17 December 2015

Domenico Cimarosa – opera composer

Musician who developed the model for ‘comic opera’

A prolific composer of operas, Domenico Cimarosa was born on this day in 1749 in Aversa, between Naples and Caserta in Campania.
Cimarosa wrote more than 80 operas during his lifetime
Domenico Cimarosa's work is recognised with a
monument in his home town of Aversa in Campania
Photo: Dinamo86 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cimarosa wrote more than 80 operas during his lifetime, including Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage), which is considered to be his finest work.

Other composers judge it to be among the greatest examples of opera buffa, the Italian term for comic opera and Verdi considered it to be the model for the genre.

Cimarosa attended a free school connected to a monastery in Naples where the organist taught him music and as a result obtained a scholarship to attend a musical institute in the city for 11 years.

He wrote his first opera at the age of 23 and, after several successes in theatres in Naples, he was invited to Rome where he produced another comic opera, L’Italiano in Londra.

He travelled throughout Italy, writing operas for theatres in Naples, Rome and Florence until he was invited to St Petersburg by Empress Catherine II. He remained at her court for four years composing music for important occasions.

He then went to Vienna at the invitation of Leopold II where he produced his masterpiece, Il Matrimonio Segreto.

After he returned to Italy, he found that Naples was occupied by troops of the French Republic and he was imprisoned for a while for political reasons.

He left Naples in poor health and died in Venice in 1801.

Travel tip:

Many of Domenico Cimarosa’s early works were staged at Teatro Nuovo in Naples, a theatre built in 1723 in Via Montecalvario in the Spanish Quarter of the city. Although it was damaged by two fires over the years and had to be rebuilt, the theatre is still thriving and hosting a variety of plays and concerts. Visit www.teatronuovonapoli.it for details of the 2015-2016 programme.
Caserta is close to Cimarosa's home town of Aversa
The Royal Palace at Caserta

Travel tip:

Domenico Cimarosa was born at Aversa in Campania, which is north of Naples and south of Caserta, a town famous for its Royal Palace. The Palace, originally built for King Charles VII, is thought to be the largest royal residence in the world. The architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, also designed its magnificent park and huge waterfall. 


16 December 2015

Giovanni Agnelli – entrepreneur

Founder of Fiat had keen eye for a good investment

Giovanni Agnelli, the businessman who founded the Fiat car manufacturing company, died on this day in 1945 in Turin.
Agnelli founded FIAT in 1899
A monument to Giovanni Agnelli in
his home town of Villar Perosa

As soon as Agnelli heard about the idea of a ‘horseless carriage’, he recognised it as a business opportunity and in 1898 met up with an inventor looking for investors for his project.

In 1899 he became part of a group who founded the Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino. Within a year he had become managing director of the company and by 1903 the business was making a small profit.

Giovanni had been born in Villar Perosa, a small town near Pinerolo in Piemonte, in 1866.

He embarked on a military career after finishing his studies but returned to his home town to follow in his father’s footsteps and become Mayor.

Fiat continued to grow and went public before the start of the First World War. After the war the first Fiat car dealership was established in the United States and the company continued to expand internationally.

Although Giovanni Agnelli had many other business interests he remained actively involved with Fiat until his death on 16 December 1945 at the age of 79.

Giovanni’s son Edoardo had become a principal shareholder in Fiat but unexpectedly died in 1935 in an accident involving a sea plane, ten years before his father.

But Edoardo’s son Gianni was the head of Fiat from 1966 until his death in 2003 and made the company the most important in Italy and one of the top European car builders.

Travel tip:

Villar Perosa, where Giovanni Agnelli was born, is a small town about 40 km southwest of Turin. Members of the Agnelli family have lived in a country house there since 1811.
Turin was the headquarters of Fiat, founded by Giovanni Agnelli
Turin, pictured from Monte dei Cappuccini

Travel tip:

Turin is known as the ‘royal’ capital of Italy as it has many palaces and residences built by members of the House of Savoy, the family the Kings of the new united Italy came from. Turin lies in the centre of the region of Piemonte and is now a major industrial and cultural city. 


15 December 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Spaghetti western has steadily gained critical acclaim

Clint Eastwood became a star as a result of his role in the film
Clint Eastwood became a star as a
result of his role in the film
The film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was released on this day in Italy in 1966.

It was the third and final instalment in the Dollars Trilogy, following 'A Fistful of Dollars' and 'For A Few Dollars More'.

Despite mixed reviews to begin with, it was a financial success, grossing more then $25 million at the box office.

The film has gained respect over the years and is now seen as a highly influential example of the Western film genre and has been acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time.

Directed by Sergio Leone, the film, known in Italian as Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, was made partly at the Cinecittà studio in Rome and partly on location.

It became categorised as a 'spaghetti western' and was distinctive because of Leone’s film–making style, which involved juxtaposing close-ups with lengthy long shots. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach star in the title roles. They are three gunslingers out to find buried gold against the backdrop of the violence of the American Civil War.

The score for the film was composed by Ennio Morricone and the iconic main theme for the film became a popular hit in 1968, with the full soundtrack staying in the album charts for more than a year.

Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, 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 and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.
Cinecittà is the hub of the Italian film industry
Photo JRibax (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Travel tip:

A movie-themed amusement park, Cinecittà World, was opened in 2014 in Via di Castel Romano, to the south of Fiumicino Airport and to the south east of Ostia  There are two roller coaster rides and several film sets to explore. The Sergio Leone-inspired western set has music composed by Ennio Morricone playing as you look round. Visit www.cinecittaworld.it for more details.


14 December 2015

Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily

Sad, short life of a Neapolitan princess

The youngest daughter of Ferdinand, King of Naples and Sicily, Princess Maria Antonia, was born on this day in 1784 at the Royal Palace in Caserta.

Princess Maria Antonia was named after her aunt, Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed by guillotine in Paris in 1793.

The Royal Palace in Naples

Marie Antoinette was the favourite sister of the Princess’s mother, Maria Carolina of Austria, who became opposed to the military expansion of the new French republic as a result of her sister’s horrific death.

Princess Maria Antonia’s own fate was sealed when she became engaged to Infante Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias, who later became King Ferdinand VII of Spain. 

She married him in Barcelona in 1802.

When she failed to provide Ferdinand with an heir, suffering two miscarriages, there were rumours that Maria Antonia, whose title was now Princess of Asturias, was plotting to poison both her mother in law, the Queen of Spain, and the Spanish Prime Minister. This was allegedly to avenge her aunt, Marie Antoinette, because Spain was becoming increasingly dominated by Napoleon.

The Queen of Spain encouraged the rumours and had the princess’s books and clothes searched.

Then, at the age of 21, Princess Maria Antonia suddenly died, supposedly of tuberculosis. There were rumours that she herself had been the victim of poisoning, but there was no real evidence.

The Princess was buried at El Escorial in Spain and her husband went on to marry three more times. His last wife was Maria Antonia’s own niece, Princess Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily, who had been born a month before her death in 1806.

Travel tip:

The Royal Palace, where Princess Maria Antonia was born, was built in Caserta for King Charles VII. Work began in 1752 on what was to become the largest royal residence in the world. The architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, also designed a magnificent park with a huge waterfall for the palace, which is situated about 35 kilometres from Naples.

Travel tip:

The Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) in Naples is another of the magnificent residences of the Kings of Naples. The palace is at the eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito and dates back to 1600. It now houses a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, which are both open to the public.