The Spirit of Naples, Her Songs
I expected the usual stereotypes.
But I went and I saw, and I heard, I felt that Naples was something else,
some other song.
Between me and the Neopolitan songs the relations have not always been easy. Too many times I was abandoned, I had been confused with those songs, my feelings had been confused, and at times I had thought that that they took the place of them, of my feelings, that they would directly make them happen.
Too many times I had considered them like a prison of sentiment from which I had to free myself....
I was born in Murolo"s generation, who beyond singing the songs he spoke them, he made the listener feel the harmony of the words, the musicality of the verses and the poetry.
Behind those songs one heard not only the voice of the singer but also the voice of the poet, the voice of Di Giacomo, of Bovio, of Russo, of Nicolardi.
It was an intimate voice, never overly explained.
And he was talking to a butterfly (a "palomma"(?) love song by Sergio Bruni maybe -- maybe) that at night came too close to a candle flame:
"Be careful little numbskull, that flame isn"t a rose nor a jasmine, and if you fly too close, it will burn your wings. I know that because I also have been dazzled by the flame and to keep you away from it do I need to burn my hand?"
And all this in the marvelous Neopolitan dialect of Di Giacomo was irresistible.
And so like this it was always irresistible that "wound of love," that "nothing can heal," that will never get better, never, and that in each song one heard it.
Here it is, in these songs and these sentiments that were so provocative so arousing that from my earliest youth I abandoned myself to them.
There was nothing that disturbed the harmony even when their content was painful, they were songs that blended themselves well with the landscape, with the sea, with the "beautiful day," everything came back, and the colors were those of a watercolor, a gouache, sweet and skyblue.
That was the dominant image, and for a long time that image has been consoling. That image traveled the world and "Oh solo mio," illuminated it. That image was stronger than the reality, it was the reality, it was Naples.
And then ... a few days ago I want to the theatre to see the film Passione, by John Turturro and things have changed.
A film by an American about Naples, I expected the usual stereotypes. But I went and I saw, and I heard, I felt that Naples was something else, some other song.
The spirit with which it sang itself had changed, it wasn"t any longer that intimate and delicate song of the "palomma" night; it was pure, inconsolable, flooded with energy.
Turturro"s film was not really a film, it didn"t have a story, a plot, any characters, or better, there were characters and they were the Neapolitans and the plot was the Neapolitan songs, an unfolding of old songs well-known to me and put in the film, here lined up and framed in a few images.
But why this time listening to those songs one after the other in a musical version and with an urgent rhythm completely new, did a wave of emotion rise up inside me and so overwhelmed me that it was difficult for me to hold back my tears?
What had happened? Why all this? I don"t know how to say it well, but it is as if those songs had shifted and extracted something that for a long time had lain at the bottom of myself, and this something through those songs rose bit by bit to the surface and grabbed me by the throat.
Was it the way those songs were sung? Or because who was singing them, with a force now desperate now joyful that surmounted even the lovely and overwhelming accompaniment of the orchestra, it wasn"t the usual sentimental singing but, at least it appeared like this, that it rose from inside the people of Naples with a violence that said who they really were and how their songs were made to be sung.
From its bottom layers, from its miserable dwellings, from its precarious life, this song rose that had something ancient and barbaric, it rose with a cheerful ferocity challenging an adverse destiny, with an indomitable passionate will to declare itself to the whole world that which it truly was.
A chorus of voices rose from the mangled city, but it wasn"t a cry nor even a protest, it was only the spirit, the great spirit of a city that had opened itself up and revealed all that it was.
How profound it was and ancestral the rhythm stressed by the drums, how he so much resembled a primitive idol, Beppe Barra, when he was singing "chill"o fatto e" niro niro," how tortured the solitary sax of James Senese, and how beautiful and provocative Montecorvino"s whore when she came forward singing in the alley hugging the walls, and that impudence and cockiness of Angela Luce, and how they were good, all of them, really all the singers, all of them taken by the same frenzy!
Here it is, I don"t know how to say how it is, all this came together in a singular sentiment that filled my heart with an immense compassion, with a boundless sympathy, with an undisguised pride. All this, I felt it, it was made a part of me, it was hidden in a part of me that I hadn"t recognized or, one might say, in my unconscious, and had matured slowly during all these years and transformed itself.
Only now did I become aware that in all these years Murolo"s Naples, that intimate Naples, that accompanied my feelings and made itself in tune with "the beautiful day," with the harmonious landscape, with the poetry and the verses of Di Giacomo, was no longer there, they had disappeared, they had been torn away by another Naples more unkempt and terrible, but that perhaps I loved more really because I was not indifferent to her misfortunes, to her shame ("scuorno") and to her great wounded spirit.