I Giullari di Piazza is a New York-based ensemble that creates new folk music in the style of Italy, but with an eclectic willingness to import instruments and styles from other peoples. This particular work is a folk opera about the Black Madonna, a Christian extension of the ancient pagan goddesses frequently represented as black statues. And lest the reader come up with horrifying ideas of just what a folk opera might be, it isn't like a classical opera -- it does not tell a story; it has no recitative; the singing is "natural," not coloratura. It's more like the Gypsies camped outside your town and staged a bunch of loosely related songs and dances. The Gypsy analogy is not merely picturesque; the group borrows heavily from Italian Gypsies. The songs feature group artistic director Alessandra Belloni singing mezzo-soprano, backed up by a variety of classical instruments (oboe, harp, flute, violin, etc.) and folk instruments (accordion, oud, mandolin, etc.). Special guests Glen Velez and Steven Gorn bring in their specialties: Velez, a half dozen percussion instruments of mixed national origins, and Gorn, soprano sax and Indian bansuri bamboo flute. The music was composed by group music director John LaBarbera, who spent a lot of time in Italy soaking up the old music and culture. He draws on traditional sources, but once in a while, some turn of phrase will sound too modern, too American. Overall the music is dramatic, passionate and lively. If you like Mammas or Mediterranean folk music, this should please you.
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AllMusic Review by Kurt Keefner