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Mario Lanza At His Best
Twelve Neapolitan Songs: Funiculi funicular [2:36]; Dicitencello vuie [3:37]; Maria mari [3:27]; Voce’e notte [4:12]; Canta pe’me [3:23]; O surdato’namurato [2:32]; Comme Facette mammeta? [1:59]; Santa Lucia luntana [3:32]; Fenesta che lucive [3:43]; Tu Ca nun change [2:39]; Na sera e maggio [3:22]; Passione [4:16]
The Vagabond King selection: Drinking Song [3:48]; Someday [3:19]; Love Me Tonight [3:11]; Only a Rose [5:34]; Tomorrow [3:17]; Love for Sale* [2:36]; Hunting* [1:23]; Nocturne [3:25]; Instrumental Interlude and Nocturne Reprise [4:54]; Huguette Waltz* [3:05]; Song of the Vagabonds [3:36]; Finale [1:57]
Mario Lanza (tenor)
*with Judith Raskin (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Franco Ferrara (songs) and Constantine Callinicos (Vagabond King)
rec. Italy, Nov-Dec 1958 (songs) and July 1959 (Vagabond King)
BMG RCA LIVING STEREO 8287671625-2 SACD [79:15]
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This is effectively two old LPs re-mastered and fitted comfortably onto one very well filled mid-price CD. I’m sure Lanza fans will have no hesitation in acquiring it and the Neapolitan songs certainly include some impressive moments. The Vagabond King excerpts, however, do show signs of strain, and it has to be remembered that the famous tenor was only months away from his premature death, so they are a mixed bag.

The selection of twelve famous - and not-so-famous - songs is almost all delightful. The opener and one of the staples of the repertory, ‘Funiculi funicular’, shows Lanza’s pitch problems. He occasionally forced his tremendous tone so much that he went sharp but there’s still plenty of character. I like most of the performances, particularly when he allows himself to sing sotto voce and with genuine feeling, as in ‘Voce’e notte’, which is delivered with haunting simplicity. There’s also a confident swagger in ‘Tu Ca nun chiagne’ and the glorious upper register is still thrillingly full in songs like ‘Passione’, where the high tessitura holds no fears and the emotional charge suits him to perfection. The orchestrations are pure Hollywood – you know the sort of thing, soaring strings and tremolo mandolins – but it’s all part of the package and forms an ideal backdrop to Lanza’s emotive and occasionally histrionic delivery.

The Vagabond King was one of the famous tenor’s last projects, and a return to one of his favourite forms, operetta. His voice and stylistic charm were ideally suited to so many of these lighter shows, but recording this in the aftermath of a heart attack means the tiredness and strain do show through in places. It’s by no means bad, but don’t expect the silvery sheen and firm vibrato of the famous The Student Prince or Great Caruso recordings. It’s good to hear him duetting with the marvellous Judith Raskin, whose voice really is in its prime here, and the show’s big number ‘Only a Rose’ is a delight. I did wince, probably like other Lanza fans, at the awful irony of the ‘Drinking Song’ where, after a life beset with alcohol and drug problems, he prophetically belts out the phrase ‘For if I die, and I hope to die/ Then I’ll never be sober again, not I!’

The transfers are generally excellent and this release will be welcomed by Lanza’s legion of admirers, many of whom rate the Neapolitan album as one of his finest achievements.

Tony Haywood



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