Some images are part of Neapolitan cultural background, without making much effort. For example, every well-respected Neapolitan has seen the espresso coffee scene, prepared on the balcony. Follow in the footsteps of a legend of Italian theater, taking a tour among the various historic buildings of the city, between Chiaia district and the historic center of Naples.
A big family born on stage
Eduardo De Filippo was born, in 1900, from the love story between the playwright Eduardo Scarpetta and the theatrical seamstress Luisa De Filippo.
The actor and playwright was born in Chiaia district, in Via Vittorio Colonna 14, where, today, ironically, a plaque resembles the residence of another popular person (Giustino Fortunato).
Currently, the area is the heart of the city’s nightlife, the right place to go for a drink.
Eduardo has two brothers with whom he forms a very strong artistic partnership: Titina, the older sister, and Peppino, the youngest. Together with them, he began to get on stage, already at the age of 4. He is a smart child who, in elementary school, when he had not studied, offered the booklets of his father’s plays to his teacher. However, his real debut took place, in 1911, at Mercadante Theatre, when he starred as Peppiniello in his father’s play. Teatro Mercadante is a 18th-century theatre still active and visitable, located in Piazza Municipio.
His first works and The Nativity Scene success
At the age of twenty, he wrote All-night Chemist, his first comedy, staged by the company of his half-brother Vincenzo Scarpetta. In the 1920s, his first work was followed by two more plays. During this time, he married his first wife, Dorothy Pennington, who translated and publicized abroad some of his works. However, the consecration of the author came in 1931, with his most famous comedy, The Nativity Scene, staged on December 25th by the new company founded by the De Filippo brothers. The performance took place in a theatre located where, today, the Filangieri cinema is. The work, set entirely at Luca Cupiello’s place, tells the story of “Lucariello” and his daughter Ninuccia. Gags between the protagonist and his wife Concetta are memorable.
From now on, the De Filippo brothers company will be requested in the most important Italian theaters.
The Second World War, the promotion of the Neapolitan theatre and Filumena Marturano
Second World War hindered the artistic activitiy, but Eduardo and Peppino De Filippo repeatedly subsidized veterans of war and displaced people from all over Italy.
In 1944, partnership with Peppino ended, that is why Eduardo and Titina founded their own company. Eduardo De Filippo wrote a play about Naples during war, called The Millions of Naples!: he staged another masterpiece at Teatro San Carlo, for charity. The opera house, located in Piazza del Plebiscito, is open to the public and still hosts dance performances and a museum.
Filumena Marturano (1946) is the story of an ex-prostitute trying to bring back together her three sons. It seems that Eduardo, was inspired by a really existed woman who lived in a brothel in Vico San Liborio, between Piazzetta Montesanto and Via Toledo. Today, there you can see a small mural depicting Sophia Loren, actress who played this role in Marriage Italian Style by Vittorio de Sica.
During this time, De Filippo, in crisis with his first American wife, met the young actress Thea Prandi. At the same time, the first problems with Titina’s heart prevented her from acting.
In 1948, Eduardo De Filippo, actively involved in the recovery of the Neapolitan artistic scene, bought the rubble of Teatro San Ferdinando to rebuild the building and make it a foremost stage.
Located near the Sanità district, it is now considered the home of Neapolitan comedy. Here, you can visit a permanent exhibition dedicated to the most popular Neapolitan actors.
In the 1950s, De Filippo tried, unsuccesfully, to kick-start the Teatro Stabile di Napoli and gave life to a six-part TV series.
A dark time for the affections, but full of professional satisfactions
Between 1960 and 1961, the author suffered two serious grievings: the loss of his daughter Luisella and that of his second wife, Thea, from whom he was already separated.
Despite the dark days, the work could not stop and the success of his works reached the USSR, Hungary, Austria and Belgium.
In the 1970s, he met international comic stars such as Laurence Olivier.
In 1977, he married the writer and translator Isabella Quarantotti in a civil ceremony.
In 1981, the President of the Republic Sandro Pertini appointed Eduardo De Filippo senator for life.
Eduardo De Filippo’s poetry: another form of art accompanied him throughout his career
The author had the habit of composing poems, during the creative process of his stage work. The language he used was neapolitan dialect. The playwright, exploiting his many talents, used verses to speed up the editing and give depth to the writing, dealing with themes that made the characters come alive. Among the most famous poems, the romantic “Si t”o sapesse dicere”, in Neapolitan dialect, stands out.
Ah… si putesse dicere/ If i could tell you
chello c’ ‘o core dice;/ what my heart is telling me
quanto sarria felice/ i’d be so happy
si t’ ‘o sapesse dì!/ if i only could
E si putisse sèntere/ And if you could feel
chello c’ ‘o core sente,/ what my heart feels
dicisse: «Eternamente/ you’d say «Eternally
voglio restà cu te!»/ i wanna be with you»
Ma ‘o core sape scrivere?/ But can the heart write?
‘O core è analfabeta,/ The heart is illiterate
è comm’a nu pùeta/ it’s like a poet
ca nun sape cantà./ who can’t sing
Se mbroglia… sposta ‘e vvirgule… / it gets confused, moves commas
nu punto ammirativo…/ an exclamation mark
mette nu congiuntivo/ it puts a subjunctive
addò nun nce ‘adda stà…/ where it shouldn’t
E tu c’ ‘o staje a ssèntere/ And you who listen to it
te mbruoglie appriess’ a isso,/ you get confused along with him
comme succede spisso…/ as if often happens
E addio Felicità! / And goodbye happiness!