Gloria Boh was born in Ohio and is of Austrian ancestry. At the time that she recorded with Lanza, she was not a professional opera singer as such, but rather a student of singing. Her teacher was the prominent vocal coach Giacomo Spadoni, who also worked with Mario Lanza from 1948 to 1957. A few years prior to recording with Lanza, Ms. Boh had been invited by Gaetano Merola, Music Director and Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera, to spend six weeks with the Company—not to perform as such, but to study and immerse herself in an operatic environment.
Ms. Boh was aware that Merola had invited Lanza to sing a one-off performance of Andrea Chénier at the San Francisco Opera, and recalled that Spadoni had the contract in his office. It was at the San Francisco Opera that she met tenor Mario del Monaco, whom she got to know (and liked). She even sang on one occasion for him, recalling that he was "somewhat impressed" by her. Ms. Boh's singing career was abruptly interrupted, however, when she "met a professor and fell in love." Consequently, it was only later that she began performing on the operatic stage, beginning with a La Traviata in Los Angeles and then in a number of works with the Madison Opera Company.
It was Spadoni who recommended her to Lanza (and to Warner Bros). At the time, Ms. Boh was aware that Licia Albanese had already been approached to sing Desdemona in an extract from Otello for Lanza's forthcoming film Serenade, but due to contractual problems on Albanese's part (presumably with her recording studio), it had seemed that Licia would be unable to take part in the film. Ms. Boh was therefore the back-up person, and had Albanese remained unavailable, then she would also have appeared in the movie.
"I was prepped for it," she recalled, and also undertook a screen test. When it eventually emerged that Albanese would indeed be singing in the film, Ms. Boh—happily, a great admirer of hers—took the disappointment in her stride. But before Ms. Boh was signed up for the film, the deal with Warner Bros. was that she would first have to be approved by Lanza.
On the day that she came to the studio to audition, she recalled, she was told that Lanza would be sitting inside a vestibule waiting to hear her sing. If he approved of her singing, he would emerge; if not, he would remain inside the vestibule! She sang "Vissi d'Arte" from Tosca....and Lanza emerged.
Boh was a young student, not yet a professional opera singer.
Perceptions of Lanza
First of all, I asked her what Lanza was like as a person. "He was just a gentleman to me," she said. "He seemed very polite and happy around me, and he talked in a very natural way. He was really a nice guy." She contrasted Lanza's warm, natural manner with that of his co-star Vincent Price, whom she also met at the studio (Price, she recalled, tended to "talk down" to people.) Physically, he looked well to her at the time---somewhat overweight, but nothing out of the ordinary. She sensed, however, that he was insecure about performing in public, and also noted that he was sipping wine during their recording—something that surprised her given its dehydrating effect on the vocal cords.
I then asked her about Lanza's voice.
"He had the stamina to do it all. While he needed the underpinning of a coach, he was a born singer and his voice was magnificent." She raved about the lyric beauty of his sound, and ventured that he was a true lirico spinto. Interestingly, she mentioned that had been slightly disappointed with his singing when she first heard him in the movies---feeling that he "oversang" somewhat in the early films---but had no such disappointment when she encountered him in person.
As far as their recording of the Act III Otello duet ("Dio Ti Giocondi") was concerned, she remembers only doing retakes of the very beginning of the duet, and everything was completed on the one day (19 July 1955). She had previously rehearsed alone with conductor Ray Heindorf and his orchestra which, she pointed out, contained many former members of Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra.
He had the stamina to do it all... His voice was magnificent.
Spadoni was present throughout their recording, and guided them ("as a coach does"). Gloria was there in the studio right through to the end of Lanza's "vil cortigiaNAAAA," which follows the duet (immediately before the Monologue), and vividly remembered his high C.
She chuckled when I said that he was naughty to have held onto it for so long when the tenor is only supposed to touch the note. She wasn't present, however, when he sang the Monologue two days later, but heard the recording and thought it wonderful. She also praised Lanza for singing things in the film that were less familiar to the public at the time, including "Nessun Dorma."
Interestingly, Ms. Boh also remembers listening to Sarah Vaughan's recording of the Schubert "Ave Maria" with Lanza. They both liked her rendition very much, and she recalled that Lanza was studying this piece because he was planning to sing it in the film.
Interview with Derek McGovern, 6 January 2009
Ms. Boh again brought up how much she'd liked Lanza as a person. "There was no stiffness about him," she said. "Meeting him for the first time was just like meeting a member of your own family." She didn't sense any of the sadness that Lanza's Serenade co-star Sarita Montiel later detected in him: "A little nostalgia, perhaps, but not melancholy." He could also be quite humorous, she recalled.
Ms. Boh clarified that she wasn't present inside the actual studio during any of the other recordings that Lanza made for Serenade, but remembers the day that he recorded "Nessun Dorma," as she could hear him singing it from wherever she was standing at the time!
As for the Otello duet, she recalled that on the day they recorded it (having previously rehearsed it just once together with piano on the day of her successful audition), she couldn't see Lanza's face from her position in the studio. "Nor would I have wanted to!" she added, given how terrifying both the music and the nature of Lanza's interpretation of Otello were.
Meeting him for the first time was like meeting a member of your family
She again marvelled at the magnificence of Lanza's voice. She also recalled that both Renata Tebaldi and Victoria de Los Angeles were mentioned at one stage as possible Desdemonas to Lanza's Otello in the film (though, presumably, neither was ever formally approached). Interestingly, Ms. Boh has never seen the Serenade film, nor did she ever see the film script (which, in any event, was still being rewritten at the time of her Otello recording with Lanza).
After Serenade, Gloria continued working with Giacomo Spadoni, and it was only when the latter suffered a debilitating stroke that their lessons ended.
Although Gloria Boh's time with Mario Lanza was brief, the tenor made a lasting impression on her. "It was a very happy time in my life," she recalled. (She chuckled when she remembered that he had written "Gloria, I love you" over her Otello score.) She is delighted that Lanza's legacy is still being honored, adding that, “All of the tenors I've ever talked to idolize him."
Gloria Boh with Armando Cesari, January 2011
Postscript: Armando Cesari visited Gloria Boh at her New York City apartment in January 2011. To Armando’s great surprise, Ms. Boh presented him with a copy of her handwritten score of Otello—identical to the one that Lanza had used during their recording together. Click here to see reproductions of the score.