Memorial plaque for baritone Ettore Bastianini in the contrada pantera in Siena
The memorial plaque for Ettore Bastianini in the contrada pantera in Siena

Forget Daniel Craig aka James Bond escaping onto Siena's piazza del Campo during Palio. The life of Siena born baritone Ettore Bastianini would make for a much more exciting script for a big Hollywood production. The opera star was born in Siena in 1922 as an illegitimate child. As a teenager he started working for a baker who loved to sing whilst kneading the dough. It didn't take long before Ettore sang along and his beautiful voice was discovered and his education fostered by the Ammanati, one of Siena's artistic families of the time. 

Starting his career as a rather successful bass singer, Ettore decided to retrain for a year so as to become a baritone. In spite of a difficult start in the new register, it didn't take long before Bastianini took the world, sharing the stage  with singers like Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano at the New York met or Milan's Scala (for an example in the history making Luchino Visconti production of Verdi's Traviata at the Scala). 

Ettore Bastianini singing Rossini in 1965 towards the end
of  his life, when already tragically ill with throat cancer

Ettore Bastianini's life sounds like a fairy tale. The boy whose father wasn't known (not an easy fate in Italy in the last century), became yes, world famous, but also the capitano (captain) of the contrada della Pantera (Siena's city district with the symbol of a panther). 

Bastianini was head of contrada Pantera from 1959 until his death and won the July Palio in 1963. His joy was such that he decided to buy the winning horse, and to call it Ettore. The horse continued to run the Palio and actually won the race again in July 1965 for l'Aquila, the enemy contrada of la Pantera!

Palio di Provenzano, July 1963

Bastianini was born on the 22st of September 1922 and died in January 1967 from cancer, which had started off as a primary tumor in his throat (a fact the singer hid from the public for years so as not to compromise his career). Siena remembers the 90th anniversary of Bastianini's birth and the 45th anniversary of his premature death with a series of events this week.

Guided visits to Palazzo Chigi Saracini can be booked, where 12 of  Bastianini's opera costumes are on show. The elaborate costumes have been bought by Bastianini after his performances and are now owned by the contrada Pantera. The tour will move on to the museum of the contrada, which exhibits important documents of Bastianini's personal and professional life. The baritone donated the house the museum is located in to the contrada della Pantera, as a meeting place for the city district's inhabitants. 

Guided visits at Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of September 2012 at 11am, 12am, 3pm and 4pm. Tickets 7€ (5€ for residents of Siena, students and pensioners). Info and reservation +39 0577 28 63 00. Email: palazzochigisaracini@operalaboratori.com
Museum of the Contrada della Pantera, via San Quirico 26. Free access to the museum from 11am to 1pm and from 3pm - 5pm. 

On Saturday the home of the Unione Corale Senese (Siena's classical choir where Bastianini started off his career) will host a conference dedicated to the singer's birthday followed by a concert accompanied by pianist Elina Yanchenko.  22nd of September, 6pm via Pendola, 41. 

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