicilian theatre
The journalist, playwright and theatre and film director Nino Martoglio was born in Belpasso, a town in the foothills of volcanic Mount Etna in eastern Sicily, on this day in 1870.

Martoglio is widely considered to be Sicily’s finest dialect playwright and by some to be the founder of Sicilian theatre.  He was also an acclaimed poet, basing a good deal of his verse on the everyday conversations of working class Sicilians, written to amuse. His collection, Centona, is still sold today.

Later in a career that was ended abruptly by his death in an accident, Martoglio directed a number of silent films, the style of some of which prompted critics to describe them as forerunners of the post-war neorealism movement.

The son of a journalist and a school teacher, Martoglio studied sailing as a young man and obtained a captain’s licence. Yet he sought a career in journalism and joined the editorial staff of La Gazzetta di Catania, a daily newspaper founded by his father, Luigi.

In 1889, he launched a weekly magazine, D’Artagnan, a Sicilian language periodical devoted to art, literature and theatre, sharp political satire and the plight of the people of Civita, a poor neighbourhood in Catania which suffered particular deprivation. It also proved to be a useful vehicle for the poems that would eventually be gathered together in the Centona collection.

Theatre began to occupy most of Martoglio's attention from around the turn of the century. In 1901, he created the Sicilian Dramatic Company, which thanks to the talents of actors such as Angelo Musco, Giovanni Grasso, Virginia Balistrieri and others enjoyed success with Sicilian language productions even in Milan, where they performed at the Teatro Manzoni in 1903. The company’s productions of comedies written by a young Sicilian playwright, Pier Maria Rosso di San Secondo, were especially popular, among them San Giovanni Decapitato - Saint John the Beheaded - which he later turned into a film.

Martoglio staged the first theatrical works of Luigi Pirandello (above)
Martoglio staged the first theatrical
works of Luigi Pirandello (above)
Martoglio’s work became still more widely known after he moved to Rome in 1904, having become unhappy with the political climate in Sicily, where he had been elected a municipal councillor in Catania. In the capital, he met and married Elvira Schiavazzi, the sister of Piero Schiavazzi, a Sardinian tenor. They would go on to have four children. 

In 1910, he founded the first "Teatro Minimo" in Rome at the Teatro Metastasio. He staged one-act plays from the Italian and foreign repertoire, as well as bringing to the stage the first theatrical works of Luigi Pirandello, by then famous as a novelist and a future Nobel Prize winner. Their collaborations included A vilanza (la bilancia) and Cappidazzu pava tutu.

Martoglio’s venture into cinema spanned two years from 1913-14. He directed the actress Pina Menichelli, one of the so-called ‘three divas’ of Italian silent movies, in Il romanzo and followed it with Capitan Blanco, Sperduti nel buio, for which he wrote the screenplay and directed in collaboration with Roberto Danesi, and Teresa Raquin.  

All his screen work emphasised the gulf in Italian society between wealth and poverty and Sperduti nel buio - Lost in the Dark - which starred Grasso and Balistrieri - veterans of Martoglio’s original company in Catania - came to be regarded as a classic of the silent film era, representative of a small number of films that made up the realismo movement in Italian cinema. 

In the 1930s, the film critic and lecturer Umberto Barbaro enthusiastically showed Sperduti nel buio in his classes at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, where his students included Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti, who would go on to become leading figures in the neorealism film movement after the Second World War.

The bust of Martoglio in the Bellini Gardens
The bust of Martoglio
in the Bellini Gardens
Martoglio’s death at the age of 50 remains something of a mystery.  After visiting the Vittorio Emanuele II Hospital in Catania on the evening of 15 September, 1921, to see one of his sons, who was being treated there, Martoglio’s body was found the following morning at the bottom of an elevator shaft in part of the hospital that was under construction.  Although there were no witnesses, the assumption was that he had suffered a tragic accident, perhaps after getting lost as he tried to find the way out. 

His body was laid to rest at the Campo Verano monumental cemetery in the Tiburtino quarter in Rome, not far from the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The cemetery is notable as the burial place of hundreds of illustrious figures from the artistic, historical, literary, musical and cinematographic world.  

Although his films were lost, presumably stolen or destroyed during World War Two, Martoglio’s nieces, Vincenza and Angela, took steps to preserve their uncle’s manuscripts.  There is a monumental bust of him in the Bellini Gardens in Catania, a short distance from the Teatro Metropolitan. 

The Teatro Comunale Nino Martoglio in Belpasso
The Teatro Comunale Nino
Martoglio in Belpasso
Travel tip:

The town of Belpasso, where Martoglio was born, has a population of 28,000. Located about 10km (six miles) northwest of the city of Catania, it has something of a chequered history, having twice been destroyed by the forces of nature and repositioned in consequence. In 1669, it was buried in lava following an eruption of the Mount Etna volcano which looms over Catania. Rebuilt in another location at a lower level, it was then badly damaged by an earthquake in 1693 and abandoned. The current settlement was founded two years later at a third site. Today, it is best known as the home of Condorelli, one of Sicily’s most famous brands of confectionary, biscuits and cakes. Nino Martoglio’s name is preserved in the Teatro Comunale Nino Martoglio, the town’s municipal theatre, in Via XII Traversa.

The port city of Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, with a snow-capped Etna in the distance
The port city of Catania, the second largest city
in Sicily, with a snow-capped Etna in the distance
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. Twice destroyed by earthquakes, in 1169 and 1693, it can be compared in some respects with Naples, which sits in the shadow of Vesuvius, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe.  As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.  It is also notable for many fine examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade.

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati 

1779: The birth of Tuscan painter Matilde Malenchini

1911: The birth of composer Nino Rota

1917: The death in WW1 of champion cyclist Carlo Oriani

1937: The birth of actress Angela Luce

1947: The birth of controversial politician Mario Borghezio


13 March 2023

Eduardo Scarpetta - actor and playwright

Much-loved performer began theatrical dynasty

Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely popular with Neapolitan audiences
Scarpetta's comic plays were hugely
popular with Neapolitan audiences
Eduardo Scarpetta, one of the most important writers and actors in Neapolitan theatre in the last 19th and early 20th centuries, was born on this day in 1853 in Naples.

Fascinated by the commedia dell’arte and Neapolitan puppet theatre character Pulcinella, Scarpetta was the writer of more than 50 dialect plays in the comedy genre, creating his own character, Felice Sciosciammocca, a wide-eyed, gullible but essentially good-natured Neapolitan who featured prominently in his best-known work, Miseria e Nobiltà (Misery and Nobility).

His plays made him wealthy, although his standing was damaged towards the end of his career by a notorious dispute with Gabriele D’Annunzio, the celebrated playwright and poet with aristocratic roots who was a considerable figure in Italian literature.

A showman with a reputation for throwing extravagant parties, Scarpetta led a complicated personal life that saw him father at least eight children by at least four women, of which only one was by his wife, Rosa De Filippo.

One of his relationships, with Rosa’s niece, Luisa, a theatre seamstress, produced three children - Eduardo, Peppino and Titina De Filippo - central figures in an Italian theatre and film dynasty in the 20th century.

Another daughter, Maria, was the child of an affair with a music teacher, while a relationship with his wife’s half-sister, Anna, produced the journalist, poet and playwright, Ernesto Murolo, who co-wrote a number of famous Neapolitan songs with the composer Ernesto Tagliaferri, and another actor, Eduardo Passarelli.

His only legitimate son, Vincenzo, also became an actor, and later a director, playwright and composer. The part of Peppeniello in Miseria e nobiltà was written specifically for Vincenzo.

Scarpetta in character as his own creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta in character as his own
creation, Felice Sciosciamocca
Scarpetta did not come from a theatrical background. His father, Domenico, was a civil servant who tried without success to steer Eduardo into a more secure profession.

By joining a theatre company at the age of 15, Scarpetta believed he could help bring money into the family after his father’s poor health led to them falling on hard times.

He soon met Antonio Petito, a playwright and actor who at the time was one of Naples’s most famous interpreters of the Pulcinella character, and joined his company at the Teatro San Carlino on Piazza Castello, near the Castel Nuovo. It was while working with Petito that he created Felice Sciosciammocca, with whom Petito was so impressed he began to write plays with Pulcinella and Sciosciammocca as the main characters. 

Petito’s Pulcinella had evolved from the rather simple, slow-witted character of tradition to a sharp, insolent and above all instinctively cunning individual. Where Pulcinella was working class, Scarpetta’s middle-class Sciosciammocca was a perfect foil.

His partnership with Petito ended with the latter’s death in 1876, after which he worked briefly in Rome before returning to Naples. After a period performing at the Teatro Metastasio on the city’s pier, he returned to San Carlino as manager, investing much time and money in saving it from impending closure and restoring it.

San Carlino would in 1884 be demolished to make way for a new urban square, the Piazza Municipio, as part of a rehabilitation project for the area, which had become rather run down.

Nonetheless, Scarpetta had enjoyed a number of huge successes with his own plays, notably Miseria e Nobiltà, but also Il medico dei pazzi, na santarella, Lo scarfalietto, Nu Turco Napulitano and O miereco de’ pazzi.

Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's most successful plays
Na santarella was one of Scarpetta's
most successful plays
His wealth enabled him to build a substantial palazzo on Via Vittorio Colonna in the prestigious Chiaia district and a villa on the Vomero hill, in Via Luigia Sanfelice, which he named La Santarella.

La Santarella hosted a huge party each year on the occasion of his daughter Tatina’s birthday, to which Scarpetta invited actors, directors, journalists, writers and poets for a celebration that traditionally ended with a spectacular fireworks display that was visible all over the city.

Rosa was happy to accommodate all of Eduardo’s various children. Indeed, after his affair with the music teacher, Francesca Gianetti, it was Rosa who was said to have rescued the child, Maria, from the religious institute to which she had been abandoned.  Rosa, in fact, had a son of her own, Domenico, whose father was none other than the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, with whom she had a relationship as a teenager before marrying Scarpetta.

Scarpetta’s fortunes began to decline when his Teatro Salone Margherita, a cabaret theatre in the basement of the then newly-built Galleria Umberto I in the centre of Naples began to suffer financially. At the same time a play he had written as a parody of a play by Gabriele D’Annunzio which prompted the well-connected D’Annunzio to accuse him of plagiarism and take him to court for staging the play without permission.

In the event, the court case went in the favour of Scarpetta, who successfully argued that his play, Iorio’s Son, was not a copy but a comic send-up of D’Annunzio’s tragedy, Iorio’s Daughter, but the case - and the panning that Iorio’s Son received from the critics - left Scarpetta embittered and though he continued to write he decided he would no longer act. 

He died at the age of 72 in 1925 and after an elaborate funeral in which his body was placed in a crystal coffin, he was buried in the De Filippo-Scarpetta-Viviani family tomb at the Cimitero Monumentale di Poggioreale in Naples, close to what would become the site of the city’s international airport at Capodichino.

Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero district, which he named La Santarella
Scarpetta's impressive villa in the Vomero
district, which he named La Santarella
Travel tip:

Vomero, where Scarpetta had his impressive villa, La Santarella, is a middle class largely residential area of central Naples but has a number of buildings of historic significance. The most dominant, on top of Vomero hill, is the large medieval fortress, Castel Sant'Elmo, which stands guard over the city. In front of the fortress is the Certosa San Martino, the former Carthusian monastery, now a museum.  Walk along the adjoining street, Largo San Martino, to enjoy extraordinary views over the city towards Vesuvius.  Vomero's other tourist attraction is the Villa Floridiana, once the home of Ferdinand I, the Bourbon King of the Two Sicilies.  Surrounded by extensive gardens, the building now houses the Duke of Martina National Museum of Ceramics.

Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas of the city of Naples
Chiaia is one of the more upmarket areas
of the city of Naples
Travel tip:

Chiaia, where Scarpetta’s wealth enabled him to build a large family house, is a neighbourhood bordering the seafront in Naples, roughly between Piazza Vittoria and Mergellina. It has become one of the most affluent districts in the city, with many of the top fashion designers having stores on the main streets. It is the home of a large public park known as the Villa Comunale, flanked by the large palazzi along the Riviera di Chiaia on one side, and the sweeping promenade of the Via Francesco Caracciolo on the other.  The area is home to many fine seafood restaurants and has become a popular nightlife destination for well-heeled young Neapolitans.

Also on this day:

1925: The birth of actor and voice-dubber Corrado Gaipa

1955: The birth of footballer and coach Bruno Conti

1960: The birth of rock musician Luciano Ligabue

1980: The birth of dancer Flavia Cacace