Nino Rota, the great arranger of the music to “La Dolce Vita, “La Strada", “The Godfather", “Rocco and His Brothers", and “Romeo and Juliet" not only composed some of the most enchanting soundtracks in the history of cinema; Fellini's favourite composer was also responsible for an impressive repertoire of songs.



Rota, a child prodigy, was trained by the grand masters of Italian classical music – Pizzetti, Casella and Toscanini - in the 1920s, and he is said to have written his first chorus at the age of six. He was attracted to popular music and theme music at an early stage and went on to write for the cinema, the theatre, music hall and popular music at the same time as working on film soundtracks and his own symphonic and operatic works. A great many artists, from Sydney Bechet to Dalida, from Luis Mariano to Caetano Veloso, have performed tracks that were either written by Rota or inspired by his compositions. They have had great international success (there have been dozens of versions, for example, of Speak Softly Love, the song from Francis Ford Coppola's “The Godfather"), although we may not always recognise these versions as being by the composer of “8½".


Mauro Gioia has plunged headfirst into this labyrinthine profusion. This man of the theatre and singer was born in Milan, like Nino Rota, but grew up in Naples. He has often sought to bring the most disturbing and dreamlike aspects of Italian popular music to the stage. “I'm not a singer," he says. “I'm a stage designer who sings, and who evokes and describes things."


Fascinated by Rota's eclectic talent and by the evocative power of his melodies, Mauro Gioia decided to explore this breathtaking repertoire of songs, scouring the Internet and rummaging around record stores for 78s and musical scores. In 2003, this passion gave birth of a show called Cabaret Nino Rota, directed by Alfredo Arias, which was performed 300 times in Madrid, Buenos Aires, Rome and Paris as well as other cities.


In France, Catherine Ringer (with whom Mauro had already appeared on stage back in 2002 in a musical called Concha Bonita, also directed by Alfredo Arias) and Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko went to see the show and went away with a demo of Rota's songs that Gioia had recorded with one of the finest Italian arrangers, Tonino Esposito.


The adventure stepped up a gear a few months later. Fred Chichin, a rock guitarist with Italian roots, brought a producer's touch to the project, at a decisive moment. “He advised me to give this record a more contemporary feel," Mauro remembers. “He also suggested I open the project up to other artists and record some duets, starting with a song together with Catherine." The guitarist of Les Rita Mitsouko also helped the singer from Naples with recording the vocals, guiding him in the choice of timbre and styles for the duets.


The “Rendez-vous chez Nino Rota" project started to roll. With a consistency worthy of Fellini himself, the singer opted to surround himself with women with strong characters, singers of iconic status capable of bringing fresh ideas to songs that were already loaded down with history.


Catherine Ringer, who became artistic director of the project after Fred Chichin's death, is joined by an international dream cast. Mauro Gioia, both fragile and energetic, distinguished and decadent, is flanked by the Spanish singer Martirio, the Portuguese star Maria de Medeiros, the German artist Ute Lemper, the Brazilian Adriana Calcanhotto, the Argentinian artist Susana Rinaldi and Sharleen Spiteri, the singer from Scottish band Texas.


Martirio, a new wave flamenco artist, seizes Parlami di Me from “La Dolce Vita", blending the smells of the movida of Madrid with those of Fellini's Rome.


Maria de Medeiros, a mischievous actress who sang earlier in her career and has directed a film about the history of revolutions (“Captains of April"), gives a sparkling rendition of the childishly playful and anti-authoritarian La Pappa col Pomodoro (a huge hit in Italy in 1964) with its lyrics by the feminist film-maker Lina Wertmüller.


Ute Lemper, who owes as much to German expressionism as she does to the Broadway tradition, brings her astral voice to the stellar romanticism of one of Rota's most famous songs, Ai Giochi Addio, taken from Franco Zeffirelli's “Romeo and Juliet".


As a tribute to the influence Brazil and the Milanese composer have had on each other, Adriana Calcanhotto, one of the most delicate and innovative voices of the MPB, does a cover of Gelsomina, written to the theme tune of “La Strada" and previously sung by Caetano Veloso.


The intense tango star Susana Rinaldi gives a wonderfully theatrical version of Amor Incantator and Gioia is only too happy to be able to accentuate the all-consuming passion of this Argentine pas de deux.


Having been brought up on the voices of soul, Sharleen Spiteri leads Speak Softly Love into the realms of jazz, as if the song from “The Godfather" had set down its Sicilian roots in the Cotton Club, echoing the Italian-American theme of Coppola's film.


It was Fred Chichin who decided to get Catherine Ringer to perform the strange Belfagor Stomp. This song, which Fellini himself wrote in English (his one and only composition!) for the psychedelic “Juliet of the Spirits", has a lysergic tune that arouses fantasies in a way similar to rock. 36 years after Dalida, the French singer also performs Parle Plus Bas with extraordinary emotional force.


Fred Chichin wanted an American to mix the album and Chris Shaw, whose eclectic musical references include Jeff Buckley, Dylan, Public Enemy and a great deal of film music, obliged. He has managed to bring a modern cutting edge to refined, almost cinematographic arrangements, giving this album a timeless elegance.


Having already performed “Rendez-vous chez Nino Rota" once with some of his guest stars in Naples on 12 June 2008 and given a memorable concert as a duo with Catherine Ringer in the gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris during the Fête de la Musique, Mauro Gioia now has to repeat the experience at the Théâtre de l'Odéon. The limited edition album includes a DVD with highlights from the Naples concert where Martirio, Maria de Medeiros, Catherine Ringer and Mauro Gioia perform other songs by Rota that do not feature on the disc, such as The Sweet Life, Le Grand Chemin, Che scherzi fa l'amore and Le Bidon. It's as if they wanted to make the magic of this Rendez-vous last just that little bit longer.




Mauro Gioia
Mauro Gioia