Via Asiago, 10
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||TWI CD AS 06 25
Aldo Fabrizi (1905-1990) needs to thank the Jubilee Year of 1925. It was the year he got his licence as a vetturino, the Roman coachmen who run tourists round town in a horse and carriage, a big social step-up for a lad like him, whose father had died when he was ten and with various job experiences such as postman, typographer at the paper that voices Vatican opinion the Osservatore Romano, night guard, but above all fruit vendor, or fruttarolo as they are called in Rome, at his mother’s stall at the market in Campo de’ Fiori in the heart of ancient Rome. As the coachman of his botticella, as coaches were colloquially known, he came into contact with the only part of Roman life he had not been in touch with before, the world of bourgeois Rome and of tourism, however continuing to focus on and not loose sight of the popular ingredients that were later to be the basis to his personality as an actor. Furthermore, 1925 was also the year when he met Beatrice Rocchi, the singer better known as Reginella (1904-1981), one year older than him, and well known as singer in the Roman inns, the famous osterie, a protagonist of the mythical San Giovanni song festival and the partner of Romolo Balzani. They met in the historic Via Giulia, exactly in front of the Church of Suffrage, famous for the melancholy tone of its bells, the sound of which is recalled in many Roman stornellos, the folkloristic songs so loved by the Roman populace, as of the XVIII century.
Aldo Fabrizi and Reginella got married on 9th May 1932 and their long artistic collaboration - de facto interrupted when he began to dedicate himself entirely to cinema – was one of the strong points of Roman theatre’s variety shows, even including an African tour. Their duets were quite extraordinary: the perfect entente, the unavoidable complicity, the improvisation always there to hand, meant not only that the public never got bored but that in effect it was never in a position to tell how the show would ‘close’. Among their many duets, memorable was the L’acquacetosaro, but perhaps even more so the Stornelli a dispetto that are the first tracks on our record, apropos of which it is well to make clear our intent. If the rather listless and by then already famous Fabrizi that we got to know during the TV show called Gran Varietà that was shown from the stage of Sanremo theatre may appear even irresistible for his satyr, Fabrizi the singer may in some ways appear as somewhat novel, in truth with a voice perfectly in tune, insuperable declaimer of popular Roman spirit and tradition, at times stylistically close to Ettore Petrolini, the most famous Roman revue theatre actor of all time. In effect, even if younger and not being exactly his contemporary, Fabrizi shared stages and successes with Petrolini, who died prematurely in 1936. Whilst a major part of the ancient neighbourhood of Borgo Pio was being raised to the ground in order to make way for the Via della Conciliazione, Fabrizi sang the deeds of the somewhat rustic Roman plebeians, disenchanted and with a liking for song, unlike Petrolini who was wont to linger on a certain form of Roman homeliness, sometimes deriding the burini, the yokels from the surrounding villages of Genzano, Marino or Frascati.
With the arrival of notoriety came also diffidence towards the press, at times for purely artistic reasons, at others for personal ideas, such as the time when he got annoyed with the Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo, culpable of having recorded his birth as having taken place in 1897: “… but what can one do”, said the actor in his typical Roman dialect, “kill them? They know nothing, these journalists are all the same”.
It is with these characteristics, that included at once a measure of good nature and street wiselyness, that Fabrizi became the king of Roman sweet-sour rhyme, humorous monologue, and also lead actor and comedian of that daring revue theatre that above all else feared the throwing of a dead cat onto the stage, supreme act of disapproval from a mainly male audience which certainly enjoyed the ballet girls more than anything else – the famous otto gambe otto or ‘eight legs eight’ as they were known, who often had patched up stockings – but which in any case performed a certain function and that had no intention of remaining passive. This was a profound sense of freedom felt by the audience that not by chance struck the imagination of Johann Wolfgang Goethe who, taking an interest in Roman song, in 1786 wrote: “the song with which the Roman populace loves entertaining itself is a sort of static song with changes of tone that cannot be graphically rendered. It is commonly heard at sunset and in the deep of night … as soon as the people feel free they cheer themselves up with this type of music … a maiden who opens her window, a carter who passes with his cart, a labourer who leaves his home or returns from work; all sing these songs”.
A climate that Fabrizi unknowingly evoked in 1931, when at the San Giovanni song festival he presented Nannarella, an exquisite composition with music by Gino Travisi, and all the more so in 1934 when at the same festival he competed with Stornellata dorce-amara, with music by Cesare Andrea Bixio. Fabrizi also took part in the 1936 festival with the song Felicità lontana, with music by Giuseppe Cioffi. Of great significance was also the ‘audition’ – as it was called – but which was to all intents and purposes a festival of Roman song, which took place in 1938 at the Teatro Principe, with Fabrizi always together with Reginella. In 1940, by which time the climate in Europe was already menacing, Fabrizi, perhaps also struck by the sudden death on 10th May of that year of Cesare Pascarella – a man who had for years made the hearts of Romans palpitate with his magisterial sonnets – found the strength to be humorous about the air raid blackout with the song L’amore allo scuro (Love in the dark). “Fabrizi’s songs faithfully mirrored the spirit of those times”, wrote the historian of Roman tradition Giuseppe Micheli, “being able to get a plebeian to speak with a heart brimming over with love, happiness and honesty”. The actor’s long-sightedness, together with Bixio’s and others less known (Benito Mezzaroma, Carlo Pettrich and Renato Micheli) was that of very early on becoming his own publisher, keeping onto the intellectual property of his works for years.
It was in this period that Fabrizi fine-tuned his typical Roman characteristic, that was to reach its apex a few
decades later, in the full of his maturity, with the staging of Rugantino by Garinei and Giovannini, an unforgettable and insuperable theatrical event that was highly successful both in Italy and abroad.
Within the framework of a collection such as is this, also in the presence of an overwhelming Fabrizi, one cannot but mention his worth as a poet, poetry that he wrote in dialect, with a historical and linguistic wealth of great importance, with a Rome between day-to-day news and history, legends and curiosities, traditions and daily episodes, starting with the most important element of that tradition: the stornello. In the aritornello, which is the stornello of Roman tradition, all manner of place and occasion provoke improvisation, the tacking the mickey, and quips and jokes. In effect the Roman stornello is, as was written by Giggi Zanazzo, “a sigh of love, an touch of hatred, a whim of fantasy”. In this collection the great actor proposes an atypical stornello, evolved out of a tradition of oral poetry and handed down by street singers and the singers at inns. The more attentive observer will not miss how certain canzonacce or coarse songs are topical even today, remaining alive and authentic, keeping intact genuine popular melody and living on as testimony of the continuity of this ancient musical tradition.
Fabrizi used to live near Piazza Bologna, in Via Arezzo 54, a huge home, composed of four or five flats (his own, one from a great-grandmother, one his grandmother’s and a large studio) that had been linked together in rather strange ways, a self propelling bookcase, a coat hanger that hid the entrance to another part of the house. Here was the famous kitchen that was a sort of den where the actor received choreographers, directors
and producers as he cooked amidst pots and pans, and kitchenware: a wooden spoon in one hand and a pen in the other. He never stopped writing, even when he was cooking, even though he had barely done primary school.
Another great subtlety of Fabrizi the philologist of a vanished Rome is in his interest and attention towards certain old crafts, opportunely revisited poetically, illustrated with great mastery in their continual adjustment to the dictates of progress, and perhaps also in their inevitable slow road to death. Listing to his witty ramblings one enters into an unusual and surprising gallery of personalities and crafts, voices and characters, and at certain times it does indeed seem as if one is walking amongst the stalls and vendors, perhaps in Campo de’ Fiori, the market that Fabrizi never disavowed, in contrast with the positions taken up by some of his illustrious Roman colleagues. Who can forget the long list of workers interpreted by Fabrizi? From the tram driver to the vetturino, the priest or the porter, the gynaecologist or the fishmonger: a whole populace of active, optimistic and clean-minded people as was a large part of the Nation in those years.