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La radio di Alberto Sordi
Comprendi l'importanza?
ALBERTO SORDI, the Best Italian actor on CD N. 23 named "LA RADIO DI ALBERTO SORDI, Comprendi l'importanza?", from the label Via Asiago 10 - Twilight Music. In their home at piazza San Cosimato, in Rome’s characteristic neighbourhood of Trastevere, the Sordi family had three radios. An exaggeration, almost an ostentation of wealth, especially for a petit-bourgeois family such as theirs, with dad a musician, base tuba in the Costanzi theatre orchestra (later to become the Teatro dell’Opera or Opera House), and mum a teacher. Three radios, tubes and “local oscillator”, eternally on and tuned into stations such as Rete Rossa, Rete Azzurra, and the great Eiar. This was radio that spoke Italian, to all Italians, albeit under a despotic regime, with total control over information. But for the adolescent Alberto those cumbersome devices, which were of course in the living room, were abstraction, dreams, imagination. Towards the late forties, Alberto Sordi was already popular, an established actor: twenty or so films, theatre, reviews, musical comedies, dubbing. All that was missing was that most popular of means: the radio. The right way to enter Italian homes, to reach all those, and they were not few, that couldn’t afford the cinema. Working in radio wasn’t easy, as it was still somewhat rigid on the level of entertainment. His proposal for an “Alberto Sordi Show” was refused, as it was felt to be “exaggerated and not consistent with existing programmes”. This, in synthesis, was the thoroughly bureaucratic answer given by Sergio Pugliese, the then director of radio. Sordi didn’t let this get him down; he did brilliantly at the audition and continued to insist. Alone, in front of a microphone he, who was used to the (at times even excessive) warmth of a raucous and fiery audience, realised that the officials weren’t amused: “they kept their laughter buttoned up inside them, they were unable to let go and had it resound inside their nuts.” They offered him a few appearances in Hoop..là!, a successful programme presented by Mario Riva and directed by Riccardo Mantoni, Corrado’s brother. The programme went on air up until spring 1948. It was indeed on the 13th of November 1947, on Rete Rossa (the future Secondo Programma or 2nd radio channel), Thursday at 9.05 pm, that he went on air. The actor, together with Fiorenzo Fiorentini, had fine-tuned a character that was sure to be of effect, Signor Dice (literally, Mr. Says), always in search of that word that never came to him. Fiorentini, who had stuttered from birth, based everything on pauses, on the word that never came out and that unnerved and irritated the listener. Sordi was brilliant with his “appoggiaturas”, which were often improvised. Our CD contains two extracts from those historic programmes, L’amore and Il pompiere (Love and The Fireman). In the meantime he continued to insist for a space of his own, twenty or thirty minutes in total solitude, basing himself on the habits of the Italy of those days, which he so well knew. He was the compagnuccio della parrocchietta (loosely translatable as the “little buddy from the parish”), with a priestly don Isidoro, a satire of the nascent Christian Democratic Italy, charitable but also very sharp. Pugliese demurred and Sordi didn’t let go, until when a decisive event took place. Pugliese went on holiday to Positano and Sordi followed him, as if he was a postulant, pretending to meet him entirely by chance day after day. And he always took the opportunity to remind him of the proposal he had made. One day, Pugliese went on a boat trip and lost his glasses. Very worried, he promised substantial recompense to whoever found them. A fishing boat with a crew of three set out to find the missing spectacles and Sordi joined them. Once at sea, he dived overboard and found the precious glasses. He gave them back to Pugliese, refusing the reward but reiterating his proposal once again, this time more forcefully. Historic rigour however leads us not to identify his participation in Hoop…là! as Alberto Sordi’s authentic radio debut. In 1940, with the war already raging, the actor was called at the last minute to go and present a show in Rome, at the Teatro Valle. So as not to move from Rome and be able to continue to act, he had asked and obtained to be part of the garrison band for the Eighty-First Infantry Regiment: he played the cymbals and in the evening acted with the Za Bum Company. He had, after all, passed the SIAE exam as a mandolin player. That evening at the Valle theatre he arrived in uniform, with no idea of how the show had been organised or even what was on, so he improvised from start to finish and the show went on air live with jokes, quips and voluble retorts from the audience in the theatre. There were also moments of panic. Hundreds of girls literally jumped upon Roberto Villa, the charming actor and model of “Telefoni Bianchi” (white phones) fame, the Italian reply to Robert Taylor. The hapless man lost rings, hair, a good part of his clothing and even a tooth. Fortunately, out of the wings came the famous Italian boxer Primo Carnera, who was in the show, and who picked him up and swept him off to his dressing room. Alas, there is no trace of this programme that is thought to be Alberto Sordi’s radio debut, indeed as presenter. In November 1948 began Vi parla Alberto Sordi (Alberto Sordi Speaks to You), the programme that again contained the compagnuccio della parrocchietta, a character that was already evolving. There are two fragments of this on our CD. The first is a monologue on subscriptions to the radio, the second La partita di calico (The Football match), an irresistible sketch in which the compagnuccio improvises himself photo reporter for the parish newspaper and photographs the goalkeepers of the Lazio and Fiorentina football teams, respectively Sentimenti IV and Costagliola. There was also a version that never came out and has probably been lost, in which Sordi imitates Costagliola’s strong Bari accent and heavily makes fun of the Modenese goalkeeper who played for Lazio and the Italian team because he regularly let kicks from a distance through due to his acute myopia. The programme went on air on Rete Rossa on Thursdays (and later also on Fridays) at 9.15 pm. It ended on 29th April 1949. At the end of 1949 there came a moment in which radio and cinema seemed to join together in the actor’s professional career. Vittorio De Sica, a faithful listener of his programmes, decided to take those sketches onto the big screen. Not only. In agreement with the actor, he set up a company with which to produce the film. The project was a hefty one, Cesare Zavattini was in on the deal and the film director was Roberto Savarese. The fact that the first Italian director to have won an Oscar had decided to make a film about radio was already news in itself. But then something went wrong. When, in 1951, Mamma mia, che impressione! (My Goodness, What a Fright!) came out, the reception was lukewarm. The gags were the original ones written for radio, but their transposition turned out to be somewhat unfortunate. Sordi’s comment was very lucid: “we counted too much on the dialogues, on words, as if it had yet again been a radio programme. People went to see it pushed by the memory of the radio version, only to be disappointed.” The second series of Vi parla Alberto Sordi – that began on Thursday the 10th of November 1949 at 8.33 pm on Rete Azzurra – contained a juicy novelty: Francesco Ferrari’s orchestra. This was the best orchestra radio had in terms of the quality of the musicians. The programme continued, alternating between Thursday and Friday on the two networks, till the 23rd of March 1950. The actor went back to radio in 1952, for a month, from the 2nd of January to the 6th of February at 1.30 pm, again with a slot lasting 15 minutes, with a programme called Alberto Sordi al microfono (A.S. on the microphone); the content was the same but the denomination had changed; this was now definitely the Secondo Programma. In the same year, from the 6th of May to the 24th of June there was the Teatrino di Alberto Sordi (A.S.’sLittle Theatre), on the Secondo Programma, Tuesday at 9 pm (but this time it lasted 30 minutes). In the CD there is an important fragment, Il commiato del Conte Claro (Count Claro’s Farewell), one of Sordi’s most popular radio characters. Mario Pio (Pius Mario) and Conte Claro were probably the most loved characters of that epoch, heavily caricatured and, although they were fictitious, effectively copied from real people who answered letters on the soap magazines of the day, signing themselves as Maria Pia and Countess Clara and dispensing advice and etiquette for the events of life. This satire greatly influenced Federico Fellini, at the time he too involved in radio, who in his films later attacked the world of soap magazines, of celebrities and popular stars. The second and last series of the Teatrino di Alberto Sordi went on air on the Secondo Programma at 9.15 pm from the 17th of July to the 11th of September in the summer of 1953, and was directed by Riccardo Mantoni. This is how the Radiocorriere presented the new series: “accentuating that jumbled and pompous tone of certain of his interpretations, he will become lots of different characters, voices, items and even songs, in which inconsequentiality serves as grammar and bizarreness as syntax.” Sordi went on air again in 1955 in the review Il piccolissimo teatro del Quartetto Cetra (The Cetra Quartet’s Little Theatre), a programme by Faele in which the Roman actor was Nando Moriconi in the, by then, famous sketch of Americano del Kansas City (Kansas City Yankee); he also sang Civeta (“a slow by maestro Vinciguerra”) as well as having a personal spot on the show. Of the same year is the well-known song Carcerato or jailbird (“a slow by maestro Gambara”), picked up during the prize giving at the Maschere d’Argento, presented by Nunzio Filogamo. With Il sogno Americano (American Dream) began the homage to his career. The trace was drawn from Io, Alberto Sordi, a programme by Mario Bernardini that dates back to 1968, and was directed by Dino De Palma; here the actor reinterpreted in a radio version some of the highlights of his career in a studio with an audience. In 1969 Sordi joined the cast for Gran varietà, again proposing Conte Claro and Mario Pio, basing himself on the original texts for the sketches, but being able to count on that great stooge Gianni Agus, his “boy” colleague in company with Wanda Osiris. The same sketches were shown again three years later on Formula 1. The programme Alberto Sordi racconta (A.S. Recounts), by Franco Rispoli and Ettore Scola, in which the actor goes deeper into his characters, went on air in 1977. It should be noted that Scola had indeed been alongside Sordi throughout his career. The most recent piece in the CD dates back to 1999, and is drawn from the programme by Rosanna Piras called Profili (Profiles) in which Sordi recalled his early days in radio and the aforementioned Positano episode. Alberto Sordi’s characters – as also his dubbings – move us and touch us directly. His is a powerful contribution to our memory. Great hero of everyday life, the Sordi of radio shows us how much Italy has changed. Over and above the laughs – that always punctuate his work – and the immense talent, an understanding and a perception of how distanced we are from that world helps us grow in terms of our civil conscience.  
Dario Salvatori
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