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Thread: What Do You Think of Mario Lanza?

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    Senior Member Bellinilover's Avatar
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    Default What Do You Think of Mario Lanza?

    I guess this could be considered a spinoff to the "popera/fake opera" thread. Mario Lanza was way before my time, and I always got the impression that "genuine opera people" sneer at his operatic repertoire, which he sang in Hollywood movies. (I am aware that Lanza initially trained as an opera singer and sang a couple of complete roles onstage.) Yesterday I was on Youtube listening to his OTELLO excerpts -- "Dio ti goicondi" (with Licia Albanese, who sounded past her prime) and Otello's Monologue, from a 1955 movie. I thought they were both pretty good -- much better than I thought they were going to be. Then I played those same pieces on Placido Domingo's 1978 OTELLO recording (which I've known for a long time), and the differences were obvious: Domingo's voice was bigger than Lanza's, his span of breath longer, his tone more consistent in quality, his Italian pronunciation better. By comparison, Lanza definitely sounded like an operetta tenor singing Otello. He made a good stab at it, and he certainly seemed to know what the words meant -- but to my ears it's not "opera singing." Yet Lanza's fans, or some of them, seem to want to claim "true opera" status for him (someone on Youtube even called Domingo "a hack"!). My question, I guess, is this: knowing what you do about authentic opera singers (i.e. people with years of training in classical voice technique, music theory, languages, etc., who make their living singing complete operatic roles onstage), do you enjoy listening to Lanza, or singers like him, in opera selections? I'd especially like to hear from people who actually remember Lanza when he was alive and making films, or who first came to know opera through "Hollywood opera" singers like Lanza, Jeannette MacDonald, etc. I'd like to add that to me Lanza sounds more like an "opera singer" than, say, Andrea Bocelli does, so I'm not sure whether or not to lump him in with today's "popera" stars.

    Edited to add: Here's the "Dio ti giocondi" with Lanza and Albanese...
    http://www.youtube.com/results?searc...+giocondi&sm=3
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Dec-08-2013 at 03:57. Reason: to add link

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    There is a disc jockey for the classical radio station KUSC in California named Jim Svejda. In one of his books, he tells of one of his favorite party tricks. He will corner one of his friends who is an opera fan and ask for his friend's opinion about this new opera tenor he has discovered. Then Mr. Svejda would punch the play button on his CD player and they would listen to an aria sung by Mario Lanza. Invariably, Mr. Svejda writes, the opera fan will be very enthusiastic about the promise heard in this young singer's voice.

    I have also heard Mr. Svejda say on the radio that Mario Lanza was the boyhood hero of both Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavorotti.

    I think Mario Lanza is one of the great "What ifs?" in American opera history. One can fantasize about what his voice would have sounded like if he had continued with serious voice training. I don't think we can get too angry that he didn't because he made the choice to use his talents and good looks in making more money in Hollywood. Mostly one can fantasize about what if he had not died so early.

    I believe Mario Lanza was born in America in an Italian immigrant family. I would imagine that he did indeed understand what the words in an Italian aria meant. I would also imagine that his Italian pronunciation would be far superior to most Americans.

    Since Mario Lanza didn't live long enough to have devoted "years of training in classical voice technique, music theory, languages, etc." Or since he never did make his living singing complete operatic roles onstage. I would agree that one wouldn't want to claim "true opera status" for him. Nevertheless, your original question was "Do you enjoy listening to Lanza in opera selections?" I do.

    But I also have to admit that I seem to listen to singers in a different way than you do, Bellinilover. You have had some voice training yourself and you will analyze a performance in a way in which I am not capable. If you can accept Mario Lanza for what he was, there might be some more pleasure to be gained in listening even to some of his songs which were not opera selections.
    Last edited by Roland; Dec-08-2013 at 02:19.

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    Good reply, Roland. That's a very interesting story about the disc jockey. You capture my feelings exactly when you say that, as far as opera is concerned, Lanza was one of the great "what ifs." On the other hand, I really dislike it when critics go on and on about how much of a "greater artist" this or that singer could have been if only he/she had just done this or that or sung in this way rather than that way. A critic did that once in a retrospective article on one of my favorite opera singers, and it made me very angry that he couldn't just appreciate this singer for what he was. Such articles always come off, to me, as arrogant, cranky, and beside the point.

    Generally, I believe that singers should stick to the repertory that suits them best, even if it's not opera. I don't believe there's anything inherently superior about operatic music, and in fact my first love was (and in some ways still is) the Broadway musical and classic American popular song. My reaction to Lanza singing operatic selections, like the OTELLO scena above, is one of, "Interesting, but I'd rather hear Domingo (or Vickers, etc.)." His voice wasn't really up to Otello, but then it's the most strenuous tenor role in Italian opera. I mean, how many genuine opera tenors can or will ever be able to sing it? Relatively few.

    Jose Carreras is another one who got interested in singing via Lanza; I think he said he saw THE GREAT CARUSO several times when young. I can easily imagine that movies like that one, with their rather elaborately staged opera scenes, would enthrall people who'd never seen an opera before.

    So, Lanza singing Otello was on the whole better than I expected it would be. Now, Andrea Bocelli singing "A te, o cara" from I PURITANI...for me that was a truly painful experience!
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Dec-08-2013 at 03:56.

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    It was "The Great Caruso" that got me into opera and probably quite a few people.
    Fools talk because they have to say something, wise men talk because they have something to say.

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    What an interesting thread. I cannot answer the serious question, but you have brought back some memories for me.

    I am of an age when I can remember adults enthusing wistfully about Mario Lanza - they were not 'opera buffs', but there were a lot more classically minded people in 1950s/early 60s Britain as a result of the legacy of Lord Reith's BBC; and I now have Lanza's voice on a compilation cd, a fine voice, but the expression he gives to the words not exactly operatic.

    It seems he did a useful job as a 'bridge' for 'ordinary' lovers of classical music which could lead them on to greater things. I remember his name because of its poetic sound & also for the air of sadness that accompanied its pronunciation - I see he died in 1959 so the references I remember must be from when he was recently dead. Beniamino Giglio was another poetic name / sad ambience for a child who didn't understand death: we had him on a 78 singing 'Santa Lucia'!

    Edit: Sorry, too many o's! - Gigli - thanks, moody!
    Last edited by Ingélou; Dec-08-2013 at 16:20. Reason: mistake with singer's name
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    Lanza was trained as an opera singer and before Hollywood beckoned, he toured around the United States as a member of the
    Bel Canto Trio. The other two members were Frances Yeend and George London. Two very gifted singers who went onto long careers at the NYCO/MET and the MET and Europe. I doubt that Lanza would have been discovered by Hollywood had he only a microphone voice to offer. He was the genuine article, but decided to follow a different path.
    By the time he came to record the Otello excepts, he had picked up so many tricks of vocal production that were very popular then - the tear in the voice, ect" that his singing is sometimes a little strange to modern ears.
    Instead of listening to Domingo(too modern) as comparison, try listening to Del Monaco, who was the Otello of the post-war era, or Ramon Vinay who sang it for Toscanini, or even Martinelli, the dominant pre-war Otello. Lanza will not sound so out of place.
    He was an undisciplined artist and renowned for laziness. His reluctance to appear on the operatic stage to sing once he had become famous stem from this.
    Once he had sung all the operetta "Student Prince" and such, his technique had changed somewhat and seemed less authentic for opera.
    Anyway, he was a "one-off" and whatever anyone else may say, he was a great singer.
    Last edited by Pip; Dec-08-2013 at 14:41.

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    A beautiful voice, and a spontaneous, engaging way of singing. His appeal was not only limited to Domingo, Pavarotti or Carreras. It's still alive today:



    Otello was not a real fit for him. He was much better suited to this other role, for instance:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB0jORbXkbk

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    I like Mario Lanza a lot. He helped to bring opera to a wider audience through cinema.

    Unfortunately he died to soon.

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    I admire the singing when I hear him but I'm not a fan. What a waste of talent. The movies he starred in are Hollywood kitsch at it's worst, pictures that exploit his looks and voice, without which they would be nothing but one of many cheap, forgotten (or remembered as pinnacles of bad taste) melodramas from that age of movie industry. It's sad he went that way, and stories like that of Carreras being inspired by Great Caruso as child don't change anything - ultimately, it was power of the music that got them into opera, not the awful movies that included it.

    Imagine that Callas or Netrebko or other charismatic singer never sung at the Met or Scala, never made any complete opera recording, only starred in similiary exploitative movies that had nothing except her looks and voice to elevate the rest and thus everything we got from her are couple of operatic cliches and some Neapolitan/Broadway repertoire. Sounds like pretty bad scenario. Well, this is what happened with Lanza.
    Last edited by Aramis; Dec-08-2013 at 15:26.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ingélou View Post
    What an interesting thread. I cannot answer the serious question, but you have brought back some memories for me.

    I am of an age when I can remember adults enthusing wistfully about Mario Lanza - they were not 'opera buffs', but there were a lot more classically minded people in 1950s/early 60s Britain as a result of the legacy of Lord Reith's BBC; and I now have Lanza's voice on a compilation cd, a fine voice, but the expression he gives to the words not exactly operatic.

    It seems he did a useful job as a 'bridge' for 'ordinary' lovers of classical music which could lead them on to greater things. I remember his name because of its poetic sound & also for the air of sadness that accompanied its pronunciation - I see he died in 1959 so the references I remember must be from when he was recently dead. Beniamino Giglio was another poetic name / sad ambience for a child who didn't understand death: we had him on a 78 singing 'Santa Lucia'!
    Beniamino Gigli is the name and he was quite wonderful,he broke the rules but could get away with it.
    Fools talk because they have to say something, wise men talk because they have something to say.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dionisio View Post
    I like Mario Lanza a lot. He helped to bring opera to a wider audience through cinema.

    Unfortunately he died to soon.
    He died through over indulgence and was an unpleasant violent man.
    Fools talk because they have to say something, wise men talk because they have something to say.

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    Pip: I have Ramon Vinay singing "Niun mi tema" from OTELLO on a compilation Verdi CD and just got it out again. Yes, his timbre and style are closer to Lanza's than Domingo's are -- with Vinay the voice is a little lighter, the emotion a bit more overt.

    I'm currently reading a book published in 2004 called American Opera Singers and Their Recordings, which has made me realize that there were some American singers who were sort of the opposite of Lanza in that they had full operatic training and big Met careers, during which they went to Hollywood. For example:


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellinilover View Post
    Pip: I have Ramon Vinay singing "Niun mi tema" from OTELLO on a compilation Verdi CD and just got it out again. Yes, his timbre and style are closer to Lanza's than Domingo's are -- with Vinay the voice is a little lighter, the emotion a bit more overt.

    I'm currently reading a book published in 2004 called American Opera Singers and Their Recordings, which has made me realize that there were some American singers who were sort of the opposite of Lanza in that they had full operatic training and big Met careers, during which they went to Hollywood. For example:

    Yes Tibbett was very big in Hollywood from 1930 to 1936 then he was quietly phased out as his popularity as a movie star waned quite quickly. When one see some of his films, one can understand why. He was the ultimate stage actor but never quite came to terms with the camera. however his 1931 NEW MOON with Grace Moore was really great. It was remade with McDonald and Eddy and the original disappeared. The 1935 METROPOLITAN is the best of them - a typical from nowhere to fame, then the fall and then the rise again, showcased Tibbett as the great acting singer that he was. The movie preserves him singing the Pagliacci (above) ,but also Largo al Factotum and Votre Toast from Carmen, there is also a crazy snippet of him singing "Alerte!" from Faust while repairing a car, and a spiritual "De glory road".
    great movie, but very difficult to find. I got my copy from TCM in the USA. also the others.
    The one Tibbett film that has disappeared without trace was The Rogue Song. Made in 1930 for MGM in Colour! and with Laurel and Hardy. only parts of the soundtrack have been preserved.
    This all deserves to be on another thread.

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    I love Lanza. He's one of the main reasons why I got into opera in the first place. I'm not a huge fan of the English stuff he did with that mock-Italian accent but when he does proper opera I'm all there. The passion, the soul, everything.

    Speaking of party trick, I like playing his "Improviso" from "Andrea Chenier", that he did when he was 31, to opera buffs without saying who's singing. 9 out of 10 are suitably impressed, even more so when I say what age he was when doing it. When I say it's Mario Lanza 10 out of 10 are surprised.



    A lot of people think "movie tenor" when they hear his name - which I think is fairly unfair. I love "The Great Caruso" and the arias he does there. It's not like he just did "Be my love" and all that stuff. When I was in San Francisco a couple of years ago I met a guy in his, I'm guessing, 80s. He said, "My favourite movie in the whole world came out long before either of you were born - you've probably not even heard of it..." and when he said "The Great Caruso" I couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe I knew it. As it turns out, he was around when Lanza was and we basically spent the rest of the evening talking about him. And the film.

    I mean, think about it for a moment... he went on tours with George London. Would someone like George London even entertain being heard alongside a second rate tenor? This stuff about Lanza not having a big enough voice is - in my humble opinion - pure ********. Besides, who says you have to have a voice the size of a mountain as long as you've got significant resonance. It's, after all, resonance that carries. Look at Jonas Kaufmann. He doesn't have a big voice but I can still hear him at the back of a theatre. I've done it. Twice. Apparently Jussi Björling didn't have a huge voice either - but you heard him fairly well too.

    Also, the Artistic Director of the Rome Opera, Riccardo Vitale, offered Lanza the role of Canio in "Pagliacci" in the theatre's 1960/61 season. He also received offers from the management of La Scala (apparently "Andrea Chenier"!) and San Carlo opera houses. Would La Scala really entertain hiring him for anything if he didn't have a voice that carried? La Scala is, what, 3000 seats?

    What people tend to forget also is that Lanza was 38 when he died in 1958. Imagine if he'd had another 7 years or so to develop. Imagine what he could have sounded like at, say, 50.

    Getting off the soap box now

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    My first real introduction to operatic music was when my father took me to see The Great Caruso in the mid-50s, and then afterwards every other theatrical re-release of his other movies. An opera enthusiast who studied singing, my father knew about opera and was impressed by Lanza's voice, although he always lamented that he needed more training to become a theatrical opera tenor, which is what he was obviously born to be. Someone described his voice as a column: unwavering and uniform from the bottom to the top of the tessitura. This was no mere movie tenor but potentially one of the opera greats lost in movieland. Maybe he lacked discipline and I understand he always lamented not training fully for and following an operatic career. A biography of his written by one of his frequent conductors and read by me long ago mentions that he followed London's career wistfully and expressed regret at not having gone that same route. It also mentions his alcoholism and similarly dangerous bing eating.

    One evening, returning home from the movies (not one of his - that would have been too much of a coincidence), I found the evening newspaper on the doorstep and showed the headline to my parents: Lanza dead at 38. I even remember it was September 1959, although my memory is failing. My father was incredibly bitter at this fate. He never forgot it and I learned to avoid the subject in his presence. He became incensed at anyone who would belittle Lanza's voice and form. And there were a few of those even back then, but he was very very popular among serious opera loves.

    That was the impact of Mario Lanza on a generation, and it's not just sentimentalism or nostalgia. Believe me, he could sing arias.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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