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Assunta Spina: 1915 Silent Film with Live Musical Accompaniment
Salvatore Di Giacomo’s silent film Assunta Spina (1915), starring the queen of the Italian silent screen, Francesca Bertini, has been paired with a newly-composed musical score by John T. La Barbera. The new film music is performed live to screen by August Watters (mandolin) and La Barbera (guitar).
Based on Salvatore Di Giacomo’s play, Assunta Spina was filmed on location in Naples in 1914 and was produced and released by Caesar Film in 1915 in Italy. It features the Queen of Italian silent screen Francesca Bertini, who is credited with directing the film together with her co-star, Gustavo Serena. An operatic tale of love and sacrifice in working class turn of the century Naples, Assunta Spina can be considered to be one of the first films of Italian Neorealism. Bertini’s performance set a new standard for Italian cinema. Running time is 1:02:14 minutes.
La Barbera’s new musical film score, arranged for mandolin and guitar, creates an intimate atmosphere by capturing a range of emotions. These are expressed through the melodic themes of the characters, in a leitmotif style, to highlight the melodramatic and picturesque style of the film. As the film captures glimpses of life on the streets of Naples, references to popular traditional music can be seen in the background shots. From dancing the polka accompanied by serenading musicians to pastoral shepherds playing bagpipes for Christmas, he presents a glimpse into this period by using the traditional rhythms of tarantella, polka, and tango, as well as waltzes and pastoral serenades, to enhance the realism surrounding the circumstances of Assunta’s tragic and passionate story.
John T. La Barbera is an award-winning composer, concert guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, educator and author. His extraordinary role in the transmission and translation of Italian oral traditions has won him recognition as one of the first transcribers of Southern Italian folk music in America by The Italian Oral History Institute in 2005, and in 2016 he was the recipient of the John and Mary Esposito Visiting Faculty Fellowship Award in Italian American Culture and Historyfrom UMass Dartmouth. He has authored two of the first and foremost books published in the United States on the Italian mandolin, and has been a guest lecturer on Italian traditional music at Boston University, UMass Dartmouth, UCLA, NYU and Columbia University.
August Watters is a multi-stylistic, improvising mandolinist, composer/arranger, conductor and teacher who is deeply involved in today’s revival of this elegant instrument, and has made significant contributions to the recovery and advancement of its traditions. His work as an interpreter, improviser, composer and arranger bridges contemporary classical music, jazz, folk music traditions, bluegrass, and the historical concert mandolin repertoire. August was a professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music for 18 years, where he taught ear training and his bluegrass/jazz “Acoustic String Project” ensemble (2000-2015), as well as String Department labs and private mandolin lessons. As a clinician he has lectured and performed widely in Europe and the USA on the American mandolin and its roots in Italian folk and classical concert music traditions. He is the founder of the New England Mandolin Ensemble and the Festival of Mandolin Chamber Music, and is also an Emmy-award winning arranger, currently focused on music for mandolin ensembles.
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