MARIO LANZA

(Born Philadelphia 1921 d. Rome 1959)

 

                                                    

Life

 

Mario Lanza was born on 31 January 1921, in Philadelphia, a baby son to a humble family of Italian migrants. At nineteen years of age, the sport-minded Lanza took singing lessons from Irene Williams and went on to take perfection courses, held annually at the Tangle Wood Festival in Massachusetts .

 

Under contract to RCA Victor, Lanza interrupted a recording career to join the services. After his leave in 1945, he married Betty Hicks, moved to New York and started a lucky career, replacing Jan Peerce in a radio transmission, during summer. Thanks to a rich mentor, Sam Weiler, he continued perfecting his voice under the celebrated teacher Enrico Rosati and great Maestro Grant Garnell. This led him to a series of successful exhibitions and recitals especially at the Grant Park in Chicago .

 

Lanza's activities became frantic as he appeared as a singer in a TV series sponsored by the famous producer Louis B. Mayer. The stress he was put through grew daily. After his debut in ‘That Midnight Kiss', the next film was ‘The Toast of New Orleans' in 1950, where he sang the famous and popular ‘Be My Love'.

 

Since childhood years, Lanza had idolized Caruso and emotionally insisted that his next film be on his idol's life. ‘The Great Caruso' was made in 1951 and gave Lanza the opportunity to sing 15 of Caruso's arias. The success was such that the nickname ‘Caruso's heir' echoed everywhere. The sale of his records went through the roof.

 

The Teatro alla Scala, Milan, wanted to contract him for Tosca in the 1952 inaugural operatic season, so did Covent Garden for Otello in 1960 and Teatro dell'Opera di Roma for Pagliacci in the same year. During the early 50s, Lanza was heavily engaged in making films, concert tours and declined the Milan 's offer, to the best of our knowledge.


Forty five years after his sudden death on 7 October 1959, due to a fatal slimming cure in Rome, Mario Lanza is forever venerated by a limitless number of enthusiastic fans. Fan clubs and web sites have emerged in many countries: England, Germany, United States,
Hungary, New Zealand, Australia and even Russia.

 

 

Voice

 

Mario Lanza is unique for pathos and emotional involvement in all categories of the musical form: ballad, song, operetta and grand opera. Mother Nature sensationally provided him with an extraordinary voice, a human machine capable of emitting sound effortlessly, supported by an exquisite colour, extension and powerful drive. The timbre has the particular gift of reaching the listener's heart and involving him completely (Audio 2).

 

A great vocal characteristic is the uniform sound emitted with the five vowels in any note of the pentagram. Such effect is noticeable when Lanza sings in English, his adopted tongue. Overall, his Italian diction is almost perfect but at times the tendency to double the consonants is there as with all singers of Anglo-Saxon origin. He is capable of elevating a high C by a semitone with natural ease. The squillo is pure silver, brilliant and penetrating.

 

A notable vocal characteristic is passing from one vocal register to another very smoothly. The people, who listened to this unique and splendid singer live, recall having heard a tenore lirico-spinto's great voice, which filled the places where he appeared (there were 18000 spectators at the Hollywood Bowl in 1948), much more beautiful and ringing than that heard through his films and recordings.

 

Without doubt, the technique had improved and the voice matured by the mid 50s, when Lanza was 35 years of age. He came to the threshold of becoming an accomplished tenore lirico-drammatico and taking on the operatic world by storm. A refined approach to role interpretation and complete vocality for the inhuman tessitura of Otello were ready for the challenge. His superb rendition of Niun mi tema in the finale of Otello is indisputably a proven testimony (Audio 5).  

 

 

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Lanza as Otello 

 

Audio files 

 

Audio 1 For you alone (Geehl) sung by Mario Lanza in 1951

 

Audio 2 The Lord's Prayer (Malotte) sung by Mario Lanza in 1951

 

Audio 3 La donna è mobile (RIGOLETTO) sung by Mario Lanza in 1950

 

Audio 4 Recondita armonia (TOSCA) sung by Mario Lanza in 1950

 

Audio 5 Niun mi tema (OTELLO) sung by Mario Lanza in 1959

 

 

 

Acknowledgment

 

The photos are published by courtesy of Mario's son Damon Lanza and Bob Dolfi, Esqs.

I am grateful to Roberto Scandurra for private discussions on the tenor's vocality.

   

Links

 

Mario Lanza's official International web site is

www.lanzalegend.com/ or www.mariolanza.com

 

Mario Lanza's official Italian web site is www.mariolanza.it

 

 

 

(j.f.)

 

 

 

Recalls archive >>

 

 

 
 
 

 

 



Opera is a spectacular art form combining music, action and words, where the comedy or drama is enhanced by the words, sung in the original or other language. Instrumental works draw great attention and delight from the sound of the music alone but opera has a triple edge advantage: Music, action and words sung by the human voice, the supreme instrument.

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