The opera singers said... Comments on Mario Lanza from opera singers who worked with him or heard him in person
Act III of Verdi's Otello: Lanza and Licia Albanese in Serenade (1956).
Vocalists from Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Roberto Alagna to Elvis Presley—among countless others—have spoken of how Mario Lanza inspired their careers. "Lanza's passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera," Domingo stated on CBS Television in January 2009. "I actually owe my love for opera thanks to a kid from Philadelphia." In a 1964 interview, tenor Richard Tucker told the New York Times that Lanza had "the voice of the [twentieth] century." To popular vocalist Frank Sinatra, who first heard Lanza sing in 1944, it was "a voice like you'll never hear again." But classical artists who worked with Mario Lanza or heard him in performance could talk first-hand of the depth of his talent and the breadth of his potential.
Their own often-eminent status in the world of classical music gives credence to their comments about his voice, with their remarks and reminiscences unequivocally contradicting myths that linger to this day—that Lanza's voice was small and frequently technically enhanced, that he was incapable of learning an entire opera, or that he lacked proper technique.
Frances Yeend, soprano (1913-2008). Best known for her work with the New York City Opera. Performed in concert with Lanza extensively 1947-48 as part of the Bel Canto Trio, and also appeared with him in joint concerts and radio appearances during the 1940s."Lanza has a truly magnificent voice," she told The Anniston Star of 6 November 1952. Reminiscing in later years on her time with Lanza--whom she stated that she had "loved" singing with--she described his voice as "an incredible instrument" and one "that I always hoped would be channeled. He had a lovely sound, a lovely quality: a very emotional quality about it." "[Lanza's] potential was . . . truly staggering." (Note: Ms. Yeend also discusses Lanza in the 1983 documentary Mario Lanza: The American Caruso.)
George London, celebrated Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone (1920-1985). Performed in concert with Lanza extensively 1947-48 as part of the Bel Canto Trio."In my opinion, Lanza, with the possible exception of Björling, had the greatest voice of his time. His singing could move people to tears and, in my presence, frequently did. . . . I would venture that if he had not gone to Hollywood he would, at least for the beginning, have had a major operatic career." (Link here.)
Helen Strassburger (later Boatwright), soprano (1916-2010). Noted recitalist and Professor of Voice at Eastman School of Music.Sang opposite Lanza in The Merry Wives of Windsor on 13 August 1942.In a 2008 interview with Armando Cesari, she described Lanza as handsome, with "a stunning voice."
Lucine Amara, Metropolitan Opera soprano (1924 - ). Sang briefly with Lanza in The Great Caruso."His was the quality voice that we needed at the Met." "His singing gave me goosebumps." (Met Guild Tribute to Mario Lanza, January 2005.)
Marilyn Horne, mezzo soprano (1934-). Was in the chorus when Lanza performed at the Hollywood Bowl on 24 July 1948. "We were all in love with Lanza. He was young and thin and gorgeous — and that sound! Man, he was the real thing. He would have been a spinto tenor. He was a spinto tenor." (National Review Online, 23 December 2008.)
Jon Weaving, English National Opera tenor (1931-2011). Attended Lanza's first recital at the Royal Albert Hall, 16 January 1958.Later stated on the Australian radio series Singers of Renown that, "Believe it or not, the greatest tenor voice I've ever heard was Mario Lanza singing at the Albert Hall."
Robert Merrill, renowned Metropolitan Opera baritone (1917-2004). Knew Lanza well, and introduced him to coach Leila Edwards, who subsequently taught the tenor the role of Pinkerton. "What a gift he had! He could have been at home in any opera house in the world. . . . [Singing teacher, Samuel] Margolis, a better judge than I, seemed confident that Lanza might have become another Caruso." (From his 1976 memoir Between Acts..., p. 166.)
Robert Weede, popular baritone (1903-1972), long associated with the San Francisco Opera. Friend and mentor to Lanza in the 1940s. Helped the tenor with his vocal technique. Lanza sang with Weede on three live radio broadcasts 1945-46. "Lanza had what I believe to be the greatest vocal gift of his decade.” (Interview with The [Baltimore] Sun, 9 September 1956.)
Licia Albanese, acclaimed Metropolitan Opera soprano (1909-2014). Recorded the Act III duet from Otello — "Dio To Giocondi" — with Lanza in November 1955 for the soundtrack of Serenade. "He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. . . . Vocally he was very secure. All he needed was coaching. Everything was so easy for him. He was fantastic! [Vocally] I rank him next to Caruso. Next comes Di Stefano, then all the others." (From a 1980 interview with Armando Cesari.)
Dorothy Kirsten, Metropolitan Opera soprano (1910-1992). Sang in concert with Lanza in 1948 and for the soundtrack of The Great Caruso in 1950. "Mario could have sung in any opera house in the world . . . and his career could have been sensational. . .". "[Lanza had] an extraordinary voice, and he sang magnificently at our concert . . .". (From Ms. Kirsten's 1982 autobiography A Time to Sing, p. 129.)
Blanche Thebom, Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano (1915-2010). Sang with Lanza in The Great Caruso,
1950. "Mario's voice was of first class operatically speaking and of
very large scale. . . . My own personal memories [of making The Great Caruso] are tinged with the deep and sincere regrets that Mario was never a colleague at the Met as his talent warranted." (Letter from Ms. Thebom of 25 February 1999. Reproduced in the 1999 Be My Love: A Celebration of Mario Lanza, p. 207.)
Gloria Boh, soprano (1927 - ). Worked principally with the Madison Opera Company. Recorded the Act III duet from Otello — "Dio To Giocondi" — with Lanza in July 1955 for possible inclusion in the film Serenade. (See thisarticle for details and to hear the recording.) "He had the stamina to do it all. While he needed the underpinning of a coach, he was a born singer and his voice was magnificent."
Irma González, renowned Mexican soprano (1916-2008), whose career was principally in South America. Sang with the then-21-year-old tenor in two staged performances of Act III of Puccini's La Bohème at the Tanglewood Music Festival, Julu-August 1942."He was a charming boy: very correct, likable, with a powerful, precious voice." (Translated from an interview in Spanish published in March 2008.)
Grace Bumbry, Metropolitan Opera soprano (1937- ). Heard Lanza in concert (presumably during his 1958 tour). Told tenor Joseph Calleja in 2004 that Lanza possessed "a fully bloomed operatic voice of outstanding quality." (Reference: Email from Joseph Calleja to Derek McGovern, 4 October 2004.)
Tomiko Kanazawa, soprano (1915 - ). Enjoyed an international career, and was especially admired for her signature role of Butterfly (Cio-Cio-san), which she sang opposite Lanza's Pinkerton in the New Orleans Opera Association's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, 8 and 10 April, 1948. "It was an exceptionally beautiful lirico spinto voice — beautiful coloring — [and] I enjoyed singing with him."
Joan Sutherland, acclaimed soprano (1926-2010) [and Richard Bonynge, conductor (1930-) ]. Attended Lanza's first recital at the Royal Albert Hall, 16 January 1958. "We were both surprised by the size of the voice. . . . We were also impressed by Lanza's innate musicality. No doubt he could have had an outstanding operatic career." (Link for this quote here.)
Rosalind Nadell, mezzo soprano (1922 - ), principally with the New York City Opera. Sang Suzuki to Lanza's Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, New Orleans, 8 and 10 April, 1948. "Lanza was vocally impressive, had a very good voice, was a very good singer and was very good looking." (Interview with Armando Cesari, August 2010.)