After making the film Serenade for Warner Brothers, Lanza decided to move to Italy, secretly yearning to eventually fulfil his dream of an operatic career.
There were a couple of problems with this plan, however. The first was that Lanza had always been accustomed to living in style. Even in his pre-Hollywood days he spent money that he didn't have. Lanza wanted the best of everything, be it restaurants, hotels, clothes or whatever. On top of this he was generous to a fault. In Italy he rented the entire ground floor of the villa Badoglio, which had been a present from Mussolini to Marshall Badoglio for having conquered Abyssinia. The rent was 1000 dollars a month--a huge sum in 1957.
How was he going to pay for all this? Simple: by making yet another film. By now the loss of confidence and resulting fear of singing in public had increased. It's difficult enough for an artist to face an audience on a regular basis. Any prolonged absence from live singing only accentuates the anxiety, the fear of facing an audience. Having received an offer to sing a Command performance for Queen Elizabeth at the London Palladium, Lanza was terrified at the thought of appearing in public after an absence of nearly seven years. After three days of almost continuous drinking, he somehow managed to go through with the performance. And he was good.
However, the excesses were beginning to leave their mark on his health and by the beginning of 1958, during a European concert tour, Lanza's health was in a precarious state. He was suffering from high blood pressure, an enlarged liver due to the drinking, and a fairly serious form of phlebitis/thrombosis affecting his right leg.
Lanza decided to move to Italy, secretly yearning to eventually fulfil his dream of an operatic career.
Ironically, just as Lanza was falling apart physically, the voice was as phenomenal as ever, prematurely darker due to its owner's lifestyle, but impressively rich, with ringing Bs and B-flats that could be the envy of any tenor. But just as Lanza was beginning to regain some of the lost confidence by performing regularly in public, the tour had to be interrupted due to his poor health.
Offers continued to come his way from various opera houses, including Covent Garden, and La Scala. But physically, Lanza would not have been able to undergo the strain of preparing for a stage debut even if he had been able to overcome his stage-fright.
While his health was further deteriorating, he was receiving renewed offers from the Rome Opera and the San Carlo Opera in Naples. He eventually told the Musical Director of the Rome Opera, Riccardo Vitale, that if his health improved he would open the 1960 /61 season singing Canio in Pagliacci.
Just as Lanza was falling apart physically, the voice was as phenomenal as ever
In the meantime, pressed for money as usual, he accepted the offer to star in yet another film called Laugh Clown Laugh, an adaptation of Pagliacci. Massively overweight, Lanza entered a private clinic in order to get into shape for his upcoming film.
On the 12th day of confinement he suffered a massive heart attack. What had caused the heart attack? Lanza was far from well, having submitted his body to drastic punishment over the years. However, there is evidence of both incompetence and negligence on the part of the doctor in charge at the clinic.
Lanza was 38 years old. Tragically, his wife died only five months after him and left four young children orphaned.
Although Lanza's great promise was not fulfilled, he left behind a recorded legacy that in terms of variety is hard to equal. Lanza was probably the first successful crossover artist, equally at home with operatic arias, operetta, show tunes, love songs and virtually every other song form. To this day, he continues to hold listeners enthralled with the magnificence of his voice.
Before ending I should point out something else of the utmost importance. Lanza has been and continues to be badly represented by his record company, RCA. Over the years RCA has carried out the unfortunate practice of selecting some numbers at random when compiling LPs or, more recently, CDs. In many cases, these random choices represent Lanza at his worst instead of his best.
Although Lanza's great promise was not fulfilled, he left behind a recorded legacy that in terms of variety is hard to equal.
Although the good outnumber the bad among the over 300 recorded selections at RCA's disposal, there are some that are excellent and others that are simply dreadful. His recording company's unfortunate practice has supplied Lanza's critics with an abundance of evidence with which to back their criticism of the tenor. And yet the blame for this lies solely with RCA. They even went ahead and released material that Lanza had rejected. ("What does it matter as long as it sells?") And sell it does, because the die-hard fans and less discerning listeners will buy anything, anyway. But that's precisely the point. Since the fans will buy anything, why not compile a CD that represents the best of Lanza, so that it will also be bought by the more demanding listeners?
Perhaps this book will do something to address the problem.