Two years ago, I wrote a story about the history of music in Naples in order for the fans to understand why the guys sing Opera, in their case Operatic pop or popera and Neapolitan songs and why their Bel Canto worked!
This story is really two stories in one. It’s about Il Volo and their music, and it is about where their music came from and the people who made this music famous. Ironically, many of these people had a lot in common with Il Volo.
So, let’s journey back to Naples in the 15th and 16th century and see how this all began….
Italy is an emotion and in the center of that emotion is a passion and that passion is Naples. Naples is like no other place in Italy or, for that matter, no other place in the world. Neapolitans are the most diversified people in all of Italy. Naples is a feeling you can never shake but, above all…
Naples is music!
Neapolitan Music is very much a part of Naples culture but, its origins are obscure. In the 15th and 16th century Neapolitans sang canzonetta, which were light-hearted melodies. Among the most common styles of Neapolitan canzonetta is villanella, a three-voice, A cappella way of singing. The first villanella score was printed in 1537. As a result, Neapolitan music became famous not only in Naples, but everywhere in Europe. At the end of the 1700’s, composers began incorporating these songs into comic operas.
In the mid 1800’s Naples began to see a new movement in music. In 1835 a new song “Te Voglio Bene Assaje” appeared. This song is considered to be the first modern Italian song.
“Te Voglio Bene Assaje” ~ The trio le Note di Napoli Voice: Francesco Delli Paoli ~ Guitar: Roberto Castagna ~ Mandolino: Bruno de Rosa
The first “hit” may date back to 1835 but the golden age of song, in Naples, was from 1890 – 1910 when immigration to America began. Men left with the dream of a better life but what they found was even harder than what they left. They left their homes and families, and, in some cases, they never went home again. They found themselves alone with nothing but their music. Many Neapolitan songs were written about these times. Most of these immigrants lived in New York City in lower Manhattan in an area which became known as Little Italy. Small music companies would put on one act plays. Little vignettes. The stories were always the same, they were about home and family. They were about the mother they would never see again.
Torna A Surriento ~ Enrico Caruso
In 1903, Enrico Caruso made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Caruso’s debut on November 23, 1903, was in a new production of Rigoletto. A few months later, he began his lifelong association with the Victor Talking Machine Company. He made his first American record on February 1st, 1904, having signed a lucrative financial deal with Victor. Thereafter, his recording career ran in tandem with his Met career, both bolstering each other, until his death in 1921.
Torna A Surriento ~ Not Caruso! Actually, the version I prefer!
Caruso was the first international singer to come to America. He introduced America to Italian Music. He loved to sing Neapolitan songs and they were so popular that when he performed at the MET at the end of the show he would come out and sing Neapolitan songs. Among these songs were “’O sole Mio,” “Torna Sorrento” and “Santa Lucia.” As a result, Neapolitan songs became a part of an opera singer’s repertoire and every opera singer after Caruso would sing opera and Neapolitan songs.
Music in Naples remained the same until after World War I.
In 1920, the government devised a way to get taxes from singers. The result of this movement caused the artist to devise a new way of singing and thus, sceneggiata was born.
After World War I, the Italian government increased the taxes on variety shows, thus causing many authors to devise a mixed type of show that would complement songs with dramatic acting, in order to circumvent such taxes. In other words, if they told a story, within a song, which was story, then you would not have to pay the variety tax. So, sceneggiata is a story within a story. Sceneggiata can be roughly described as a “musical soap opera”, where action and dialogue are interspersed with Neapolitan songs. Plots revolve around melodramatic themes drawing from the Neapolitan culture and tradition. Songs and dialogue were in Neapolitan dialect. This movement stayed around until the 1940s when all hell broke loose!
With the arrival of US troops in World War II, Naples woke up to a new beat. The US troops introduced them to the buzz and rhythm of jazz and boogie, and Naples immediately liked it. It took little time for performers and songwriters to understand how these new US imports could benefit them. It was time for a new name to appear in Neapolitan music. Enter, Renato Carosone. Carosone introduced Naples to music they could dance to and so Naples got up and danced and never looked back until the late 1970s when a new movement was started in Naples.
I would not do Neapolitan Music or Il Volo justice if I didn’t mention Pino Daniele.
Pino Daniele was an Italian singer-songwriter, and guitarist, whose influences covered a wide number of genres, including pop, blues, jazz, and Italian and Middle Eastern music.
Daniele made his debut in the Italian music world in 1977 with the album Terra mia, which was a successful mix of Neapolitan tradition and Blues. Daniele defined his music with the term “tarumbò”, which indicated a mix of tarantella, blues and rumba. His lyrics attracted critical praise. Written and sung in an intense Neapolitan, they contained strong and bitter accusations against the social injustices of Naples, as well as Italian society in general, and included melancholic personal themes.
Daniele’s talent is evident in albums like Pino Daniele (1979) but, he scored his greatest success in 1980, with “Nero a metà,” which was noted by some authorities as the hallmark of the rebirth of Neapolitan song.
Daniele wrote and sang his own music, and this music was known in America. In 2010, Daniele, a self-taught guitarist, was called by his friend Eric Clapton to play at the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Due to the number of artists who appeared, Clapton was not able to perform with Daniele so, he called Daniele to play at Toyota Park in Chicago where they were able to play together. In 2011, Daniele and Clapton had a concert at Cava de’ Tirreni stadium.
I started this piece by saying Italy is an emotion and Naples a passion. If Naples is a passion, that passion was Pino Daniele. Songs like Napulè, Quando and Quando Chiove are just a few examples of his songs. Examples I chose because I know you know these songs. They are very deep passionate songs. Many artists have sung Daniele’s songs but in order to do justice to a Pino Daniele song you have to bring passion, emotion and Neapolitan dialect to the song.
Enter Ignazio Boschetto….
Napulè ~ Not Pino Daniele. Sorry Pino love your music but there’s another guy who owns this song!
Ignazio’s tribute to Daniele is amazing and emotional.
A few days ago, I posted “Alleria” sung by Ignazio. I did this so I could see how you would react to it. I was not in the least bit surprised with your reaction. Many said it was a beautiful emotional song. Some said it brought them to tears and many said I don’t understand the language but, I can truly feel the song.
Daniele’s songs are very deep and very emotional, and you can feel the depth of the song because of the presentation of the song. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it’s as if Daniele wrote his songs for Ignazio.
Let’s look back a moment to see how our guys fit into the picture I presented here. Well, we know they sing opera, and we know they sing Neapolitan songs. Why? Remember what I said about Enrico Caruso. Every opera singer after Caruso would sing opera and Neapolitan songs. As a result, Neapolitan songs became a part of an opera singer’s repertoire and that includes Il Volo.
But do we see any other similarities here?
20th Century ~ The year is 1903 – Enrico Caruso comes to America at the turn of the century. He brings with him a new kind of music. The music changes Americas way of viewing Italian music. To Americans, Italian music was opera. But now, they have Caruso singing Neapolitan songs at the MET. A few months later, he begins his lifelong association with the Victor Talking Machine Company. He made his first American record on February 1st, 1904, having signed a deal with Victor Talking Machine company. Thereafter, his recording career ran in tandem with his Met career, both bolstering each other, until his death in 1921.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Fast forward 100 years to the 21st century.
The year is 2009 Il Volo signs a major contract with Universal Music. They come to America where their music immediately catches on and causes a revolution in the music industry. Over the next ten years they sell out every American Concert. All their albums and concerts are a tremendous success. And their success is from singing Opera and Neapolitan songs. Thereafter, their recording career runs in tandem with their Concert career, both bolstering each other.
Did I read that wrong or did Caruso and Il Volo do exactly the same thing in two different centuries? Did history repeat itself?
So here we are in 2009 and music is about to be revolutionized. Three teenage boys are the first Italian artists in history to sign a contract with a major American music label. This was unheard of! No international artist or group ever captured the ear of an American music label before even stepping foot in America! When they came to America, they had a signed Universal Music contract in hand!
They presented Operatic pop or popera to America. What is this new movement? It’s singing Opera in a more classical style. While opera is very strict and regimented, popera is more ethereal it has a lighter feeling, and it moves freely. It takes away the hard edges of opera and replaces it with a more ethereal feel while still presenting the drama and the high notes of the opera. It has a more popular appeal. This along with the classical Neapolitan songs become a big draw. Why did it work? One reason is three amazing voices! If the voice wasn’t there the song wasn’t going to sell.
When I’m writing these pieces, I do a lot of research and I watch a lot of videos. And this is what I found. I looked at videos of the promos the boys did, for their albums. They were 16 – 17 years old and I found many 14 – 16-year-olds at these promos. I saw teenage girls and boys singing opera and Italian songs. They liked it because the music is easy and catchy and, they pick it up very easily. And more importantly, the guys are very attractive and likeable. The young girls love them not just because they are very handsome be because they can relate to them. They were 16 – 17 years old and they were telling these young kids we love this music, and you can too. And they did and still do! Once the kids were sold the parents followed. Who wouldn’t want their kids singing this music? In turn the parents found it just as pleasing. As to the grandmothers they were the ones who were fainting over these attractive young men. I know an 84-year-old woman who has their picture hanging in her bedroom and she tells me their music saved her life after her husband died. Her kids think she’s crazy. I think she’s happy!
So, let’s continue on this amazing journey.
The albums keep coming, the success keeps coming and the boys have grown into fine attractive young men. And now they’re ready for a new experience. The music evolves and they are ready to crossover. In 2018 they released one of the most exciting Latin albums to come out in years. I would go so far as to say Amame is the most exciting Latin album that was ever produced. It’s opera, its rock, it’s classical, it’s pop and it never stops giving. The rhythm in songs like “Noche Sin Dia” is amazing. You have to move with the music. You can’t sit still.
Songs like “Maldito Amor” is a phenomenal experience for your ears. The delivery is smooth and beautiful. It’s one of those songs that stays with you forever. This album is so exciting that I will not play it while I’m working because from the first note you have to get up and dance. Exciting! Exciting! Exciting! I thought about this album the other day and how I would write about it. These three amazing guys absolutely floored me. The beat is so intense and, they are spot on. I think the guys knocked it out of the box with “Noche Sin Dia.” With Latin music you don’t just sing it, you feel it and if you don’t feel it, you don’t cut it. This album cuts it! Good move!
As if that wasn’t enough, they follow up with Musica!
This is the album that proved that great can get greater. This album is representative of where these young men are now. It’s beautiful, it’s sensitive, it’s romantic. It’s about love. It’s about them being ready for love. It comes from deep within them. All the sweetness and humility of these guys is in this album. It moves your senses. What I am saying is they have evolved and, their voices have evolved. They’ve grown into their voices. Their voices are mature and have expanded in such an amazing way. There’s an intriguing balance in their voices. To experience this amazing evolution in voice and song you need go no further than “Be My Love.” Gianluca’s voice vibrates and expands to realms I’ve never heard before. Ignazio makes your heart stop as you journey along his notes which lead to absolute ecstasy. Piero fills all your sense and brings you to such heights that you have to stop and breathe. This is Musica che resta!
I wasn’t able to talk about all the albums here. But I need to include Il Volo sings Morricone because this is another new direction in their lives. No, they have not left Bel Canto behind, instead, they have moved forward and added Morricone’s music to their repertoire.
This project started with their desire to pay tribute to Ennio Morricone. What better way than to present an album of his Academy Award winning songs.
Morricone died at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and because of this, it gave the guys the opportunity to go through his songs and compile a list of songs that would give a true representation of who Morricone was. In the beginning of their career, the guys sang “E Più Ti Penso” accompanied by Ennio Morricone.
Most of Morricone songs where movie theme songs like “The Ecstasy of Gold” from “The Good, the Bad and, the Ugly.” The guys along with the Morricone’s family and in particular Andrea Morricone put words to music to form an album which has become the theme of their new World Tour, “IL Volo Sings Morricone.” The tour begins on June 3rd in the Verona Arena.
There are so many wonderful songs in this album that it is hard to single one out. “The Ecstasy of Gold” is Gianluca’s favorite. “Se” from Cinema Paradiso is Piero’s favorite and “Here’s to You” from Sacco & Venzetti is Ignazio’s favorite.
My favorite, all of them, but if I really have to choose, I will say for personal reasons, “Come Sail Away.”
So, I have only touched on a small portion of their albums, but in future stories I will go deeper into each album. Til then, keep in mind “Bel Canto” is and always will be their signature but there is always room for new and exciting musical experiences.
Below is a beautiful movie that actor, John Turturro directed and stared in. It is the history of music in Naples over the last century.
In the movie you see performances by many artists you know including Mina, James Senese, Massimo Ranieri and Lina Sastri.
It is so worth watching for the rhythm and beauty in it! It seems everyone in Naples has rhythm and every Neapolitan has a song on his lips. The movie ends with Pino Daniele singing “Napulè.” A song we all know thanks to Ignazio and his tribute to Pino Daniele. Through this song and Turturro’s images, we can see all the beauty and rawness of Naples and it leads us to think, is Naples about the people or are the people Naples? This is not Naples coming to life. This is Naples!
Turturro is the narrator, so aside from the songs, it is in English. Enjoy!
Join me next week as I go back Through the Fields of My Mind and open the door to a new adventure!
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