Five songs? That’s it? I have issues committing to a particular brand of yogurt at the supermarket let alone five songs spanning across numerous genres. I already anticipate submitting my picks and immediately regretting that I overlooked at least fifty others. Therefore, I’ve tried to really zone in on what draws me to a particular song.. where was I when I first heard it, what was going on in my life at the time, etc. There are plenty of songs I just plain ENJOY, but there’s little symbolism to them. So with that :::deep breath::: here we go…
Anyone who knows me is aware of my fascination (to the point of obsession) with Neapolitan folk song. I’ve performed several recitals consisting solely of these gems, I’ve written numerous undergrad and grad school papers on the subject, and I’m currently assisting an Italian friend and colleague with her dissertation at the university in Vienna. Additionally, we will perform a joint recital there in January for which I’m very excited! While the texts are often very simple and straightforward, dealing with infatuation, heartbreak, homesickness, and love for the sun and sea, the music is staggeringly beautiful and infused with so much emotion. When entrusted to the right throat, these songs are some of the most stirring and moving pieces in the entire song literature. I’ve chosen one of the more “operatic” pieces: Giuseppe Cioffi’s “‘Na sera ‘e maggio,” sung by a very young Giuseppe Di Stefano. Despite being Sicilian, Pippo captures the essence of this song like no other. It deals with a couple sitting by the sea. He tries to speak to her, she remains silent, distracted. She has fallen in love with another. He tells her “when one says ‘yes’.. just remember, there’s no need to kill a loving heart. You told me ‘yes’ one night in May, and now you’re going to leave me?” He goes on to remind her of the promises she made always to remain faithful, to never forget her first love: “Nun se scorda ‘o primmo ammore” Mo te staje scurdanno ‘e me?
It’s the ultimate breakup song, and I confess to having locked myself away in a dark room one more than one occasion with this anthem blasting in my ears.
As a ‘bonus’ of sorts, I added a version by the great Roberto Murolo, a native Neapolitan and scholar who recorded a 12 LP set between 1963 and 1965 chronicling the history of Neapolitan song dating back to the 12th century. It’s important to hear this beautiful language sung with true and authentic pronunciation. I say language instead of dialect because I’ve been reprimanded by Naples-born friends and colleagues who insist that, like their pizza, the language is separate and unique. The great Tito Schipa, when counting the languages in which he sang, listed Italian and Neapolitan as two separate tongues, despite the fact that his own dialect from Lecce is incredibly complex and unique.
Enjoy and ci verimm’ dimane with something entirely different!
Giuseppe Di Stefano
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