Opera News Review Of 'Mario Lanza - The Toast Of Hollywood'

From David Weaver…

Going back thru earlier OPERA NEWS this year,  found this January review of the 2-CD MARIO LANZA: THE TOAST OF HOLLYWOOD set released last year by TCM/Sony. The review is by Eric Myers,  who has done several other pieces on Mario for Opera News over the years.

MARIO LANZA: "The Toast of Hollywood" With Ray Sinatra, Constantine Callinicos, conductors. TCM/Sony Masterworks)  Like Caruso, Maria Callas and Elvis, Mario Lanza left a recorded legacy that has seen endless re-issuing and repackaging over the decades. Fortunately, the popular Italian­American tenor still has a few unreleased surprises in store. Six of these turn up on this two-disc set,  produced by Sony Masterworks and released under the banner of Turner Classic Movies.

Disc One is made up of fifteen songs and arias from his films, while Disc Two comprises selections recorded in 1951 and 1952 for his radio show. That's where most of the buried treasure lies. Most Lanza-lovers will already own the familiar recordings from his films; included are such songs as "Be My Love," "Because," "Arrivederci Roma" and "They Didn't Believe Me," as well as "Che gelida manina," "E lucevan le stelle" and the Traviata "Libiamo." No matter how many times you've heard these recordings, they still hit with a knockout punch of vocal freshness,  pellucid diction and the trademark refulgence Lanza seemed to bring to every note he ever sang. Few classical singers have conveyed such a sense of the sheer joy of singing, unfettered by any kind of stuffiness or concert-hall pretension.

Disc Two, with its emphasis on popular songs, shows why "crossover" is a term that would have meant little to Lanza were he alive today. He could easily rein his voice in to a croon for numbers such as "My Romance" and "Among My Souvenirs," but when he belted operatically on "What Is This Thing Called Love" or "Alone Together," it sounded right: the line between classical and pop vocal styles somehow blurred to nothing. It's hard to imagine many tenors today who could pull off this trick,  which Lanza did effortlessly sixty years ago. His "Day In, Day Out," one of the previously unreleased tracks, easily stands comparison with Sinatra's well-known, swingier version. Lanza's sounds equally appropriate in its own way. A special new treat is "For You Alone," known to most of us through Caruso's acoustic recording in a kind of English that is indecipherable; Lanza serves it up with a sweeping radio orchestration, and his clear diction allows us to finally hear the flowery lyric. Other previously unreleased gems include "Lolita" (an Italian number with no connection to Nabokov),  "I'll Never Love You," from The Toast of New Orleans,  Grieg's "I Love Thee," and the enticing Tosti barcarolle "'A vucchella," sung sweetly in mezza-voce.

The accompanying booklet is small, but it includes a warmly informative essay by Lanza's biographer Derek Manning. - Eric Myers