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  • Passion for Naples' Music
    Discover how actor John Turturro is honoring the music that has come out of one of the world's most dynamic cities
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    The music of Naples, Italy is the music of my childhood. Although my Italian father embraced MTV and the likes of Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi, he also revered the art he first knew in the homeland. And my mother, an Italian American, kept Italy close to her, as well. In fact, the first gift my father gave my mother when they were dating was an album by Massimo Ranieri, on which he sang the songs "Rose Rosse" and "O Surdato 'Nnamurato," a classic Neapolitan song about a man who worships his first love so much that she becomes his last and only love. These songs of Naples rise above the hardship and difficulty of its people. These songs of Naples uplift a nation, even when it's ailing. These songs of Naples most recently called to actor John Turturro, who honored them in an exciting documentary, Passione.

    Having opened in New York in June and continuing to show in other cities, Passione has singers telling the story of classic Neapolitan songs from "Malafemmena" to "Caravan Petrol." Touching on the city's multicultural influences, especially those of Arabs, the film also showcases unique interpretations of these classic songs. Although I have not seen the film in its entirety yet, I have watched the trailers available online, both of which blew me away.

    In the opening credits, Turturro flaunts Naples in the best way he can: by showing off its sultriness. With women shaking their hips to the beat of the modern version of the classic song, "Comme Facette Mammeta," a song I happily remember singing on a road trip from New Jersey to Florida and that venerates a mother for making a woman much like an artist would a piece of fine art. It's fitting for this film because Naples birthed a spectacular music tradition that has survived the ages and continues to define the music of Italy as others listen to the genre around the world.

    Another clip has Turturro performing a heavily Arab influenced version of the song "Caravan Petrol," which is about finding oil. The star of that clip is Fiorello, an Italian comedian and radio host, who has had success with prime time Italian variety shows. The raw quality of their voices beautifully matches the scenery (a desert) and the emotion of the song. It also eerily is relevant today in its literal sense as we face increasing dependence on oil. There is a bit of humor to this version, as well. Given the comedic talents of the lead singer and his exaggeration of the words, you will find yourself smiling.

    Indeed, the documentary is far from the traditional with its music video-like aspects and Turturro's true "passione" for dear Napoli and the characters who call it home. The New York Times gave Passione a great review. "Romantic though he is — and the material demands it — Mr. Turturro is also a professional, and he respects the professionalism of his fellow performers," according to The New York Times. "Music is expressive, emotional and lively, yes, but because it is art it is also work. And while Passione praises the spirit of its subjects, it also attends to the discipline and tenacity that makes them worth noticing."

    I imagine one of the best parts of this documentary for me when I finally see it will be when Ranieri performs the classic "Malafemmena," a song by Toto', who recounts how his infidelity led to his wife's infidelity, which made him think of her as a "bad woman" with whom he couldn't live without. The story of "Malafemmena" is the story of Naples; it too is a "bad woman" with whom Turturro – and the rest of us – can't live without.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 8/8/2011

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