"I sing with all my heart and soul. Each word is important. I sing as though my life depends on it. If ever I stop doing this, then I will certainly stop living": Mario Lanza, as quoted by Armando Cesari
It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If this is true, perhaps the voice is the medium that expresses the sentiments of the heart. Mario Lanza sang with both heart and soul, and it is this quality that his fans knew and treasured and enjoyed with tremendous emotion and tremendous pleasure.
It is this quality that made him stand out from his contemporaries to be the most popular tenor and the most popular vocal artist of his day. It is this quality that snuffed out the criticisms about his skills as a classical vocalist to render them footnotes in “the dust-bin of history.” It is this quality that allowed him to “crossover” into popular music as no other tenor before or after has done. And it is this quality that is the precious element that makes his legacy endure from decade to decade and from century to century.
Shakespeare wrote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Mario Lanza was heir to all three marks of greatness. He was born into a humble family that loved opera. By the time he was in his teens he knew scores of them by heart.
Perhaps the voice is the medium that expresses the sentiments of the heart.
He strove to achieve greatness by working to follow the elaborate and complex path of classical opera singers so that one day he could perform like Caruso, Gigli and so many other masters. Yet, greatness was truly thrust upon him by the whirlwind of Hollywood, fortune, fame and nearly instant global notoriety. Few participants in the drama of life, whether on the stage or off, could match or manage greatness on these terms.
Shakespeare also wrote: “This above all; to thine own self be true.” In his greatness, Mario was true to himself and to all of us who preserve his memory and want to make a new age of music lovers aware of the pleasure he could bring to the soul and the spirit by the magic of his voice.
The first biography I read about him was Derek Mannering’s 2005 book: Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods (University Press of Mississippi). Before, I had picked up accounts of his life from the popular press, jackets from recordings, articles in web sites and letters from fans. I remember the sensational tabloid journalism following his death with fantastic stories about his personal life that history has shown were false and fictional, to say the least
Fans of Mario owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Mannering who has created a splendid book that is more than a tribute to the most remarkable tenor of all time. It is a well-sculptured portrait of a warm, affectionate and engagingly exuberant man who possessed and developed a talent that he knew would give happiness to millions forever.
Sensational tabloid stories about Lanza were false and fictional, to say the least.
Another required reading about Mario is the superb work by Armando Cesari: Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy (Baskerville Publishers, 2004). I have read and analyzed it in detail. It is clear that Maestro Cesari has created a mosaic of the great Lanza that is filled with colors, shadows and bright lights that portray him in all his glory and with several understandable human blemishes.
He has also meticulously documented each fact and phrase, statement and sentence and has left nothing to conjecture.
Both authors have prepared definitive studies, based on decades of careful research and painstaking examination. They have sought out and recorded “the truth,” which is the essential role of biographers, historians, reporters and those who write for the public and posterity. Fans of Mario should read these works to peer into his heart and soul and separate the man, the myth, his work and the eternal gift that he has given us.