> Mario Lanza [RJF]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Mario LANZA (tenor) (1921-1959)
Songs and arias from "The Great Caruso" and "The Toast Of New Orleans"

1 RIGOLETTO (Verdi): Questa o quella
2. RIGOLETTO (Verdi): La donna e mobile
3. RIGOLETTO (Verdi): Ella mi fu rapita
4. LA TRAVIATA (Verdi): Brindisi - Libiamo, libiamo
5. MARTA (Flotow): M’appari tutt'amor
6. CARMEN (Bizet): La fleur que tu m'avais jetée (The Flower Song)
7. L’ELISIR d’AMORE (Donizetti): Una furtiva lagrima
8. LA GIOCONDA (Ponchielli): Cielo e mar!
9. L’AFRICANA (Meyerbeer): O paradiso!
10. TOSCA (Puccini): Recondita armonia
11. TOSCA (Puccini): E lucevan le stelle
12. I PAGLIACCI (Leoncavallo):Vesti la giubba
13. MADAMA BUTTERFLY (Puccini): Love duet
14. AIDA (Verdi): Se quell guerriero io fossi!... Celeste Aida
15. Mamma mia, che vo'sape (Nutile)
16. The Loveliest Night of the Year (Aaronson)
17. The Bayou Lullaby (Brodsky)
18. Be My Love (Brodsky)
19 Lolita (Peccia)
20 Granada (Lara)
RCA. Victor Orchestra, Cond. Constantine Callinicos and Ray Sinatra (tr17-20).
Rec. 1949-1951. Produced and transferred by Roger Beardsley.
PEARL (Pavilion Records) GEM 0182 [73.33]

The spring of 2002 has seen much discussion in the UK’s distinguished 'Opera Magazine', and elsewhere since the 'Brit Award' to populist 'opera' singer Russell Watson. What is the difference between such artists and those who might truly claim the designation by virtue of performing in complete operas on stage rather than merely singing arias from operas. Certainly many of the populist singers do not have the vocal equipment to fill a moderate sized hall without amplification let alone an opera house, and as to having the vocal stamina to last a complete performance, no chance! Such arguments are not new and often raged around the singer featured on this disc.

Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia in the year Caruso died, the young boy was brought up on a diet of the legendary tenor by his mother whose name he adopted. Lanza was 'discovered', at least for the first time, by the renowned Russian born conductor Koussevitsky in 1940, but his really big break came in 1947 when he substituted for Ferruccio Tagliavini at a Hollywood Bowl Concert. MGM offered a contract and Lanza became one of the biggest stars of Hollywood. This easy access to big money and fame was not conducive to the discipline of vocal training that might have turned his natural tenor into a decent, proper, opera singer, In the event drink and drugs, as well as being pursued by the taxman, brought a premature death in Rome where he had retreated in pursuit of a more laid-back lifestyle. It was in Rome that he made his last two films.

This collection shows Lanza's strengths and weaknesses. His singing always had a huge emotional input and in some of the classical operatic arias featured here it is laid on with an inappropriately heavy trowel. This gives an emotional intensity far beyond what was intended to be conveyed (tr7). The tone is often squeezed and only rarely do we hear a phrase caressed or treated to 'mezza voce'. The start of tr8, 'Cielo e mar' from Ponchielli's La Gioconda illustrates what might have been given self-discipline and decent training. Whilst the open-throated tone of the voice is not displeasing, one longs for smoothness of legato and less over-held high notes. The contribution of the fluttery Elaine Malbin to tracks 4 and 13 is a drawback.

In the populist field Lanza found his true metier. In tr16 he lightens his tone to a very effective near, but pure, croon. With good arrangements and choral backing it would have been better if more of this disc had had been based around this repertoire. That being said, those of a certain age who gloried in Lanza as 'The Great Caruso' will find much to justify the cost, and in 'Be My Love' (tr18) and 'Granada' (tr20). which get the full Lanza treatment of emotional communication and held high notes, they can glory in nostalgia and hang the purists who worry too much about 'proper' opera singers; mea culpa.

The recording sounds well albeit with some mild distortion on some of the operatic tracks. The playing time is generous and the booklet note rather sycophantic.

Robert J Farr

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