Showing posts with label Vittorio Veneto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vittorio Veneto. Show all posts

19 May 2018

Vittorio Orlando - politician

Prime minister humiliated at First World War peace talks

Vittorio Orlando's reputation lay in
tatters following Paris peace talks
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the Italian prime minister best known for being humiliated by his supposed allies at the Paris peace talks following the First World War, was born on this day in 1860 in Palermo.

Elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1897, Orlando had held a number of positions in government and became prime minister in 1917 following Italy’s disastrous defeat to the Austro-Hungarian army at Caporetto, which saw 40,000 Italian soldiers killed or wounded and 265,000 captured. The government of Orlando’s predecessor, Paolo Boselli, collapsed as a result.

Orlando, who had been a supporter of Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies, rebuilt shattered Italian morale and the military victory at Vittorio Veneto, which ended the war on the Italian front and contributed to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, saw him hailed as Italy’s ‘premier of victory’.

However, his reputation was left in tatters when he and Sidney Sonnino, his half-Welsh foreign secretary, when to Paris to participate in peace talks but left humiliated after the territorial gains they were promised in return for entering the war on the side of Britain, France and the United States were not delivered.

Orlando’s ability to negotiate was not helped by his complete lack of English, while his bargaining position was undermined also by disagreements with Sonnino over what they wanted. As a result, Orlando was no match for US president Woodrow Wilson, British premier David Lloyd George and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau.

Orlando, second left, with Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace talks
Orlando, second left, with Lloyd George, Clemenceau,
and Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace talks
He failed to secure either of Italy’s main objectives at the peace talks, namely control of the Dalmatian peninsula and the annexation of the coastal city of Rijeka, known in Italian as Fiume, suffered a nervous collapse, for which he was mocked by Clemenceau in particular, and stormed out of the talks before their conclusion.

Orlando resigned as prime minister just days before the Treaty of Versailles to which he was supposed to have been a signatory.  Years later he spoke of his pride at having nothing to do with what was finally agreed but at the time he was seen as a failure.

The damage to national morale and pride was considerable.  Some historians believe Orlando’s humiliation was a key factor in Mussolini being able to harness so much public support and sweep to power.

Orlando’s backing for Mussolini - at the start of the Fascist regime, at least - enabled him to cling to his political career and in 1919 he was elected president of the Chamber of Deputies.  But he could not countenance the murder by the Fascists of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti in 1924 and quit politics in 1925.

He returned in 1944 after the fall of Mussolini and became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. But he failed in his bid to be elected president of the Italian Republic in 1948, defeated in the vote by Luigi Einaudi.  He died four years later.

Sidney Sonnino disagreed with Orlando's approach to the talks
Sidney Sonnino disagreed with
Orlando's approach to the talks
The son of a Sicilian gentleman landowner, Orlando was a controversial figure even before the debacle of Paris.  Highly intelligent - he wrote extensively on legal and judicial issues - he was dogged throughout his career by accusations that had connections with the Sicilian Mafia.

His association with the mobster Frank Coppola, who was deported back to Sicily in 1948 after a criminal career in the United States, did not help, nor did a speech he made in the Italian senate in 1925 in response to rumours doing the rounds, in which he teased his audience by speaking about the Sicilian origins of the word mafia to mean a person of loyalty, honour, compassion and generosity of spirit and declaring himself “a proud mafioso”.

The Mafia pentito - state witness - Tommaso Buscetta once claimed in court that Orlando genuinely was a member of the Sicilian Mafia, although he was never investigated.

Looking across Partinico towards the Gulf of Castellammare
Looking across Partinico towards the Gulf of Castellammare
Travel tip:

Partinico, the town which Orlando represented when he was elected to the Italian parliament in 1897, is situated about 37km (23 miles) west of Palermo, on the way to Castellammare del Golfo. Home to almost 32,000 people today, it has long held political significance and was a stopover for Giuseppe Garibaldi during his march on Palermo.

The Duomo of Serravalle at Vittorio Veneto
The Duomo of Serravalle at Vittorio Veneto
Travel tip:

Vittorio Veneto is a town of some 28,000 people in the Province of Treviso, in Veneto, situated between the Piave and Livenza rivers at the foot of the mountain region known as the Prealpi.  It was formed from the joining of the communities of Serravalle and Ceneda in 1866 and named Vittorio in honour of Victor Emmanuel II.  The Veneto suffix was added in 1923 to commemorate the decisive battle.

Also on this day:

1946: The birth of actor Michele Placido

1979: The birth of Italian football great Andrea Pirlo


10 March 2017

Lorenzo Da Ponte - writer and impresario

Colourful life of Mozart's librettist

Lorenzo da Ponte, as depicted in a 19th century engraving by Michele Pekenino
Lorenzo da Ponte, as depicted in a 19th
century engraving by Michele Pekenino
The librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who could be described on two counts as a figure of considerable significance in the story of opera, was born on this day in 1749 in Ceneda - since renamed Vittorio Veneto - about 42km (26 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto region.

Da Ponte wrote the words for 28 operas by 11 composers, including three of Mozart's greatest successes, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.

He also opened New York City's first opera house in 1833 at the age of 84 and is credited with introducing the United States both to Mozart and Gioachino Rossini.

To say Da Ponte led a colourful life would be putting it mildly.

He was born Emanuele Conegliano at a time when Ceneda was a strongly Jewish community. His mother, Rachele, died when he was only five and at the age of 14 he was baptised as a Catholic along with his father, who wanted to marry a Catholic girl but could do so only if he converted.

In accordance with tradition, Emanuele took the name of the priest who baptised him, in his case the Bishop of Ceneda, Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Through the Bishop's influence, Emanuele and his two brothers were enrolled in the seminary of Ceneda and Lorenzo was ultimately ordained as a priest.  By then he had begun writing poetry.  One of his earliest pieces - curiously, given his calling - was entitled An Ode to Wine.

The front page of a programme for the presentation of the Marriage of Figaro
The front page of a programme for the
presentation of the Marriage of Figaro
He moved to Venice in 1773 to be the priest of the church of San Luca, although his lifestyle was hardly befitting of a man of the cloth.  He fell into the company of members of minor Venetian nobility who were penniless but whom convention forbade to work and were therefore obliged to turn to gambling and debauchery to make a living.

Although he was a Catholic priest, Da Ponte took a mistress, who bore him two children but manipulated him into parting with money, largely to support her gambling-addicted brother. Ultimately Da Ponte was charged with 'public concubinage' and 'abduction of a respectable woman' and it was alleged in court that he had been living in a brothel. He was found guilty and banished from Venice for 15 years.

He fled to Gorizia, nowadays a town on the border of Italy and Slovenia but then part of Austria, where he lived as a writer. In time his friend Caterino Mazzolà, the poet of the Saxon court, invited him to Dresden, where he was given a letter of introduction to the composer Antonio Salieri.

With Salieri's help, Da Ponte obtained the post of librettist to the Italian Theatre in Vienna.  As court poet and librettist, Da Ponte collaborated with Mozart, Salieri and Vicente Martín y Soler. As well as writing, between 1786 and 1790, the libretti in Italian for the three aforementioned Mozart operas, he enjoyed commercial success with Soler's Una cosa rara.

His fortunes changed with the death of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1790, after which he was dismissed from the Imperial Service. Unable to return to Venice, he set off for Paris but on learning of the worsening political situation in France, and the arrest of the king and queen, he rerouted to London, accompanied by a new companion, Nancy Grahl, with whom he eventually had four children.

St Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street in  Manhattan saw thousands turn out for funeral
St Patrick's Cathedral in Mulberry Street in
Manhattan attracted thousands to the funeral
In London, he was briefly a grocer and then an Italian teacher before in 1803 becoming librettist at the King's Theatre. Financial stability eluded him, however, and in 1805, after a number of theatrical and publishing ventures failed, the threat of bankruptcy persuaded him to uproot again, this time to the United States, where Nancy and other members of his family had relocated a year earlier.

After arriving in Philadelphia, Da Ponte went first to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, where again he ran a grocery store and gave Italian lessons. He moved to New York to open a bookstore, at the same time taking an unpaid appointment as the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College.

Determined to spread the Italian culture in the United States, he collaborated in 1825 with the Spanish baritone and entrepreneur Manuel García to stage the first performance in New York of Mozart's Don Giovanni. He also introduced the United States to Rossini's music.

In 1828, at the age of 79, Da Ponte became a naturalised US citizen and five years later founded the New York Opera Company. He was no more adept at business than he had ever been, however, and the company had to be disbanded after two seasons and the theatre sold to pay the company's debts.

Twice, in 1839 and 1841, the theatre was destroyed by fire, yet from the ashes rose the New York Academy of Music and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Da Ponte died in New York in 1838 and it was a measure of the affection he had accrued that his funeral at the city's historic St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street in the area known as Little Italy attracted thousands of mourners. There is a memorial to him in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, although it is thought he was actually buried at a church in lower Manhattan.

Travel tip:

In 1866, soon after the Veneto was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy, the towns of Ceneda and Serravalle were joined into one city named after the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele.  During the First World War, Vittorio was the site of the last battle between Italy and Austria-Hungary, won by Italian troops. The suffix "Veneto" was added to the city's name in 1923 as a commemoration of the victory and many Italian cities now have a Via Vittorio Veneto, the most famous of which became the centre of Rome's 'Dolce Vita' culture in the 1950s.

Hotels in Venice from Expedia

The Chiesa di San Luca in Venice
Travel tip:

The Chiesa di San Luca in Venice, where Da Ponte was priest, can be found next to the Rio de San Luca canal in the San Marco district. It has a simple facade but inside can be found frescoes by Sebastiano Santi, and altarpieces by Paolo Veronese and Palma il Giovane

Hotels in Venice from

More reading:

How Tito Gobbi found global fame

La Traviata - the world's favourite opera

Also on this day:

1872: The death of revolutionary patriot Giuseppe Mazzini

1900: The birth of architectural sculptor Corrado Parnucci

Selected books:

Memoirs Of Lorenzo Da Ponte (New York Review Books Classics)

Lorenzo Da Ponte: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Man Behind Mozart, by Rodney Bolt 

(Picture credits: St Patrick's Cathedral by Jim.henderson; Chiesa di San Luca by Godromil; via Wikimedia Commons)


3 November 2015

Villa Giusti armistice

Talks held at villa in Padova end First World War in Italy

The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just
outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
An armistice signed between Italy and Austria-Hungary at Villa Giusti near Padua ended World War I on the Italian front on this day in 1918.

After the Allied troops were victorious in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Austria-Hungary commanding officers asked for a ceasefire and for peace talks.

They were invited to Villa Giusti at Mandria just outside Padua, which was owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, a former mayor of Padua and an Italian senator.

The principal signatories on the Italian side were Tenente Generale Pietro Badoglio and Maggior Generale Scipione Scipioni. Leading the Austria-Hungary delegation was General Viktor Weber Edler von Webenau.

During the war, the Villa Giusti had been the temporary residence of King Victor Emmanuel III when he was away from the front.

The signing of the armistice came after the commanders of the Austro-Hungarian Army sought a ceasefire. Their troops were fatigued, while at home the Austro-Hungarian Empire was tearing itself apart under ethnic lines. If the empire were to survive, it would have to withdraw from the war.

As the Battle of Vittorio Veneto reached a near-stalemate, the Austro-Hungarian force started a chaotic withdrawal. While a truce was being negotiated, the Italians reached Trento and Udine and landed in Trieste.  The Austro-Hungarians at first threatened to pull out of the talks, but on November 3 they accepted the armistice.

The armistice was seen by many Italians as the final phase of the Risorgimento, the movement started in 1815 to unify Italy. The bells of a nearby church rang out when news came from the villa that the armistice had been agreed.

Travel tip:

Villa Giusti in Via Armistizio, Mandria, is just outside Padua. Guided visits can be made to the villa by arrangement. The furniture in the room where negotiations were conducted remains just as it was on that day. Visitors can even see the round table on which the armistice was signed. Tel: +39 049 867 0492.

Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the
city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Travel tip:

Two separate towns in the Veneto region, Ceneda and Serravalle, were merged and renamed Vittorio in 1866 in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the last, decisive battle in the First World War had taken place nearby, the city was renamed Vittorio Veneto. Franco Zeffirelli shot some of the scenes for his film version of Romeo and Juliet against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Seravalle.

Also on this day:

(Picture credit: Municipio at Vittorio Veneto by Mauro)