Note:Mike McAdam is referring here to the album "Mario!", a collection of Neapolitan songs recorded by Lanza in December 1958. The conductor was Franco Ferrara; the arrangers were Carlo Savina and Ennio Morricone——Derek McGovern.
First off, I must admit I feel doubly silly now for putting this LP back on the shelf all those years ago instead of buying it! I have heard so much said in praise of this Rome recording session, and it certainly doesn't leave you wanting. A couple of these selections would be well worn by now if they were on the old vinyl media!
It's also advantageous to have three or four of these Neapolitan songs on the 'Don't forget Me' CD, sung by the young(er) Mario. What an eye-opener to compare that exuberant, youthful, soar-off-into-space 1951-52 voice with the disciplined, mature and often poignant voice he brings to these sessions.
I think he really found his niche here, a niche he stuck his toe in during those earlier, uncoached Coke selections but without the sensitivity he shows here.
Franco Ferrara (1911-1985) at the age of 30
I don't think I've ever sat through a Lanza recording before without waiting for some tasteless slip, note-slide or high C yell. None of that here. His high notes are all there but are not used just willy-nilly. His maturity and obvious professionalism in this outing speaks of an artist who wanted to come out of the studio having done Mom & Pop (and Italian fans) proud. Guess what, Mario? You did it in spades.
I also think it's the first time I've heard songs where Lanza sounds so 'up-front' with the orchestra simply accompanying rather than competing. Thank you, Signor Ferrara and thanks to Armando for making me more appreciative of this. Damn..it does make such a difference, doesn't it?
These selections would be well worn by now if they were on the old vinyl media!
Would that Mario had 'hung out' with this conductor a while longer. What additional great things might have transpired?
But let's be thankful for small mercies. The wonderful vitality and evenness of delivery with which Mario imbues these uniformly-great songs must truly make this one of our tenor's 'Legacy' recordings.
Dicitencello Vuie: Mario's mother's favourite? Lovely song. Amazing phrasing and a heartfelt delivery.
Maria Mari': Nice upbeat piece; well presented. I notice both Pav and Mario both give similar readings of this number and also the impression that they love this type of song.
Voce 'e Notte: A beautiful song, beautifully recorded. Mario really puts a lot of heart into this piece. Very poignant with lots of vocal style on display here.
Canta Pe' Me: Compared to the somewhat over-the-top Coke recording, a good, disciplined reading, but with a somewhat abbreviated ending?
O Surdato 'Nnammurato: Sounds like he's having fun here. Love the Fife 'n' Drum-like intro.
Come Facette Mammeta: Catchy, semi-rollicking song. Did I hear a little chuckle at one point?
Santa Lucia Luntana: Restrained and tasteful here. Masterfully sung. Great lower register display and what a honey-dipped middle voice! The Coke version suffers by comparison where even a vocal dweeb like me can tell Lanza isn't using his voice 'properly'. Another 'what if': If Mario had lived and become a vocal coach in his later years, imagine his use of these two recordings as an illustration of how to sing and how not to sing a piece?
Fenesta che Lucive: An achingly sad song. Movingly rendered with some fine orchestral touches.
Tu Ca Nun Chiagne: Great line, power and very assured cadenza-style ending. One of the highlights of this collection (the Coke version suffers from an overpowering orchestra and sloppy final notes from Lanza).
'Na Sera 'e Maggio: Disciplined rendering of a great song with seamless shifts between registers. The Coke version isn't too shabby either. That youthful exuberance and the let-it-all-hang-out vocal acrobatics (complete with Lanza crack/sob in the opening high notes) are great to compare to this more subdued 1958 version.
Passione: Last, but definitely not least! A haunting, beautiful piece of singing. While the LP version sounds just fine, the CD version has a slight edge in orchestral spread between speakers and quite an edge in vocal fidelity. The harmonics and colour in Lanza's voice are unreal, especially in that last high A. Really nice orchestral bits also, with overlaid mandolin and cor anglais. Hard to forget and the right song to end this great Lanza/Ferrara collaboration with.
Note from Derek McGovern: Mike McAdam's fascinating series of audio "cobblings" (including remastered versions of some Lanza rarities) can be heard here. Any questions for Mike can be directed to him at our forum.