Mad About Opera (Follie per l’opera)
Bechi, Caniglia, Gigli, Gobbi, Schipa; Nives Poli and the La Scala Ballet; Ornella Santoliquido and Franco Mannino; Lollobrigida; Costa, dir. Barbiere (2), Carmen, Chénier, Norma, Pagliacci, song, plus “Invitation to the Dance” (Weber) and “La campanella” (Paganini-Liszt). (1948) 95m. Italian, with non-optional English subtitles. B&W.
QuickTime Movie; 1 hour, 34 minutes; 640 x 480 pixels, total size approx 1.2 Gigabytes (this is a large file, please be patient when downloading it)
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In this screwball comedy a group of Italians presents an opera concert in London, with Schipa, Gigli, Caniglia, Gobbi and Bechi. The singers play themselves, with Bechi and Gobbi getting the most singing and screen time. (Gigli’s contribution, Chénier’s “Sì, fui soldato,” is taken from the film Solo per te, BCS Video #502.) The arias are fully staged, vividly filmed with lots of closeups. With few exceptions the camera stays directly on the singers. The print is superb.
Nobody ever sang “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” with more inflections than Bechi. But the highlight that really leaps out is the “Toreador Song,” where he provides a walloping spinal chill. Bechi was the most exciting baritone of the post-war period. Gobbi was the most artistic–here he sings the “Prologo” and “Dicitencello vuie” silkily, with exquisite legato. Schipa imbues every word of “Se il mio nome” with meaning, so that it becomes spoken song. Gigli is a perfervid Chénier. The legendary Caniglia makes the only on-screen appearance of her career, singing “Casta diva.” The 20-year-old, pre-Hollywood Lollobrigida looks innocent yet nubile.–Stefan Zucker
Tully Potter, reviewing in International Opera Collector
“Costa’s 1948 Mad About the Opera has Gino Bechi singing ‘Largo al factotum’ more genially than in his recording of four years later, reissued on Testament; and Tito Schipa voicing ‘Se il mio nome’ with marvellous graces and embellishments, quite different from his two records of the 1920s. This madcap comedy is all the funnier to a British watcher for being set in London–but not London as we ever knew it. A disreputable journalist plans to rebuild the city’s bombed Italian church by putting on an opera concert at Covent Garden, pledging a friend’s restaurant as collateral. Every obstacle imaginable, including a strike of theatre workers, is put in his way. Bechi, Gobbi and the great Maria Caniglia appear as themselves; and Gobbi sings Dicitencello vuje (beautifully) and the Pagliacci Prologue (dramatically). Caniglia’s ‘Casta diva’ is interrupted by the action; and Gigli appears only in the trial aria from Andrea Chénier. Good fun.”
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