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Teaching Italian Diction to High School Musical Theatre Students

My colleague and I plan to produce and direct the beautiful musical "The Light in the Piazza" next school year.  While many of the cast will likely be my choral students who have some exposure to learning foreign language diction, a notable percentage will likely not (yet) be part of the choral program.
I am asking for collective help in gathering ideas and resources to teach Italian diction for both the sung and spoken lines for all of the actors.  Only two roles are "English speakers" and the rest will play roles as native Italians, so the students must learn to feel comfortable with the lines and sound authentic - without a Minnesotan accent.
Another beautiful part of the show is how the characters come together despite their language challenges.  Consequently, I am also looking for suggestions to help my students to speak English with thick Italian accents for much of the show.
While we will not be teaching the Italian language, I would think that learning the meaning of several words and phrases would be useful just to interact on stage.  I would love your suggestions as to which words and phrases (and their meanings) you would recommend.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Ken Ahlberg
on April 22, 2014 9:14am
I would suggest that, before auditions,  you have a little session focusing on the abilities of our best gifts for diction; The tongue, lips, and teeth.  (Yes, there will be jokes, but, ... you know you can smile and move right on...)
Have them relax  their jaw - just slightly, not pushing it down, just opening.   Point the tongue to the mouth-roof (palate) just behind the upper teeth.
Try "Deck the Halls" or a "fa-la-ing' song they know.  Have them gently touch their jaw.  The object of the game is to stay relaxed, and sing clearly, but not "waggle" the jaw.   If they are succesful, move on.  If some are not, have them look at each other - try to pair those successful with those still working at it -  and try it again.  Many folks are quite unaware of how much they over-chew their jaw.  Practice in the mirror!
I'm not familiar with the score, but see if you can get them into the habit of replacing the "r" with a tongue-forward "d" - again, with little/no jaw movement.  "Cara" ("dear") becomes ""cada" - with tongue very forward.  In general, Italian consonants are pronounced with the tongue very forward, almost touching the top teeth, as I'm sure you know.
Work with the timing of dipthings.  (As a choral person, you are likely aware of this already, but are they?)  "L-ah-ah-ah - eet", rather than "Lah-e-e-e-T".
Give them access to a few pages of "Singer's Italian" by Evelina Colorni , or perhaps other Italian diction books.  "Singer's Italian" has a chart {in the back, or middle ?}  of English-to Italian spelling/pronunciation rules which is handy - they could look up their lines/lyrics. 
Those who wish to be actors, might be well-reminded that Madeline Marshall's, "Singer's Manual of English Diction" is often used by professional actors. (Funny  book, very practical, cheap on E-bay or Amazon.}  Many of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols in there are the same as Italian - so one sound doubles - we just have to connect the spelling.
Many actors have good imitative ears.  Play them some Pavorotti and Domingo - the slower, lower ones where they can analyze the sounds.  ("Una furtiva Lagrima"  and suchlike.)
Buon "Show-issimo"
on April 29, 2014 6:24am
A word or two to use:  "Ecco" (this, or thus, or such) helps reinforce the double consonant sounds that are frequent in Italian. 
"Grazie"  (thank you)  reinforce the italian R and light ending vowels. 
"Allora" (untranslatable emphatic but very common) to show that many words just don't quite match english
on April 29, 2014 6:46am
After I posted the above, looked again at "ecco" online:  here's a great post for this multi-faceted word:
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