Showing posts with label St Petersburg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St Petersburg. Show all posts

25 June 2021

Francesco Domenico Araja - composer

Brilliant musician introduced Italian opera to Russia

Francesco Araja, depicted in a caricature in 1731
Francesco Araja, depicted in a
caricature in 1731
Francesco Araja was the first in a long line of Italian composers to work for the Imperial Court in St Petersburg in Russia. Born on this day in 1709 in Naples, then in the Kingdom of Sicily, Araja received a musical education in his native city and was composing operas by the age of 20.

He made history as the composer of the first Italian opera to be performed in Russia and as the composer of the first opera with a Russian text.

It is thought that Araja was probably taught music by his father Angelo Araja and his grandfather Pietro Aniello Araja, who were both musicians. He was appointed maestro di cappella at the church of Santa Maria La Nova in Naples at the age of just 14.

Araja’s early operas were staged in Naples, Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice. His opera Berenice was performed in Florence in 1730, with the famous castrati, Farinelli and Caffarelli, singing the main roles in a new production in Venice in 1734.   

He was invited to St Petersburg in 1735 with a large Italian opera company and became the maestro di cappella to Empress Anna Ioannovna, and later to Empress Elizaveta Petrovna.

His opera, La forza dell’amore e dell’odio, staged in 1736, was the first Italian opera ever to be performed in Russia. It was translated into Russian and a printed booklet of the libretto was produced for the Russian audience. Araja is known to have written at least 14 operas while working for the Russian Imperial court.

Araja worked in St Petersburg from 1735 to 1759 and returned in 1762 before the fall of Tsar Peter III
Araja worked in St Petersburg from 1735 to 1759
and returned in 1762 before the fall of Tsar Peter III
In 1755, Araja composed Tsefal I Prokris, an opera in three acts, to the Russian language libretto by Alexander Sumarokov, which was based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was staged in St Petersburg and was the first opera to be sung by Russian singers.

To celebrate the success of this opera, Araja was given a generous sum of money and a sable coat by the Empress, Elizaveta Petrovna. This first opera in Russian was revived and staged in St Petersburg in 2001.

Araja returned to Italy in 1759 but was recalled to Russia for the coronation of Tsar Peter III in 1762. He was obliged to leave Russia soon after the overthrow of the German-born Peter III by troops loyal to his wife, who became known as Catherine the Great.

The composer spent his remaining years living in Bologna and died there at some time between 1762 and 1770.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie stands on the theatre site
The church of Santa Maria delle
Grazie stands on the theatre site
Travel tip:

Although the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples is frequently referred to as the world’s oldest opera house, a more correct description would be the world’s oldest active opera house. The first operas in Naples were actually performed at the Teatro San Bartolomeo. Built in 1620, the San Bartolomeo originally staged plays and other spoken word performances but by 1650, it was primarily an opera house. It introduced southern Italy to works composed by musicians such as Monteverdi and others from the north. The theatre burnt down in 1681, was reopened two years later but closed for good in 1737 when the San Carlo replaced it as the royal opera house in Naples. The San Bartolomeo was demolished to make way for the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, but remnants of the old theatre’s boxes can still be seen in the church, which is in vico Graziella al Porto, in the San Giuseppe Carità district.

The church of Santa Maria Nova, where Araja was maestro di cappella
The church of Santa Maria Nova,
where Araja was maestro di cappella
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples is a Renaissance style, now-deconsecrated church and monastery that can be found in the street of the same name off Via Monteoliveto, which links Via Toledo with Via Armando Diaz in central Naples. It is a few blocks south of the church and monastery of Santa Chiara.  Nowadays, the Santa Maria La Nova complex houses various municipal offices, a museum of religious art and a tomb that some historians believe contains the remains of Vlades Tepes III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, the ruler of Wallachia - modern Romania - who inspired the name of Bram Stoker's famous literary vampire Count Dracula.

Also on this day:

1678: Elena Cornaro Piscopia becomes the first woman to graduate from a university

1900: The birth of actress Marta Abba, muse of Pirandello

1960: The birth of footballer Aldo Serena


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21 September 2018

Giacomo Quarenghi - architect

Neoclassicist famous for his work in St Petersburg


Giacomo Quarenghi spent most of his working  life in St Petersburg in Russia
Giacomo Quarenghi spent most of his working
life in St Petersburg in Russia
The architect Giacomo Quarenghi, best known for his work in Russia, and in St Petersburg in particular, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was born on this day in 1744 in Rota d’Imagna, a village in Lombardy about 25km (16 miles) northwest of Bergamo.

His extensive work in St Petersburg between 1782 and 1816, which followed an invitation from the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great), included the Hermitage Theatre, one of the first buildings in Russia in the Palladian style, the Bourse and the State Bank, St. George’s Hall in the Winter Palace, several bridges on the Neva river, and a number of academic buildings including the Academy of Sciences, on the University Embankment.

He was also responsible for the reconstruction of some buildings around Red Square in Moscow in neo-Palladian style.

Quarenghi’s simple yet imposing neoclassical buildings, which often featured an elegant central portico with pillars and pediment, are responsible for much of St Petersburg’s stately elegance.

As a young man, Quarenghi was allowed to study painting in Bergamo despite his parents’ hopes that he would follow for a career in law or the church. He travelled widely through Italy, staying in Vicenza, Verona, Mantua and Venice in the north and venturing south to make drawings of the Greek temples at Paestum before arriving in Rome in 1763. His first focus was on painting, but he was later introduced to architecture by Paolo Posi.

Quarenghi's building for the Academy of Sciences on the banks of the Neva river in St Petersburg
Quarenghi's building for the Academy of Sciences on the
banks of the Neva river in St Petersburg
His biggest inspiration came from reading Andrea Palladio's Quattro libri d'archittetura, after which he moved away from painting to concentrate on the design of buildings. He returned to Venice to study Palladio and came to meet a British peer who was passing through Venice on the Grand Tour. It was through him that Quarenghi was commissioned to work in England, where his projects included an altar for the private Roman Catholic chapel of Henry Arundell at New Wardour Castle.

His first major commission in Italy was for the internal reconstruction of the monastery of Santa Scholastica at Subiaco, just outside Rome, in 1771, where he was also asked to design a decor for a Music Room in the Campidoglio, and drew up designs for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII, which were later executed by Antonio Canova.

In 1779 he was selected by the Prussian-born Count Rieffenstein, who had been commissioned by Catherine II to send her two Italian architects.  Quarenghi, then 35, was finding it hard to generate enough work amid fierce competition in Italy, so he accepted the offer without hesitation, leaving immediately for St Petersburg, taking his pregnant wife with him.

Quarenghi's English Palace at Peterhof, which was sadly demolished after suffering damage during the war
Quarenghi's English Palace at Peterhof, which was sadly
demolished after suffering damage during the war
Quarenghi's first important commission in Russia was the magnificent English Palace in Peterhof, just outside St Petersburg, which was sadly blown up by the Germans during the Second World War II and later demolished by the Soviet government.

In 1783 Quarenghi settled with his family in Tsarskoe Selo, the town which was the former seat of the Russian royal family, where he would supervise the construction of the Alexander Palace.

Soon afterwards, he was appointed Catherine II's court architect and went on to produce a large number of designs for the Empress, her successors and members of her court, as well as interior decorations and elaborate ornate gardens.

His work outside St Petersburg included a cathedral in Ukraine and among his buildings in Moscow were a theatre hall in the Ostankino Palace.

Quarenghi was less popular with Catherine II’s son and successor, the Emperor Paul, but enjoyed a resurgence under Alexander I. He returned to Italy from time to time and always to an enthusiastic welcome.

He retired in 1808 and remained in Russia, even though most of his 13 children by two wives chose to return to Italy.

Quarenghi was granted Russian nobility and the Order of St. Vladimir of the First Degree in 1814. He died in Saint Petersburg at the age of 72.


A view over the village of Rota d'Imagna in Lombardy
A view over the village of Rota d'Imagna in Lombardy
Travel tip:

Rota d’Imagna in the province of Bergamo is situated in the Imagna Valley, a popular tourist spot because of its largely unspoilt landscape and spectacular mountain views, with many visitors attracted to trekking, mountain walks and horse riding. In the village itself, the Church of Rota Fuori, dedicated to San Siro, which was built in 1496 and restructured in 1765, has art works of significance including by Gaetano Peverada, Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli and Carlo Ceresa.  Quarenghi’s home was Ca’ Piatone, a palace built in the 17th century.

The Hermitage Theatre has echoes of Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza
The Hermitage Theatre has echoes of
Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza
Travel tip:

Quarenghi’s design for the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg, with its seating set out in the style of a Roman amphitheatre and the walls decorated with marble columns and recessed statues, was heavily influenced by his visit to the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza as he toured Italy as a young man. The theatre, constructed between 1580 and 1585, was the final design by Andrea Palladio and was not completed until after his death. The trompe-l'œil onstage scenery, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, gives the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon. The theatre is one of only three Renaissance theatres still in existence.

More reading:

How Palladio became the world's favourite architect

Vincenzo Scamozzi - the man behind the unique stage set at the Teatro Olimpico

Luigi Vanvitelli and a royal palace based on the Palace of Versailles 

Also on this day:

1559: The birth of the painter and architect known as Cigoli

1960: The birth of conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan


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