The Greatest Of
All - Bar None
Brian Gale
In the 1950's, the music scene changed quite dramatically. I was born in 1940 at the beginning of the second world war and so the 50's were my teenage years. I had heard all of the popular (and serious) singers at that time but one who stood out head and shoulders above all the others was Mario Lanza. As the rock and roll revolution took a firm grip in the mid 50's, it had little effect on me. It really didn't appeal to me but the glorious golden tones of Mario Lanza had an entirely different effect.
In 1958, Mario made a tour of the UK and in early January 1958 he appeared at the Newcastle City Hall. Newcastle is a large city in the north east of England some 15 miles from where I used to live. I was 17 years of age at the time, a junior auditor for a firm of accountants and I wasn't able to get a ticket. Nevertheless, I turned up to see if there were any cancellations. I seemed to recall that the film "Serenade" was playing at a cinema close to the hall. There were quite a number of us who waited at the stage door to see Mario and when he turned up he had a walking stick and wore a coat with a fur collar. I managed to get on a ledge and take a picture with my brownie box camera but unfortunately no longer have that picture which turned out quite well.
Some of us then went to the box office to see if there were any cancellations, and fortunately there were. A few of us were lucky enough to get tickets and were allowed into the hall. We went up the stairs and were not allowed into the auditorium until the first song had been completed. We just listened to Mario singing "Lamento Di Frederico" as we waited on the stairs of the hall leading to the auditorium, and it was a glorious sound. As the applause thundered out we were allowed to take our seats and there was Mario taking a bow along with his pianist Constantine Callinicos. There was this brilliant singer with the most magnificent voice that I had seen in films and heard on records - and he was here in person! What a thrill. He continued to go through his programme to tremendous applause with his pianist playing a few solos, but we really had only gone to hear and see one person, and he didn't disappoint. I remember going away thinking that I had been so privileged to be at that concert. The combination of songs that he sang fitted the bill perfectly and his stage presence was enormous.
I recently managed to obtain a brief report of the concert by the local newspaper and this stated, amongst a few other things, the following:
"He had a poisoned right leg encased in an elastic stocking. The poisoning was originally in a tooth but it spread through his system and he collapsed in Stuttgart. Both his legs became swollen and he had to spend some time on crutches. His legs pain him so much that even now he uses a stick occasionally. And he has with him a prescription from a professor in Rome should he need an injection. He was so popular with the capacity audience of 2,500 at last nights concert that he had to sing three encores despite the fact that this was obviously paining him. Finally he is bothered with domestic trouble - Colleen, one of his four children is ill with mumps in the Lanza home in Rome".
This was the same concert that he gave at the Royal Albert Hall which was recorded and that recording is available today.
Later that evening after the concert, I went to the railway station to return home only to find out that Mario was staying at the hotel next to the station. Quite a number of us stayed to see if we could see Mario and he came to the window several floors up and waved. I remember a newspaper report that stated that in between concerts Mario didn't speak in order to preserve his voice and that he passed on messages in writing. Whether this was newspaper talk or not, I don't know but I remember that this was reported at the time.
Two months later, in early March 1958, just after I passed my 18th birthday, Mario again returned to the City Hall in Newcastle and this time I managed to get two tickets and took my Dad with me. My Dad passed away in January 2004 when he was just 23 days short of his 90th year and he still remembered, with affection, that concert. The hall was again packed to the rafters, as was the previous concert, and Mario again didn't disappoint. He was magnificent. It is almost impossible to adequately convey in words the thrill of hearing that marvellous sound. Surely, a great tenor voice is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can ever be blessed with.
On October 7th 1959, I was auditing a company with a senior auditor and we had the radio on quietly in the background. He had left the room and the news came on the radio - it was either 3.00pm or 4.00pm - I seemed to think that it was 4.00pm, and the news of Mario Lanza's death was announced. I was shocked, and looked for news on the radio and television. In 1959, we only had one television channel, the BBC, and limited radio programmes unlike today, and I seemed to miss whatever news was made available although I was told by others that the story had been covered. It was a very sad time and I clearly remember thinking how awful it must have been for his wife and four small children. A few months later, His wife died and I again thought about the future of the small children that had been orphaned.
I am now a father of two, a grandfather of four, and have had a successful business career since the 1960's. But throughout those decades since Mario's untimely death in 1959, I have built up my collection of his films, records, audios and CD's and often listen to his great recordings. I have heard, on record, all of the great singers - Caruso, Gigli, Bjorling, Tagliavini, di Stefano, Tucker, Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti and others - and have records of many of them. I have seen Pavarotti live and he has a truly great voice. Maybe all of them had better and more significant training. Maybe all of them were more technically correct and all of them sang regularly on the operatic stage. But, and there is always a but isn't there? Not one of them had the combination of glorious voice, fantastic diction, charismatic personality and handsome features. He was, to me, the greatest of them all - bar none.
I realise that this is only my opinion, although an opinion shared by many, many people, and that it can never be definitive as by its very nature, the opinion on a voice is always just that - an opinion. But it was a truly wonderful voice and if God has given anyone a greater voice, then I have not had the privilege of hearing it. Mario's legacy is enormous. So many of the modern tenors mention their debt to him, particularly Carreras, and his influence must surely be greater than any other serious singer of the 20th century. And no wonder. He had everything and I was privileged to see and hear him in person, not once, but twice. Those concerts will stay with me for the rest of my life.

On Hearing Mario Sing In Person

By Merlyn C. Minick
Dear Mr. Rense,
I was recently directed, by a friend, to your website concerning Mr. Mario Lanza and would like to make the following comments.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am still warmly haunted, forty-nine years later, by his incredibly distinct and glorious voice as it soaringly penetrated the farthest recesses of the concert hall in Kansas City in 1951. During the late 40s and early 50s, he was my hero; I worshipped him and his singing was one of my reasons for living. His voice instilled in me an immense inner-strength, peace and deep love for life which I never knew existed and had thought, earlier, to be well beyond my reach. No day was ever complete without hearing his powerful and crystal-clear voice. His almost unbelievable voice, which was indeed a divine gift, indelibly etched my soul. Listening to him sing was (and still is) a God-like experience. I still believe that nothing, absolutely nothing, influenced my life more positively (at that time) than his rich voice.
Hearing Mr. Lanza's voice was an experience like no other that I am able to recall. To say that his voice was "impressive" would be a monumental understatement, to me at least - - I was 20 years old and still impressionable. I had previously purchased nearly all of his 45-rpm recordings and I had always considered their content as being extraordinary. But when I actually heard Lanza (in the flesh), I was stunned completely. As I listened, my eyes moistening, feelings of joy, disbelief and gratitude for having the opportunity to listen to him crossed my mind, all the while I was muttering to myself - - my God, this (his voice) just cannot be! - - but it was! His voice was exhilarating, thrilling beyond any description. My mind raced with wonderment while chills sporatically ran down my spine throughout the performance. He spoke on one occasion and even his speaking voice was inexplicably captivating. At the closing of each vocal presentation, the deathly silence which pervaded the entire auditorium earlier, erupted with deafening force. Truly, when Mario sang, one definitely did not need some mysterious "authority", who was residing in an ivory tower somewhere, to suggest that one was witnessing a voice of considerable power and grace - - it was abundantly obvious!
Today, I am still amused that some people have asserted that Mr. Lanza's voice was "amplified" in order to fully reach his audience. Anyone who has ever actually heard Lanza sing (La donna e mobile, for example) will gladly come forth and say that this notion of needed voice-assistance is utterly ridiculous. Lanza's voice was possibly the strongest ever recorded and those who said that his "fortissimo" was excessive were just plain jealous. Still, in all fairness, some of these people might have been those who wished to hear George Wright music (pleasing as it was) softly played on a 2000-pipe, 24-rank Wurlitzer Organ.

Listening To Playback In Recording Studio
Photo Courtesy Bob Dolfi
Although some opera lovers will disagreee with me, in Mr. Lanza's time, it was amusing (but sad) to me, being a mid-westerner, that the stalwart constituents of the Metopolitan Opera were so utterly flabbergasted and downright "stunned in their tracks" at hearing Mario's tremendous voice that they became paralyzed, "spun their wheels" and completely fouled up in not openly recognizing him as, at least, having one of the greatest of instruments of all time. Yet, I can understand their reluctance in recognizing Lanza - - Mario had not "paid the price" for entering such elite company. This is human nature. From my perpsective, at least, they were totally unable to cope with their shock and disbelief and rather than admit it, they, with some exceptions, publicly ignored Lanza, which must have been very hurtful and psychologically damaging. Time Magazine did not help matters either (6 August 51) - - the editorial staff was cynically analytical, sounding like loyal patrons of the Met. A few years later, the Met committed a similar bungling and elitist gaff with respect to Sergio Franchi, whom we all recall also possessed a wonderful voice, not as powerful and resonant as Mr. Lanza's but still very pleasing to listen to, especially his Italian presentations. As for Hollywood, it was profoundly incredible (and still is) that so many money-hungry and parasitic people could just idly stand by and witness the most gifted voice that we have ever heard stagger and stumble in the filmland doldrums only to ultimately be extinguished - - never to be witnessed again - live. It just simply was beyond my comprehension. Such a realization still blows my mind.
In my day, the early so-called dislike for opera in the general populace was not because of the music or languages but was, in part, a result of the general incapability of laypeople to sing according to what they perceived as unreachable "standards" of the Met. As I recall, during and after World War II, Americans did want to sing, loud and clear, even though they fully recognized that their voices were simply not capable of even coming close to the fantastic voices of the Met or those which graced the throats of people like Earl Wrightson, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Elaine Malbin, Robert Roundsville, Jane Fromann, Jimmy Carroll or Thomas L. Thomas, just to name a few. So, as expected, people began to sing on their own "terms and levels of competence", imperfect as they were. I have always had the feeling (since 1946) that Mr. Lanza sensed this smoldering "will to sing" early on and purposely sang for the common run-of-the-mill citizen and not for those he must have felt were technically very proficient but were often (perhaps) elitist stuffed-shirts, who happen to live on the east or west coasts. Mario was the common person's tenor, and people loved every minute of it. People in general, and especially would-be tenors and baritones, loved his voice because it sounded precisely the way they would have wanted to sound themselves (even though they were incapable) - - voluminous, clear, passionate, soulful and with authority.
My uncle Bill Toomey was fortunate to hear both Caruso and Lanza. Bill heard Caruso in Boston in 1920 and didn't really volunteer much information about whether he thought Lanza's voice was better than Caruso's. I did get the impression, however, that Bill may have thought that each had their own unique character (as all tenors do) and may have tended to believe (I think) that Caruso's voice was more "refined", having perhaps greater versatility. Caruso's voice also possessed a different timbre than Lanza's, so it might be unfair to compare the two, especially when one was being adversarial in approaching the question. As to which voice was more "pleasing", depends (as always) upon one's point of view. Suffice it to say that both Caruso and Lanza had the greatest voices of their respective eras.
Those of us who were lucky to hear Mr. Lanza sing were also lucky in that we experienced the voice straight from his mouth and not via techniques which are used today to produce "modern recordings", which are usually manipulated, in some manner, via electronic methodology. During Mr. Lanza's time, electronically manipulating a recording such that the "sound" satisfied the criteria of the engineer and not the listener wasn't yet well established. However, as improvements in the processes of reproducing a good voice were always being sought, electronic engineering soon became very important, especially as the caliber of voices (following World War II) was beginning to descend to the level of what we have today (few can really sing). Don't misunderstand me, some engineers do good work but some have also taken upon themselves what I call an unauthorized "duty" of music interpretation, and thus, can directly determine what is "good" for the listener and in doing so, often totally distorts a singer's "real" voice so badly that the recording is actually worthless to anyone who knows what he/she should have heard but didn't. Conversely, some voices exist only because of "enhancement". Nevertheless, millions of people purchase "engineered recordings" every day and really don't realize how terrible some of them are. One example is the Domingo-Giulini Gala Opera Concert (Deutche Grammophon); some passages are well done while many others are the most disgusting that I have ever heard. Today, there is nothing as refreshing as hearing a good singer standing alone while being accompanied only by a piano. This means of vocal expression is largely absent in today's music because very few outstanding voices are interested in pursuing this avenue and/or are capable of surviving such attempts - - today musical "crutches" seem to abound everywhere!
I would like to believe that, at this very moment, Mr. Lanza is "Walking With God" for God understood him more than many of us, and ultimately forgave him for pursuing his self-destructive mode of existence.
Merlyn Minick
Milan, MI
An Incomparable Instrument
By Merlyn C. Minick
Sometimes the mouth cannot verbally describe what the ear has heard, no matter how much brain mediation endeavors to meaningfully connect the two. Sometimes a suitable vocabulary doesn't exist. Yet, attempts must be made to describe Mario's voice, no matter how inept, so that others, not as lucky as the writer, can acquire a reasonable "feeling" for the uniqueness of his voice, a feeling as to why his voice immediately captured our hearts and, although he has left us, continues to impress so many millions of people.
What I remember and admire most about Lanza's voice was its lyric versatility and the voluminous and exquisitely clear and breathtaking "ring" (bell-like) to his high notes as well as the soothing and mature mellowness to his lower register. The so-called "ring" to Mario's voice was particularly captivating and his ability to catapult (if you will) the sheer brilliance of his voice to the far reaches of any auditorium was uncanny. While listening to him (in the flesh), I certainly relished the warm sound as it was being produced but I was always more enraptured by his high notes and the residual or "lingering" of his sounds which seemed to stand still (in time) as they permeated the expanses of an auditorium, after sound production itself had ceased. This lingering effect was not a result of "echoing" per se but was in effect a suspension of the long-lived or lingering reverberations which muscially described the "bigness" of his voice, even as it was subsiding. This lingering effect was noticeable while singing in the lower register but was particularly appealing and brightest while Mario was singing in his highest register - - hence that "ringing" sound. His stunningly beautiful and powerful high B, at the close of La Donna E Mobile, literally shook the walls of the auritorium. His top notes always ended having this reverberating and lingering property - - a sound so beautiful and rich, it caused the eyes of most observers to moisten with gratifying approval and sent tingling shivers up and down their spines.
In addition, the seemingly endless source of alveolar (lung) air, for which he was so well known, and his impeccable diction were also quite impressive. Each word was distinctly pronounced (sung), being clear, precise and passionately enunciated. One could fully understand every word that he sang regardless of what register he was singing in or the language which he was utilizing.
While he sang, I tried to visualize the conformation or "shape"of Mario's resonating chambers (the throat and sinuses), the structure and sturdiness of his vocal cords, condition of his teeth and the fluidity of modifying influences such as the tongue, palate and forward-protruding lips all of which were important in producing the sounds that he could muster. Sound can be thought of as convex-planes (if you will) of self-propagating rarefactions of atmospheric air. These convex-shaped "rarefactions" are propagated and felt by the tympanic membranes in the ears as "undulations" in air pressure, i.e., like "waves" on a wind-blown water surface and can be visualized, from a sideview, as a "sine wave" on the oscilloscope. Sound "waves" being what they are, have the capacity to interfere with and modify the propagation of others and this is why the resonating chambers are so important.
The inside surface (contours, texture, dentition, etc.) of the throat (and sinuses) are spatially different from one tenor to another and because sound waves can compliment each other, according to their frequency, intensity and the contours of the resonating cavity - - different "shades" of sound can be produced. When Mario purposely held vocal cord vibration-frequency constant while muscularly altering the contours of his resonating chamber, as described above, he could "craft" the sounds which his vocal cords produced. If Mario happened to be facing you while singing (about 25 feet away), one was likely to feel the "pressure"of his voice. The vocal cords established the basic vibrations (for each note) but it was the resonating chambers that modulated the collective output; the latter does not suggest, of course, that the vocal cords are of lesser importance. Mario must have had fantastic steel-like vocal cords, which set the rarefactions in motion, but also had unique resonating chambers - - such gifts being most rare. This is why Mario was so adept at delivering such distinquishably warm variations of "color" in his voice. One only needs to listen to the closing note in Una Furtiva Lagrima (for example) or any other sustained note - - and ask, how many times does the complexion or timbre of the note change? It is truly remarkable! Mario was truly blessed with a rare and unequaled vocal insturment - - one that still amazes us whenever we listen to its far-reaching and soul-searching musical beckoning.
In the later 1940s and 1950s, his voice was clearly the center of attraction, the centerpiece of the vocal exhibition and was not overshadowed by his accompaniment. Mario was the "King". On stage, his voice literally "leaped out", to the amazement of the audience, and thoroughly dominated the musical atmosphere while his accompaniment tactfully "complimented" his singing, not burying it with sometimes mysteriously-placed crescendos. Today, reproductions of Mario's voice are often (not always) orchestrally overpowering and while these modern-day interpretations ignite considerable delight in many people, the "purists" sit quietly and churn in their seats.
I have always affectionately likened (in a sense) Mario's voice to the tremendous ROAR of drag-racer engines at the gate and especially while hurtling down the track at profound speeds, the sound of which is truly hypnotic (to me at least) and seems to bestow upon everyone a sense of intoxicating and uncontrollable "power" only later to rapidly flower into a state of being beside oneself - - - a feeling too complex to adequately describe. When I heard Mario sing live, his enrapturing vocal beauty and "booming" presentation instilled within me a warm and comforting sense of never-before-experienced "power" and an uncontrollable state of existence beyond reason. I truly loved his voice that evening (and still do). To this day, 49 years later, I still get goose-bumps whenever I hear life-like recordings of his singing.
Merlyn Minick Milan,
Nostalgic Memories Of Mario Lanza
By Dr. James Holland, Ph.D., D.B.S.

I enjoyed immensely, your article on the Internet regarding Mario Lanza. I have always delighted in the great voice of Mario Lanza, and personally consider him to be the only tenor I would class as having a true GOLDEN VOICE, since the era of Enrico Caruso, himself. Since his untimely death in 1959, I have hoped to find another "golden" tenor, but I don't believe there will ever be another Mario Lanza.
Eugene Conley of the Met, along with Giuseppi di Stefano, Richard Tucker and Luciano Pavarotti, I would class as having SILVER VOICES. My two other favorite tenors, Jose' Carreras and Placido Domingo, I would class as having BRASS VOICES. And there are many other excellent tenors too numerous to mention, of course.
But there has been only one GOLDEN VOICED tenor of the 20th Century whom I have heard [in person or via the media] since Caruso, and that is MARIO LANZA. [And I was familiar with all but a dozen of the 106 singers featured at the Met's Centennial celebration]
I was privileged to have attended a concert given by Mario Lanza in Ogden, Utah, when I was a junior in High School. Lanza presented his concert at the Ogden High School auditorium, but I couldn't get tickets to it; so, a friend and I slipped in backstage, and with only the curtain between Lanza and ourselves, and being as close as about 12 feet to him, we listened to him sing Part I of his concert. After Intermission, we snuck into the auditorium as if we had tickets, and heard and saw him perform Part II. We had to stand, but what a thrill it was!
He closed Part I with the aria, "Vesti la giubba," and ended his program with the song, "Be My Love," and all the girls and women swooned! I mention Lanza in my Web site, which is dedicated to "Glorious Singing." You might be interested in it. It will be up in about a week. - Dr. James Holland
How Mario Lanza Came Into My Life
By Edna L. Falloon
At the time I heard Mario sing, I lived a scant six blocks frm the Hollywood Bowl. I was an immigrant of British descent, and along with a Russian immigrant friend (living 7 blocks from the Bowl), often attended the Bowl for the 'Evening Under The Stars' concerts. We both shared a love of opera and classical music.
The one particular evening, a tenor named Mario Lanza was to sing some operatic solos as well as duets with Frances Yeend. We settled in our seat and this 'new tenor' was announced who would sing "Una Furtiva Lagrima." Then I heard the name again: 'Mario Lanza' - what a magical name, what a magical voice!
When those glorious, golden sounds poured forth from him - sounds that reached my soul - I knew then that I would never hear such a voice again in my lifetime.
The year was 1947. I was 22 years of age and Mario was 26. Sitting through this concert, little did I know then what a profound effect this MAN, this NAME - this voice from Heaven would have on me for the rest of my life.
Walking back home from the Bowl, I wondered aloud if I would ever see or hear that 'voice' again. Yet, see and hear him again I did!
A few months later, walking past the Lux Theater on Vine Street (across from the Brown Derby) as we regularly did hoping to catch a glimpse of some movie stars, or go to a radio show, a gentleman just outside this theater stopped us and inquired if we would be interested in going inside to hear a 'classical concert.'
It appeared that MGM had bought a radio station in New York to be named WMGM, and was introducing a new contract tenor and baritone to America via a radio broadcast. We, of course, went in not knowing who or what was about to happen.
Imagine my joy when it was announced that Mario Lanza was the tenor under contract and would be singing that evening. There was that NAME - that 'VOICE' again!
That radio concert was a double joy, for I knew then that I'd see and hear him in movies - AND have his records to buy. I was elated.
The moment Mario walked on the stage, the combination of his name, his charisma - his voice - just knocked me over. I lustily shouted "Bravo!" after each of his renditions -much to my friend's chagrin. She was never, ever reached by Mario's voice - poor girl! I was on cloud nine!
In some imperceptible way I knew that as long as I could hear that VOICE my soul would be wafted to Heaven, filled with beauty - and I could face whatever Fate dished out my way. And so it has been all these years. This is the story of the first and second time Mario Lanza...and his voice...came into my life.
Mario At The Hollywood Bowl - August 28, 1947
By Michelle Short As told to Jeff Rense
I was, early in my life, a promising (to my teachers at least) soprano singing in the Greater Los Angeles Chorus under the direction of the legendary music conductor, Eugene Ormandy. It was a volunteer chorus, we were never paid, and we performed at a number of different locations. We even sang at the Hollywood Bowl when needed. The only "compensation" any of us received was in the form of better seats at the Bowl if we could get there early enough; we even got to meet the great artists and guests of honor backstage if we managed to run fast enough.
Late during one hot summer in LA., two friends and I packed up and travelled to the Bowl for an evening concert. It was August 28, 1947. Little did I realize that my life was about to change forever. When we took our seats in the very front row that evening, I had no idea what I was in for; I had never even heard the name Mario Lanza before. It's funny, but I can't even remember the names of my two friends, so overwhelming was what I experienced that night.
I am not a very tall woman and no one was more eager than I to see everything that was going on up on the stage. You might think that a front row seat would be good enough. No chance! I took binoculars, so intent was I about seeing everything that went on during the Bowl concerts that we so often attended. I read somewhere later that Mario had tripped slightly when he came onto the stage that night. I didn't see that. What I did see with my binoculars was the most incredibly handsome man I had ever seen in my life. Maestro Ormandy launched the orchestra and this beautiful 26 year old began to make an even more beautiful sound. In fact, it was so astonishing that the entire Bowl audience became lost in a fog of stunned stillness, many them clearly aware that they were hearing something they would remember for the rest of their lives.
Without overstating a thing, it was as if the heavens opened up and God, Himself, wanted us to hear his glory expressed through his protege...this human vessel through which passed a sound which will probably never be matched again. Ever.
I will tell you that, however many numbers Mario sang, they were too few; it was too brief. He could have continued for hours and no one would have budged. I remember the crowd going completely wild with applause, and remember, back in the Forties, 'wild' was not something serious music audiences did. I remember that my hands ached from applauding. I also remember the tears flowing down my face. Before the concert had officially ended we three had jumped up and headed to our usual post-concert destination: backstage. But this time, I moved without my feet touching the ground. Only the stage hands were there and they weren't about to get in the way of three young women.
When Mario came out toward us, one of the stage hands said, "Mr. Lanza, this is Michelle". Mario took my hand in his and then placed his other hand on top of mine and said, "What a pretty name for such a pretty girl." The tears were still in my eyes and damp on my cheeks from seeing him sing moments before. I said, "Mr. Lanza, I have heard most of the greatest tenors in the world but none of them compare to you." He said, "Thank you." At that moment, many others rushed up to him backstage, he was swept away, and the moment ended. But somehow I knew that would not be the last time I would see Mario Lanza...a man who walked among us for far too little time, but who will walk with us in our hearts, at least this one, forever.

Mario Sings In Manchester In March, 1958
By Paul Velda
"In response to several members, I will try to describe what it felt like to see Mario in person at one of his concerts. I know that quite a few members saw him, so if you want to do the same, by all means please do so too. Let me say firstly, that when I heard the shattering news of Mario's demise in Rome, almost right away I wrote down everything I could recall of the concert I had seen 19 months before, whilst still reasonably fresh in my mind. It is to those notes I now return to describe the following.
In 1958, I was still living in my home town of Blackpool, I absolutely worshipped and adored the voice and charisma of Mario Lanza, I was noted for it. All my mates thought I was raving for putting Mario before so many things they termed as 'normal' I really could hear him inside my head all day long singing to me.
Anyway, I either saw on TV or read somewhere that he was to do a concert tour of Europe in the latter part of 1957, which of course, took in the United Kingdom. He duly arrived on November 14th and was soon on TV, the 24th on the Palladium and the 30th, Saturday Spectacular, both times in splendid voice.
It wasn't too long before I saw an advert, in the newspaper advertising a concert in Manchester, which is about 60 or 70 miles from Blackpool. I immediately wrote off for a ticket and after a couple of scares about cancellations, the precious ticket arrived for Thursday the 6th of March 1958. I could not think of anything else until the great day finally dawned. I took the afternoon off work (which didn't go down too well) and set off by train for the big city of Manchester arriving at 6 o'clock in the evening. I had been rather worried as to whether in fact Mario would appear, I had read of one or two cancellations, but as I reached the Belle Vue area of Manchester and the huge King's Hall, I saw Mario's face adorning each programme and to my relief, all was well.
I reached my seat after two attempts, the second time finding, to my joy, that I was only three rows from the concert platform, it was not 7.28pm, two minutes to go!
It seemed there were plenty of late-comers because people were pouring in in their hundreds, when at exactly 7.30pm without any fuss or announcements, onto the platform walked Mario Lanza and his accompanist, Constantine Callinicos. I could hardly believe it, here was the man I had spent years worshipping barely ten yards away, what a moment to cling to! Certainly Mario caught everyone off-guard as there was very little loud applause, just a sort of ripple and from the people who were still coming in, a gasp of recognition as they saw him already on the platform.
I read later that Mario looked annoyed at all the late-comers, well, I was quite close to him and I say with absolute certainty, he did not look at all annoyed or anything approaching it. He smiled at the audience, chatted to Callinicos and asked one privileged person, 'Cold, huh? A girl came to the edge of the stage and asked for an autograph, 'They will come up' said Mario, 'bring them to the hotel and I will sign them all.'
Plenty of people were still trying to find their seats and we were now about five or six minutes late in starting, when Mario shot 'OK' to Callinicos and the opening bars of 'E la solita storia' were heard. A dozen or so attendants shouted for people to stand still, which they did, as Lanza's glorious voice filled the King's Hall, delivering the aria loudly and finishing on a high B flat as in his recording. The applause was long and loud, I imagine most people were hearing that voice 'in the flesh' for the first time. I certainly was and Mario didn't disappoint, the voice was fabulous.
The next selection was the little-known aria 'Lasciatemi morire' from the 17th century opera 'Arianna'. 'It has a gay opening, but it's a sad song' commented Mario. Next came the classic Italian song 'Gia it sole del Gange' which suited him perfectly and merited all the applause it duly received. In his next song 'Pieta Signore' Lanza's voice was magnificent. This is a church aria and the sacred touch he gave it was a moment to treasure, great acclaim after this selection.
Mario now took a little breather and Callinicos crashed out a stirring 'Ritual Fire Dance' which I seem to recall was brilliant. Now Lanza returned to sing his first song of the evening in English, a pretty little song, 'Tell me of blue, blue Sky' in which his ability to phrase so beautifully showed up well on the title words. Next a comic type song, 'bonjour ma belle' he really did make this most amusing with his gestures and facial expressions. 'The House on the Hill' he sang with such feeling. He closed the first half with the well-known aria 'E lucevan le stelle' from the opera 'Tosca'. Applause broke out as the melody was recognised and his rendition of the aria was superb, he held on to the high note much longer than in his recording, amazing volume. Callinicos was moved enough to say 'Bravo, bravo.'
After about ten minutes they returned again and Lanza sang, in full glorious vocal splendour, the first of three Neapolitan songs, 'Mamma mia che vo sape', again his volume at the climax was unbelievable, such a huge concert hall and this with no microphone! The tender 'A Vuchella' Mario introduced very suggestively. A boy is fascinated by a pair of lips, he explains, but from what I could make out and judging by the position of Mario's hands, it was not a pair of lips that fascinated the boy! He displayed a beautiful pianissimo in this song. 'Marechiare' is a fast lively song which brought the house down, terrific ovation after this song.
Next came two songs from operetta, firstly, 'Softly as in a Morning Sunrise' it was at this point that Lanza looked straight at Callinicos, who mouthed the words of the song to him. Also in this song, he omitted the high note at the end. The final song on the programme was 'I'm falling in love with Somone' in which he seemed to rush the last line, but finished on a wonderful top note.
All through the concert the audience had been shouting for their favourite Lanza song, at one point the calling for 'Granada' was so loud that he stopped and said 'Let's see what's on the programme first, then we'll see about Granada' and so it proved. Instead he came back on with a walking stick and sat on the piano stool, rolling up his trouser-leg so we could all see his bandaged left leg, he had been suffering from phlebitis.
Now he sang the first of two encores, the song 'Because you're mine' always associated with him, caused pandemonium, deafening applause. He went through the song just once, again the power of his voice on the word 'Mine' at the climax was astounding. The second encore was the well-known aria 'La donna e mobile' from 'Rigoletto'. he asked if we, the people facing him, would excuse him while he turned around and sang a song to the people who had only seen the back of his head all night. Between the verses he looked over his shoulder and said, 'I'll be back', but unfortunately, he wasn't. Once again Callinicos mouthed some of the words for this final selection.
I consider myself immensely privileged to have lived at the same time as this magnificent artist. To have actually watched him sing fifteen numbers has to be the peak of experience. I last recall the deafening reaction of the audience, the noise was unbelievable. Mario, looking happy in a royal blue suit, being presented with huge baskets of flowers, posing for photographs with the ladies who presented them.
We were lucky that night that Mario sang the full programme of songs, he had been cutting the songs down at some venues. I must confess that before this marvellous recital, I was slightly apprehensive about how he might sound. Could he produce that gorgeous sound 'in the flesh'? Well, I need not have worried, he was better than I ever dreamed. I felt awful that I'd had the slightest doubt that he wouldn't be stupendous. I still feel I have not done him justice in trying to describe such a momentous occasion, how could anyone?
The ticket prices were from three shillings and sixpence to twenty-five shillings in old money, which I think translates to thirty-five pence to one pound twenty-five in today's money. Doesn't that seem a small amount by today's standards? The King's Hall was long since gone, pulled down in the name of progress, replaced by a car park, show case cinemas and a housing estate. At least the Royal Albert Hall still stands.'
(Special thanks to Steve Cutler for making arrangements with Paul to allow me to post his article on this site. -JR)
Review Of The Royal Albert Hall Concerts
The review was provided by Steve Cutler from
the Mario Lanza Fan Club Australia.
Here is the review of Mario's Royal Albert Hall concerts written by the late Dorothy Cobley...
"I am very glad to be able to tell you the true facts concerning Mario at the Albert Hall as I was present on both occasions. I get so mad at the false reports written by people who weren't there. At the first concert I had a very good seat six rows from the front of the platform and so had a marvellous view of Mario, he was wonderful in every way, full of life and humour. He strode onto the stage like an athlete, and although he was obviously staggered by the size of the place he recovered his equanimity immediately. He look splendid, as handsome as in his films and certainly not fat. His voice was magnificent with wonderful projection.
"The microphones seen in the photographs were for recording purposes only (an announcement was made before the concert that this was so and that there would be no amplification.) This was quite obvious to all present, and while his singing voice could be heard in every part of the auditorium, his speaking voice was not so well heard in the more remote sections. Between songs he has happy and moving freely about the stage and was just as fresh at the end of the 2 hour concert programme as when he started. It is just nonsense to say he collapsed after the concert - he entertained reporters and friends in his dressing room on this occasion - though after most of the other concerts he was smuggled out very quickly to avoid the crowd.
"The second Albert Hall concert was rather different for he had had a bad fall two days before and he walked stiffly and was less ebullient, understandably, and it may be this performance referred to in some of the books. Even so, he sang superbly and, since it was not recorded, there were no microphones on the platform. Nevertheless, his voice was just as beautiful and just as powerful as on the previous occasion. He sang his full programme, but after explaining the nature of his injuries from his fall - a cracked rib and damage to one of his kidneys - he asked to be excused from the usual encores."