Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Remembering Tenor, Mario Lanza - The Man and "The Voice"

I was watching The Great Caruso on Turner Classic Movies this morning and I was reminded about how much I enjoyed Mario Lanza's voice while I was growing up. He was one of my mother's favorites and he's always been one of mine. On one hand it's a shame that his Hollywood career prevented him from having the opera career that I think he deserved but on the other hand if it hadn't been for his Hollywood career many people like me might never have developed a love for opera. Evidently a lot of opera singers felt the same way as me about Lanza's voice. Here is an interesting passage about Lanza's influence on others from Wiki.

A highly influential artist, Lanza has been credited with inspiring successive generations of opera singers, including Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Leo Nucci and José Carreras, as well as singers with seemingly different backgrounds and influences, his RCA Victor label-mate Elvis Presley being the most notable example. In 1994, tenor José Carreras paid tribute to Lanza in a worldwide concert tour, saying of him, "If I'm an opera singer, it's thanks to Mario Lanza."[2] Carreras' colleague Plácido Domingo echoed these comments in a 2009 CBS interview when he stated that, "Lanza's passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera. I actually owe my love for opera thanks to a kid from Philadelphia."[3]

More praise for Lanza came from Enrico Caruso, Jr.

In 1951, Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso, which proved an astonishing success, though it did not adhere to the facts of Caruso's life. At the same time, Lanza's increasing popularity exposed him to intense criticism by some music critics, including those who had praised his work years earlier. Nevertheless, Lanza's performance earned him compliments from the subject's own son, Enrico Caruso Jr., a tenor in his own right. Shortly before his death in 1987, Enrico Jr. wrote in Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family (posthumously published by Amadeus in 1990) that, "I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography. [...] Mario Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct." He went on to praise Lanza's tempi and phrasing, "flawless" diction, and "impassioned" delivery, adding that, "All are qualities that few singers are born with and others can never attain." In conclusion, he wrote that, "Lanza excelled in both the classical and the light popular repertory, an accomplishment that was beyond even my father's exceptional talents."

Here is my all time favorite Mario Lanza recordings of Vesti la giubba. I wore out my mother's 78 record of Lanza singing this aria from the opera Pagliacci written and composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. What a voice! What emotion! What power!

Another one of my favorite Lanza performances was of him singing the popular song Be My Love. Although it's not opera it shows that Lanza was just as comfortable singing the songs of the day as he was an aria. This song, like Vesti la giubba, sends chills up and down my spine. What a shame he died so young (he died 50 years ago today at the age 38.).

Mario Lanza singing another one of my favorites - Una Furtiva Lagrima (L'elisir d'amore).

Here's Lanza singing Questa O Quella from Rigoletto

And finally Lanza singing La donna e mobile.

Thank you Mr. Lanza for the many, many years of enjoyment you gave us. We only wish you could have stayed with us a little while longer. But, while you may longer be with us, as we would like, thanks to the recordings and movies you did - the voice lives on.

**If you're a Mario Lanza fan like me you will want to stop by the Lanza Legend website and post a comment on their message forum or just go there to read all of the interesting comments that others are making about him today on the 50th anniversary of his death. They also have many other Lanza related items on this site that are well worth checking out.

***I would also recommend reading a wonderful piece about Lanza that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer this past Sunday.

Mario Lanza still has the greatest high C

A South Philadelphian is as enthralled today as he was more than 50 years ago

The piece was written by Orlando R. Barone. Evidently Mr. Barone and I were both introduced to Lanza through his Vesti la giubba recording. Here is a snippet.

Aside from a handful of movie musicals, Lanza left us a vast recorded legacy, and in the YouTube era you have no excuse for not having heard this astonishing tenor.

Search "Lanza, 'Golden Days,' " and experience the sweetest voice that can fairly be called masculine, along with the most masculine high notes you'll ever hear.

Follow it up with that million-seller, "Be My Love," and learn what a high C should sound like. By now you'll notice his English diction is as good as Ella Fitzgerald's, his voice is placed perfectly, and the excess of talent is very nearly unimaginable.

Now, try these: "Song of India," "The Lord's Prayer," and "Because." Next, listen to "Vesti la Giuba," my introduction to Mario. By then, quite possibly, the sheer power and beauty of Lanza's incomparable voice will have enthralled you as it did that awestruck 8-year-old boy more than a half-century ago.