Torna a Surriento: Evolution of a Classic Italian Song

imgresI recently heard Jason Bentley play a song called “Surrender” by Anna Calvi on Morning Becomes Eclectic. It sounded familiar—I knew I’d heard it before. So I did some digging and found that in fact it was an alternative pop version of an old Neapolitan song called “Torna a Surriento”. It was written in 1902, and recorded by many singers, including Elvis Presley, Pavarotti, Mario Lanza, even Meatloaf.  It’s a  love song, and maybe a connection here is that “Surrender” sounds a little like “Surriento”.

The earlier versions I remembered were by Zizi Possi and Giuseppe de Stefano. Both Anna and Zizi’s parents emigrated to another country from Italy—Zizi to Brazil, Anna to the U.K.; but neither singer ever forgot her Italian roots. Both Anna and Zizi grew up in households where Italian classics were always playing on the home phonographs.

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The other great version I love is by Giuseppe di Stefano, who was the great Italian lyric tenor who partnered with Maria Callas. I still cannot believe that I interviewed him on Morning Becomes Eclectic back in 1985, not long before his passing. I have a cassette aircheck to prove it.

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It’s refreshing to see a new version of this Italian evergreen, also fun to go back and listen to the many other versions that have been recorded over the last hundred years. Anna is only the most recent version, but surely there will be more in the future.

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