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Dario Poli: “If you don’t fight for what you want, you don’t deserve to have it”



Painter, writer, poet, composer… Dario Poli, self-confessed ‘intellectual anarchist’ and Renaissance Man of the new millennium, shares his views on art and music and delights us with anecdotes about his fascinating life. He also presents two of his latest projects: the musical, Amsterdam, and his new book, based on the life of his father: The Boatkeeper’s Daughter.


By  Marisa Cutillas.


As a keen cinephile, I was particularly impressed this year by a film called Whiplash: the story of a young musician fighting to become the best drummer in the world, spurred on (or, some might say, pushed to madness) by a brutal teacher, for whom “There are no two words more damaging in the English language than ‘Good Job’.”

The film poses many philosophical questions, including whether or not true genius can be ‘created by force’; the answer is elusive but leans heavily towards the following: genius cannot be pushed (in fact, it can be destroyed this way) but sometimes, it can arise through sheer desire, determination, and hard work… I am reminded of this thought on the day I meet Dario Poli.

The composer is here to discuss his newest work: Amsterdam, the musical that came to him in a dream: the story of a lost work of art in the city of canals, which is found by a group of street musicians from Marbella. The project is ambitious; Dario is currently working on uniting the Mayors of Marbella and of Amsterdam to support what is undoubtedly the project of a lifetime. For the musical, Dario with co-writer David Mairs, has teamed up with Mugge Fischer and Ose del Sol (the latter has painted the elusive work, which represents a beautiful lady wearing a bracelet with three crosses – the symbol of Amsterdam whose origin is unknown and which the musical dares to explain).

Fabio Poli on Horse
Fabio Poli, an opera tenor in Scotland in the 1930s.

Dario is also working on finding a publisher for his new book, The Boatkeeper’s Daughter, a novel based on the life of his father, a Tuscan opera singer raised in Scotland, arrested after a concert at the start of the Anglo-Italian War. Dario says that the war changed his father, “turned him into a hard man.”

The book is inspired by a young girl living near the interment camp his father was held in, and ensconced on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence river in Montreal, Canada. “My father’s army commander found out he was a known opera singer and asked him to perform for important dignitaries at a party. One day, he walked up to the wired fence that separated his camp from a beautiful boat house; he began to practise his singing, when he saw a curtain move in a window above.” It was the young girl who, enamoured by Dario’s father yet unable to communicate with him, would leave him love notes beneath a rock on the other side of the fence; notes Dario’s father would collect religiously.

They never met, for one day “the girl disappeared” yet years after his father’s passing, Dario would find these letters, innocent yet desperate in their worry for the girl’s “little nightingale in a cage”

Amsterdam and The Boatkeeper’s Daughter are simply the tip of the iceberg for Dario, who is highly prolific and indubitably multi-faceted, despite receiving very little support for his artistic and intellectual abilities. “When my father came back from the war, he started up a business and from a very young age, he put me to work.” A little know fact is that Dario’s father was involved with the early munufacture of potato crisps; “At the age of five, my job was to fill the little blue bags of crisps with salt.” Dario also had very little formal schooling; at the age of eight and a half, “the hard work was affecting my health, so my father sent me to the live with Tuscan farmers near the Carrara Mountains.”

Dario got lost in Paris on his way there, a fortuitous occurrence, since the train he was meant to be on derailed, killing many passengers. It was not the first time he would strike it lucky: “In numerology, my number is 19, a very lucky number and luck has always accompanied me.” Tuscany would make a man out of the boy, boosting Dario’s self-confidence and sense of invincibility. He says, “I lived like Huckleberry Finn, with no shoes… I learned to fight, to ride horses, to handle tough mules and reptiles. I grew strong and when I came back home, my father didn’t recognise me!”

In addition to owing a food wholesale business, his hardworking father set up a restaurant. In between serving customers, Dario gave in to his greatest passion aside from art: reading. “Perhaps because I was not allowed to study, I was obsessed with learning. I would read morning, noon and night and by the time I was 14 I had read the complete works of Tolstoy. To this day, I haven’t stopped studying.” The hours of reading paid off: Dario has written illustrated books and articles for prestigious magazines, mostly centred around enigmatic figures of literature and history: Nostradamus, Mark Twain, and Mozart are just a few subjects of his writings.

He says that if he could have met one historical figure, it would probably be Leonardo Da Vinci: “Like me, he was very comfortable functioning in a multi-faceted frame of mind. Like this artist, I am a humanist. I like to stand up against all forms of bullying: of the physical, mental and even commercial kind. I consider myself an anarchist because I have studied most kinds of political systems, art and philosophy there is and I never stop analyisng what is going on in the world from a practical and spiritual point of view.” Dario also learned music, thanks to the grace of his neighbour: “Maestro Gasparini was one of the most famous celloists of the time; he used to play music to me when I was sick and when I improved, he taught me the basics of music.”

Dario tells me of one work he has kept, to this day, preserved in perfect state: a mural representing the Apocalypse, painted during quiet times at his father’s restaurant over a formica wall. “Formica is a difficult surface because it is so slippery, but I was determined to complete that painting. It was as if I was rebelling against my father, by showing him that despite his failure to support my education or interest in the arts, I would not succumb.” The painting is impressive in its scope and technique, far beyond the abilities of a 15-year-old, completely self-taught artist working with the wrong materials. A renowned painter from Florence, intrigued by what he identified as genius in this young man, offered him the chance to study art with him in Florence, though once again, Dario’s father put a stop to this ambitious plan.

When Dario was 17, he opened his own restaurant in Leicester with all the money he had saved over the years; its walls were graced with guitars and Dario would play the guitar for guests, many of whom walked over from across the road, where the Haymarket Theatre stood. One guest would change the course of his life: Engelbert Humperdinck’s brother, who invited Dario to play music with him in the Isle of Mann. Eventually, Dario and his sister Delia formed the duo Two of a Kind, and were joint winners of a prestigious competition held by ATV televison and performing alongside a plethora of international stars, including Buddy Greco, Olivia Newton-John, Julie Felix, Bruce Forsythe, Dave Allen and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Dario has also co-written the musical Lady X and The Power of Destiny (based on the life of Princess Diana) and he was the brainchild of Marbella, Marbella, the anthem of the recent campaign to boost Marbella’s image and to counter the bad press the Coast had received during the height of the crisis.

Dario has been described by award-winning Photographer, Paul Chave, as “a combination of Edvard Munch, Dali and William Blake,” and although there is something ethereal in his art, he is above all a humanist, fuelled by the unrelenting need to fight against injustice. Riding high with his plans for his latest musical, he says, “I can feel the excitement soaring within me and every day, I get one step closer to getting it produced.” For Dario, the most harmful words in the English language would have to be “Seeing is believing,” for the essence of magic resides precisely in what we cannot see. “People may say that I cannot achieve the dream of producing a musical in Holland and I say, ‘Just watch me’!”.


Copywrite Essential Magazine Marbella May 2015.

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