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March 23rd, 2007


by Ace Nympholi

morriconi-04.jpgIn an extraordinarily diverse career spanning more than half a century, Italian composer Ennio Morricone has written more than 500 film, television, radio and theatrical scores, but is probably best known for his theme music from the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The quirky theme with its signature squawking vocal became an international pop hit in 1966, and since then Morricone has scored over 400 films, inclucing: Once Upon A Time In America, Days Of Heaven, Cinema Paradiso, The Untouchables, 1900, La Cage Aux Folles, The Burglars, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, The Mission, and Bugsy. Morricone’s numerous collaborations with Leone, a friend since childhood, have resulted in an unequalled legacy of some of the most astonishingly unique and memorable music in film history. Few composers have moved between musical genres and blended classical and modern styles as fluidly or effectively as Morricone, and his use of unorthodox instrumentation and avant-garde vocal and symphonic arrangements make his compositions instantly recognizable. Later this year, Morricone will receive an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement, though he has previously been nominated five times. Although Morricone is approaching 80, he is still quite active, with two upcoming film scores and an ongoing world concert tour that saw his first and only appearance on an American stage in his entire career.

morriconi-01.jpgMorricone’s historic appearance at Radio City Music Hall in early February was his first live concert in this country despite his five decades of popularity with the American movie-going public, and though his enormous body of work is simply impossible to perform in any practical semblance of entirety, the Maestro nicely excerpted many memorable highlights of his most famous scores in a two hour program that featured Mr. Morricone conducting a 200-member orchestra and chorus, composed of the Roma Sinfonietta and The Canticum Novum Singers. Soprano Susanna Rigacci and pianist Gilda Butta provided some of the evening’s most enchanting moments in their solos, but it was Morricone who received most of the several standing ovations.

The program was shorter than most Morricone fans likely preferred, and the sound was arguably thin at some points when compared to the fullness of the compositions themselves, but Morricone did not disappoint in the breadth and variety of his musical selections. He managed to encompass his entire career in his choices, and showcase almost all of his diverse styles. The show began with the dramatic, almost military opening theme from The Untouchables, but quickly shifted to the more contemplative and haunting “Poverty” from Once Upon A Time In America. Some of the show’s most stirring moments came during the starkly romantic melodies from Cinema Paradiso and Malena, and an almost too lengthy medley of several spaghetti-western scores including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. These selections immensely pleased the enthusiastic audience, yet even though Morricone’s name is inextricably linked to this genre, it is still a miniscule portion of his work. After another unusual collection of assorted tracks and extracts from several Italian films, entitled “Scattered Sheets” in the program, he gently closed the evening with some of his more symphonic (and many say finest) compositions with selections from The Mission. Technically, this event was a massive undertaking and the sheer amount of people present on stage was formidable to say the least, but the execution and musical proficiency of each was absolutely flawless. And while there were a few curious moments, such as an unnecessary reprise of the evening’s selections, Morricone delivered a triumphant performance and shared an unforgettable glimpse into his staggering genius.


morriconi-02.jpgDespite the great good fortune to attend a historically important and flawless performance by a virtuoso composer in a national treasure such as Radio City Music Hall, a pallor of ugliness tainted what was an otherwise beautiful evening, and that ugliness was the completely unacceptable behavior of several members of the audience. While most would agree that the work of Ennio Morricone merits much discussion, said discussion should begin after the show…not during it! In fact, it is highly improbable that the cretins in question were even discussing anything as important as the maestro’s vast body of work, but more likely the various batter-dipped delights they enjoy at their favorite chain restaurant troughs.

From our group’s tenth row center vantage point alone–seats that were selling on e-Bay for $1,000 each in the days leading up to the show–there were at least three loud and unpleasant incidents involving irate patrons scolding the nitwits around them for talking or whispering loudly, exiting and returning several times during the two hour show, or text-messaging on cellphones and other devices. One pair of middle-aged women three or four rows behind us had to be reminded several times that they were not at a monster truck rally, and the disheveled Brooklyn fauxhemians who arrived 25 minutes late and sat in front of my group, babbling non-stop, incurred my personal wrath.

By the account of numerous friends also in attendance, these vulgar displays were not isolated incidents restricted to our area, but pervasive throughout the venue. This of course begs the question: When did elegance, class and common courtesy (not to mention appropriate attire) leave Radio City and it became acceptable to conduct oneself like a two bit-drug lord in the presence of the greatest film score composer of all time during his singular American appearance in 46 years? Right around the time Champion Mortgage Company was allowed to project its corporate logo 20 feet high on every wall in the great hall.

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