A multifaceted artist who has gone through several seasons of Naples, changing yet remaining true to himself; a man who stayed even though he might have many reasons to go; a person who has weathered the setbacks of life.
Maybe too simplistic to describe a personality like Pepe Barra but an attempt had to be made. The reporter tried Conchita Sanninoauthor of a dialogue with him entitled “Racconta Napoli” (Laterza publisher), a narrative that moves between past and present, the life of the man-public figure and the life of the city filtered through the gaze of this incomparable artist.
The book is actually the result of an encounter: on the one hand Peppe Barra, actor, musician, singer, an icon of Naples in the world, the only living character, for example, who has been represented in the crib of the Scuotto brothers in the Sanità district; on the other Conchita Sannino, an observer of Naples, a chronicler mainly of politics and justice, animated by the curiosity of those who feed on that cultural dimension embodied by Barra.
The correspondent of the newspaper la Repubblica explains it to us.
How did the meeting with Peppe Barra come about?
In fact, I had already written a text about Peppe and his mother Concetta, from Procida: as we know, this bond was visceral and also artistically important for Barra, to the point that the two find themselves at a certain point to be a couple sharing the stage. Maestro Roberto De Simone, in fact, “discovered” the talent of this over forty-year-old woman, who had always sacrificed herself for her three sons, hearing her sing during rehearsals and invited her on stage, finding it incredible that she hadn’t done it sooner. This story of mine really impressed the publisher who asked me for this new project.
How would you define Peppe Barra?
Peppe Barra is a symbol of Naples, an artist who has entered the collective imagination of the city; a man of his time who was however able, over the years, to tell the city, with his poetics, speaking to everyone and reaching every generation through a universal language. With his Cantata dei Pastori, the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, the Gatta Cinderella, his “masks” have become famous all over the world. Yet, despite a brilliant career, Peppe Barra has never left Naples. The man-public figure has decided to stay here, living in this beautiful house in the centre, in a so-called “monarchic” position, immersed in its thousand symbols of the city, imbued with a strong spirituality.
What did you discover about Barra, a man and public figure that you didn’t expect?
I discovered a special ability to resist the upheavals of life, the changing world, typical of those who have always found in madness and the search for light a way to regenerate, be reborn, flourish again, always embodying the innovative drives of the city. His being in step with the times, despite being a child of his time, is demonstrated by his continuous desire for experimentation, by his always looking for young talents who can support him.
What does this dialogue between you and the symbolic artist of Naples want to represent?
This book is a way to investigate the city. There are alternate chapters dedicated to his artistic and cultural career, such as when Giuseppe Barra, after the breakup with Roberto De Simone, becomes Peppe and begins his solo journey; and chapters in which his relationship with Naples and his mother Concetta who marked him so much is explored. There is no shortage of reflections on how much Naples has become a hotbed of talent and the center of a great cultural production, thinking of fiction, series and auteur films that the city continues to welcome and inspire.
The stage as a home. Naples as faith and, together, heresy. A profession and a city that look alike: because they are a second skin, difficult to let go. Peppe Barra, an extraordinary performer and singer who continues to experiment and surprise, lets himself be questioned without filters by a signature of investigative journalism. Thus the conversation with Conchita Sannino is not just an exciting and ironic journey with a star performer loved by De André to Fellini. But one immediately makes collective history and ‘investigation’ of one’s own land, and of the South, in a crucial junction of the country. A sincere and, at times, touching dialogue. Childhood in magical Procida. Naples devastated by war. Child prodigy dreams. Until the ‘revolution’ of Gatta Cinderella, the artistic partnership with her mother Concetta, the solo career that renews a great theatrical culture. But it is the meridian metropolis, the other protagonist. Which she doesn’t seem to learn from her falls. Who suffers, disappoints, gets back up. And it shines again as a capital of the imaginary.
Tell Naples by Peppe Barra and Conchita Sannino will be presented in Naples Thursday 17 November at 5.30pm at the Bellini theater; the event takes place in collaboration with Laterzagorà and will see the participation, together with the authors, of the journalists Ottavio Ragone and Antonio Tricomi.