Mario Lanza: The Ultimate Collection

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1999.

When Mario Lanza's first movie came out, I was only nine years old. I didn't like opera then and wasn't much interested in romantic love, so, as you can imagine, I didn't care much for the wildly popular romantic tenor. Now, all these years later, RCA Red Seal has given me -- and you -- a second chance to appreciate Lanza's art, and I'm far more receptive to it.

RCA has issued a double CD album in its "Artists of the Century" series devoted to the art of Mario Lanza. One of the first things that strikes me, listening to this music, is how "highbrow" it is. Lanza started out to be an opera singer. He was a great admirer of Enrico Caruso, who died the very year Lanza was born (1921). Lanza's third picture was called "The Great Caruso," and "Mario Lanza: The Ultimate Collection" (2 RCA CDs: 743216 34672) is a mixture of opera selections in what sounds to me like flawless Italian and some of America's best popular romantic ballads, sung in equally impeccable English. (Lanza was born in South Philadelphia, the son of Italian immigrants.)

That an opera singer could be so popular in the U.S. is surprising. I doubt it will ever happen again. Our era's "Three Tenors" may be well-loved by the relatively small audiences for PBS and grand opera, but Lanza's appeal went beyond that. His films may even account for the introduction, acceptance and love of opera by many in our older generation.

In any case, this excellent compilation of Lanza's art is filled with great tunes, performed with perhaps a bit too much romantic passion for today's more skeptical tastes. It certainly is a bit much to take in all at once. On the other hand, the two CDs revive some of the most beautiful songs ever written, giving them the full, dramatic orchestra-chorus-soloist treatment. The sound fidelity on these two CDs is nothing short of amazing, considering when they were originally recorded, and the recordings are so clear (and Lanza's diction so good) that you can understand every word.

CD-1 begins with "Be My Love" (Brodszky-Cahn) which, to me, is worth the price of this double album all by itself. It also includes "Danny Boy" (Londonderry Air), "Because You're Mine" (another Brodszky-Cahn tune), "Granada" (Lara), "The Loveliest Night of the Year" (Aaronson-Webster) and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Rodgers-Hammerstein). Opera selections, which are mixed in with these others, include music by Verdi, Bach-Gounod, Leoncavallo, and Puccini.

CD-2 begins with "And This is My Beloved (Bizet-Forrest-Wright). It also includes "If I Loved You" (Rogers-Hammerstein), "Deep in My Heart" (Romberg), "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" (Young-Herbert), "With a Song in My Heart" (Rodgers-Hart), and "All the Things You Are" (Kern-Hammerstein). The opera picks are by Rossini, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Ponchielli, and others.

Lanza was only 38 when he suffered a fatal heart attack while undergoing treatment at a Rome clinic. He moved there in 1957, two years prior to his untimely death, disillusioned with the Hollywood which had made him an international star, eager to get back to opera and his dreams of becoming a second Caruso.

For anyone born in 1940 or before, these discs may or may not bring you back to opera, but they will undoubtedly bring back musical memories of your youth.

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