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Mario Lanza's Contribution to OPERA

-- That wonderful voice and the charismatic appeal of his personality had a profound effect on my life and I decided there and then that I too would one day sing the great operatic roles so persuasively portrayed by the young American tenor....

-- As I listened in wonder to my father's worn-out recordings of Mario Lanza... I had no idea how profoundly they would affect the path of my life., much less that I would someday be given the opportunity to record them myself....

Both Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo have on several occasions also expressed their great appreciation of Mario Lanza's immense contribution to opera.

All his life Mario Lanza longed to be the American Caruso.And given the power, richness, and range of his voice, he very well could have been.

But he sang on the operatic stage only three times - once in his youth while a summer student at Tanglewood in a production of Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow, and on two performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the New Orleans Opera sometime in 1947. (The write-up on the back of the RCA 2-record LP album Mario Lanza: Opera's Greatest Hits released in 1971 claims he also sang in an operatic production of La Boheme , but it has been difficult to find separate confirmation in other published reports.)

He did get to sing the great Caruso arias - in the movies and on the concert stage. He went on grand concert tours several times in his career, singing to sold out audiences at all times. And he did get to sing with some of the Met's great opera singers - on the concert stage with his old friend George London, and in the movies with sopranos Dorothy Kirsten* and Licia Albanese. They had nothing but praise for the natural beauty of his voice.

*A recent newspaper writeup had Lanza singing with the great Wagnerian soprano, Norwegian Kirsten Flagstad whose name the reporter may have mixed up with Dorothy Kirsten's. Click HERE for Dorothy Kirsten's thoughts on Mario Lanza.

Although there are stories of his secret dislike of opera's "longhairs," it would seem that he also nursed a secret longing for the company of the great opera singers. When the famed American tenor Richard Tucker made his Royal Opera House debut in London's Covent Garden, Mario Lanza made it a point to attend the performance and invited the Tuckers to a post-performance meal in his suite at the Dorchester. In what must have been a meeting of kindred souls, they talked the evening away like old friends. It was not until well past three in the morning that the Tuckers and the Lanzas said their goodbyes. Later Mrs. Tucker reflected:

"It was as if Mario wanted to figure out why Richard's life had gone one direction, and his own life another. He was very subdued that night and seemed to hang on to every word Richard spoke. He seemed to want and need a friendly ear, and in Richard he found one. ...Richard and I both got the impression that, for all his wealth and sucess, Mario wasn't really happy. Something important, something very basic, seemed missing from his life.... We knew him only briefly, but we felt he was really our friend."

And so... having been drawn to the fame and fortune of Hollywood, Mario Lanza sang the great arias of opera OUTSIDE opera. It was the only way. For it was impossible then, as it is now, to find a happy balance between the excesses of celebrity - especially the Hollywood variety - and the rigors of opera. But in no way did it diminish his contribution to the art form. It was MARIO LANZA's special gift to sing Caruso in a way that inspired little boys (see Carreras and Leech above) to become opera singers, and made people realize they could enjoy Una furtiva lagrima as much as they enjoyed Be My Love. Indeed when the 3 Tenors stage one of their concerts, it is very much in emulation of Mario Lanza

- whose singing brought OPERA to the PEOPLE and the PEOPLE to OPERA. What a great gift to MUSIC!

NOTE: One of Mario Lanza's dreams was to endow a scholarship fund for young singers. That dream has become a reality. Today there is a MARIO LANZA MUSEUM in Phildelphia which has awarded over 178 scholarships to deserving young singers. For information, contact: The Mario Lanza Museum 416 Queen St. Philadelphia, PA 19147 TEL: (215) 468-3623

More Mario Lanza information available by subscribing to:
The Lanza Legend, P.O. Box 6742 San Pedro, CA. 90732 Fax: (310) 833-9492

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