Remembering Mario

By Derek Manning

Ellisa, Derek and Shirley
On January 13, 2005, the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Opera News presented BE MY LOVE: THE WORLD OF MARIO LANZA, an inspiring tribute to the great American tenor at Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center. The event was an unqualified success and it was especially gratifying to see so many dear Lanza friends in attendance that night.

Derek and Aaron
Pam Latham and members from the British Mario Lanza Society were there in sparkling form and were acknowledged by Mario's daughter Ellisa Lanza Bregman from the stage. Ellisa also paid tribute Raphaela Fasano's mother Josephine who was in the audience. Jim Thompson and his lovely wife Dima were as charming and gracious as ever, and Buddy Mantia arrived with the beautiful Barbara Feldon who, I swear, hasn't aged a day since her appearance as 'Agent 99' on the popular "Get Smart" TV series. Alan Burns defied some recent health problems to attend - a magnificent accomplishment, Alan, well done! I was delighted to see the Klees and Heidi from Germany, Paul and Terry Velda from England, and Joan Marsden, who pleased many visitors by bringing along photos of her visit with Mario on the set of "7 Hills of Rome". I also shook hands with Mary Papola from the Mario Lanza Institute, had a brief and enjoyable chat with Bill Ronayne, and was introduced to a delightful young tenor Aaron Caruso and his lovely lady.

Jane Powell
Two notable absentees on the night were Terry Robinson and Kathryn Grayson; both were sorely missed and undoubtedly would have made important contributions to the proceedings. What a shame, too, that weather conditions in the NY area prevented my friend David Weaver from departing Ohio on time to attend the performance. My own family traveling in from Chicago on the day only made it by a whisker! I did catch sight of Damon after the performance but he had left by the time I worked my way through the crowd. Ellisa, her husband Bobby and their two sons Tony and Nick were there, of course, along with Betty Lanza's delightful sister Shirley Hicks Borregaard and it was a great delight to meet up again with Rick and Laurie Leech.

Pam Latham and Ann Blyth
As for the evening's entertainment, only someone fixated on the minutiae of Mario's career could have found fault with the proceedings. Host F. Paul Driscoll did an exceptional job throughout the night, his script was intelligent and interesting at all times, and I found the film selections overall to be outstanding. What a thrill to see Lanza up there on the big screen again, with glorious clips that ranged from "Mamma Mia, Che Vo Sape?" through "Be My Love" to the death scene from "Otello". No scenes were shown from "The Student Prince", perhaps understandably, but I couldn't help but think what an impact "I'll Walk With God" would have had on the audience.

Pam Latham and Richard Leech
The panel discussion with Ann Blyth, Jane Powell, Lucine Amara and Elaine Malbin was entertaining, if a little Lanza-lite; you'd have to look elsewhere if you wanted some deep discussion on Mario's voice and his operatic potential, but it could be argued that this was neither the evening nor the audience for that type of discourse. All four ladies were enchanting and witty and looked absolutely wonderful. The announcement of a surprise guest in the audience was a particular thrill: the magical Licia Albanese, who movingly blew a kiss at the image of the man she had shared a duet with up there on the screen.

Shirley, Ellisa and Bobby
Brian Kellow introduced Ellisa and Damon on stage for a brief chat about their father and they were as charming and as gracious as could be. Finally, following some glorious film excerpts from "For the First Time", tenor Richard Leech had the unenviable task of bringing the evening to a close with a brief recital in tribute to Mario. Rick is that rare classical artist who is equally at home with both popular and operatic fare and his tribute that night was as heartfelt as it was inspiring. His selections covered such Lanza favorites as "Because You're Mine", a moving "E Lucevan le Stelle", "Come Prima" and "I'll Be Seeing You". Bravo, Mr. Leech, you are truly one of a kind!

Jonathan, Tony and Nick
BE MY LOVE: THE WORLD OF MARIO LANZA flew by much too quickly but I'd be very surprised if a single person left Alice Tully Hall that night thinking the tribute had been anything less than a total triumph. Mario may never have sung at the Met but for that one unforgettable evening at Lincoln Center, Lanza ruled.