Headlines around the world read: “The Golden Voice is Stilled,” “Greatest Voice of the 20th Century Dies,” “Artist Who Brought Opera to the People is Gone,” “King of the High Cs Dies in Italian Hospital.” Eulogies praised the magnificent talent, the enormous popularity he enjoyed, and how he inspired so many young artists to sing.
The headlines that announced Pavarotti’s passing were similar to those that leaped across the globe about Mario Lanza when he died after only being on world’s stage for a decade. In those brief ten years, Lanza became one of the world’s most renowned artists, recording arias and popular songs still heard today, starring in seven Hollywood movies, performing in more than 150 concerts, and ranking as one of the highest paid and sought-after performers of his era. Nearly 50 years after his death, Lanza continues to capture the imagination of successive generations of music lovers.
His fan clubs circle the globe. Scholarships, festivals and tributes honor him everywhere great voices are appreciated. His name appears on the internet each day. A new CD has appeared nearly every year with a collection of his work, keeping him among the ranks of the best-selling classical performers. Lovers of opera and fine music debate his qualities, but no one denies that he was among the most remarkable singers of all time. That “Golden Voice,” which tabloids and news reports broadcast about from one corner of the globe to another, was not silenced now but left us almost fifty years ago.
But of all the extraordinary voices, what was unique about that of Mario Lanza?
The Charisma of Lanza
The grand tenors – Caruso, Pertile, Gigli et al – each had qualities that are incomparable. Of them all, Caruso is the one most frequently hailed as the greatest tenor of the first half of the 20th Century.
Like Raffaello, Lanza was admired for the richness and quality of his work, but considered inferior to some of his contemporaries. Like Caravaggio, Lanza created a new form of art and introduced the same elements of “shadows and light” that could produce works of unforgettable vividness.
Lanza had the qualities and creative skills of the greatest of tenors and of popular singers.
Both artists made an indelible mark in their field and left us a body of work that is still held in awe for its beauty, power, clarity and vitality. Such is the contribution of Mario Lanza to music.
Lanza had the charismatic qualities and creative skills of the greatest of tenors and the greatest of popular singers. He had a “natural” tenor voice that came with energy, drama, purity and passion. His mezza voce, combined with his extended range and impressive volume, afford him a special place among the greats.
And while musical tastes have changed considerably in five decades, Lanza’s quality and ability to “crossover” from the popular to the classical in a disarmingly masterful way is still a phenomenon that continues to attract fans from across the globe.
His Range and Scope
His work ranged from marvelous Italian arias and thrilling Neapolitan songs to pop music recordings that sold in the millions. Many topped the “hit parade” charts of the time.
Yet even variety is not enough. It takes more, and Lanza had even more. He could vocalize with sweet soft passion or powerful drama to show that the expression came from the heart and that the meaning came from the soul. His diction in both Italian and English was superb, and he took enormous care in shaping each word and phrase with sentiment and feeling. Critics claimed that he “shouted” and overused his gift and lacked the discipline of the great tenors who dominated the opera houses of his era. Some of the same criticisms were made of Maria Callas and Caruso. Those critics are footnotes in the history of music while the aforementioned giants are still admired today.