“I try to make my part, instilling love for culture”
Interview with the artist, on tour with “Spamalot – The Musical” and, from 6 to 10 February, in competition with the Storie Tese at the 68th edition of the Sanremo Festival
by Maria Lucia Tangorra
We all know him by pseudonym – his baptismal name is Stefano Belisari – and for his wanting to be against the current, not for the party taken, but by nature and cognition of the cause, pursuing quality. Elio is an artist of great culture, capable of communicating and making love the opera; he likes to range from music to theater, without forgetting the small screen and everything in his own way. We had the opportunity to interview him at the teatro nuovo in milan while he was on stage with a real adventure: “Spamalot – the musical” taken from “Monty python and the holy grail”, a cult film of the great group of ’75.
Should you arrive in your city or in the vicinity, you can admire it in the shoes of a funny king arthur; but it is not over here, from 6 to 10 february it will be on the stage of the ariston with the storie tese for their fourth sanremo festival – we imagine that it could be the last set as they are preparing for the “Farewell tour”. The word to the artist.
The Monty Python (british comic group, activated mainly from 1969 to 1983, consisted by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, nda) purtroppo, pur being popular, are not very known among the new generations. According to you, can you inspire the new generations?
Me and Rocco Tanica, with the fundamental collaboration of lorenzo vitali of the teatro nuovo (producer of the show, nda), of the director claudio insegno and of all the actors, we had among the objectives just to bring them to the attention of those who maybe not yet there he knew. I, rocco and all the members of the group attend them (he says so in metaphoric meaning, nda) for some time, they have influenced a lot and mysteriously are not so well known in italy, i find it an injustice, also because so many comedians – especially english – they trained on their way of making comedy. To this was added the challenge of representing them precisely because they had never been staged in our country, of course we had the awareness that we had to do the right adaptation, making it accessible to the public and keeping parallel to the fidelity to the original.
The italian translation of the feature film, for example, did not succeed, was made in the style of the seventies films for which each character corresponded a dialect, the lines were changed compared to the original and the final result, for those unfamiliar with monty python, is a “Mass of idiots” that put in the field a humor that has nothing to do with them and that does not make me laugh so much. Alas, there is this conviction that the italian public is not predisposed to the so-called english humor, instead a lot of people are very ready and they catch it.
Why do we need to change things to satisfy a certain type of spectator, displeasing another? And i imagine that even the monty python would not be happy if they knew that abroad they changed the texts turning them into something non-compliant.
About your internal look, how can you win the remore of a production in realizing a non-classical musical how is “Spamalot” compared to most known titles (as “Grease” or “Flashdance”)?
It takes a producer willing to risk, you can not expect everyone to think this way. Now it is a modus operandi that i have metabolized for years, we as the storie tese we always wanted to express new ideas, but we also assist all the others who make the same proposals uninterruptedly and maybe even more successful than us; but it is an approach that i find less exciting.
This musical worried us as a result, we had so much desire to give our best and we were happy to see how both spectators and critics welcomed this attempt well – the reviews are all positive and i had never happened in life.
Undoubtedly a producer who has to invest a large sum, tends not to run dangers and prefers to go on the safe side opting for established titles, where there is an almost certainty that people will go to the theater. Of course i am bitter a world so boring, in which the same things are repeated and i do not refer only to the theatrical or musical.
It should be the youngest to get involved in this sense, but today’s 20-year-olds are older than seventy-year-olds. Those who have the desire to “Split the world” also take a certain amount of risk. We must dare, we can not stand still and continue to live on rent compared to the past.
She has executed as actor, with “The three money work” by Brecht and Kurt Weill …
Yes, it was an initially traumatic experience because i had not understood well that i should also act, i realized reading the script. I played Mackie Messer. I had been chosen by Berio – the director of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia at the time (it was 2000, nda) – and knowing i had left him stunned charged me with further responsibility [he says it constructively and feels the affection with which he remembers that professional moment] and i have to say that he had guessed it because i’m not an actor who was right to play that kind of character.
When Brecht talks about estrangement refers to this, you do not go completely into the character, but you always stay in the middle and i could easily do it. The singing was also planned and i felt comfortable there. I can say that it was my baptism of fire in a situation of the highest level with artists such as Maddalena Crippa (Polly Peachum / Jenny), Peppe Barra (mr. Peachum) and Athina Cenci (mrs. Peachum).
The musical performance of the exhibition was entrusted, moreover, to the ensemble modern, directed by Heinz Karl Gruber, we could say the best in the brechtian world.
What are you looking for in the live show in respect to the tv show?
The television show, in my vision, has no other function than entertainment. For years now, since the introduction of the auditel, the quantity and not the quality are pursued; first, when there was only Rai, priority was given to television, there were people who, thanks to their cultural background, reasoning and without the nightmare of listening, created programs to which, even today, we look with admiration. The theater certainly makes you talk to less spectators, but it’s another level – and far from making set speeches. On the stage, what you want to communicate comes with a greater power and in addition there is another emotion, you can assess the reaction of the audience instantly.
What do you remember of the sanremian experiences?
I’ve always been a great admirer of the Sanremo festival, for better or for worse. Especially until about twenty years ago Italy stopped – not that now does not happen – now there are alternatives. At that time it was the musical event of the year, i still remember when at eight or nine, for the first time, i heard Lucio Battisti and he immediately dazzled me; surely i also saw performances that i did not appreciate. [smiling says] in the late seventies the singers were performing in playback, yet even on that occasion had a certain echo. Compared to my personal experience, when there was the opportunity to go, we were all very happy and proud of being there, of course we always went our way and i think that all three times (1996, 2013 and 2016) we contributed to animate the show.
If you have to reward today “The land of the caches” what to add and what to remove?
It did not happen much more than when we had made it up. Today there is the whole social part that, most likely, would have found space because it is so overflowing that you can not ignore it, moreover it is a kind of showcase of the worst that we can produce. The fact remains that the song we had written to mimic the committed songs presented at the festival and was interpreted as a denunciation of the ills of Italy.
Elio, one of your characteristics is autoironia, is it always innate?
I was ready to joke from an early age, then looking at the great comedians like cochi and renato, i found in all, beyond irony, even self-irony, which is another way to stay down to earth. Among the childhood memories there are the races to return home so as not to lose “High rating” (a famous radio broadcast of Gianni Boncompagni, Renzo Arbore, Giorgio Bracardi and Mario Marenco, aired in the seventies, nda).
The absurd has always made me laugh, among my favorite authors are Frank Zappa and Daniil Charms, a very amusing russian writer.
You have been judge of X Factor and recently a new edition of Strafactor is concluded. Do you believe that the talent can support the young in the fatidaic “launch” in the musical world?
It can happen as well as not, depends on how you use them and on the skill of the individual. As Morandi used to sing: “One in a thousand makes it”. The talent has become the primary alibi to explain everything that happens badly in the world of music, in my opinion it is not so. It is wrong to say that singers no longer stand out because of talent, authors and composers are missing. The songs that are written now are like disposable razors: they arrive, they listen to them and then they disappear. There is nothing underneath because the public – i suppose – that does not interest there, on the other hand, however, if it is not stimulated, it is normal that a vicious circle is created.
The way to listen to contemporary music is diametrically different, i still remember the effort to buy the first record, putting the money aside, and when i had it, i consumed it by analyzing every single note. Today everything is enjoyed via headphones and mp3, with the latter containing an infinity of pieces and you switch from one to another without dwelling.
Taking account of what you already expressed as the artist, what is the responsibility that you feel?
As far as i’m concerned, i’ve always been interested in conveying quality. Some time ago i went on tour, for example, gian burrasca and many did not know that the script directed by lina wertmüller (who also edited the direction of the show, nda) had the music of nino rota, one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, which had the merit of being also quite pop and therefore appreciable by an audience even of non-connoisseurs (we all remember “Viva la pappa col pomodoro” sung by a very young Rita Pavone, nda).
Now many operators in the classical world have changed their mind; it is right and proper that we know how italians like Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi dominate the world at the level of melody. With Francesco Micheli, director of opera, director and artistic director of the Donizetti Foundation, we recently created a book about these five great characters (“The work is gunpowder”, published by Rizzoli).
Does this approach derive from studies in the conservatory?
Also, but not only. The conservatory gave me the means to understand, in reality i too, for a long time, i had disdained. Later i realized that i was making a serious mistake because we are in fact constantly influenced by this genre, just think of the early music of the rai broadcasts, were rossini’s notes. I try to make my own by lighting the flames and instilling the love for culture.
Looking to “Elio e le Storie Tese” (the band is striking, so have organized the retirement tour, but everything has born in 1980, nda), in a system that seems individual, can you still do group today?
In Italy the individual works, everyone thinks for himself, this is the mentality that is taught to us. I’ve always loved going against the current, for this reason i wanted to create a group – the most powerful form that can be put in place. If everyone wants to achieve the same goal, each according to their skills, and if there is the desire to work together, we achieve results that no individual could get alone; unfortunately, sooner or later, something in the mechanism is jammed, but as long as it lasts it is very powerful. I would recommend it to anyone as an experience.
In what do you want to prove yourself?
The beauty is that i am able to try my hand at various things and luckily they offer it to me. Nicola Campogrande, the artistic director of the mito festival, wrote a work with me in mind and i’m thinking about it. I can only add that i am considering opportunities in the various sectors, but i can not say anything else because nothing has been defined yet. The show “Spamalot” continues on tour, even arriving in the capital (at the BrancaccioTheater from february 13th to 18th). In the cast, besides Elio, we find Pamela Lacerenza, Andrea Spina, Umberto Noto, Giuseppe Orsillo, Filippo Musenga, Thomas Santu, Luigi Fiorenti and again the ensemble formed by Michela Delle Chiaie, Greta Disabato, Federica Laganà, Maria Carlotta Noè, Simone De Rose, Daniele Romano, Alfredo Simeone and Giovanni Zummo. Directed by Claudio Insegno, lyrics and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez. Translation and adaptation edited by Rocco Tanica. Musical direction by Angelo Racz and choreography by Valeriano Longoni.
Starting from april 20th, the farewell tour of “Elio e le storie tese” will include Montichiari (BS), Padua, Turin, Florence, Genoa, Casalecchio di Reno (BO), Rome, Naples, Acireale (CT), Bari and Rimini. For Milan, the city where the artist was born and lives and saw the band’s debut, they are preparing something for themselves, but no one knows more.