In the southern part of the Italian boot, lying in the sun on the gulf of the same name, is the beautiful city of Naples. Known for its thousands of colours and thousands of definitions, it is at the crossroads of ancient traditions and new unrest, which have been living happily for centuries. It is here that the mandolin took off to conquer the world, becoming synonymous with Neapolitan culture and with those who love music. Naples is also the city of Mario Vorraro, the ideal place to cultivate the passionate pursuit of remote melodies that seemed lost forever.
In a large family of ten siblings, Mario Vorraro grew up with an irresistible attraction for popular music, which deepened over time thanks to his genuine passion and innate talent. He taught himself to play classical guitar which he had borrowed from a friend and only after a few summers of working in the tomato industry was he able to buy his first instrument, a chitarra battente.
The first phase of his musical evolution was in a continuous crescendo; playing with some of the most important names in traditional Neapolitan music as well as with international artists such as Michael Bublé. He actively participates in the management of the “Teatro Spazio” (that of Massimo Troisi, Oscar nominated actor), has founded several folk groups and has recorded several albums. But then something happened, changing his approach to music.
Mario’s fine musical ear made him realize that the family of mandolins was missing something. He had tried several instruments yet was never able to find sound he was looking for. So he decided to open his very own luthiery so he could complete the scale of harmonics, bringing profound innovation to the concept of tuning. He studied and created the Mandola Tenore or bass, a variant which did not exist on the market, because for centuries the sound of Mandola Contralto was forced and made to endure notes too low for the diapason. This produced weak and unclean sounds, because its proper tuning (A, D, G, C) was sacrificed in order to favour a mandolin score (E, A, D, G) despite being an octave lower.
Not only. Mario Vorraro has also understood that the instruments available in today’s market are too heavy, with their layers of excessive wood which may even compromise the lightness of the vibration. Patiently chiseling away, he finally found the perfect balance, pitch, the wonderful tone he had been seeking for over the years, echoing all the clear and vibrant strength of the classic Neapolitan music of past centuries.
The Neapolitan and Italian musical traditions boast many talented luthiers, so why is Mario Vorraro so special? You can say that he doesn’t have just two ears, but at least four, figuratively speaking. On the one hand, there is the experienced musician, the expert of harmonies, able to insert the sound of a single instrument into the complex body of different scores. On the other, there is the artisan luthier who models with precision his creations, focusing on the perfection of the “voice” of each particular chord, with an absolute listening.
Most luthiers, in fact, do not perform in concerts around the world like he does; he’s even been to Korea with the Classical Orchestra. But not even do musicians usually have a luthiery, where they can build instruments tailored to their needs. He does. A complete artist and a unique artisan.
Photos courtesy of Davide Ponticelli