Monday February 19, 2018 5:34 am

The "American Caruso"


mlkirsten2“Wynn Rocamora, who handled many top movie stars, decided it was about time I was introduced to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They were doing musicals galore at the time and he wanted me to meet Louis B. Mayer. A screen test was arranged; it was successful, and Mr. Mayer said he would find a picture for me. I was wined and dined lavishly in the movie-set manner. While I was dining with the great man one evening shortly after my test, we discovered that our birthdays, which were coming up soon, happened to be only two days apart.

When he graciously suggested we have a combined party, I was of course delighted but curious about what to expect. Wynn had told me that there was usually entertainment at these parties by the current young stars, and I remember thinking, “Oh how dull.”

When the stage curtains parted after dinner and Mario Lanza made his entrance, I could have gladly disappeared under the table. He had appeared with me in a concert only a week before and was quite familiar to me. I knew about his extraordinary voice, and he sang magnificently at our concert, but I could not forget how this cocky little tenor had kept me waiting one hour to rehearse with him without apology. It was extremely difficult to control my reaction, but of course none of my feelings showed. Mr. Mayer knew a good voice when he heard one. Mario’s gift was great and the studio had high hopes for him.

Lanza was suddenly one of the top “properties” at MGM, doing one picture after another and thriving on the adulation that goes with life at the studios. Almost a year later I signed to play the role of Louise, the American prima donna, in the motion picture “The Great Caruso” with Ann Blyth and Mario Lanza. The picture was a smashing success for MGM and is still playing all over the world. It was chosen on an exchange program to play in the Soviet Union and was a fine introduction for my trip to sing in that country early in 1962.

Several of my Metropolitan colleagues came out to sing parts in the operatic scenes: Jarmila Novotna, Blanche Thebom, Nicola Moscona, Giuseppe Valdengo and others. At this point, Mario was being coached by the fine old maestro Giacomo Spadoni, who had been with MGM for years and at one time was with the Metropolitan. The maestro confided in me that his job wasn’t easy, for Mario could not read a note of music. Lanza was a handsome young man with devilish eyes and a good deal of charm, but he was totally undisciplined.

He ignored completely our first unpleasant meeting and I enjoyed most of my work with him in the film inspite of his sometime questionable manners. Mario could have sung in any opera house in the world. The Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas were both open to him at one time and his career could have been sensational, but he could not learn a score. I believe he could have been one of the greatest tenors America ever produced if only someone could have given him the will to sudy and the discipline to apply one’s self.

When I think of the eager young singers who have auditioned for me with such meager vocal gifts, but the will to sacrifice everything to have careers, it makes me sad to think of Mario, his great gift, and what an incredible loss to the world of opera his passing was.”

(Reprinted from The Lanza Legend with permission)

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