Italian entertainment: Commedia musicale, the Italian way of Musical theatre. The legend of Garinei&Giovannini
- WTI Magazine #165 Jul 24, 2023
In the same years in which Broadway was already the Hollywood of Musicals and the big film production companies bought the rights to works such as " Singin 'in the Rain " and "An American in Paris", Italy too found its dimension of " musical theatre,” as a specific reflection of the spirit of a nation. Starting from the "revue" genre (the Italian cabaret), the variety show and an illustrious prose theatre tradition, in the 1950s, Pietro Garinei and Sandro Giovannini, two Rai authors, inaugurated the genre of the "commedia musicale" (musical comedy).
There was a strong connection between television and theatre/cinema at the time since the artistic figures of Rai (the Italian broadcast) could not come from purely "television" training, given the very recent birth of the medium.
So, the language of television was a translation/experimentation on a small screen of already existing art forms: actors, dancers, choreographers, authors, and directors from a cinema or theatre education, as well as conductors from conservatories. The result of this "walking together" was a quality of the tv schedule that we still remember, for its formats and contents made for people’s sake.
That is the atmosphere in which the commedia musicale was born; indeed, the collaborators of G&G were the same as those of programs such as "Studio uno" or "Milleluci" (for example, the historic choreographer Gino Landi).
The Italy that Garinei and Giovannini have walked alongside until the 1990s (in which Garinei, who continued the couple's work, died) is the image of a country that has never succumbed to the corruption of morals and customs, which infiltrated, with Mediaset, in all means of communication (Rai included). On the contrary, since the 1950s, their shows have always been stories written to empathize with people, made to confirm a harmony of values and good living, without ever losing brilliance and relevance. Furthermore, they are "comedies" since they carry within them the genetic makeup of the "vaudeville,” i.e., an ever-present figure of comedy, which accompanies the depth of the message and the emotions associated with it in the course of a plot. Also, this stance goes opposite to many works from the 1900s, which, instead of staging human misery to offer healthy perspectives, celebrate them by wallowing in them.
For writing purposes, Garinei and Giovannini were used to take shelter in the "bunker" of the Sistina Theater, a dedicated room (which has remained intact as it was) in the temple of all their shows. The "Sistina" locates in Rome in Via Sistina: from here, their productions have spread to other theatres (like the Brancaccio and the Arcimboldi) worldwide; here, they still run the shows today.
In this regard, that's a fundamental point: there's an Italian heritage of (non-operatic) musical theatre with its specific birthplace that could plan its season around this great value of which it is heir, just as in the Greek theatre of Syracuse they rotate every year Greek tragedies and comedies - this is a huge possibility to evaluate, together with the one of composing new "musical comedies.”
The musical comedies of Garinei and Giovannini are available on DVD and YouTube. Let's take a close look at some of the most important of the collection.
“Aggiungi un posto a tavola… che c’è un amico in più, se sposti un po’ la seggiola stai comodo anche tu”
Fr. Silvestro receives from God the mandate to build an ark like Noah's for a Second Great Flood. At the heart of the comedy is the discovery of what love is: Fr. Silvestro will understand the value of the supernatural love he is called to bring, going through the temptation to abandon priesthood for the courtship of Clementina and listening to God. That "extra friend" who descends on the laid table in the final scene in the form of a dove is God, indeed.
The original cast remains iconic: Johnny Dorelli- Fr. Silvestro (later, Gianluca Guidi), Bice Valori - Consolazione, and Paolo Panelli- the mayor (atheist) Crispino.
“Alleluja, brava gente…senza il peso dell’inutile ricchezza, oggi avremo la certezza di volare dritti verso l’aldilà”
The year 1000 is imminent, and people are terrified by the prophecy of the world’s end. But it is said that a "man in a white cloak" would have saved everyone when he arrived. Ademar and Ezzelino, two slackers looking for ways to make a living, artfully mount the scam, and Ademar passes himself off as the Saint. But as the saying goes, "Fake it ' till you make it": through daring tricks given for miracles, love stories, hilarious numbers between the sacred, the profane, and comedy, Ademar will find himself truly desiring holiness.
The original cast is made up of evergreen stars: Gigi Proietti- Ademar (later, Massimo Ghini), Renato Rascel- Ezzelino (later, Rodolfo Laganà), and Mariangela Melato- Belcore (later, Sabrina Ferilli).
“Rugantino” … “Roma nun fa’ la stupida stasera, damme ‘na mano a faje di’ de sì”
In 17th century Rome, Rugantino, who has no will to work, understands the right path through the efforts to win love.
The original cast featured the legendary Nino Manfredi (later Enrico Montesano and Enrico Brignano) as the protagonist, with Aldo Fabrizi in the part of the executioner Mastrotitta and Ornella Vanoni playing the beautiful Rosetta.
“Rinaldo in campo” … “Siamo rimasti in tre, tre somari e tre briganti, sulla strada Girgenti a Monreale”
In Sicily, at the time of the unification of Italy, Rinaldo Dragonera is a male chauvinist and authoritarian brigand. His world is turned upside down by Angelica, passionate about the ideals of the Risorgimento, in love with Rinaldo but determined to make a civilized man out of him. They will understand what it means to walk together in humanity from their meetings and clashes.
This comedy was set to music and performed by Domenico Modugno (later, Massimo Ranieri); at his side, Delia Scala, Paolo Panelli, the duo Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia.
Italy is the country of Belcanto, though, for G&G, the characters didn’t have to have a "great voice” compared to the gift of humanity lived into the interpretation. And here comes the issue of empathy. Where is the Italian spirit? In not "imitating" by pretending to make the American musical Italian, an itch that comes from a lack of creativity or from resting on the laurels of already well-known titles. The fruits of this laziness are forced translations (even for obvious reasons of metrical adaptations of words in music), fake and over-the-top stories, and performances. Because we are neither Broadway nor the Broadway audience nor the social fabric in which Broadway is immersed. Musical comedies are Italian in the sense of melody; in the stories that reflect a clear cultural datum and popular spirit of our country; in the acting that does not imitate the American performers, falling into the ridiculous. Also, for this reason, songs come from them that then had a long life even outside their scenic context. Their composer is Armando Trovajoli, who set almost all of the production of the award-winning G&G company to music. Among the very famous ones: "Aggiungi un posto a tavola"; “Tre somari e tre briganti” or “Roma nun fa’ la stupida stasera”.