dvd PSV 2582 www.cghv.it

If one shouldn’t know better, due to Ferruccio Tagliavini’s name and the fine quality of the black/white pictures one would have gambled a fortune away, sure that such kind of dross could only have been produced at the start of the thirties. For a moment movie spectators were flabbergasted by the talkies and for a few years accepted anything that spoke and sang on the screen. This is a movie on a par with the silly stories Joseph Schmidt had to act in. “Two burglars into an apartment notice an electrician doing some repairs while singing at the same time (“Prendi l’anel ti dono” with full orchestra though the tenor doesn’t even touch the piano under his hands). They understand there is more money to be made by becoming managers of this vocal miracle than by thieving. They offer the budding tenor a contract which he duly signs and hand him over some money which he gives away to a girl who has an affair with another petty criminal. And then the new vocal miracle refuses to sing in public as he is not accustomed to it. Even his dog (the best actor in the movie) has to turn away before the boss is able to utter some sounds. At the end the electrician turned tenor overcomes this small handicap, let the girl go to her conversed criminal and gets himself a more buxom lady.” One wonders if the director and script writer had forgotten that between 1930 and 1950 Italy had changed a bit and millions of Italians  had lived through painful times, often losing dearly beloved ones. This is not a plea for social realism  à la Vittorio De Sica in a music movie but the movie just gives the impression time has stood still and the same old tired jokes can still be told.

Apart from the idiotic script there is another resemblance with the pre-war movies of Schmidt, Gigli and Co. Though the movie is only a vehicle for the at the time enormously popular Ferruccio Tagliavini, in the old bad tradition the director shirks away from focusing on the tenor. One wonders what went on in the mind of European directors and producers when they contracted classical singers as movie stars and then neglected the singer from fear the audience (which came for the singing anyway) would bore itself by having to watch a tenor or a baritone for more than thirty seconds. Contrary to American directors Europeans didn’t have the courage of their convictions and contrary to the US where madame MacDonald or Mr. Tibbett would never have allowed such condescending cutting, they succeeded in irritating their audience by all kinds of unmusical tricks. Take the sequence in this movie where Tagliavini sings “O Paradiso”. He starts out hauntingly beautiful using his famous honeyed piano and then the voice and the tenor fade away as uninspired clowning by some hammy third rate actors takes place. The aria is cut short abruptly, disappears altogether and the action by three dummies continues for a minute until the moment the tenor returns for a five second appearance suddenly singing his top note. “E lucevan le stelle” only starts at “O dolci baci”  (the sound is fabulous but Tagliavini takes an extra breath in the middle of a phrase to let his pianissimo linger on) but after half of the aria once more we get the picture of two morons smoking as hell and only returning to the tenor during “mai tanto la vita” (you get the high A from afar through the smoke). Even through the title song “Anema e core” (a hit at the time in Italy, created by Tito Schipa one year earlier), the camera cannot stay on the tenor and the director annoys us with pieces of conversation thrown in but in the instrumental section between the two verses the director concentrates on some tricks by the dog and during this sequence there is no distracting dialogue going on. Admittedly, the director had his priorities. All in all, two Italian ditties plus the Sonnambula aria can be watched without the modern spectator wanting to strangle the director and the bad European traditions of movie making. For “Anema e core” it is already a little bit more difficult to avoid the bile rising in the mouth and the two other opera arias are simply frustrating. A pity, as in 1951 Tagliavini is still a lovely singer whose voice would only coarsen from 1953 on. As an actor Tagliavini is not so bad; probably he felt himself at home with his labour background in this role. He is even believable as somewhat shy in the presence of the ladies; a quality which definitely was not the tenor’s best one as he was a renowned lady killer, notwithstanding his clumsy appearance, who permanently profited from the female admirers who came to visit him backstage. At the time he made this movie he had narrowly escaped a paternity suit which probably today would have cost him a lot money due to DNA-proof. Among the other actors there is the extremely irritating Mario Riva who would become infamous with opera buffs with his tv programme “Il Musichiere”, where often famous singers (Schipa, Olivero, Di Stefano) had to guess the true title of famous tunes in a strange arrangement with Riva chatting on and on and telling stale jokes until the end of the ordeal so that the singer could finally sing a shortened song or aria. Riva died during an accident in a rehearsal of a TV-programme: he almost deserved such a cruel fate. The DVD has titles in Italian only.

Jan Neckers