Bruno Canfora – Interview by Lele Cerri

Interview by Lele Cerri
24.07.2002

And at the name of Bruno Canfora, in all of us who listened to Mina stroll fluidly over those famous “customary musical fantasies” announced by Paolo Panelli in Canzonissima 1968, a sense of gratitude cannot but awaken for his having given us the opportunity to grow as spectators of the beautiful, of that musical pleasure that we were able to enjoy live on those precious Saturday nights.
Master Canfora’s voice reaches me in Florence to ask me to delay our meeting for an hour. I decide on the spur of the moment to take advantage of that hour to get to him by allowing myself a detour, through the beauty of the Sienese and Umbrian countryside, on the Cassia, through the provincial roads, among the softness of those hillocks, enjoying that landscape that probably served as a model for draperies for Renaissance painters.
Accustomed to beauty, having arrived at the conquest of total freedom of choice, Master Camphor could only choose such a habitat. I think in my 40 years of living with Mina, Maestro Canfora I have never met. And I also know it’s a little bit awe-inspiring.
There, down the small slope to the left of that bump, the gate. Among the leaves beyond the railing I catch a glimpse of Mrs. Camphor in the garden, who with a click lets me into their private corner within that earthly paradise and, having exchanged a mini summary of our lives with our relative inseparable dogs, escorts me to the Master. That – fate! – greets me against the backdrop of a painting that before any other word makes me exclaim, “But that’s Tonino!” And in front of that hilly oil landscape populated by a forest of plant-like hats and bonnets as in a botanical-surrealist-eighteenth-century divertissement, our conversation opens.

B. Canfora – Yes, it is a painting of Tonino. And, you see, there is also a hole. Small, but it is there. You know, with moving, anything is to be expected, even holes in paintings. But in order not to take it out of the house, I don’t even send it for restoration.

L.C. Well, it could be the coat of arms of the Amurri-Canfora Firm.

B.C. Grande, Tonino. He had a fluency, he wrote softly, everything he wrote glided–see “Conversation.” He knew how to write on musical accents like few.

L.C. Mina knows something about this. How many “your” pieces did you sing?

B.C. I have no idea. I think many, really an amount, but the number I don’t know.

L.C. Many have been highly successful acronyms, from Studio One 65-66, and all have long been at the very top of the charts. One, then, is one of my favorite of the hand-picked songs that I would take with me to a desert island: “Neither How nor Why.” It is a beautiful piece of theater, it sounds like a piece from a musical, a modern romance, wide, far-reaching. Some time ago, with Mina, in the car, we sang it for a half-hour drive trying to remember all the words.

B.C. Eh… to have Mina singing your pieces was a gift from Heaven. As well as he sang them, I mean. We weren’t standing there worrying about where they stood in the rankings, though.

L.C. I think they were all doing very well.

B.C. But we cared about being able to do our best work, being able to do what we wanted to do. And having Mina seal it was the closing security as well as peace of mind from the beginning. Then we were not so fiscal as to control the ranking positions. We had so much to do, so much music to write, that for controls, no, we really didn’t have the time. Of course …intended, as it was, for Mina, then, that our work would be successful was, I might say, guaranteed. You know, “Neither How nor Why” is also my wife’s favorite song; and it is actually a song from a musical comedy, from a “Farewell Youth” for which Tonino did the songs. My wife says it is the most beautiful of all the ones I have written.

L.C. Maestro, as a former teenager in the era of one’s own musical furor, as a former little boy in that non-stop music age of mine that was the 1960s, I am very grateful to you because you contributed, with Mina, to providing me with a quality repertoire, with that good music to which, together with my peers, I grew up and by which, in a way, I was sentimentally educated. And I confess to her that I was very envious of seeing her next to Mina in that Sanremo 61 that definitely clarified for me the complete greatness of Mina.

B.C. I repeat, having met Mina was the greatest gift that could have been given to me. I cannot think of an equal development of my work without her. It gave me the opportunity to write and arrange as I wished. To write and arrange as a musician would like to be able to do, you need the means. Personal ones, of course… but then, if Mina had not been there to hold it all up, to allow it to be accomplished by holding it up with her skills, total, complete, her musicality, her voice, her intonation, her innovation in dividing. Mina enhances what you write, makes it physical, real, tangible. Mina perfectly exemplifies what you intended to achieve by writing. He can. It has everything it needs to do that.
Starting with understanding it on the fly on the first listen.

L.C. Yes. And she had it there in front of her, in San Remo.

B.C. Beautiful, big, important even when small. Authoritative. I had met her before, on a Priest-Falqui afternoon TV show. Guido and Antonello told me they would have her as a guest and asked me to prepare something for her. I threw down for her an arrangement for orchestra of A foggy day (in London Town). It was a wonder to listen to it. It was an impression that I have carried from then until now. Always. I always have this sound of this “A foggy day” done by her in half voice, with the voice leaning well, with concepts evidently quite similar to my own as an arranger. How he managed, then, to sing like that will never be known. Nature. Pure nature. He had never taken a voice lesson, had no long experience, and knew how to nuance his voice, or if he didn’t know technically he did it by instinct. The ‘important thing was that he gave them, and what! A nineteen-year-old girl from Cremona who understood perfectly what a song needed. Do you understand when I talk about being lucky to have met you?

L.C. Yes. And you would find yourselves in San Remo 61.

B.C. Yes, Mina with me sang “The Thousand Blue Bubbles.” An impossible piece. I mean beautiful and very difficult. Also because one, singing those things there, can also feel a bit dumb… Can you imagine, you, being faced with “bblll, I see swirling the thousand blue… blll,” with that trend, and having to solve it? She solved everything great, in the best way. With his fortune. Which is the luck of being born this way: capable, good — that saying good means nothing. Because Mina is not good. It is beyond, there is nothing to be done. And to define her in terms of prowess and ability is to limit her in a role that she naturally transcends. By “naturally,” I mean with only the incredible natural abilities with which she was born. Gh’è nient de fa’. Therefore, having her by your side, in a sense an element and accomplice in your work, meant that you knew you could do anything you wanted to accomplish. Again, the word good, for Mina, is something that does not match. There is more.
One can listen to five Mina CDs below without ever getting tired, marveling, surprising ourselves in continuing to find new surprises, new inventions piece by piece.
Whatever you sing. The most beautiful song or the smallest nonsense. It will not be his merit, perhaps, for goodness sake-because you cannot, you cannot have such great abilities, humanly speaking-it will be a divine gift, but it is: he has it.

L.C. You, Maestro, were a direct witness to his inventions, his search for vocality that began very early and resulted in the “tanto azzurro intorno a me non vidi muaiii, non vidi muaaaiii…” of “Io amo tu ami”
and in all the subsequent “con meeiii” “da teeiii” and “e sei doumaneiiii “s.

B.C. Yes, it was research. Because she knew exactly what she wanted. Or even if she did not know, she sensed that she must want to, surely, because her musical nature commanded her to seek out all the means and results that she would refine and harden over time. Already saying a lot, I am sure he knew that he still had much more to say, a vast language to be completed, to be integrated by giving free rein to his talent. A talent so great that I always begged her, if ever there was a need, to always and only follow herself, to never lend an ear to fashions, to never worry about them or evaluate them too much; because whatever fashions or whatever great examples of a certain fashion came along, great as they were, throughout her career could at best have produced and meant only twenty percent of what Mina produced and means; that Mina “is.”

L.C. Hearing you say all this pleases me immeasurably; therefore, I flaunt a certain “booze,” let’s say I’m a bit of a moron and I need you to extend.

B.C. Mina is a major musical presence. How many others are? But not only that. Mina is authoritative as a presence: she walks into a room and of all those present, as many as they may be, there is no one else but her. Do you have any idea what it was like in those years to work with someone of that beauty? And watch that in addition to the physical beauty, I mean the beauty of how he moved, how he looked, how he “entered,” the gestures with which he emphasized the tempo or the meaning of what he sang, his filling the space. We were all in love with Mina because of what she stood for, all of us. No one could avoid being subjected to this incredible fascination. Apart from the beauty, I repeat, the way she turned, the way she moved… her shyness despite her natural authority… And it was a crescendo. And to think that all this I think I never told him. I didn’t like to do that.

L.C. Maestro, you, of all people, who wrote a kind of hymn for Mina with that title, did not like to say “brava” to her.

B.C. Figures. Mina never paid me a compliment either.

L.C. Why, what is it? Doesn’t it look good among co-workers?

B.C. I know it might sound sort of snobbish, but it’s not that.

L.C. Shyness?

B.C. Let’s call it “reluctance.” For example, when we presented the piece, she announced it as a piece that was strangely named “Brava,” since it was by “that gentleman there in front of the orchestra.” (I) “that good had never once told him that.” Do you see how we are made? I worked on “Brava” with the total consciousness that Mina would sing it. Look Brava is a very difficult piece, even though it doesn’t look like it. And not so much for the extension, because it was already known that Mina has no problems there either. But even more phenomenal is how tuneful and clear she can be at that speed. His ability to scan that burst of syllable-note so tightly to that rhythm. It is something that only her nature, her singing machine, her physical implantation of a mental nature allowed her to do: that at least in music, as far as I know, belongs only to her. Figure that because of how difficult I myself thought it was to sing a song structured in that way, I personally wrote the words, even though I am not a lyricist, to find the most suitable syllables to make it singable, at the cost of putting in a wrong word, but to make the text as smooth as possible, make it glide, keep it under control and not to get in any other obstacles, stumbles. Others, while good, have tried to sing “Brava,” but the result is something else. Some, then, resorted to such solutions as putting underneath–in the arrangement, I mean–the orchestral finery to distract from the fact that the speed was much reduced compared to Mina’s version.

L.C. The trick is here: at that pace, at that speed, the sharpness, intonation, precision and expressiveness can only hold her. And giving a total sense of freedom. You enjoyed often, with Mina, in species of musical challenges–the “Minute Waltz,” for example.

B.C. Yes. I don’t remember whether before or after we had done “Brava,” we worked on Chopin’s “One-Minute Waltz.” Tonino Amurri put the words to them. That too an impressive thing of speed and agility. And she would go off smoothly, precise, perfectly in tune, as comfortable and effortless as on a treadmill, on roller skates, at the original speed of the piece as it was written. Eh, well, I got picky after that. Nothing fits me anymore. After her … me … who had started out thinking it was a miracle that she was singing a piece that was mine, feeling like an enthusiastic fan listening to this woman sing in this wonderful way without realizing that the piece was mine … And then, what a team. With Mina who knew perfectly what had to be done and who perfectly aligned made sense of every choice and decision we made for the show. Falqui who knew just as perfectly what he wanted to achieve and made you understand it very well, clearly, in just the right way, so that despite his sulky, “muflonious” air, it was a pleasure to be and deal with him, to enjoy the reflected confidence of his refined expertise in music, costume, detail, overview, total control of the show. Incredible team.

L.C. A veil of regret?

B.C. Due to the fact that many who have made it to the organizational cadres are not up to their job. That there are no more discoverer talents capable of discovering authentic big artistic talents. I miss the births of the geniuses. It pains me that you penalize the public for its ability to “suffer”-which is a very big ability! a kind of great specialization of the public! – saddling him with consumer-friendly products instead of rewarding him for this ability by giving him the best. It would be their duty, the duty of the managers, I say, to continue to unearth and offer some genius besides the many technicians, the many generics, besides the usual “very good” and not. I’m sorry it doesn’t happen.

L.C. It is legitimate for someone who has been part of a television that taught Italians Italian and a taste for many things that until recently had been the preserve of a privileged few. Yours was innovation, an avant-garde operation, you were the vanguard translating quality hitherto reserved for elites into quality for the masses. Not bad! And having worked on shows like Studio Uno and Canzonissima ’68, then-so overflowing with all that goodness that was the fruit of work and work and work….

B.C. Yes, the incredible amount of work, thankfully! Just the way we liked it. It was normal to get what we wanted. And there were opportunities to get it. Mina would learn the piece on the first pass and by the second pass it was already hers, so I could soon move on to the choreographers: who were guys like Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire’s choreographer, not for nothing, who in two and two fours would decide to put up the choreography of a particular ballet that came to his mind then and there for which he would ask me for the music and after two days it was all done, to the tune of overtime until four in the morning, which instead of a great deal of effort seemed to us a divine gift. We all used to do this. Outside of the bins, apart from the half-socks, those who wanted to do this trade had to do it this way. Our professional positions and contracts were defended solely by what we knew how to do. None of us had managerial skills. When I started working I was a boy who grew up listening to the music of Rossini, who is a genius, not a great one only, but an absolute genius (and I think it is important to distinguish genius from great technician every scientist) and then of the other great and not so great classics, and also of Jimmy Dorsey , “Jimmy,” mind you, not Tommy, and Artie Shaw, Basie, Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford. In times of fascism those were forbidden records, unobtainable, but we still managed to get them, and at our festine we danced to that music, which in addition to being breaking was, fortunately for us, an avalanche of music: music, Music. When at a very young age I was confronted with the Rai bureaucracies, of which, however, elements capable of intuition were part, I did so with an arrangement of “Le tue mani,” by Spotti, for classical wind quartet, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, which was certainly affected by the variety of those musical acquaintances of mine, and which on the obstacles, competition and contractual difficulties had the effect of a billiard ball on the pins. That’s what my managers and public relations were… Mina was immediately queen for her talents! And if she has been able to make no wrong moves or cope, untangle herself in the best of ways, it is because she has such an intelligence that automatically forces her to take a panoramic view of the situation, whatever it may be, and allows her to support it, cope with it. And they call her lazy! It held rhythms and shifts! Of course, her memory helped her. Musically, too, of course. “Good” I let him hear it one day on the piano,; on the third pass he said, “Ouch, again? But how many times do you want me to hear it?” Three months later, in September, he came and sang it back to back with the words already memorized to the music he remembered. And do you know about how “Brava” is all irregular? Therefore, knowing that you worked for her unleashed your imagination, your freedom.

L.C. An incredible incentive.

B.C. You were working thinking “here I can do as I like, there won’t be any problems anyway, I can write whatever I want, she can do anything.” With her as my destination, I was able to write “Openings” such as can only be written for exceptional voices and musical expressiveness. Songs like “And I’m Still Here,” “I’m Here for You.” She is a miracle. Doesn’t a talent like that have to be number one?

L.C. Any edges? Please.

B.C. As a collaboration, you mean? Never. Mina trusted. He never told me do this instead of that, never asked me to change anything. She could do everything anyway. But he never even asked me for a simple matter of taste. And we all know that he is perfectly capable of expressing and asking for all the changes he wants… But he has never asked me for a change. We’ve made beautiful records with songs in them like “Ma l’amore no,” “E se ghe penso,” “Munasterio ‘e Santa Chiara” with magnificent orchestras and her … and so one takes advantage of the fact that she’s there … And so one feels free to write “Mi sei scoppiato dentro al cuore” … anyway, to sing it, there’s her, who has something in her voice that I’ve never found in anyone else”s voice.

L.C. In short, an icon. But do we want to approach this provincial girl from another angle?
Even in her provincial side, which I believe she jealously preserved alongside that enormous communicative medium that is her extraordinarily brilliant universal madness, there is one of her best aspects, and that is that of the daredevil. The provincial dares, dares to dare, jumps in. Perhaps her ability to go beyond, her “recklessness” typical of grown-ups, was sustained precisely by that provincial strength, that Cremonese affection that she always cradled within herself.

L.C. How do you get a girl from Cremona to sing a Japanese piece?

B.C. Well, for that matter, Mina also sang in Turkish. For the Japanese, the credit is perhaps, more than mine, to a person of exceptional class, Japan’s greatest film producer, Kawakita, producer of such films as “The Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon,” and “The Burmese Harp,” who had produced a Mina film. And that once we arrived in Japan for a series of piano and voice recitals to promote the film in Japanese club and theater nights, he asked me to write an original song for Mina in Japanese. To write the piece I was given an isolated room with a grand piano and, as national etiquette dictated, a person to keep me company for as long as I took to write it. So there was accompanied by me a very pretty young lady who was introduced to me as the daughter of the Prime Minister of Japan who in homage to me sat in a corner in absolute silence for a few hours until “Anata to watashi” was finished. After that, we were out and about in a veritable garden of endless wonder, although Mina would have preferred to be at home on one of her beloved sofas or driving around her twilight Po Valley around Cremona and along the Po River. Accompanied by the likes of Toshiro Mifune and others of the genre, we toured Japan in venues that somewhat anticipated the incredibility of the stadium at the last World Cup. In one of those places Kawakita owned, a huge, fabulous club, the Anabashi Club, with Murano chandeliers the size of houses, there was a huge stage with a hundred-foot proscenium that was mind-boggling and a curtain from which, when opened, a glass wall appeared in addition to the piano, with a huge waterfall behind it of which there was not the slightest sound. We went to the floor. Mina was wearing around her neck a very long pearl necklace from A Thousand and One Nights that Kawakita had given her along with a dizzying brooch to thank her for accepting the invitation that evening, and as she turned toward me while singing, it got caught in an edge of the piano lid; the necklace tore off and the pearls rolled everywhere, down the steps of the stage, with Mina wearing an expression somewhere between amused and the “oh, pù!…” of small children. At the end of the recital, Kawakita, with an imperceptible wave of her hand, unleashed two hundred valets, and the next day Mina got her pearl necklace back intact: all of them. This is the outline of Anata to watashi.

L.C. Master, it is a regret to have to say goodbye to you. The hour scheduled for this interview turned into three hours in which we also opened up many incisions, including personal ones, for which I am very grateful, about her brilliant and musical father from whom she would seem to have drawn her talent as a musician; and thanking her and taking leave albeit reluctantly imposes itself if only as a matter of pure politeness and measure. However, I would like to ask you first, as I always do in conclusion, to the delight of any detractors, one flaw you have found in Mina.

B.C. A flaw–yes, a flaw I found in her, right from the beginning, from that first A foggy day arranged by me that she sang: Mina’s flaw is that she never gave the joy of being able to teach her anything. He already knew everything. You don’t know how it is, but he already knew, or understood instantly what solution it took before you could tell him. It was like that from the beginning, with everything, everything. Come back to see me, I’m glad Mina has such friends.

© Lele Cerri

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They say about her

11 November 2023

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