The Gatti Casazza dynasty

Written by  Andrea Nascimbeni e Leopoldo Santini

A highly talented family, patriotic and involved in the arts and operaUn ritratto di Giulio Gatti Casazza eseguito dallo Studio Mishkin di New York agli inizi dell ‘900.

A casual passer-by who happens to glance up to the commemorative plaque on Corso Giovecca 145 would be surprised to hear what the inhabitants of this building had achieved between the 1800s and our times. We will start with the dedicatee of the plaque, Stefano Gatti Casazza, who lived there between 1881 and 1918, the year he died. He had been born in Mantua, but moved to Piedmont when he was nineteen to avoid conscription to the Austrian army. Dreaming of a united Italy, he enlisted with the Alessandria cavalry under the house of Savoy. While camping with his regiment one day near the Casazza family villa, he met Ernestina and the two fell in love. The families decided to join the two names, and this gave rise to the Gatti-Casazza dynasty. Stefano left from Quarto coi Mille under orders from Nino Bixio, had a baptism of fire in Calatafimi, was promoted to second lieutenant in Palermo and took part in the battle of Volturnus. He became a general staff lieutenant under General Türr, transferred to the Alpine Brigade and then to the Montebello Lancers. He left the military with the rank captain of the cavalry. He was elected member of parliament and senator of the realm. He also ran the Municipal Theatre of Ferrara and was its chairman. He and his wife had two sons, Giulio Cesare (1868-1940) and Giuseppe (1870-1947). Giulio inherited his father's love for the opera. His CV is impressive: the National College of Milan, the Arnaldi Institute of Genoa and then the Naval Academy of Livorno. He loved the hard sciences, and enrolled in the faculty of mathematics in the University of Ferrara and then the Royal Naval College of Genoa where he graduated in 1891. When his father Stefano was elected as aUn ritratto teatrale di Giulio Gatti Casazza degli anni ‘30 Nel Novecento. member of parliament, the twenty-five year old Giulio was put in charge of the Municipal Theatre. He started off on the right foot, putting on two newly written operas, Manon Lescaut by Puccini and Wally by Catalani. He went from one success to another with masterpieces such as Carmen by Bizet and Lohengrin by Wagner. His friendship with Arturo Toscanini dated back to those years, a friendship encouraged by the fact that the parents of both were Garibaldian and had been fellow soldiers. News of Giulio Gatti Casazza's theatrical successes reached Milan, and he was approached by the joint stock company running La Scala to revive the financially struggling theatre. He was given administrative and artistic control, replacing the traditional opera impresario in deference to his modern managerial abilities. He stayed in Milan for ten years. Along with Arrigo Boito and Arturo Toscanini, he was behind many highly successful seasons featuring the leading artistes of the day: from Enrico Caruso to the bass singer Fedor Chaliapin, the baritone Tita Ruffo and Tullio Serafin conducting. Giulio's reorganisation brought La Scala into line with European standards. Operas were no longer cut, and the dark theatre concept was introduced along with the curtain. Gentlemen could not wear their hats, and there were no encores. Gatti Casazza's fame spread to America, and Otto Khan, chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, entrusted him with its management. The years between 1908 and 1935 were the golden years of the Met with over 160 operas staged. It also became common to stage the operas in their original language. After his return to private life, he returned to Italy and died in Ferrara in 1940. His brother Giuseppe also became an engineer, and was a stereoscopic photography enthusiast. He was one of the promoters of the Turin International Exhibition of Artistic photography in 1902, which established the liberty style in Italy. The following year he transferred to Florence with his family to cultivate his love of ceramic art. Giuseppe was an expert on many subjects, a lover of applied art, a collector, at the intersection of the Italian cultural centres "that mattered" between Milan and Venice.

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