22 October 2021

22 October

Giovanni Martinelli – tenor

Singer made his fame abroad

One of the most famous tenors of the early 20th century, Giovanni Martinelli, was born on this day in 1885 in Montagnana in the province of Padua in the Veneto.  Martinelli began his career playing the clarinet in a military band and then studied as a singer with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan. He made his professional debut at the Teatro del Verme in Milan in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani in 1910.  Martinelli became famous for singing the role of Dick Johnson in Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, which he performed in Rome, Brescia, Naples, Genoa, Monte Carlo and also at La Scala in Milan.  He played Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House in London and took on the same role for his first American engagement in 1913. That same year Martinelli portrayed Pantagruel in the world premiere of Jules Massenet’s Panurge in Paris.  He attracted favourable reviews when he played Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He went on to sing 36 different roles for the theatre over 32 seasons.  In 1937 Martinelli returned to London to sing opposite the English soprano Eva Turner at Covent Garden.  Read more…


Valeria Golino - actress

Neapolitan starred with Hoffman and Cruise in Rain Man

The actress Valeria Golino, who found international fame when she played opposite Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the hugely successful movie Rain Man, was born on this day in 1965 in Naples.  Golino was cast as the girlfriend of Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie Babbitt, in Barry Levinson’s comedy, in which Babbitt’s estranged father dies and leaves most of his multi-million dollar estate to another son, an autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) whose existence Charlie knew nothing about. The 1988 movie won four Oscars and grossed more than $350 dollars. Although Golino was not nominated for her performance in Rain Man, she has won a string of other awards over a career so far spanning almost 35 years.  She is one of only three stars to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival on two occasions, for the 1986 drama Storia d’amore (“A Tale of Love”), directed by Francesco Maselli, and for Giuseppe M Gaudino’s 2015 drama Per amor vostro (“For Your Love”).  Golino was close to being selected to star opposite Richard Gere in another massive US hit, Pretty Woman, making it to the final audition stage for the 1990 romantic comedy. Read more…


Soave - an Italian classic wine

How the dry white from the Veneto earned its DOC status

Soave - at one time the world's most popular Italian wine - was officially granted a DOC classification on this day in 1968.  The DOC status - which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata - was introduced midway through the last century as part of a series of laws designed to safeguard the quality and authenticity of Italian wines.  Winegrowers had been pushing for such regulation because the increasing popularity of Italian wines around the world was impacting on quality as more and more producers sprang up to meet demand.  Soave was a case in point.  Originally limited to a small area of just 2,720 acres (1,100 hectares) in the hills to the north of the small towns of Soave and Monteforte d'Alpone, roughly 25km (16 miles) east of Verona in the Veneto region, production spread rapidly to an area more than six times as large.  The biggest demand was from the United States, which developed a taste for Italian wines in the boom years that followed the end of the Second World War.  Of the huge volume of imported bottles that arrived on ships from Europe, Soave was the most popular.  Read more…


Salvatore Di Vittorio – composer and conductor  

Musician has promoted his native Palermo throughout the world

Salvatore Di Vittorio, founding music director and conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York, was born on this day in 1967 in Palermo in Sicily.  Also a composer, Di Vittorio has written music in the style of the early 20th century Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi, who, in turn, based his compositions on the music he admired from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Di Vittorio has been recognised by music critics as respectful of the ancient Italian musical tradition and also as an emerging, leading interpreter of the music of Ottorino Respighi.  He began studying music when he was a child with his father, Giuseppe, who introduced him to the operas of Verdi and Puccini. He went on to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music and Philosophy at Columbia University.  He has since worked with orchestras all over the world and composed music for them to perform and has also taught music in New York.  In 2007, Di Vittorio was invited by Elsa and Gloria Pizzoli, Respighi’s great nieces, to edit and complete several of the composer’s early works, including his first Violin Concerto, composed in 1903.  Read more…


21 October 2021

21 October

Giuseppe Pinelli - anarchist

His 'accidental death' inspired classic Dario Fo play

Giuseppe 'Pino' Pinelli, the railway worker from Milan who inspired Dario Fo to write his classic play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, was born on this day in 1928.  Pinelli fell to his death from a fourth floor window of the Milan Questura - the main police station - on December 15, 1969, three days after a bomb exploded at a bank in Piazza Fontana in Milan, killing 17 people and wounding 88.  A known anarchist during a period of growing political and social tension in Italy, Pinelli had been picked up for questioning, along with a number of other activists, over the Piazza Fontana bomb.  The story put out first by police was that Pinelli had jumped, willing to take his own life rather than face prosecution. Yet three police officers who had been interrogating Pinelli were put under investigation.  No action was taken against them and later a judge ruled that Pinelli's death had been accidental. This time the suggestion was that he had fainted, lost his balance and fallen through the open window, which seemed to many to be somewhat far-fetched.  It did not convince his supporters and when one of his interrogators, Commissioner Luigi Calabresi, was shot dead on his way to work in May 1972, two left-wing activists were convicted of his murder. Read more…


Domenichino - Baroque master

Artist whose talents rivalled Raphael

The painter Domenico Zampieri, in his era spoken of in the same breath as Raphael, was born on this day in 1581 in Bologna.  Better known as Domenichino (“Little Domenico”), the nickname he picked up early in his career on account of his small stature, he painted in classical and later Baroque styles in Rome, Bologna and Naples.  Noted for the subtle, almost serene lighting and understated colours of his compositions, he painted portraits, landscapes, religious and mythological scenes and had a prolific output. Among his most notable works were significant frescoes commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese for the Badia (monastery) at Grottaferrata, outside Rome, and for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini at the Villa Belvedere (also known as the Villa Aldobrandini) in nearby Frascati, as well as Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, not far from Piazza Navona, in Rome itself.  Domenichino’s paintings can be seen in art galleries in many countries, with the largest single collection held by the Louvre in Paris.  One of his most celebrated paintings, the depiction of St John the Evangelist that he worked on between 1621 and 1629, has been described as a “masterpiece epitomising the grandeur and nobility of Roman Baroque". Read more…


Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta

Cousin of Italy's wartime monarch died in a POW camp

Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, who died in a British prisoner-of-war camp after leading the defeated Italian Army in the East Africa Campaign of the Second World War, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.  After distinguished military service in the First World War and seeing action as a pilot in the pacification of Italian Libya in the early 1930s, Amedeo had been appointed by Mussolini as Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor-General of Italian East Africa in 1937, replacing the controversial Marshal Rodolfo Graziani.  Italy’s entry into the Second World War on the side of Germany in June 1940 meant the Duke of Aosta became the commander of the Italian forces against the British in what became known as the East African Campaign.  As such, he oversaw the Italian advances into the Sudan and Kenya and the Italian invasion of British Somaliland.  However, when the British launched a counter-invasion early the following year, the Italians were put on the defensive and after fighting desperately to protect their territory were beaten in the Battle of Keren. The rest of Eritrea, including the port of Massawa, fell soon afterwards.  Read more…


20 October 2021

20 October

Dado Moroni - jazz musician

Self-taught pianist recorded first album at 17

The renowned jazz musician Edgardo ‘Dado’ Moroni was born on this day in 1962 in Genoa.  Moroni, who learned at the feet of some of the greats of American jazz music in Italian clubs in the 1980s and 90s, has recorded more than 25 albums, having released his first when he was only 17.  He has appeared as a guest on many more albums and built such a reputation as a pianist and composer that he was able to become part of the American jazz scene himself in the 1990s, when he lived in New York.  Moroni attributes his love of jazz music to his father’s passion for the genre, which meant that he grew up listening to the likes of Earl Hines, Fats Waller and Count Basie.  Using a piano his parents had bought for his sister, Monica, he taught himself to play many of the songs he heard on the record player, receiving his first informal tuition from his mother, who played the accordion.  Formal piano lessons were arranged for him with the Genoa jazz pianist Flavio Crivelli, who introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie and contemporary pianists like Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson.  Read more…


Claudio Ranieri - football manager

Title-winning Leicester City boss 

Football manager Claudio Ranieri was born on this day in 1951 in Rome.  Ranieri, who won the English Premier League in 2016 with rank outsiders Leicester City, has managed 19 clubs in four countries in a 30-year career in coaching.  He also had a stint in charge of the Greece national team.  Among the teams he has coached are a host of big names - Internazionale, Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina in Italy, Atletico Madrid and Valencia in Spain, Monaco in France and Chelsea in England.  He has won titles in lower divisions as well as Italy's Coppa Italia and the Copa del Rey in Spain but until Leicester defied pre-season odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League, a major league championship had eluded him.  He had finished second three times, with Chelsea, Roma and Monaco.  Before turning to coaching, Ranieri was a player for 14 seasons. He began in Serie A with home-town club Roma, but enjoyed more success in the lower divisions, enjoying promotion twice with the Calabrian club Catanzaro, where he spent the biggest part of his career, and once each with the Sicilian teams Catania and Palermo.  Read more…


Jacopo della Quercia - sculptor

Innovative work said to have influenced Michelangelo

The sculptor Jacopo della Quercia, regarded as one of the most original artists in his field in the early 15th century and an influence on a number of leading figures in the Renaissance including Michelangelo, died on this day in 1438. Della Quercia’s most notable works include the Fonte Gaia in Piazza del Campo in Siena, the sculptures around the Porta Magna of the church of San Petronio in Bologna, the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto in Lucca Cathedral, and Zacharias in the Temple, a bronze relief for the baptismal font in the church of San Giovanni in Siena.  His attention to proportion and perspective gave his creations a particularly lifelike quality and his innovative work put him at the forefront of his generation.  Art historians consider that his work marked a transition in Italian art from Gothic to Renaissance style that was taken forward by Michelangelo and contemporaries such as Francesco di Giorgio and Niccolò dell’Arca.  Born, it is thought, in 1374, he was baptised as Jacopo di Pietro d’Agnolo di Guarnieri.  He took his working name from his home village, Quercia Grossa - now Quercegrossa - situated a few kilometres outside Siena.  Read more…


Mara Venier - television presenter

Former actress became famous as face of Sunday afternoon

Mara Venier, a familiar face on Italian television for more than 35 years, was born on this day in 1950 in Venice.  The former actress, who made her big-screen debut in 1973, is best known for presenting the long-running Sunday afternoon variety show Domenica In, which has been a fixture on the public TV channel Rai Uno since 1976.  Venier, born Mara Povoleri, hosted the show for nine seasons in four stints between 1993 and 2014. Only Pippo Baudo, something of a legendary figure in Italian television, has presented more editions.  Fronting Domenica In, which was on air for an incredible six hours, was not only a test of stamina for the presenter but came with a huge sense of responsibility. In fact, holding the attention of the viewers was a patriotic duty, the show’s format having been conceived by the Italian government, faced with the global oil crisis in the 1970s, as something to tempt citizens to stay at home rather than use precious fuel for their cars.  Venier had been a movie actress, known largely to audiences in Italy, for two decades before she was invited to host Domenica InRead more…

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19 October 2021

19 October

Umberto Boccioni - painter

Artist who died tragically young was key figure in Futurism

The painter Umberto Boccioni, who became arguably the leading artist of Italian Futurism before the First World War, was born on this day in 1882 in Reggio Calabria.  Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement that was launched by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909.  Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past. The Futurists admired the speed and technological advancement of cars and aeroplanes and the new industrial cities, all of which they saw as demonstrating the triumph of humanity over nature through invention. Their work attempted to capture the dynamism of life in a modern city, creating images that convey a sense of the power and energy of industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change.  Boccioni became part of the movement after meeting Marinetti in Milan early in 1910, after which he joined Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo in signing Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters.  In the same year, Boccioni completed one of his finest works, entitled La città che sale, which is translated as The City Rises and which many consider to be the first truly Futurist painting.  Read more…


Carlo Urbani – microbiologist

Infectious disease expert who identified SARS

The doctor and microbiologist Carlo Urbani, whose decisive action after discovering the deadly SARS virus saved millions of lives, was born on this day in 1956 in Castelplanio, near Ancona.  Dr Urbani himself died after contracting the condition, which had been given the name severe acute respiratory syndrome.  He identified it in an American businessman who had been taken ill in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, with suspected influenza.  Recognising quickly that what he was dealing with was not a straightforward case of ‘flu, Urbani, who was working in Vietnam as an infectious diseases specialist for the World Health Organisation, immediately alerted WHO headquarters in Geneva.  He convinced them that what he had discovered posed a grave threat to life and thus sparked the most effective response to a major epidemic in the history of medicine.  At a local level, be persuaded the Vietnamese health authorities to introduce a raft of preventative measures, including large-scale screening and prompt, secure isolation of suspected victims, that slowed the spread of the disease.  It was as a result of Urbani’s actions that the epidemic was largely contained.  Read more…


Fiorenzo Magni - cycling champion

Rider from Tuscany won Giro d'Italia three times

Italy lost one of its finest professional riders and its last link with the so-called golden age of Italian cycle racing when Fiorenzo Magni died on this day in 2012.  Tuscan-born Magni was a multiple champion, winning the Giro d'Italia three times, as well as three Italian Road Race Championships.  He had seven stage wins in the Tour de France, in which he wore the yellow jersey as race leader for a total of nine days.  His other major victories were in the demanding Tour of Flanders, in which he became only the second non-Belgian winner in 1949 and went on to win three times in a row, a feat yet to be matched.  Magni might have been even more successful had his career not coincided with those of two greats of Italian cycling, the five-times Giro champion Fausto Coppi, who was twice winner of the Tour de France, and Gino Bartali, who won three Giros and one Tour de France.  His reputation for toughness, however, was unrivalled.  He relished racing in harsh, wintry weather, as often prevailed in the Tour de Flanders, and refused to give in to injuries if he happened to have a fall.  The classic example of this came in the 1956 Giro d'Italia, his final ride in Italy's foremost event, when an accident left him with a broken left collarbone only halfway through the race. Read more…