The Cortella family, 100 years old typographer of the Opera in Arena
24 April 2017 Share

The Cortella family, 100 years old typographer of the Opera in Arena

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INTERVIEW – Antonio Cortella, 92 years: «Printing the posters, the brochures and then the annual book of the Arena di Verona Opera Festival. This was not just a job but a passion proceeding from the heart, and that’s the reason why we have become experts» –

Antonio Cortella is telling about his passion, comfortably sitting in his living room from where we can see the roofs of Piazza Bra and the upper part of “his” Arena. The big monument is just there, behind the light curtains. In Summertime, when the terrace door is wide open, acting as a visual background to the arias of the opera, coming from the amphitheatre. “I’m a great lover of Opera,” he begins.

Ninety years pursued with tenacity, five children. Life dedicated to the printing art, music and theatre arts and crafts that for decades were intertwined with the history of Verona and its amphitheatre. Passionate skills and competence which still make the Cortella Printing Factory official printer of the Arena Foundation.

Ugo and Giulio Cortella

Ugo and Giulio Cortella

Ugo Cortella, Antonio’s uncle, moved in 1919 from Badia Polesine to Verona, and bought a printing factory called ” Economic Typography”, in Via Stella 15, owned by the Cartographic Giacometti. “In 1931 there was a turning point”, Antonio says, “when my father Giulio Cortella, former owner of a fabric shop in Badia was forced to close, due to the 1929 economic depression and moved to Verona.  There he took over the accounting of the typography to help his brother Ugo. Later, me and my mom, Gina Giannetti, came too, to reunite the family”.

Giulio, who was outgoing and gregarious, managed to improve the typography which was moved to Via Marconi number 10, in 1942. Technical improvement made the factory more important: it printed for the Province, Municipality and many Banks, even for the Arena Opera Festival. In the Fall of 1967, thanks to the passionate and energetic work of Antonio, Giulio’ son, the factory was moved in a larger and more efficient location in Lungadige Galtarossa 22, and this has remained the definite site big more than 35.000 mq, led now by his son Martino and his nephew Marcello.

Printing posters and leaflets for the Arena Opera Festival with passion and accuracy was not just a job for Cortella. It was something more, proceeding from the heart: «We worked with passion and we have become experts». Antonio tells us with tears in his eyes. From his first approach to the Academic studies, with the aspiration to graduate in Foreign Languages, he was irresistibly attracted by the intense smell of ink and the skill of the movable types which became his first love. Since then, he says, “the typography absorbed me completely”. In a very short period of time the Cortella Printing Factory enrolled even more than one hundred employees.

«I always listened to music. My father Giulio, in his spare time, was theatre manager in Badia Polesine. Between the twenties and thirties he staged La Bohème and Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini at the Teatro Politeama, Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano had on stage the great tenor Silvio Costa Lo Giudice and soprano Rosa Raisa. I remember when my fhater brought me in Bologna to listen Wagner. He influenced me a lot”.  Antonio reveals that he keeps an image of the German musician in his bedroom, next to his collection of over 500 music CDs.

One of his favourite theatres has always been the Arena: «It was a satisfaction when, in the sixties, they asked me to take care of the book of the Arena. They had respect for me, I worked day and night to create a publication that was perfect».  It is the book about the Arena season with information on works and performers, authors and fittings. Pages to be collected. As the note that in the Seventies the manager Carlo Alberto Cappelli sent to him, for the exit of another volume that read: Beautiful Unique Number!

«Those were different times. I went every evening in Arena: it was my second home. I saw the same opera six or seven times. I had fun, for me was how to leave for the holidays» he says recalling atmospheres that seem distant. On summer evenings, closed the printing house that opened in the early morning, he reached the amphitheater between the stones which heard singing Beniamino Gigli, Franco Corelli, Mario Del Monaco and Luciano Pavarotti; he met directors of international repute and Maria Callas, who in 1954 gave to the eldest daughter of Antonio, named Cecilia, a medal of the saint patroness of music when she lived in the apartment on the floor above that of Cortella family, in via Leoncino.

Going to the Arena was for the people of Verona an event not to be missed; at the end of the show it was a must going «to restaurant Three Crowns, to eat “risotto alla parmigiana” for the price of a thousand italians lire».

Piazza Bra was the living room of opera that every artist wanted to attend as almost an obligatory stop of his career. Antonio also had artistic inclinations: «I used to play the clarinet. I had music in my head». After the war, he was among the members of the choir I Cantori Veronesi,  directed by Pina Agostini Bitelli. Among the singers, he met that one became his wife, Mirella De Marzi, soprano, who came from a family of musicians.

«I did not love the sport, but music», he concludes. As a young man he took part in a competition organized by Ente for Italian Radio Auditions (EIAR, future Rai), in Venice, to get a scholarship for soloists. He did not go well. «I was a practical man and I understood that I could not be quite as good as Basso. It was better to be a printer man… and it was my good fortune».

Marta Bicego

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