On October 15th Fondazione Trianon Viviani invited me and nine other foreign correspondents to Naples. The occasion was the inauguration of “La Stanza delle Meraviglie” and the first live performance of the musical “Adagio Napoletano: Cantata D’Ammore” arranged by native-son set-and-costume designer Bruno Garofolo, at the Fondazione’s namesake theater.
Paolo Animato, the Theater’s Communications Director, and Marisa Laurito, its Artistic Director since 2020, welcomed us at the entrance, Animato opening our visit with a brief history. “In 1995”, he said, “UNESCO declared the Historic Center of Naples, which includes our Teatro Trianon Viviani, a World Heritage Site. Founded in 1911, the theater’s repertoire has always centered on Naples, its playwrights and especially its music. Its list of stars includes the comedy playwright, actor composer, poet and translator Raffaele Viviani (1888-1950), hence its name, Eduardo De Filippo (1900-1984) with his siblings Peppino and Titina, Nino Taranto, Totò, Enrico Ruggeri, and Peppino di Capri. Owned from 1947 to 2006 by three-generations of the Cuccurullo family, since then it’s belonged to the Regione Campania, the Province of Naples, and now the City of Naples. Closed in 2014 because of a 500,000-euro debt, in 2015 the Governor of Campania Vincenzo De Luca, saved it from transformation into a supermarket or bingo hall and oversaw its second restoration. During a 2000-2002 restoration, an ancient Greek tower, dating to the 3th or 4th century BC and the only one still in existence in Campania, was incorporated on the right side of the orchestra pit.”
“My present project,” explained Laurito, “has three parts; two will be permanent fixtures: ‘La Stanza delle Meraviglie’, and ‘La Stanza della Memoria’ to open at the end of the year. The third will be temporary musical productions, our first being ‘Adagio Napoletano: Cantata D’Ammore’.”
Laurito is passionate about her subject and she stated that, “It was outrageous that until now Naples didn’t have a theater dedicated to performing its rich popular musical tradition. In Portugal there’s the fado; in Vienna the waltz; in Spain the flamenco; in New York Broadway’s musicals and in London’s West End too. The Trianon Viviani will be a money-making tourist attraction.”
She went on to elaborate that, “Thanks to my project, sustained by the Region of Campania, our guardian angel Governor De Luca, and Scabec, (Società Campana Beni Culturali), Naples finally has a ‘popular music temple’”.
When I inquired about her favorite Neapolitan songs, Laurito answered: “’Era di Maggio’, ‘Mandullinata a Napule’, and ‘Quando tramonta il sole’, but I also love many others.”
After Laurito’s welcome, we entered “La Stanza delle Meraviglie”, her brainchild with Garofolo, who, like Laurito, had collaborated with Eduardo De Filippo, but also with opera houses, theaters and artistic festivals all over Italy. The Stanza is a 30-minute-long medley of 17 Neapolitan songs, dating from 1880 to 1930. Using state-of-the-art digital technology, Garofolo presents a mesmerizing multi-sensorial video, a musical “stroll” through Naples and its environs. On screens along the room’s walls, he projected paintings by 19th-century Neapolitan painters as background; videos of singers dressed in 19th-century outfits are superimposed on the paintings’ scenery as if participants were together with us. The songs’ themes are: streets and markets in Naples, the sea, and visits to towns along the Amalfi Coast. During our “stroll” the room’s floor changed from cobblestones, to the sea lapping at our feet, and to unpaved country paths. Entrance-free through November, the “Stanza delle Meraviglie” is open Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 7 PM.
Instead, “La Stanza della Memoria”, will present, again digitally, in holographic display cases and on touch screens, recordings of Neapolitan songs from the 1880s to the present, their manuscripts, scores, posters, theater programs, pertinent photographs and caricatures.
Before the curtain rose on “Adagio Napoletano: Cantata D’Ammore”, Animato recounted that: “Neapolitan songs became a formal institution in the 1830s thanks to an annual song-writing competition for the Festival of Piedigrotta, dedicated to the Madonna of Piedigrotta, a well-known church in the neighborhood of Mergellina. The winner of the first Festival was “Te voglio bene assaie”, a song traditionally, but without historical proof, attributed to the prominent opera composer Gaetano Donizetti, ironically from Bergamo. The Festival was held regularly until 1950.”
He added that, “A subsequent Festival of Neapolitan Song on Italian state-radio enjoyed moderate success during the next decade, but Neapolitan songs, mainly about nostalgia for Naples, are world-famous because of the nearly 3,000,000 homesick Neapolitans and Southern Italians who immigrated to the USA from 1880-1920, and thanks to native-son Enrico Caruso who sang them as encores at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in the early 1900s. Because of Caruso’s recordings of many, they became standard repertoire for operatic tenors: Beniamino Gigli, Franco Corelli, Mario del Monaco, Luciano Pavarotti, and still today Andrea Bocelli.”
“Since the 1950s their composers and most famous performers have been: Totò, Renato Carosone, Pino Daniele, Gigi Alessi, Massimo Ranieri, and Roberto Murolo, whose collection of twelve LPs, released in the 1960s, is an annotated compendium of Neapolitan songs dating back to the 12th century. Since most were written for male soloists, their performers have been almost exclusively men. One exception, however, is Marisa Laurito.
The musical’s 38 Neapolitan songs, dating from 1885 to 1939, are divided among its eight scenes: Introduction, May and Roses, Immigrants, On the Street, Le Tammurriate (a southern Italian folkdance similar to the better-known tarantella), Fishermen, The Market, Variety, and the Finale. Scheduled to open in 2020, during the pandemic it was shown only on streaming. Future performances will be on: November 26-28, December 25, 26, 30, and 31, January 2, February 25-27, March 12-13, April 15-17 and 22-24, and May 27-29. On Fridays the orchestra seats cost 25 euros and the others 20 euros; on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, 28 and 22 euros.
During the intervals a program of Neapolitan music and plays will be performed. For dates click on www.teatrotrianon.org. Tickets can be purchased online from www.azzurroservice.net. Glued to my seat for the entire breathtaking performance, during the encores I nodded: “Yes, finally, Marisa, you’ve achieved your goal: Teatro della Canzone Napoletana is on a par with Broadway. Bravissima!”
For years I’ve admired Marisa Laurito, a favorite TV personality in Italy, so MY main reason for coming to Naples had been to meet her in person. Born in Naples on April 19th, 1951, the ever-exuberant Laurito always aspired to become an actress. Entering Eduardo De Filippo’s stage company, she debuted in 1969 in Le bugie con le gambe lunghe. On her 21st birthday Laurito signed her first contract and, although she helped to found another Neapolitan stage company during the second half of the 1970s, she performed in Eduardo De Filippo’s plays shown on RAI TV as well as in about 20 movies.
Her popularity skyrocketed in the 1980s with Renzo Arbore’s TV variety show Quelli della notte and she went on to host several TV programs, including two editions (1987 and 1990) of RAI’s Saturday night show Fantastico, connected to the National Lottery allotted on the day of the Epiphany, January 6. In 1989 Laurito was a contestant at the San Remo Music Festival with the song “Il babà è una cosa seria”, ranking twelfth.
Since the year 2000 Laurito has dedicated herself to theater. Her three other passions are painting, Neapolitan songs, and gastronomy (her latest of several cookbooks is Pasta, Love, and Fantasia (2021). Also this year, Rizzoli published her autobiography, Una vita scapricciata, loosely translated as A Life Doing Everything I Enjoy.
If you’re staying on in Naples, visit the world-famous Archeology Museum, the painting and collections of the presepi at Capodimonte, the Cappella di San Severo, the presepi artisans on Via San Gregorio Armeno (this year’s novelty from Marco Ferrigno’s shop being the Re Magi presenting their green passes), the dazzling Treasure of San Gennaro, the Duomo (Cathedral) next door, and buy an opera ticket for the magnificent 18th-century Teatro San Carlo. Since traffic in Naples is always bumper-to-bumper, use the metropolitana (subway) for transportation. Many of its stations are either themselves works-of-art or house them.
As for pizza, Paolo Animato recommends: Pizzeria Trianon, a few doors from the theater, as well as L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele and Pizzeria 1947, both nearby.
For non-pizza-lovers, in my opinion Mimì alla Ferrrovia, although touristy, is a must as are Michelin-recommended Michelasso, George and Veritas for their genuine gourmet Neapolitan cuisine.
Finally, stop by at Il Gran Caffè Gambrinus, a favorite of Totò, Eduardo De Filippo and Laurito, for Naples’ best coffee.