Existing Live Recordings of Mario Lanza by Derek McGovern
Between 1942 and 1951, Lanza gave approximately 150 concerts and recitals throughout the USA (including Hawaii), and in Canada and Mexico. During this period, he also sang two operatic roles, appearing twice as Fenton in Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in August 1942, and twice as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the New Orleans Opera in April 1948. In addition, he appeared as Rodolfo in two specially staged performances of Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème at Tanglewood in July and August of 1942.
A reported eighty-six of the concerts that Lanza gave between April 1942 and May 1951 were with soprano Frances Yeend and bass-baritone George London. Beginning in July 1947, the three singers toured together as the Bel Canto Trio, performing intensively over a ten-month period. Sadly, there are no known recordings of the Trio’s performances—or, for that matter, of any of Lanza’s operatic appearances. (Live recordings only became more commonplace at the end of the 1940s, when the switch from acetate to tape recording made the process more practical.) There are several live recordings of Lanza and Yeend together, however. In December 1945, the pair sang the duet "A Jug of Wine" from Lehmann's song cycle In a Persian Garden on the CBS radio program "Great Moments in Music," and on August 28, 1947, Lanza and Yeend were recorded in concert at the Hollywood Bowl with Eugene Ormandy conducting. There also exists a recording of the Bel Canto Trio together performing an audition for NBC chief David Sarnoff in 1948. This is an extract from Act IV of La Bohème, and was sungin English in anticipation of an Opera in English series on NBC-TV.
After 1951, Lanza’s live performances were much less frequent, and, frustratingly, very few were recorded. He sang live on one television show in the USA (Shower of Stars, CBS, 1954), performed twice at the London Palladium in 1957—including one Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II—and undertook a 22-concert tour between January and April 1958 of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. He also appeared on the London ATV Show Saturday Spectacular in January 1958, singing three songs from his recital program. (Some of these performances can be viewed or listened to here and here.)
Incredibly, the only occasions on which Lanza's live appearances were recorded were a number of radio shows in the 1940s, his television appearances in the 1950s, three Hollywood Bowl performances, the first half of a 1948 concert in Toronto, and one of his two recitals at the Royal Albert Hall in 1958. Details of these performances are shown below; all are audio recordings unless otherwise stated—--Derek McGovern.