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Opera Daily 🎶 — The (Delicate) Balance of Art and Commerce
This week's Opera Daily features music from one of my favorite films ever made — "Big Night"
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In today's edition, we delve into the intersection of art and commerce, a topic that has forever sparked numerous debates in the creative world.
To illustrate this point we are going to take a slight right turn and listen to some music from one of my favorite films ever made — Big Night. Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, it offers an exploration of this dilemma.
As we discuss the trials and tribulations of the two Italian-immigrant brothers at the center of the story, we’ll also celebrate and listen to some of the film’s music, which has captivated audiences just as much as its narrative.
(Timpano, aka timbale, was the starring dish in the 1996 film, and based on a family recipe of co-star, co-writer, and co-director Stanley Tucci. The “big night” in question is a dinner prepared in anticipation of the singer Louis Prima, the main course of which is the timpano.)
Big Night tells the story of Primo and Secondo, two brothers who run a struggling Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey.
Primo, a culinary genius, is uncompromising in his pursuit of authentic Italian cuisine. Secondo, the more pragmatic brother, understands the need to cater to American tastes to keep their business afloat. This conflict between artistic integrity and financial survival serves as the central theme of the movie, and it’s a struggle that many artists grapple with daily.
Just as Primo and Secondo face difficult decisions about whether or not to sell out, opera artists and companies must navigate the treacherous waters of public taste and commercial demands.
Should they stay true to their artistic vision, even if it means dwindling audiences and financial struggles with the hope that they will one day find a theater (or a restaurant) full of their “true fans”? Or should they adapt to market trends, potentially sacrificing their artistic integrity for the sake of revenue?
My gut is it’s probably a bit of both, but this ongoing conversation is as relevant today as it was during the time of Big Night.
There are so many incredible moments in the movie, but I loved this scene where the brothers hash out their different philosophies over a cigarette:
If you give people time, they learn.
Well, I don’t have time for them to learn.
This is a restaurant, not a f**king school.
The movie’s soundtrack is a beautiful mix of jazz, classical, and Italian folk music that transports us to the world of the two brothers.
Let’s listen to some favorites from Big Night that so perfectly encapsulates the heart and soul of the film. In doing so, we can reflect on the difficult choices that artists face, and the role that we, as an audience, play in shaping the future.
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen): Claudio Villa singing “Stornelli Amorosi”
"Stornelli Amorosi" is an Italian folk song characterized by its “stornelli” format, a type of traditional, improvised Italian poetry or song (think of it as a precursor to rap!). The term “stornelli” refers to these short, simple, and often humorous verses, which are typically centered around themes like love, daily life, and regional pride. "Stornelli Amorosi" in particular focuses on the theme of love, as the name "amorosi" suggests.
E' SCRITTO NEL TUO CUORE
It’s written on my heart
IL MIO DESTINO
My destiny (My destiny is written on your heart)
ANCHE SE L'ESISTENZA M'AVVENENO
Even if my existence poisons me
VOGLIO RESTARE SEMPRE A TÈ VICINO
I always want to be close to you
🎧 Listen here (3 minute listen): Louis Prima singing “Buona Sera”
“Buona Sera” is a popular song performed by Italian-American singer and trumpeter Louis Prima. The song was written by Carl Sigman and Peter DeRose and released in 1956. It became one of Louis Prima's most well-known hits and a classic of Italian-American music.
The title itself means “good evening” in Italian, and the lyrics describe a couple enjoying a night out, dancing and having a good time. The song’s melody and infectious rhythm convey a sense of celebration and joy.
🎧 Listen here (3 minute listen): Matteo Savatore singing “Mo Ve’la Bella Mia Da La Muntagna”
“Mo Ve'la Bella Mia Da La Muntagna” is an Italian folk song performed by Matteo Salvatore, a singer and songwriter known for his interpretations of traditional music from the Apulia region of Southern Italy. The song title can be roughly translated to "Now I see my beauty coming down from the mountain."
The song tells the story of a man who is waiting for his beloved to come down from the mountain, expressing his love and admiration for her. The lyrics describe the beauty of the woman and the anticipation the man feels as he waits for her arrival.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured the final trio between the Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie from Act 3 of Der Rosenkavalier.
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