The Italian Almanac

Mario Merola

Italian News - November 14

Thousands of Neapolitans lined up on Monday to pay their respects to the undisputed king of the 'sceneggiata', Mario Merola, who died Sunday night. Merola's coffin was brought in the morning to the central Carmine Church.

The 72-year-old performer died from cardiorespiratory failure at Leonardo Hospital, in nearby Castellammare di Stabia, where he was rushed last Tuesday after a first attack. Merola spent a week in a drug-induced coma and was kept on a respirator. At the weekend he showed some signs of improvement before suffering repeated cardiorespiratory arrests which led to his death.

"Mario Merola was deeply loved in our city. Through his great passion and natural talent he was able to recover pieces of Naples' artistic past," observed University of Naples head Guido Trombetti. "He reinvented the 'sceneggiata' at a time when it was a dead art form. Like all extraordinary and natural talents, he has left his mark".

The 'sceneggiata' is a staged musical melodrama in Neapolitan dialect that developed after WWI as a means to avoid a hefty tax levied on musical hall performances, which were drawing audiences away from 'legitimate' theatre. The 'sceneggiata' began as a way of staging popular songs. The actors would stop to sing the songs while performing a play with a simple plot that usually dealt with family woes, love, betrayal and, later, even social issues and emigration.

It's popularity faded because of movies and TV but the 'sceneggiata' enjoyed an important revival thanks to Merola and others starting in the 1960s, especially in Naples and among immigrant communities abroad. Merola also had a successful career as a performer of traditional Neapolitan songs and as a character actor in movies and on TV.