Music from Naples
Folk singer Lucilla Galeazzi;
various instrumentalists
Manoel Theatre

There must be few who haven’t heard or savoured traditional Neapolitan music. There was a time when this thriving metropolis, apart from Constantinople, was the only other European city with a million inhabitants.

When times changed, it still enjoyed a musical supremacy, attracting composers and musicians from all over Europe, and it was through the musical eyes of several of these that Lucilla Galeazzi and her musicians gave a Neapolitan slant to some of those composers’ works.

The concert proceeded without a break which one did not really mind as the chosen items on the programme flowed smoothly from one to the next. However, it was a bit annoying that the printed order of performance was not followed and to many it was a question of guessing what work was coming next.

In most cases, the singer gave hints as to what was to follow thanks to her excellent reading of source material like letters written by some of these composers, such as Orlando Di Lasso, Felix Mendelssohn and Igor Stravinsky or by august visitors like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. These readings were an intrinsic delight, and were read in Italian, French, and a smattering of Latin. The musicians were as widely divergent as Di Lasso the Fleming, the Frenchman Debussy, Pergolesi the Italian, the Spaniard Gaspar Sanz and Stravinsky the Russian and well, Donizetti too, who by those days’ standards was also a foreigner but who lived long in Naples and probably deemed the city his best-loved of all.

The unifying tread was the language in which Galeazzi sang. It was Italian here and there but predominantly Neapolitan, the speakers of which insist is a language not a dialect. I am not interested in stirring a hornets’ nest about that matter; just that what was understandable enough along the way was definitely well-projected by the singer whose interpretative abilities brought the message home.

Within the Gaetano Donizetti Suite, she sang the very popular I te voglio bene assaje. This was at the beginning of the concert when the voice still had not warmed up enough, amends for which were amply made as the evening progressed.

The great versatility and interpretative ability of the musicians deserves mention too, because they were able to change style and idiom without any difficulty. Nunzio Reina (mandolins), Fabio Gallucci (mandola), Antonello Paliotti (six-string guitar) and Francesco Fusco (10-string guitar/percussion) were greatly supportive throughout.

One could feel this when they turned to Di Lasso, especially in the madrigal Sto core mio, Madonna mia pietà clearly defined by the singer as well. In one of the later pieces, Debussy’s Tarantelle Styrienne, the musicians gave a rousing interpretation with the different style and idiom well-pronounced in a piece which one could hardly associate with the Austrian region after which it was named.

Earlier on we had some Pergolesi-inspired music in the Suite from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella which included the lovely Pastorella and a lively (what else!) tarantella. Galeazzi sang in Neapolitan but a lot of Spanish spirit was inevitable. Centuries of direct Spanish rule left its mark on Naples. It featured La caballería de Nápoles, La esfachada de Nápoles and Antonello Paliotti’s reworking of the 17th-century poet Filippo Sgruttendio’s Tarenetela. Here there was even a feel akin to that of flamenco and use of castanets accentuating the rhythm.

The final suite by Guillaume Cottrau-Liszt had some charming instrumental versions of Liszt’s songs from the Lettres d’un mélomane of Cottrau, the half-French composer famous for his song Santa Lucia. The finale was rather exciting with soft variations of Paliotti’s Tarantella, including the only percussive intervention provided by Paliotti himself, who was behind this performance and the musical elaborations.

The only encore featured Galeazzi accompanied by Paliotti on guitar.

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