Mario Lanza

31 January 1921 Philadelphia – 7 October 1959 Rome

Picture of Mario Lanza promoting smoking
Mario Lanza promotes smoking

Mario Lanza singsTurandot: Nessun dorma

Mario Lanza singsIl trovatore: Di quella pira
In RA format

Mario Lanza imitates Giovanni Martinelliin Martha: M'apparì
In RA format
Simply fantastic!!!!
Lanza's stage career
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor – Tanglewood Festival, 7 August 1942
Madama Butterfly – New Orleans Opera, 8/10 April 1948

Mario Lanza uses to be frowned upon by opera lovers. His entry in Kutsch/Riemens is an invective that has no equal in that entire huge encyclopedia. François Nouvion, on this site, filed him under "fringe tenors".

I beg to differ. True, he had hardly any stage career (see above), he was a movie star, he impersonated The great Caruso, also vocally, without being Caruso (surprise!), he lacked musical finesse, and his diva-like behavior made working with him close to impossible, at times. But allegations that he had no voice at all are simply unfounded. When making his stage debut at the Tanglewood Festival in 1942 (when he was not even faintly famous, and light years away from Hollywood), he got rave reviews in Opera News and in the New York Times ("has few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power" – yes, power); he toured North America with Frances Yeend and George London for ten months in 1947/48 as the Belcanto Trio, giving 86 concerts (and though many objections can be made against George London, he certainly had a very large voice); Licia Albanese, who recorded with him for one of his films and who had heard all the stories that he was unable to sing even a single aria in one piece, ended up very impressed: "He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. ... Vocally he was very secure. All he needed was coaching." Enrico Rosati, the teacher of Beniamino Gigli and much later also of Lanza, qualified him "one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard". To sum it up, the disdain of the operatic community towards Lanza has to do with conceit, not with Lanza's voice.

Born Alfredo Cocozza to Italian immigrants, he was very early interested in opera (a good deal of the stories about "Lanza the piano mover" were marketing ploys by his later management), and participated in amateur performances at the YMCA as a teenager. He studied voice early on with Irene Williams, and made that Tanglewood debut at age 21. But then he had to join the US Army and fight WWII. After the war, he worked with Rosati and sang in concerts and on the radio, and two performances of Madama Butterfly in New Orleans, again to excellent reviews, in sharp contrast to Kutsch & Riemens who call his Pinkerton "unsuccessful" (St. Louis News, 9 April 1948: "Rarely have we seen a more superbly romantic leading tenor. His exceptionally beautiful voice helps immeasurably.")

Then he was, however, lost to opera. A Hollywood Bowl concert in 1947 had earned him a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he became the star that he still is, with all the devastating effects on his personality (capriciousness, alcoholism, bulimia, alternated with crash dieting, and ensuing vocal problems). In 1957, he moved to Rome. He prepared for a return to the operatic stage and had a contract with the Rome Opera to sing Canio in the 1960/61 season. But after another of his crash diets, he died (lung embolism was the cause, ruined general health the reason) at age 38.

Reference 1, reference 2, reference 3: Kutsch & Riemens

I wish to thank Stephen Wall for the picture.
Two good websites on Mario Lanza: one managed by Roberto Scandurra, the other one by Jeff Rense.

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