Thursday, May 10, 2012

How To Dance The Tarantella, In Scarce Lithographs (Cue The Godfather Theme)

By Stephen J. Gertz

Poor  "Frankie Five Angels" Pentangeli. He schleps all the way from New York to the Corleone estate in Nevada for little Anthony's Communion celebration and is offered a "can o' peas," i.e. Ritz crackers with chopped liver. He wants the Rosato brothers dead; Michael Corleone tells him to baciarmi culo e affancul. 

As if things could not get any worse, it's an Italian party and the band doesn't know the diff between a tarantella and Pop Goes the Weasel. É un incubo! A nightmare! I mean, everybody knows Zooma Zooma. It's like the national anthem.  It comes automatic with a slice of pizza. Wha's a matta wich you? C'mon now, sing d'song!

C'e' la luna mezza 'o mare
Mamma mia m'ho maritari
Figlia mia a cu t' ho dare
Mamma mia pensaci tu
S'iddu nun e' lu musicante
Iddu vai, iddu vene
Sempe lu strumento a mano tene
Se ci piglia 'a fantasia
Lu strumento figlia mia

Oh, mamma zooma zooma baccala'
Oh, mamma zooma zooma baccala'
Oh, mamma zooma zooma baccala'
Zooma zooma, zooma zooma
Zooma baccala'

If  Pentangeli had a copy of Gaetano Dura's Souvenir de la Tarantella Napolitaine (c. 1834) with him on that fateful day a travesty could have been avoided. It illustrates how to perform the tarantella in eighteen beautifully hand-colored lithographed plates as a fold-out panorama, with captions. As a bonus for bandleaders who haven't a clue, another plate contains the music of a typical tarantella in its traditional rhythm, triplets in 6/8.

"[Of note in] the trend of  illustrating  Neapolitan folklore... is  the lithographic album titled Tarantella. Neapolitan Dance, drawn entirely by Dura [1805-1878], published in Naples in 1833, and lithographed by Gatti in 1834 [as Souvenir de la Tarantella Napolitaine].

"Dura's [Souvenir de la Tarantella Napolitaine], a very important document for the reconstruction of the Neapolitan tarantella, presents nineteen plates, accompanied by captions that explain, step by step, all the different phases of the dance.

"The style of the illustrations is  basic:  two dancers, drawn not without a certain grace and accuracy, move isolated on a white background completely devoid of any decoration or pittoresco.

"In the mid-1830s Dura became associated with Gatti, founding a lithographic establishment that soon became one of the most important in Naples. The brand of "Gatti and Dura"  published prints, calendars, atlases, graphic novels and works of a popular nature, such as almanacs and miscellanies"  (Encyclopedia, L'Enciclopedia Italiana).

This is an extremely rare book. ABPC records only one complete copy at auction since 1923; an incomplete copy with only ten plates was sold in 1955. OCLC/KVK note only three institutional copies, at Harvard, NYPL, and Austria State Library.

Poor Frankie Five Angels. If he'd known that not too far away,  in '50s Las Vegas, an Über-Guido was bompin' 'n stompin', working The Strip like crazy,  in the process becoming an Italian-American royal mixing classic tarantella, American pop, and jazz into a zesty zuppe de verdure, Frankie would have had Willy Cicci escort the man back to Casa de Corleone for a command performance of real, honest to goodness tarantella. Instead, he later slit his wrists.

Below, after paying tarantella tribute to Angelina, the girl who serves spumoni (and is ripe for matrimony), Il Re di Las Vegas, backed by Sam Butera and The Witnesses, sings Zooma Zooma better than anybody since Mama Corleone at Connie's wedding back in August '45, in the good old days, before, you know...


DURA, Gaetano. Souvenir de la Tarantella Napolitaine dirigée par Louis Puccinelli Maitre de Danse dessinée par Gaetan Dura. Naples: Gatti et Dura, n.d. [c. 1834].

First edition. Oblong octavo (5 7/16 x 7 1/8 in; 138 x181 mm). Hand-colored lithographed frontispiece, engraved title, one plate of music notation, and seventeen hand-colored lithographed plates with captions, a total of twenty panels in panorama format unfolding to 142 1/2 inches.

Cf. Colas 921.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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