"Singers should sing words, not notes. The words
tell the story of the music, and should be made clear to those who want
to hear them. I will never sing an operatic aria if I do not know the
words, because I do not believe that the melody is enough, no matter
how beautiful it may be."
—Mario Lanza, August 1959.
I had just read these words of Mario's, in an interview promoting his
then-newly-released-latest movie For the First Time, when I received
my copy of the now-newly-released-latest Lanza CD, Mario Lanza, Greatest
Operatic Performances. How his remarks reverberated through my skull
as I listened to these conviction-charged, exemplarily-articulated performances!
Untold tenors have recorded these arias; none comes close to telling
the story of the music via the words as well as Mario Lanza. That conclusion
is inescapable after hearing this stellar compilation of Lanza at the
Opera. Another is that as well as being a deft weaver of words, he had
the advantage of possessing the greatest tenor voice on record: "the
greatest singing instrument ever bestowed on a human being," in the
words of bass-baritone George London, who sang with him many times.
"The greatest tenor voice I've ever heard," said Maria Callas, who regretted
never having sung with him at all.
This new CD leaves one in no doubt as to why such luminaries would say
such things. Compiled by Derek McGovern, founder of the website MarioLanzaTenor.com,
it has been released by the UK-based Sepia Records, using the most pristine
vinyl 33s and 45s Dr. McGovern and his intrepid co-conspirators Armando
Cesari and Vince diPlacido could find. ...
There is no cringe factor on this CD. From the opening, lush M'Appari
through the previously-unreleased trio from Cosi Fan Tutte through the
ridiculously stratospheric Di Rigori Armato through knock-out renderings
of the two Tosca arias to equally heart-stopping performances of the
likes of Otello and Andrea Chenier, every track is a gem. ...
Special honours must go to Sepia's sound engineer, Robin Cherry, who
has done an outstanding job of reproducing the mahogany warmth of the
old vinyls and simulating it when it wasn't there, as in the live Hollywood
Bowl performance of the Madam Butterfly duet. None of these recordings
has ever sounded better (except, in a couple of cases, in the movie
theatre); most take me back to my childhood when that "mahogany warmth"
on old-fashioned monograms was the norm. Hearing Recondita Armonia and
E Lucevan le Stelle that way again after so long nearly destroyed me.
So rich and vibrant at the same time; no clarity sacrificed for depth
or vice versa. By the end of the CD, where the expiry of Otello occurs,
I had nearly expired myself, convulsed as I was in a hybrid of nostalgia
Especially thrilling is the ACT III duet from Otello with Gloria Boh.
Originally unearthed by Damon Lanza Productions, this showcases Lanza
as an even more terrifyingly jealous husband than in his later legendary
recording with Licia Albanese. His delivery of the following lines in
E il chiedi?. . . Il più nero delitto
Sovra il candido giglio della tua fronte è scritto ...
(You ask me? . . . The blackest crime
Is written on the white lily of your forehead...)
... is chilling in its menace and a perfect expression of Mario's musical
philosophy quoted above. ...
As for other tracks, I can do no better than reproduce the comments,
minus awe-struck expletives, I was sending through to Derek McGovern
as I was listening.
Guess what I'm listening to?? Smiling
Exceptionally, outstandingly well done, Kiddo! Liner notes are stellar.
I'm just at the Butterfly, with which someone has performed
a miracle. Robin Cherry? I'd like to mention a name.
Minor minor quibble. (Oh ****! "O notte serena." So resonant!) Couldn't
you get a Che Gelida without the dropouts? Just copy the
Naxos one! Smiling
The two Toscas—oh my god, Butterfly high C!!!!—destroyed
me. Oh, here's Nessun. Enveloped in bass all of a sudden.
Hahahaha. "Sulla tua bocca"? [Bone of contention between us in the
past.] OK. I'll give him a pass. The tech has done wonders in somehow
rebalancing voice and orchestra. OK, here we go: "dilegua o notte."
Lamento. Yes, gorgeous sound. Great rebalancing. Love the
lashings of bass. Yes, superb, though still not as good as the Coke.
Addio, addio. More lashings of bass. How awful. Smiling "AngelIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII."
******! Never heard this sound this good. Pity about Mary-Jane Smith
wittering away. But amazing how improved this sounds.
Mamma quel vino. Just the way it sounded on my grandmother's
gramophone. Holy **** again. Those high notes! Some extraneous subterranean
noise, but nothing. Ah. The first take ending. Sharp as buggery! Makes
one's eyes water similarly! Beyond magnificent!
Vesti. Ah yes, that sandiness you complained of. Minor. Best
I've heard it. Still not as good as my favourite [Great Caruso alternate
take], but outstanding. Even the orchestra is redeemed. Oh, I'm loving
all this mahogany!
Improvviso. I have Mario's words in that "swing or sentiment"
article ringing in my head. How thoroughly he applied them! I seem
to have to turn this one up. "T'amo." *****! And as for the B-flat
finale ... destroyed again.
Come un bel di. God! Haven't heard this in ages. Forgotten
how well he sings it. Electrifying.
Amor Ti Vieta. Well, slightly "boxed in," but still, again,
the best I've heard it.
O Paradiso. Can there be a beyond-perfect? If so, this is
Otello duet. Singers seem slightly pushed back at the beginning.
Comes right part way through. Incomparable performance by Mario. I'm
cowering in fear. "Giura, giura e ti danna." Well done Ms Boh too.
I hope she gets to hear this. So much detail in the orchestra in the
bridge to the Monologue. "Quel raggio." Holy **** again. "Gioia" ditto!
I'm shaking all over.
Death of said Otello. Sandy again, but minor, although worse
than the Vesti. "Un altra baaaaaaaaaaa ..." Right up front. Absolute
I can't praise this highly enough, Derrico, but I'll do my best. ...
This CD shows conclusively that no one since Mario has come close
to him. Before and during him they struggled too. This will show the
world what *real* singing is, not the mewlings of Bocelli and Potts.
All I would add in conclusion is that if Sepia had forgotten to pack
the CD and just sent me Dr. McGovern's liner notes I'd still consider
the money well spent, if I'd spent it. It's a pleasure to read something
so well-expressed and musically informed. Sepia—please keep 'em coming!
Author, The One Tenor—A Salute to Mario Lanza
(See the full review here: http://www.solopassion.com/node/10026)