Mario Lanza: The Final Years By Derek McGovern Page 2
Mario!: A Brief Analysis
Funiculi' Funicula'.Skip this one! The album's sole lapse contains an unfortunate arrangement and off-key singing from Lanza. Dicitencello Vuie. The favourite recording of Mario Lanza's mother, this one has a lot going for it. Lanza begins his rendition slightly sluggishly, but by the second half is in full command of his material.
Maria Mari'.Delightful. The smile in Lanza's honeyed voice adds much to the simple beauty of the song. Not as well recorded, however, as some of the other renditions on this collection, with the sound somewhat gritty and unflattering to the tenor.
Voce 'e Notte. Haunting in the extreme—and apparently Lanza's own favourite recording of himself— this lament is, for my money, the tenor's finest recording of a Neapolitan song. He perfectly expresses the anguish of a lovesick man alone in the night, bringing extraordinary sensitivity to his phrasing, and singing with stunning control of dynamics.
Canta Pe' Me.The vitality in this recording recalls the young Lanza, and yet it's light years removed from the tenor's erratic Coca-Cola performance of seven years earlier. Outstanding in every respect, and oh, what superb breath control Lanza displays!
'O Surdato 'Nnammurato.Some light relief in the form of this rousing ditty about a soldier in love. Baritonal Lanza in fine form.
Come Facette Mammeta.A joy from start to finish!
Santa Lucia Luntana.Magically rendered, and making full use of the tenor's rich middle register, with the perfect arrangement. Lanza vocally "paints" the beauty of the sea and the moon in this Neapolitan's ode to his homeland. The tenor at his most reflective and restrained.
Fenesta Che Lucive. Arguably the saddest Lanza recording of them all, the tenor sounds almost appropriately tired here, with his final "croak" at the end (whether intentional or not) adding to the quiet beauty of this moving lament.
Tu Ca Nun Chiagne!Rousing and dramatic with Lanza in brilliant vocal form and clearly savoring the words; a true knock-out.
'Na Sera 'E Maggio.The haunting whisper, "Voglio bene sulo a te" ("I want only you"), at the beginning of the second verse underscores just how much Lanza's understanding of the Neapolitan idiom has developed since his earlier (1952) renditions. One of Lanza's finest recordings of a Neapolitan song, his richly nuanced singing here has been aptly described by one admirer as "hypnotic."
Passione. One of Lanza's greatest recordings—and a fitting conclusion to an astonishing album. Perfect control of vocal dynamics and masterful phrasing are coupled here with a brilliant high A ending. lFranco Ferrara's comment about "steel and warmth" was never truer than on this recording.
So ended 1958, a remarkable year in the life of an extraordinary artist. In twelve hectic months Lanza had undergone a gruelling recital tour, battled with severe illness, completed a movie, and made some of his finest recordings. By year's end he would have had every reason to look back on the previous twelve months with pride, though I somehow doubt that his frantic lifestyle ever allowed time for such quiet contemplation.
Overall the 1959 recordings confirm the decline in Lanza's health.
The 1959 sessions: The Student Prince & Christmas Carols
Plagued by illness, Lanza would never again reach the heights of his 1958 sessions. The album "Mario Lanza Sings Caruso Favorites" comes close at times, but overall the 1959 recordings confirm the decline in the tenor's health. And yet when one considers that during this period, Lanza had to contend with an apparent (minor) heart attack, phlebitis, pneumonia, and a host of other ailments, the fact that he was able to sing at all seems miraculous. As it turned out, all but one of the five albums recorded that year contain moments of greatness, offering further proof that even when ill, Lanza's radiant sense of life could still endure.
The stereo remake of The Student Princecame first. Originally scheduled for recording in the summer of 1958 with the delectable Anna Moffo in the role of Kathy, the album was postponed until the following April, with a lesser soprano, Norma Giusti, replacing Moffo. Not that Ms. Giusti was ever present with Lanza in the recording studio; she, along with all of the tenor's subsequent singing partners, would be dubbed in at a later stage (and in another country).
Lanza's singing on this album, while not in the same class as his magnificent soundtrack recording of seven years earlier, is not nearly as bad as I (and probably many others) had damned it on first hearing. The raw, unedited versions of songs such as "Drink! Drink! Drink!" reveal Lanza to be in reasonable vocal shape. There's no denying that he is tired, but his singing here never degenerates to the level of, say, the 1956 Lanza On Broadway album. Lanza gives good renditions of most of the songs, including "Serenade," "Summertime in Heidelberg," and "I'll Walk with God," though the last of these is marred by poor sound quality and a raspy quality in the obviously ailing tenor's voice. (Lanza reportedly suffered a minor heart attack that same month, and in all likelihood was feeling unwell during these sessions.) Inevitably, though, I find myself more drawn to the two songs not featured on the original recording, where no unflattering comparisons can be made. The best of these is "Thoughts Will Come To Me," a splendid, poignant rendition of this sad farewell that greatly benefits from Lanza's baritone-like middle register. [Note: Forum discussions on this album can be read here and here.]