The product of Maestro Cesari’s exhaustive research, in particular, is a wonderful and, I believe, frank portrait of a man who was, with little doubt, the greatest tenor and, arguably, the greatest singer of all time.
Support for this claim comes from testimonials of the grand artists and celebrities of his day, his colleagues of the screen and stage, the endless parade of promoters who sought to exploit his sensational talent and, more importantly, the loyalty and love rising from a wide and varied audience spanning continents and generations who waited anxiously for his next recording, his next movie, his next concert. Mario was one of the most popular entertainers of his generation and his legacy merits articulation, understanding and advancement so that millions of new lovers of brilliant and colorful voices can appreciate the best and know the best.
What Kind of an Artist Was He?
What kind of an artist was he? Mario’s triumphs and the electrifying moments of his short life bring to mind two great masters of the Italian Renaissance, whose successes rank them among the premier artists of all time; Rafael Sanzio, or “Rafaello,” as he was known and Michelangelo Merisi, called “Il Caravaggio.” Both created new styles of painting and were able to move from the classical form of the day to begin a refreshing and imaginative approach that revolutionized art forever.
Rafaello was recognized for the beauty, grace and exquisite perfection of his paintings and most of all for the “ease” with which he appeared to create masterpieces. Mario’s style of singing also projected an “ease” of delivery coupled with majesty, power and grace that neared perfection.
The electrifying moments of his life bring to mind two great masters of the Renaissance.
Rafaello portrayed saints and deities but he was certainly not one of them. His excesses led to an untimely end. Rafaello died on the day of his thirty-seventh birthday. The inscription on his tomb says, "Here lies Raffaello who, when alive, Nature was afraid to be won by him, when he died, she wanted to die herself". Perhaps the same could be written about Lanza.
Another great master, who brings to mind Mario, was Caravaggio. His religious paintings were startling in their vividness, clarity, perfection and interpretation and the sublime use of “chiaroscuro,” shadows and light. The dynamic nature of his art, with figures in movement and in animation, spellbound by glorious shafts of light, led to tremendous popularity and tremendous criticism by the religious leaders and stylistic leaders of the art world of his day.
His arias and songs were filled with bright colors combined with shadows and light .
Like Lanza, Caravaggio sought to reach the people, not the elites who had commissioned him to decorate the sumptuous basilicas of Italy. Like Caravaggio, Lanza rendered masterpieces, but instead of a brush Mario used the instrument of his magnificent voice.
The Enduring Legacy
His arias and songs were filled with bright colors combined with shadows and light to reach the heights of clarity, and passion. Like Lanza, Caravaggio was largely a self-made man with little formal training and not one to follow all the rules of his profession or all the rules of life. Caravaggio was a brawler and had a difficult and nervous personality. Like Lanza he knew his greatness, and like Lanza refused to compromise with mediocrity. Like Lanza he escaped into exile to avoid his detractors and troubles and, like Mario, failed to reach his thirty-ninth birthday.
Mario’s alluring legacy lies in two areas of musicology: the naturalness of his singing and the spread of his work to all levels and sectors of society. His masterful manner of singing with a glowing generosity, clarity of diction, loveliness of tone and pitch and deep feeling and passion remain unmatched in the annals of renowned performers of his profession.
Mario was also “the medium of his message,” in the sense that only a charismatic and amazingly attractive performer could put the princes and the paupers in the same arena to enjoy and savor the splendor of his voice. His choice of reaching the world via the silver screen, the magic of sound and the presence of the stage may not have been the best choice for Mario the man, who paid the supreme price for prominence and wealth. Yet it was the best choice for a humanity that constantly hungers for the emotion, love and happiness of the universal language of music and song.