27.07.2016. Art & culture
Mandolin and guitar duo Franco and Andrea have been musical fixtures at Le Sirenuse’s La Sponda restaurant since 1993. Sometimes they will stroll through the dining room and out onto the terrace, serenading guests discreetly, tuned in not only to each other’s chords and rhythm but to the mood on the table, when they’re welcome, when to pass on with a smile.
At other times they duet seated on two chairs near the kitchen entrance, nodding graciously at signs of appreciation but otherwise wrapped in a musical conversation that has lost none of its gentle fascination for them after more than twenty years. When two voices aren’t enough, La Sponda’s genial poet-maitre Vincenzo Galani will often join in (that’s him in the middle in the photo above) on Neapolitan standards like Torna a Surriento.
Modest and reserved, Franco and Andrea prefer to express themselves through the music they play. But over an espresso in the bar, we persuaded them to open up to the Journal as, like so many guests, we were curious about their backgrounds, their inspirations, their lives outside of this charmed, candlelit space.
Franco: “I was born in New York. Both my father and my grandfather, who was from Minori, played in the Metropolitan Opera House orchestra, back in the days when it was still on 39th Street. And my daughter has followed the family tradition in taking up the mandolin: she graduated from the conservatory in Bari, where there are just four places for mandolin players”.
Andrea: “I’m from Amalfi. I used to work in the sorting room of the local post office, but I’ve retired now”.
Franco: “My mandolin was made in 1882 by the Neapolitan master luthier Pasquale Vinaccia. I inherited it from my nonno. Mandolins have an incredibly sweet sound, and the double metal strings allow you to create the famous tremolo effect known as the trillo. It’s an instrument that has long been associated with the most beautiful Neapolitan songs”.
Andrea: “When you play with a musical partner for a long time you reach an instinctive understanding, you anticipate each other’s moves”.
Franco: “When I play with other guitarists, it’s not the same. They don’t give me the harmonies the way he does”.
Andrea: “We come to Positano every evening from Amalfi, and drive back later. In high season, we never have a day off, but that’s because we love playing here”.
Franco: “You get good at working out from a distance who wants to be serenaded, who would prefer to be left alone, the lovers, the birthday tables... and what songs they might enjoy. Our repertoire ranges from Neapolitan songs, to opera, to film soundtracks, from Turandot to Doctor Zhivago and Nino Rota”.
Andrea: “When you get requests, you need to be able to spot the variants – for example, some people call Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago ‘Sometimes I Wonder’, while the theme from The Godfather is also known as ‘Speak Softly, Love’.
Franco: “We never get tired. And eating’s not a problem – if we get here early enough, we’ll eat with the kitchen staff, otherwise we’re happy to wait until we get home”.
Andrea: “When you’re playing outside on a warm evening, and you’re watching the sea and stars glimmering in the night sky, there’s nothing like it”.
Franco: “We sometimes feel guilty when we see that guests are letting their food get cold as they listen to us”.
Andrea: “But what can you do when they’re rapt in ecstasy?”
Photo © Roberto Salomone