American mezzo-soprano, voice teacher and opera director who sang for 22 years at the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to performing elsewhere in the US and also in Europe and the USSR.
One of her signature roles was Amneris in Verdi's Aida, a part she portrayed in the “O Terra Addio” scene with Lanza and Dorothy Kirsten in the film The Great Caruso. Thebom also appears in several other scenes in the film with Lanza, including a snippet from “Bella Figlia dell'Amore” from Verdi's Rigoletto and the complete Sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (together with Kirsten, baritone Giuseppe Valdengo, bass Nicola Moscona, and tenor Gilbert Russell). Thebom's opinion of Lanza's vocal talent can be read here.
Wesley Tourtelotte (1883-1969)
American organist who accompanied Lanza on a number of songs that he recorded for his films, most notably on the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” (with the St. Luke Choristers and soloist soprano Jacqueline Allen) for The Great Caruso (1951) ...
and on Malotte's “The Lord's Prayer,” which was featured in Because You're Mine (1952). Tourtelotte also accompanied Lanza on his celebrated 1952 recording of “I'll Walk with God” for the film The Student Prince; however, the organist's (sole) accompaniment was subsequently overlaid with the MGM Studio Orchestra on the released version, as heard in the film and on record.
Giuseppe Valdengo (1914-2007)
Italian baritone who enjoyed an international career, performing at the Metropolitan Opera (for seven seasons), the Rome Opera, La Scala and the Paris Opera.
Between 1947 and 1950 Valdengo participated in several concert performances of operas conducted by Arturo Toscanini for NBC radio, all of which have been released commercially. Also in 1950, Valdengo was one of a group of Metropolitan Opera singers who appeared in various operatic sequences of the MGM film The Great Caruso. Valdengo sings with Lanza in two operatic montages, together with a scene featuring the complete Sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, in which mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom, soprano Dorothy Kirsten, bass Nicola Moscona and tenor Gilbert Russell also appear. After recording the Sextet, Valdengo and Moscona reportedly embraced Lanza, and urged him to join them as a colleague at the Metropolitan Opera. [Two photos of the Sextet recording session can be viewed here]
Riccardo Vitale (1903-1979)
Riccardo Vitale with his daughter, actress Milly Vitale, 1960
Artistic Director of the Rome Opera from 1958 to 1962, and son of noted conductor Edoardo Vitale (who worked at the same theatre from 1895 to 1934). Vitale was present at the Rome Opera House in September 1958, when Lanza recorded the operatic selections for his final film, For the First Time.
Deeply impressed by what he later described as “a tenor of great quality,” Vitale invited Lanza to appear at the Rome Opera in any opera of his choosing. A one-off performance of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with Lanza in the principal role of Canio was tentatively scheduled for the 1960-61 season.
Jess Walters (1908-2000)
American baritone who appeared in more than 650 performances at Covent Garden opposite some of the leading singers of his time, including soprano Maria Callas (in a production of Verdi's Aida in 1953).
Renowned for the warmth and flexibility of his voice, his diction and his acting ability, Walters sang the role of Sharpless to Mario Lanza's Pinkerton in the 1948 New Orleans Opera Association of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Years later he recalled that Lanza had experienced no difficulty in projecting his voice in the large (and acoustically unforgiving) New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. [An obituary can be read here]
Robert Weede (1903-1972)
Highly regarded American baritone who sang with some of the leading opera singers of his time at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera and, later, the San Francisco Opera House, where he performed for many seasons.
Weede was also popular on Broadway in several works, most notably in Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella. Assigned by Columbia Artists Management in 1942 to act as a mentor to Lanza, Weede became a friend to the tenor, introducing him to important personalities in the music world and working on him with his vocal technique.
Lanza's voice studies were interrupted by army service in 1943, but on his discharge in 1945 he resumed his studies with Weede, who in turn introduced him to repertoire coaches. It was also on Weede's instigation that Lanza was chosen as a temporary replacement for tenor Jan Peerce on the CBS “Great Moments in Music” radio program. Weede performed alongside Lanza on three occasions on the live show, most notably in the duet “Golden Days” from Romberg's operetta The Student Prince. These performances have survived, together with a private (and primitively captured) 1942 recording of Weede, Lanza and soprano Lois MacMahon singing “Marcello Finalmente” from Puccini's La Bohème.
Earl Wild (1915-2010)
Virtuoso American pianist, internationally renowned for his recitals and master classes. Wild was at one time Lanza's close neighbor when the two men were living in New York in the mid-1940s, and accompanied him in recital on at least one occasion around that time.
In an interview a few years before his death at the age of 94, the then still-active Wild reminisced about the tenor: “I lived downstairs from Mario Lanza for a time on West 49th street. He was a most attractive person, radiating charisma, and his voice was beautiful, but he was always embarrassed by his lack of musical education. He had a nervous psyche, and the film studios pushed him too quickly.”
Irene Williams (1887-1979)
Irene Williams in her younger days
A former professional soprano, two of whose acoustic recordings can be heard here, the Philadelphia-based Ms. Williams taught Lanza repertoire for eighteen months between 1940 and 1942, teaching the budding tenor two operatic roles and twenty songs, and accompanying him on piano in at least one concert.
She was also the first of many people to exploit the gullible side of Lanza's nature, persuading him to sign a contract (as he departed excitedly for his studies in Tanglewood in July 1942) that guaranteed her 10% of his future singing income in excess of $7500 per year. She later sued Lanza for breach of contract, but received only a paltry $10,000.
Frank J. Worth (1903-1990)
Hungarian-born conductor, arranger and symphonic composer who worked on many popular U.S. radio shows, including Hedda Hopper's Hollywood on NBC in the early 1950s. In November 1950, Worth conducted Lanza's renditions of "Vesti la Giubba" and "Be My Love," which were pre-taped for broadcast on Hopper's Show on the 19th of that month. The latter number featured a new arrangement of the song by Worth.
Frances Yeend (1913-2008)
American soprano who came to prominence singing the role of Ellen Orford in the American premiere of Britten's Peter Grimes at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1946. Yeend subsequently enjoyed an international career that included a ten-year stint at the New York City Opera, and performances at the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden.
Yeend and Lanza first met in December 1945, when they performed together on a live radio broadcast of excerpts from Lehmann's In a Persian Garden. The following year, they began singing concerts together, and their repeated success with audiences and critics ultimately led to the formation of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947.
Together, Yeend, Lanza and bass-baritone George London toured the United States, Canada and Mexico, singing a reported 86 concerts between July 1947 and May 1948. “I loved singing with Mario,” Yeend recalled on the 1983 documentary Mario Lanza: The American Caruso. “It was a warm voice, and yet it also had a great thrill to it, especially at the top of the voice. And he never spared the horses—he just let it loose!”
On August 28, 1947, Yeend and Lanza sang a rapturously received concert at the Hollywood Bowl with Eugene Ormandy conducting, and it was here that the tenor came to the attention of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed the young singer to a seven-year film contract. The complete Yeend-Lanza-Ormandy concert is available on CD, and the highlights can be heard on the disc accompanying Armando Cesari's Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy.
Franco Zauli (1923-2006)
Italian vocal coach, pianist and much-recorded composer of songs. Coached Lanza on the operatic and Italian material that he recorded in Rome in 1958-59.
In an interview with Armando Cesari, Zauli fondly recalled Lanza's “exceptional timbre” and highly Italianate approach to singing, together with his “extraordinary human warmth.”
An Alphabetical List of Known Singers Who Performed and/or Recorded with Mario Lanza
This list only identifies known singers or choirs who worked directly with Mario Lanza, and the year(s) of their vocal collaborations. Please note that it does not include singers whose voices were post-dubbed on to Lanza's recordings either before or after his death (e.g. Elizabeth Doubleday, Jean Fenn, Judith Raskin, Norma Giusti), nor does it include individual chorus members (e.g. Marilyn Horne, Bill Lee, Marni Nixon) who sang with him in a non-soloist capacity.