La sciantosa, the queen of the show

by Laura d'Avossa
La sciantosa, la regina dello spettacolo
Concerto coffee, Manet

The birth of the sciantosa

It was an evening in the late nineteenth century and I was sitting at the usual place in the center of Paris, café-concert. I drank and chatted with my diners about music, about beautiful women, about art. "Look at her" Jacques pointed out to me sitting next to me, smoothing his mustache with his thumb and forefinger which, as fashion wanted, he wore rigorously upwards. My eyes made room in the crowd and, above the tubas of elegant men and the feathered hats of bejeweled women, I saw her on the stage: the chanteuse.

Undisputed queen of the show and professional singer, it was not her only voice that was the protagonist of the performance. She captivated the audience with her sensual moves and eccentric dresses. And I sat there, stunned by that frenzied glitter and that mysterious charm. In those rooms there was a suggestive atmosphere, they were destined to become a symbol of carefree and good life. We were in the period of light, the luster of those lounges dazzled the city and hid its shadows. There Belle Epoque lit up France but would soon reach all of Europe and make the city of Naples.

The sciantosa in Naples

In the city of Partenope the golden age of the concert coffee coincided with that of the Neapolitan song. In 1890 the elegant Salone Margherita was inaugurated in the Umberto I Gallery. The aim was to recreate the Parisian atmosphere: billboards, artists' contracts and menus were written in French, even the waiters spoke the foreign language. Even the performances resumed those of café-concert, but the typical entertainment of singing, dancing and variety was mostly replaced by the staging of arias taken from the most famous operas weather. To recite them was once again a woman, the Parisian chanteuse. The owners of the premises went in search of the most beautiful artists in the city in order to attract customers.

Locandina salone margherita sciantosa
Poster of the Salone Margherita, the sciantosa

Over the years the term chanteuse was then Neapolitanized in sciantosa who, little by little, lost his connotation as a singer. In fact, with sciantosa the so-called femme fatale, sensual and mysterious. Often the singers themselves invented an intriguing past of their life or spoke with a foreign accent to increase the charm of their figure. It was common among the most famous to pay claquer, that is groups of people who applauded and acclaimed the performers for economic compensation so as to increase their notoriety.

The sciantosa today

With the passing of the years and with the birth of cinema and television, the sciantosa as a professional figure has disappeared, giving way to today's showgirls or showgirls, but has remained well known in the collective imagination and has returned as a protagonist in films and theatrical representations.

She was played by Sophia Loren in Neapolitan carousel e even before that Anna Magnani, next to the young man Massimo Ranieri, in the movie La Sciantosa of 1971.

Laura d'Avossa

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