Neapolitan actress and singer Lina Sastri brought her Edoardo mio to Milan (in a short tour taking in also Naples and Rome) – a magnificent series of recollections, together with songs, about her time as an actress with the great Italian playwright Eduardo De Filipo, and later interpreting one of his most famous characters, Filumena Marturano, with Eduardo's son Luca De Filippo.
During a two hour show that didn't see her leave the stage or even take a sip of water, she had the audience in the palm of her hand. It is rare (especially during the coughing season) to have such a concentrated and silent audience interrupted only by enthusiastic applause and loud calls of ‘brava!' The standing ovation at the end was totally merited.
I've written about Sastri in the past. She is an artist little known outside the community of Italian speakers for obvious reasons – even for Milan it was necessary to ‘tone down' the Neapolitan dialect. This is a shame, because her talent is enormous and should be shared worldwide, but English speakers have a huge advantage and dominate the international market. She is captivating with her stage presence, her dancer's gestures, her fascinating and seemingly off-the-cuff recounting of episodes with the great maestro De Filippo, who gave the very young and rather green actress lessons in life, not only in stagecraft. And then the singing voice! Her magic is in in the honest, unaffected, slightly raspy quality of her voice combined with an actress' interpretation, often taking hoary Neapolitan classics and making them vital and emotional instead of the often-heard sing-along belt. The words of these songs can be melancholic and so the uplifting choruses are bitter-sweet, and often the themes are nostalgic, remembering Naples as it was or Naples from afar. Sastri imbues these with aching longing and sometimes a defiant spirit, but she mixes in vaudeville songs too, and this was the talent of De Filippo who showed tragedy through comedy. In Filumena Marturano, however, the comic sections are overshone by the power of Filumena's character.
Portraying such a strong-willed and multifaceted eponymous role has an obvious attraction for actresses – Sophia Loren played the role in the filmed version; Joan Plowright was Filumena in Laurence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 production in the West End and on Broadway; Judi Dench played her in Peter Hall's West End production in 1998. Sastri's version was such a success that it toured Italy for two sold-out years, and she gave the role her highly individual take as she does with songs. In Edoardo mio, Sastri became Filomena in the blink of an eye, drawing the audience into her world, creating a moment that is so rarely experienced in present-day (Italian) theatre.
Her excellent musicians (guitar and mandolin, Filippo D'Allio; double bass, Luigi Sigillo; violin, Gennaro Desiderio; piano, Ciro Cascino; percussion, Gianluca Mirra) play striking arrangements by Maurizio Pica – who would have thought that Richard Strauss could be woven into a Neapolitan song!
Lina Sastri has interpreted numerous roles in the cinema and on television, but surely the theatre is her natural habitat, and what a privilege it was to spend two hours sharing it with her.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.