August 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /Aug01/

Il Conte di Melissa (The Count of Melissa)  
choir directed by the composer; orchestra conducted by Claudio Luongo; voval soloist Antonella Neri
  Orchestra sinfonica "Castalia" & Coro Lirico Sinfonico Romano
  HEXACORD HCD-05   [62:05]

Il Conte di Melissa

An ambitious orchestral work of gravity and tragedy set against a backdrop of political and emotional conflict in seventeenth century Italy.

After a strong opening with the portentous ‘Il Rogo Della Strega’, the first of the scores two main cues appears on ‘L’arrivo Delle Guardie’, with brass and voices prominent in a buoyant, courtly Medieval piece and this theme reappears sporadically, most notably in more expansive form on ‘Il Castello di Melissa’. But the work’s primary theme (and rarely has the term been so apt) is introduced on ‘Il Villaggio’, in a percussive folksy version. However, this melody comes fully into its own on incarnations such as ‘Il Ritratto di Eleonora (Tema d’amore)’, a haunting, rather lovely variation and particularly on the operatic ‘Il Parto’ and ‘Requiem in Sol Minore’, an elaborate six minute piece with some admirable choral work. Finally the concluding track, ‘Love was Fatal to Me’, is yet another interpretation (and there are many), although it is a beautiful vocal rendition. Really it’s just a pity that by this point I had heard the melody so often that its effectiveness had been somewhat undermined. Less would have be very much more. And to be truthful little else of real consequence occurs, although the synthesized bass line of ‘Ballo Popolare’ warrants comment for sounding rather out-of-place in context of the soundtrack as whole, although this frisky, tongue-in-cheek cue works well enough.

Although I enjoyed this score, it was held back from achieving real eminence by a lack of diversity, with far too much emphasis put on the admittedly memorable ‘Il Villaggio’ motif. The truth is that however good a theme may be, over use will eventually devalue its appeal and that’s the case here. Add to this the unfulfilled promise of darker passages (‘Il Roggo Della Strega’ makes a fine overture in this direction, but nothing much happens thereafter) that left me with a sense of slight dissatisfaction. Even so, putting these concerns aside, Werba’s music is very accomplished and certainly evocative and deserves praise for both stylishly capturing the period and for attempting something on a grander scale.

Mark Hockley


Gary Dalkin adds:-

II Conte di Melissa (The Count of Melissa) is an Italian film made in 2000. It is a drama set in the 17th century, but other than that it is difficult to say anything about it. The cover illustrations suggest something along the lines of, though hopefully better than, The Honest Courtesan. The insert notes are in Italian, and appear to talk about the music rather than the film, though in either case I can not read them. The promotional material which came with the CD is in English and contains a track listing, lyrics for the end-title song, and a one page biography of the composer.

Marco Werba is a young and distinguished Italian composer with a lengthy list of 'serious' compositions including a mass, various other choral music and a guitar concerto to his name, as well as a film music career going back at least as far as 1988 and his award-winning score for Zoo. (The award was the "Colonna Sonnora" - 1989).

Listening to the 27 tracks on this ambitious soundtrack one gets the impression of a serious, sober, understated, tragic historical romance. The music is predominantly slow, melodic, haunting and typically European. The orchestrations are detailed, with numerous instrumental soloists credited, as well as the traditional vocal soloists, soprano, contralto, tenor and bass, as well as the featured female voice of Antonella Neri.

The score is strongly influenced by, but not strictly in accordance with 17th century music. The use of recorder and harp together with the formal quality of the writing is evocative of the period, while there are dissonances and passages of introspective string writing which could not have been imagined before the 20th century. It is the sort of score one might have expected from Georges Delerue, or today from Jean Claude Petit - delicate and well crafted, with melodies which grow more powerful with each listen. However, if there is a central influence it is the music of Zbigniew Preisner; in the overall minimal style; in the wordless choral writing and specifically in a motif which repeatedly alternates between two chords in a most Preisneresque way; in the predominant recorder melodies which likewise echo La Double Vie de Véronique (1991), and finally in the use of a wordless soprano to carry much of the 'voice' of the score in a manner very much akin to that of Preisner.

The music becomes darker in tone and increasingly choral towards the end of the album, building to the resigned beauty of "L'assalto al castello" and the six-minute "Requiem in sol minore", a moving set-piece drawing strongly upon the Italian early music tradition. The album closes with an end title song with words both in English and Latin. The title "Love was fatal to me" is liable to promote sniggers and lead to some expectation of a Celine Dion style atrocity shattering the carefully sustained mood. Fortunately nothing could be further from the truth and this is a rare example of a modern end title song being accomplished with due integrity, remaining faithful to the essence of the score which precedes it. Built around the main theme the song remains "in period" whilst employing some of the same background electronic textures which have appeared in certain cues throughout the score. It is all the more eloquent for doing so, and unlike the American 'pop divas' Antonella Neri can not only sing but has a beautiful voice. It is gratifying that the song does not insult the intelligence of the audience by assuming they can only relate to being spoon-fed in a contemporary pop/rock idiom.

Ii Conte di Melissa is on album an excellent, subtle score which grows more rewarding with each play. Marco Werba may not have the most individual of styles but his music is most effective and I look forward to hearing more. Anyone with a love of melodic European film music should find this a most enjoyable release. Now will someone release the film in Britain?

Gary Dalkin


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