But not for me! A Tribute to Judy Garland is the concert for guitar (Stefano Nencha) and voice (Madalena) which will take place at the historic building of Annunziata, in Ravello, on Monday, July 19, 2021at 8:30 p.m. It is part of a musical programme that has been going on every summer in Ravello for the last twenty years and that initially only included classical musicians, but is now opening to jazz also.
But why should we celebrate one of the icons of the American musical of the 1940s in Ravello? And why did we chose the title of George and Ira Gershwin’s song, But not for me from the film Girl Crazy(1943) as a title of our tribute, instead of Over the Rainbow, the most famous song from The Wizard of Oz(1939), considering that the tune of the latter resounded unfailingly at every public appearance of Garland, almost as if they were the leitmotif of her life?
Because Judy Garland’s story tells of the tormented relationship between public persona and self that so many famous people who have visited the Amalfi Coast have experienced first hand. On the altar of celebrity – at least as Hollywood understood it until recently (let’s say in the pre-social media era) – the artist had to sacrifice the aspirations of ordinary mortals (such as eating French fries or going on a trip to the beach or falling in love with the boy next door) in order to rise again as an immortal divinity of the screen: this is what is implied in the dialogue of a recent film on Garland’s life between a very young Judy and Louis B. Mayer, the legendary tycoon founder of the company that bore his name, the MGM studios. The sequence shows a sixteen-year-old Judy who was exhausted for being forced to work on the set for eighteen hours a day. Mayer’s response to her requests is just that of reminding her that this is the only way she is going to be transformed into Dorothy, the protagonist of the Wizard of Oz: this is how she will be loved for ever and for ever remembered by the audience. Mayer sounds ominous and cruel, even disturbing in the way he reminds Judy of ‘their little secret’. At the end Judy signed her pact with the devil and was indeed transformed into Dorothy in what is widely considered one of the most important films in American film history. But at what price?
The biopic that scripts the sequence is Judy, directed by Rupert Goold, with whom Renée Zelwegger won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2020 (we talked about it in the programme “Lives in Music” at the Palladium Theater in Roma Tre https://teatropalladium.uniroma3.it/diario-di-scena/viteinmusica/). The film focuses on the last year of the artist’s life when, too short of money to give her two young children a regular household, she resolved to accept a contract to sing in a London nightclub, the Talk of the Town. Hollywood had banned and abandoned her because of her problems not only with alcohol, but with the pills she was constantly taking to sleep and stay awake, to lose her appetite and to stimulate it, and which had made her unstable and unreliable. These were addictions that she had acquired at a very young age in the MGM studios, where the lives of young stars were often controlled in this way. Judy, very ill, depressed, with numerous suicide attempts behind her, died six months after that London tour. She was only 47 years old.
“They’re writing songs of love, but not for me/ A lucky star’s above, but not for me”: so Judy sang when interpeting the American sweetheart, delightfully naive and unaware of the Prince Charming who was already planning to make her happy forever; those words “but not for me” were for her, married five times and divorced four, a prophecy. She sang them with her clear voice, so perfect and sweet, so capable to tell the desire to be loved. A voice that at the end of her life and career had become broken and harsh, but for this very reason so very very intense.
The concert of June 19, 2021 in Ravello is dedicated to this Judy; a tribute filtered through the contemporary sensibility of Stefano Nencha’s guitar and Madalena’s voice. Because the life of every artist is made up of flights and falls, but above all of the greatest love of all: that for one’s own art, which is offered every and each time with trepidation to the audience as the most precious of all gifts.