|Sabina Guzzanti and Franca Valeri on stage in Rome|
In a packed Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium Parco della Musica last night, the ninety-year-old actress was joined on stage by Sabina Guzzanti, a comedienne who is part of a younger generation of female performers who undoubtedly have Franca Valeri to thank for having opened the door for them when television was still in its infancy. Incidentally, Sabina Guzzanti, with her outspoken criticism of Silvio Berlusconi, has been the victim of extremely heavy-handed censorship in Italy and has, to all intents and purposes, been banished from Italian television, and one had the sense that it was the younger of the two who hankered most strongly for the old days of television in yesterday's discussion. At the outset, however, Franca Valeri had made it clear that this wasn't to be a nostalgic evening...if anything, it would be an historic evening!
Opening with a clip from her last television appearance, an adaptation of Abraham B. Yehoshua's autobiographical play Possesso in which she plays his Jewish mother, she was then joined on stage by Urbano Barberini, who had played her son - as he has on numerous occasions – in that piece. In true, This Is Your Life style, he then introduced a video message from Yehoshua himself, in which he praised her performance and said that since his own mother had died, he now thought of her as his Italian mother! Later on in the evening, Dario Fo, would also appear in another video message singing his own high praise for the actress.
What surprised me most watching the clips yesterday evening was the realisation that some of them – in particular the hilarious show called Le divine that parodied historical female characters as diverse as Nazi collaborators, Mata Hari-style spies or drunken Hollywood divas – were transmitted as long ago as 1959, yet the humour felt incredibly contemporary and decades ahead of its time.
The greatest television comic actors, regardless of where in the world they are working, are undoubtedly those who manage to create a cast of characters that enter into the collective memory of the viewing public. Whilst Franca Valeri may not be well known outside her native Italy, creations such as “La Sora Cecioni” for the RAI have indeed entered into the annals of Italian television history – when she closed the evening with a live recital of the first ever La Sora Cecioni sketch ("Signora" Cecioni in Roman dialect) it brought the house down and this extraordinary performer left the stage to deafening cheers and a standing ovation.
Watch a vintage clip of Franca Valeri as Sora Cecioni below or click here to watch on YouTube.