Mario Lanza -
Singing To The
Gods On BBC4

By Rupert Smith
Last Night's TV - The Guardian
December 3, 2005
Mario Lanza just had to open his mouth, and out came something that sounded like thunder having sex. Or mountains dissolving. Or God crying. I use these dreadful similes only in defiance of a man who claimed, at the start of Mario Lanza - Singing to the Gods, that mere words could never describe the great tenor's voice. He's probably right, but it's fun trying.
This was the usual BBC4 Friday-night treat: a straightforward biography of a star whose name is more familiar than his or her story. Last week it was Doris Day, the week before that Josephine Baker, and last night's show was just as revelatory in its unfussy way. It sounds like a cliche - and Lanza's life was, in some respects, a great big Italian-American cliche - but his talent was a burden to him, as were his irresistible sexual charms. Unable to cope with the pressures of being a genius and getting loads of nookie, he drank himself to death at the age of 38.
It was all about the music, of course, and there was plenty of footage of Lanza in action, singing Che Gelida Manina, Vesti la Giubba and even a corny song about a pineapple, which he invested with a certain grandeur. On this evidence it's not surprising that Lanza, born plain old Alfredo Cocozza in Philadelphia, was overwhelmed by his voice; it must be scary to have that much coming out of you. Entire distilleries couldn't wash away his insecurities.
The usual rogues' gallery of former friends and managers was enlivened by some colourful characters, such as Lanza's former trainer and minder Terry Robinson, who looked as if he'd been round the block a few times. There was also a "former singer", a vision in mauve called Babs Diner. She appeared for only a few fleeting seconds, but her name lingers on.