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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Love Songs And A Neapolitan Serenade - Mario Lanza


I'll Never Love You

Love Songs And A Neapolitan Serenade
Mario Lanza
RCA Victor Orchestra
Conductors: Constantine Callinicos and Ray Sinatra
RCA Victor LM 1188

From the back cover: There is a story of a tenor who had never sung a note before he was twenty, yet was famous beyond the wildest dreams of ambition before he was thirty. Not only had he never sung in public, he had never so much as yodeled in the shower. When he was a child, he studied the violin, but in a fit of ineffable disgust his teacher chucked his quarter-sized fiddle out the window of Philadelphia's Settlement Music School where, with an assist from fate, it landed on top of a passing Department of Public Works truck. His piano teacher later followed suit, but being a slight man and thrifty, allowed the piano to remain on school property.

And speaking of pianos: It was while this young man was moving a piano into the Academy of Music in Philadelphia that he paused briefly to sing the unscheduled audition that led him, eventually, into the public domain.

This was Alfred Arnold Cocozza, a name that may ring no bells anywhere outside Philadelphia's Little Italy, where it belongs to some of the best. For the sake of brevity and euphony, the late Serge Koussevitzky suggested he change it; so he adopted the masculine version of his mother's name – Mario, and then took her maiden name – Lanza. Together, they spell a name that needs no introduction wherever superlative singing is served.

It began, obscurely, with "Ch'ella mi credo," It is from Puccini's "Girl Of The Golden West," one of more than fifty operas which Mario Lanza knew backwards and forewards before he was well into his teens.

It was a love of sports, however, that kept him, according to his own admission, from becoming a juvenile, or even a grown-up delinquent. He was an avid baseball player, a first-rate boxer, and at one time played semi-pro football. At fourteen he could lift 200 pounds.

Around the corner from 7th and Christian Streets in Philadelphia, where his grandfather, Salvatore Lanza, still operates a small grocery, is a record shop run by a certain "Pop" Iannarelli. "Pop" not only sells records, he plays them for his own edification, and beams them through the neighborhood for the amazement of his friends. On a balmy summer evening, with the windows open, the streets freshly sprinkled and the fine Italian lace curtains billowing gently in a cool breeze, one is apt to find the neighborhood jumping to the best Verdi, Puccini and Leoncavallo.

"At seven," says Mario Lanza, "'Vesti la giubba' gave me goose bumps."

Platter by platter, Mario Lanza's father had acquired virtually everything that the great Caruso had put on wax. One afternoon Mario Lanza was listening to the "Ch'ella mi credo" aria.

"Suddenly," he says, "I don't know what hit me. I opened my mouth and started singing."

And, like that, a tenor was born.

Shortly, while working as a piano mover and studying singing on the side, Mario Lanza moved the now famous piano into the already famous Academy of Music and almost ran down William K. Huff, impresario of a local concert series. Recognizing Mario as a student of a friend of his, a voice coach, Mr. Huff gave a highly dramatic start and said, "What are you doing in that piano mover's suit?"

Mario, no man to let a chance for a snappy retort slip by, replied, wittily, "Moving a piano."

In a dressing room backstage, presumably minding his own business, Dr. Koussevitzky, who had just finished rehearsing with the visiting Boston Symphony, was changing his shirt. A small bulb glowed brightly over Mr. Huff's head and his eyes grew crafty.

"Come," he said, beckoning, and led Mario to an adjoining dressing room. "Now," he whispered hoarsely. "Sing!"

Mario shrugged and let go with "Vesit la grubbs," an aria that has brought down many a house in its day. This time it flushed the astonished conductor of the Boston Symphony. Dr. Kousevitzky burst in, and promptly embraced the young singer.

"This," he said, "is the greatest natural tenor voice since Caruso."

Ten minutes later, Mario had consented to sing that summer at Tanglewood, in the Berkshires.

Ten minutes later, after the conductor had left, he turned to Mr. Huff. "Tanglewood," he said. "What is it?"

The rest is history. Mario Lanza was in the army for five years, sang in "On The Beam" and "Winged Victory." After he had appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, with stunning success, Louis B. Mayer waved his hand and fifty-fie MGM producers and executives gathered on a sound stage for a command performance. The result was a seven-year contract, then "That Midnight Kiss," "Toast Of New Orleans" and "The Great Caruso."

The famous tenor who, until he was twenty, had never opened his mouth except to call for more gnocchi, when gnocchi was available, has one final word.

"Now," he says, "I sing in the shower until it makes me dizzy." – Notes by Edward O' Gorman

For You Alone
I Love Thee
My Song, My Love
Be My Love
I'll Never Love
O Sole Mio
A Vucchella
Serenade (Toselli)
Serenade (Drigo)

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