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Italy Embraces Sinatra in First Performance in 24 Years

September 27, 1986

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ Like an old flame willing to kiss and make up, Italy opened its arms Saturday for Frank Sinatra and laid claim to ″the Voice″ after 24 years.

″Frankie’s back in town,″ declared Sinatra at the end of a retooled version of ″Mack the Knife,″ bringing the full house of 9,000 at the Trussardi tent-theater to its feet in cheers.

His hair has silvered and the face that lit many a heart has grown a bit puffy. There were signs of strain at the lowest and highest notes.

But Sinatra, wearing a black tuxedo, was out there high-stepping to ″I Get a Kick Out of You″ and belting out the crowd-pleaser, ″New York, New York.″ He hung on to the moon-struck long notes of ″April in Paris″ with a vigor and determination that belied his 70 years.

Sinatra ran smoothly through 21 of his best known hits during the 80-minute concert.

″If I closed my eyes and just listened, it was the same Frank Sinatra I’ve always known and loved,″ said Louisa Ossola.

Most men in the audience wore elegant suits and the women glittering evening dresses. Some were in their 40s, others were from Sinatra’s generation.

And there were a few younger people, including a woman in black stretch pants, a lame jersey and spiked hair.

″I like all shows, all kinds of shows,″ she said. ″I don’t just follow people of my generation.″

Sinatra launched right into ″Fly Me To The Moon,″ and after ″New York, New York″ he drew loud applause when he said in Italian: ″I’m American, I’m Sicilian, I’m Genoese, but tonight I’m Milanese.″

Hundreds of fans waited behind barriers for nearly two hours to catch sight of Sinatra outside the theater.

Premier Bettino Craxi and Cesare Romiti, managing director of Fiat, were among the guests.

″At home at last,″ Sinatra was quoted as saying when he arrived at Milan’s luxurious Principe and Savoia Hotel early Friday.

The son of a Sicilian-born fireman and a Genoese woman, Sinatra played to packed houses in 1962. But frequent, sometimes violent run-ins occurred with the ″paparazzi″ photographers, and media coverage was often less than flattering.

After Sinatra last sang in Milan, on May 25, 1962, he vowed never to return.

″The Italians don’t love me, this is the truth. When I came here in 1962, they wrote that I was part of the Mafia, a boss,″ he was quoted as telling Italian promoter Pier Quinto Cariaggi in Gente magazine.

So far, the Hoboken, N.J.-born Sinatra has remained closeted in his eight- room, four-bathroom suite filled with yellow and white flowers, vocalizing with longtime music director Bill Miller, sleeping late and entertaining, according to spokeswoman Susan Reynolds.

Hotel employees are sure they’ve heard strains of the Neapolitan ballad ″O Sole Mio″ emanating from Sinatra’s suite with its piano, separate switchboard and larder stocked with everything from French cognac to Campbell’s chicken- and-rice soup.

Hotel officials said they vacated 25 rooms around Sinatra’s suite to ensure his privacy.

On Friday night, the singer and his wife, Barbara, played host at a dinner for select guests including Fiat Chairman Giovanni Agnelli and Anna Craxi, wife of the prime minister, Reynolds said.

About 9,000 guests paid from $71 to $360 dollars for Saturday night’s concert. Sinatra is known to Italians as ″the Voice.″ He was being paid about $175,000 for the single show.

It was promoter Cariaggi who convinced Sinatra to return. And if there are any hard feelings left between Italy and Sinatra, no one’s talking.

Italian newspapers and television devoted full coverage to Sinatra, chronicling each step of his romantic life up to his current wife, the fourth, and dwelling lovingly on his Italian heritage.

According to newspaper accounts: Sinatra unfailingly greets all comers with ″buon giorno″ (good day); surrounds himself with Italian-Americans ; named his yacht after the city of Rome; accompanies his shots of Jack Daniel whiskey with plates of Italian prosciutto; and has a passion for pesto, the Genoese basil sauce, with his pasta, even flying in a noted chef from Genoa to prepare his favorite dishes.

Teodoro Celli, music critic for the Rome daily Il Messaggero, took things a bit further, insisting that Sinatra inherited the mantle of Italian opera great Enrico Caruso.

″We can say clearly that Sinatra’s is an Italian voice,″ Celli wrote in Saturday’s edition. ″He sings in English, but his vocal timbre expresses itself in Italian.″

About the only discordant note was sounded by a leftist member of Parliament, Guido Pollice of the small Proletarian Democracy Party, who urged Italy’s internal revenue service to audit those who were paying such high prices for tickets to the concert.

Sinatra flew to Milan with his wife from Madrid, where he gave a concert before a wildly enthusiastic crowd of about 40,000. He won hearts by giving away thousands of tickets to military conscripts, brushing aside memories of misadventures with the Spanish press in the 1950s during filming of ″The Pride and the Passion″ with Sophia Loren.

Sinatra was expected to fly home to California after the Italian concert.

″Naturally the Voice is not any more what it once was,″ wrote a critic for the La Stampa newspaper who attended the Sinatra performance in Spain. ″Sometimes it is a bit raucous from his recent ailments. But the timbre is unmistakable and eternal and on the attack, we can’t take away from it.″

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