Even if you’ve never set foot in an opera house, the words “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” from Mozart’s Neapolitan-inspired masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro are probably the first that come to mind when you think of opera–or you’ve seen references to the iconic composition in film and television like Mad Men, The King’s Speech, and many Looney Tunes episodes.
And you’ve likely heard the traditional Neapolitan song O Sole Mio – whether performed by mainstream opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti, or translated as It’s Now or Never performed by Elvis Presley.
On Tuesday, October 16th from noon to 12:45, the sounds of Naples – a region in the south of Italy – will come to Michael Garron Hospital when celebrated trio Vesuvius Ensemble performs in the Mortimer Street lobby.
Neapolitan music has amassed fans from around the globe, which is remarkable given its origins as “street songs” rarely written down and sung by peasant farmers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“It’s a very particular repertoire with specific details," says Vesuvius Ensemble bandleader Francesco Pellegrino. “The baroque Neapolitan school was the school in Europe. A lot of major composers – Mozart and others – they used to spend months in Naples to learn this style.”
Pellegrino arrived in Toronto from the countryside surrounding Naples in 2001. In Italy, he had grown up immersed in Neapolitan music, performing it at weddings and other celebrations as a child. He later became an opera performer, singing at the famed La Scala in Milan for several years.
Since moving to Toronto, his “mission” has been to share the music of his home with his adopted homeland.
“It was challenging at first because there weren’t many people aware of the style of music [Vesuvius performs],” Pellegrino says. “But three years ago we started our annual concert season with four programs. Each year, every single program is sold out.”
And while the music Vesuvius Ensemble performs is specific to a particular culture in the Neapolitan countryside, Pellegrino has embraced Toronto’s diversity and the new opportunities presented by living amongst cultures from around the globe. Later in October, Vesuvius Ensemble will be performing a program based on the Tale of Tales, a collection of fairy tales composed in the Neapolitan dialect including early versions of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty before they were adapted by the Grimm brothers and others. In addition to a storyteller, there will be a Persian percussionist.
“We’re trying to be part of the multicultural music community in Toronto,” says Pellegrino. You have a chance in Toronto to find any kind of great musicians from any part of the world.”
Vesuvius Ensemble is performing as part of the World of Music Series – a concert series bringing the world’s best performers who reflect the diversity of our vibrant East Toronto community to Michael Garron Hospital. The performance is free of charge. World of Music is sponsored by Delmanor Wynford.