V2586. MARIO LANZA, w.Callinicos Cond.: Arias from L'Africaine, La Boheme, Martha, Carmen, Cavalleria, Forza & Aida; w.ELAINE MALBIN: Duets from La Traviata & Madama Butterfly - all recorded 1949-50; w.LICIA ALBANESE: Otello - Dio ti giocondi; Dio mi potevi scagliar - recorded 1955. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-746. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
This important collection may lead a new generation to appreciate the remarkable gifts of Mario Lanza, who achieved enormous fame in the 1950s, perhaps comparable only with Caruso and Pavarotti. Although he sang on radio, in recitals, and in Hollywood films but not in the opera house (save for a single performance of MADAMA BUTTERFLY in New Orleans), Lanza was by any reckoning a great tenor. That he had neither the desire nor the discipline to learn complete operatic roles is our loss, and the fact that he died at 38 is heartbreaking. However, this should not take away from his achievements, which are fully on display here.
What I believe to be Lanzas greatest recording is the big third act scene from Verdis OTELLO with Licia Albanese as Desdemona. Recorded in 1955 for the movie SERENADE (I dont believe the full 14 minutes were used in the film, which I have not seen), Lanza displays not only a shining tenor voice, but also a deep understanding of Verdis style and the psychology of the scene. One suspects that Albanese, a very successful Met Desdemona, coached him. Whatever the cause, if you were to play this recording for any opera lover without identifying the singer, he would guess that this was an experienced and knowing Otello. The hushed and very beautiful singing in the monologue Dio mi potevi will take your breath away. Lanzas interaction with Albanese in the preceding duet is explosive. The irony he puts in his voice and inflection when he seems momentarily to be forgiving Desdemona is just one example of imaginative vocal acting. Throughout, the voice exhibits a ring and beauty that ranks him with the best.
There are other examples of imagination that have merits far beyond just a lovely voice. The lyricism and honeyed tone that Lanza exhibits in Mappari from Flotows MARTHA reflects the dreamy quality of the music and text. In the LA BOHEME aria he uses no transposition, and the high C rings out gloriously. Lanzas sense of phrasing in Don Alvaros aria from LA FORZA DEL DESTINO is absolutely right. As you listen, you feel that this is precisely the way Verdi wanted the music to go.
In FANFARE 5:4, I wrote the following while reviewing a Lanza collection on RCA: I may be jumping to conclusions, since I only know his voice from recordings and never heard him in person, but it is my belief that Lanza possessed one of the most naturally lovely tenor voices of the postwar era, and even without training he managed to sing more interestingly and affectingly than many a more skilled performer, because of the inherent quality of the voice and the innate sense of just how the music should go that he seems to have been born with. That was written in 1982. Now, some 36 years of listening later, this collection only reaffirms my belief.
St. Laurent Studios transfers of the monaural originals are clean and fresh-sounding. Elaine Malbin is a competent lyric soprano in her two scenes, and Albaneses Desdemona is unforgettable. Constantine Callinicos was Lanzas choice as a conductor, and he accompanies the singer knowingly without bringing in any of his own personality. Ray Heindorfs conducting in the big OTELLO scene is slightly more involved and dramatic. The recorded sound, as you would expect when the tenor is being showcased, relegates the orchestra to the background.
I cannot recommend this release urgently enough. When you hear it you will understand why so many great musicians and singers (not least among them Plácido Domingo) have enthused over Lanza. Dont waste emotional energy weeping over what might have been. Rather, celebrate what was.
St. Laurent Studio recordings are available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
One of the most delicate, sighing, judiciously used womens voices one might ever hear. Licia Albanese would move on stage purposefully, with precision, painting her tones with careful control of her means and a clear perception of their end.
- Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, VOCI PARALLELE (Bologna ed., 1977)