I have always
regarded Mario Lanza as a tremendously gifted singer whose
promise of a great career was only partly fulfilled; if
one looks at him from a strictly operatic point of view,
that is. His commercial success was of course enormous,
but mainly in the field of light music. Luckily he recorded;
and performed at his concerts quite a lot of operatic material.
Nobody can deny that his was in many ways an exceptional
voice; or rather, two voices. The first was the honeyed
crooner; the second the gleaming Heldentenor. Of these two
the crooner is actually easier to take, since he is, in
this repertoire, as utterly natural as, say, Bing Crosby,
while in operatic tenor mode, singing very often at a constant
forte, he can become tiring. Of course his was a fine voice,
steady and with perfect high notes, but quite often he forces
and seldom does he colour his voice for added expression.
This doesn’t mean that he is mechanical. Like Mario Del
Monaco he can sing with great intensity and affection, as
in Song of India. The Serenade
from The Student Prince is also good and it seems
that the better the music is, the more he delivers. In Golden
Days he demonstrates a fine half-voice and Because
You’re Mine is sweetly caressed. “Sweet” doesn’t, in
this case, mean “sugary”, but when it comes to the accompanying
choruses and orchestras, “sugary” is actually too weak a
word, it should be syrupy, for the strings more often than
not are typically ’fifties sentimental. There are angelic
harp arpeggios and soupy choirs. It is all very much Hollywood
of the period and the treacly choir in The Song Angels
Sing is of the kind that necessitates an immediate ear
Most of the
excerpts from The Student Prince are more classy.
The Drinking Song has a fine male chorus, who also
take part in Gaudeamus Igitur, sung a cappella; very
good too. Lanza sings the whole song fortissimo. There are
also two duets with soprano. On the original soundtrack
that part was sung by Ann Blyth, but she was under contract
with some other company so RCA Victor re-recorded the duets
with Elizabeth Doubleday. Those recording sessions were
obviously not very successful and in the end what Ms Doubleday
recorded was mixed into existing and later recordings. The
result was less than marvellous but that’s all we’ve got.
(As is still well-known today Lanza never appeared in the
film, since MGM thought he had grown too fat, so Edmund
Purdom got the part instead and had to mime to Lanza’s singing.)
Ms Doubleday has a pretty voice but she sings rather anonymously.
Actually they are not real duets, since they never sing
together. Anyway Deep in my Heart, Dear is well sung
by Lanza with a great deal of feeling.
The sound, transferred
by David Lennick and digitally restored by Graham Newton,
is as good as one has any right to expect, But do bear in
mind that these RCA Victor originals were never in the forefront
when it came to high fidelity. Theirs is a raw sound, clear
and quite detailed but not very sophisticated. It should
be noted also that several of the titles on this disc are
from radio recordings.
Nothing of what
I have said need deter die-hard Lanza fans from investing
in this disc. For the general listener and lovers of good
singing the first two CDs in this series are safer recommendations.
There you’ll find many of his best recordings of opera arias
and Neapolitan songs, better suited to his voice type. There’s
also Granada, which was my first Lanza record more
than forty years ago.
I may sound
unnecessarily harsh about this issue, but I still have a
feeling that this is the commercial Lanza. I have recordings
of him in opera, even live ones, and there he is a quite
different artist. Those arias go straight to his heart;
most of the songs on this disc go straight to his wallet.