American soprano who performed at the Metropolitan Opera (notably in the role of Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin) and extensively throughout the US as a concert singer. She spent her last years teaching voice at Indiana University School of Music.
Davis joined Lanza for a concert at Quebec's Palais Montcalm on October 10, 1947, accompanied by pianist Josef Blatt. This concert was notable for being possibly the only occasion on which Lanza performed the Act I duet from Puccini's Tosca, apart from an abridged live radio performance in 1945.
Maurice de Packh (1896-1960)
American composer, conductor, and arranger who was the principal orchestrator on the score of the 1954 MGM film version of Romberg's The Student Prince, which Lanza recorded in 1952-53. De Packh's lush re-working of the famous “Serenade” is arguably an improvement on Romberg's own orchestration of this song.
Leonard De Paur (1914-1998)
Leonard De Paur in 1956
African-American composer, distinguished choral director, and arts administrator (principally with New York's Lincoln Center) who directed the 50-man chorus for the 1943-1944 Broadway production of Moss Hart's 'Winged Victory.'
Lanza was a member of the chorus at the time, and participated in some 200 performances of the musical play.
A high school dropout, de Paur later studied music at Columbia University and the Institute of Musical Arts (now Julliard School of Music) under the mentorship of Hall Johnson, noted African American composer. As musical director of the Negro Unit of the Federal Theater Project during the Depression, de Paur was instrumental in expanding racial integration in the performing arts. Speaking of his time with the Federal Theatre Project, de Paur stated, "What years they were...A whole manner of things never attempted before in theater bloomed there!"
Critically acclaimed as a choral conductor, composer and arranger, de Paur also created works and conducted orchestral and operatic productions after World War II as well as projects on Broadway and on television. During the 1960s, his de Paur chorus toured globally, including numerous concerts in Africa under the auspices of the US Department of State. "Music was the oxygen in which I existed," he told an interviewer. [Obituary for De Paur here.]
Allard de Ridder (1887-1966)
Dutch-born conductor, violist and composer who was associated with various orchestras in the Netherlands and in the US before becoming the first conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1930.
He later founded the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he conducted Lanza at a very well-received concert on November 13, 1946. ("[The audience] screamed and stamped and cheered," wrote the concert's promoter the following day. "It was impossible for him to leave. He was even forced to repeat one of his encores.") Dr. De Ridder was subsequently quoted as saying that he had never worked with a more "wonderful" soloist than Lanza. [Link here.] Reviewing their concert the following day in the Ottawa Citizen, Lawrence Thistle singled out the tenor's rare "golden quality," melodiousness, "purity of tone," range and vocal power.
Victor De Sabata (1892-1967)
Italian composer and renowned conductor, principally associated with La Scala, of which he was the artistic director for many years. While serving as guest conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in early 1950, De Sabata visited Lanza in Los Angeles expressly to invite him to open the 1950-51 season at La Scala in the title role of Andrea Chénier. Lanza initially accepted the offer, only to decline it later that year. Had he gone ahead with it, he would have enjoyed the distinction of being the first American to open the season at La Scala.
Earl Denny (1900-1964)
Earl Denny with Lanza in the 1950s
Italian-American band and small orchestra leader, popular in Philadelphia, where he conducted what was apparently Lanza's first public performance, an appearance at the Fleischer Auditorium in 1940. On Christmas Day that same year, Denny also led the string ensemble that accompanied Lanza's rendition of the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" at Philadelphia's St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church. Denny recalled in 1961 that the congregation had been profoundly moved by Lanza's performance.
Leila Edwards (1912-2008)
Leila Edwards in the 1940s
Highly regarded American vocal coach and accompanist who worked with numerous leading opera singers from the 1940s to the 1980s, including Robert Merrill, Jussi Björling, Cornell MacNeil, and Sherrill Milnes. The New York-based Ms. Edwards was also accompanist for thirteen years to (opera) stage director Armando Agnini.
It was on Agnini's advice that Lanza studied the role of Pinkerton with Leila Edwards for the New Orleans Opera Association's 1948 production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Edwards worked for four months with Lanza, and recalled years later that the tenor possessed an “instinctive” ear for phrasing that made him a quick study, a “magnificent” voice of “limitless power,” and that he had been a “perfect gentleman” with whom she never encountered any problems. “I didn't travel to New Orleans to hear him in Butterfly,” she added, “because I thought it was only a matter of time before I'd see him at the Met.”
Franco Ferrara (1911-1985)
Distinguished Italian conductor and teacher at the Juilliard School, Tanglewood Music Center, and, most notably, at Rome's Academy of St. Cecilia (Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia), where he taught for many years after retiring from live performing in 1948 (owing to a health issue reportedly involving a loss of muscle tone).
Ferrara was much admired by Herbert Von Karajan, who freely acknowledged that his own rise to the top of his profession was made easier by Ferrara's early retirement. (Ferrara did, however, continue to conduct in the recording studio.) Among his pupils were renowned conductors Riccardo Chailly and Riccardo Muti. In December 1958, Ferrara worked with Lanza, conducting what is generally regarded as the tenor's finest studio album, a collection of Neapolitan songs released as Mario! (and as Canzoni Napoletane in Italy). Nearly twenty years later, Ferrara recalled that Lanza had been “vocally extraordinary with a voice that had both steel and warmth”— “a Caruso-type voice”—and that “he possessed a great musicality.”
Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979)
American conductor, principally associated with the Boston Pops Orchestra, which he led from 1930 to 1979. On October 25, 1945, Fiedler conducted Lanza and 56 members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at a concert in the Imperial Ballroom of the Hotel Statler, Boston. The occasion was the 30th Anniversary Banquet of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and among the 1800 attendees were Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Admiral Marc Mitscher.
Lukas Foss (1922-2009)
Lukas Foss in 1944
American pianist, composer and conductor who was one of several musicians who coached Lanza for his performances in Nicolai's comic-fantastic opera The Merry Wives of Windsor (in which he also appeared in the minor role of “Second Citizen”)...
and for a staging of the third act of Puccini's La Bohème at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in 1942. Lanza later recalled that Foss was one of several “strict taskmasters” with whom he worked at Tanglewood.
Dominic Frontiere (1931-)
Golden Globe award-winning film and television composer, arranger, and jazz accordionist who was the head of the music department of Twentieth Century Fox and, later, at Paramount Studios. In 1955 Frontiere worked with Lanza on one occasion, providing the accordion accompaniment for the tenor's rendition of Rossini's "La Danza" in the film "Serenade."
Grant Garnell (d. 1978)
Operatic baritone and vocal coach who performed in both Italy (at San Carlo) and the United States, principally at the New York City Opera. Under his real name of Giuseppe Gentile, he sang the role of Ford alongside Lanza's Fenton in the (second) August 13th performance...
of Nicolai's comic-fantastic opera The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in 1942. After Lanza's discharge from the US Army in 1945, Garnell worked briefly with the tenor on his vocal technique.
Jakob Gimpel (1906-1989)
Polish-born concert pianist who accompanied Lanza on two recordings for the soundtrack of The Toast of New Orleans in 1949 and on eight recordings for Serenade in 1955. Note: In 1959 Gimpel sued RCA and Warner Bros. for breaching his confidentiality agreement by revealing that he was the pianist on the Serenade soundtrack album. [For an account of Gimpel's career, read "He made Bugs Bunny a virtuoso: Pianist Jakob Gimpel – Modest man, highly gifted artist"]
Boris Goldovsky (1908-2001)
Russian conductor who was director of the opera department at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood from 1942 to 1962, and also founder of the (now-defunct) New England Opera Theater.
Goldovsky conducted Lanza in his operatic debut (in the role of Fenton) in Nicolai's comic-fantastic opera The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Berkshire Festival on August 7th and 13th, 1942, and again in his second performance of a special staging of Act III of Puccini's La Bohème that same month. He was also one of several coaches who worked with the tenor at the Festival.
Although Goldovsky, in his 1979 memoir My Road to Opera, was harshly critical of the 21-year-old's Lanza's personality and inability to read music (and went on to make the bizarre and easily refuted claim that his operatic recordings were the product of studio trickery), he acknowledged that the tenor possessed a voice that was “gorgeous, unforgettable [and] out of this world,” and that he “scored a great hit with the audience when he sang the serenade from the second act [of Nicolai's opera].” Moreover, Goldovsky's claims that Lanza was “unteachable”—and that he therefore had no future in opera—are contradicted not only by many other conductors and coaches who subsequently worked with the tenor, but by the testimony of the former's own colleague at the Festival, Herbert Graf (see below), who was responsible for staging The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Vladimir Golschmann (1893-1972)
French conductor of Russian parentage who was championed by Serge Koussevitzky and who served as principal conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1931 to 1956. In January 1947, Golschmann conducted Lanza in two concerts with soprano Frances Yeend in St. Louis.
Irma González (1916-2008)
Mexican soprano, renowned in her home country for the roles of Maddalena in Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Mimì in Puccini's La Bohème (among others), who became what Lanza described in a 1949 interview as “South America's greatest diva.”
She later taught voice at the National Conservatory of Music of Mexico, where she became the teacher of tenor Francisco Araiza (1950- ). González (as Mimì) and Lanza (as Rodolfo) twice sang the respective roles of Mimì and Rodolfo, together with baritone James Pease as Marcello and sopranos Laura Castellano and Sheila Vogelle alternating as Musetta, in a special staging of Act III of La Bohème at the Tanglewood Music Festival in July and August 1942. Music critic Jay C. Rosenfeld subsequently reported that, “Miss Gonzales [sic] as Mimi and Mario Lanza as Rodolfo were conspicuous by the beauty of their voices and the vividness of their characterizations.”
Interesting side note: On October 17, 1960, González sang the role of Mimì opposite Giuseppe Di Stefano as Rodolfo in a production of La Bohème at the Teatro Florida, Mexico. The 19-year-old tenor who sang the small role of Parpignol that evening was Plácido Domingo.
Herbert Graf (1904-1973)
Austrian opera producer renowned for his staging of productions at the Metropolitan Opera (1936-1960), La Scala and at the Salzburg Festival. Directed Lanza's operatic debut (in Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor) at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in 1942, ...
and went on to write in Opera News in October of that year that Lanza was “a real find of the season” who “would have no difficulty one day being asked to join the Metropolitan Opera.”
Kathryn Grayson (1922-2010)
American coloratura soprano who appeared in many film musicals between 1941 and 1956, most of them at MGM studios. Among her most popular films were Show Boat (1951) and Kiss Me Kate (1953), both with baritone Howard Keel.
In the 1960s, she ventured into occasional operatic appearances, and also appeared in stage productions of operettas and musicals. Grayson co-starred with Lanza in the tenor's first two films, That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950), and also appeared in concert with him at the Hollywood Bowl on June 24, 1948, singing “Thine Alone” from Eileen and “O Soave Fanciulla” from La Bohème in duet. Grayson and Lanza also performed on radio together in 1949, and sang in public that same year, as part of a promotional tour for That Midnight Kiss.
John Green (1908-1989)
John Green in 1965
American conductor, composer and arranger who was Musical Director at MGM from 1949 to 1959, and who later guest-conducted many symphony orchestras in the United States. Green also won five (American) Academy Awards for his scoring of such popular film musicals as An American in Paris (1951), West Side Story (1961) and Oliver! (1968).
He worked with Lanza on three MGM films, most notably on the 1952 Because You're Mine, in which he conducted the tenor in a thrilling rendition of Agustin Lara's “Granada.” Lanza also recorded two of Green's compositions (“The Trembling of a Leaf” and “Never Till Now”). In a 1977 interview conducted by Armando Cesari, Green stated that, “I was convinced when I was working with Mario [Lanza], and I still am, that the instrument itself—the voice itself—was the voice of the next Caruso. Mario had an unusual—very unusual—quality . . . a tenor with a baritone color in the middle and lower registers, and a great feeling for the making of music. A great musicality. I found it fascinating, musically, to work with Mario.”
Herbert Grossman (1926-2010)
Herbert Grossman in 2008
American conductor who began his career with the NBC Opera Theatre and later conducted at the New City Opera and the San Francisco Opera, among other US orchestras.
He also conducted the Bavarian State Opera for two years and served as Associate Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. In addition, he served as assistant in the early 1950s to the legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) during the latter's tenure with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. In June 1948 Grossman accompanied Mario Lanza, soprano Frances Yeend, and bass-baritone George London (and other singers) on the piano in a private performance of an extra from Act IV of Puccini's La Bohème. [Read about that performance and an interview with Maestro Grossman here].
Giangiacomo Guelfi (1924-2012)
Italian baritone, noted for his Verdian and verismo roles, who sang at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, and other leading opera houses.
In September 1958, he was one of several singers who collaborated with Lanza on a recording at the Rome Opera House of the “Gloria all'Egitto” scene from Verdi's Aida for the soundtrack of the tenor's final film, For the First Time. Guelfi sings the part of Amonasro to Lanza's Radames, and also appears in the equivalent scene in the film.
Vernon Hammond (1910-1988)
American conductor, vocal coach and pianist who was director of Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts from 1934 to 1976, and one-time assistant to the legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski. Hammond accompanied Lanza on the piano at a concert in Allentown (PA) on May 27, 1942.
Tauno Hannikainen (1896-1968)
Finnish conductor and cellist who became Principal Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
On July 2, 1946, he conducted Lanza with the Prom Symphony Orchestra at a concert in Toronto.The (Toronto) Daily Star subsequently reported that Hannikainen and Lanza “made it a most enjoyable concert,” with the latter “[revealing] a thrilling tenor voice singing arias from La Gioconda, Tosca, and the lovely 'M'Appari' from Marta.”
Mack Harrell (1909-1960)
Renowned American lieder bass-baritone who also appeared at the Metropolitan Opera between 1939 and 1958. Initially a violinist, Harrell briefly attempted to teach the teenaged Lanza that instrument in Philadelphia in the late 1930s;...
later the two men were reunited when Harrell sang the role of Ford to Lanza's Fenton in the first of two performances of Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in 1942.