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It is a futile exercise to try to compare tenors of different eras...to say that Caruso was better than Di Stefano or that De Reszke was better than Gedda. I say this for more than one reason. The first being that recording techniques change. The sounds on the Caruso pre-electric records cannot hope to compare favourably with the electric recordings from 1924 onwards. Also, musical tastes change. For example, some of the Gigli recordings with an excess of over-emotional outpourings, although fashionable in their day, sound very false by today's standards.
So, let us look at Mario Lanza the singer, not the tenor, nor the successor to Caruso. Or even as the very personable artist that he undeniably was, had he not been a tenor. But rather as a popular singer who was incredibly in demand in this time. When considering Mario singing ballads, for example, we might even consider him in the same popular vein as Elvis Presley, who incidently idolised Mario and is on record as saying that Mario was his favourite singer. So, what was it that made Mario Lanza, the singer, so unique?
What made him so incomparable was the emotion that he put into every word of every song. Over the years, I have heard many singers who have sung songs that Mario made famous, and most sing them very well, but for the most part they all lack the feeling and intensity that Mario put into every song he sang.
If you would like to experiment with a few examples listen to the "Serenade" from "The Student Prince". In the second part of the song, the words "believe me" sound like a heartfelt plea. Then listen to other singers sing the same line: they are just two more words in a song. Also, consider the first line of the song: "Overhead the moon is beaming...". The emphasis that Mario puts on that line gives you the feeling that you can actually see the moon beaming overhead...the "Serenade" is the absolute epitome of a Lanza love song. Also from the same musical, the duet, "Deep In My Heart". I do not think I have ever heard a song sung so tenderly and with so much sincerity by any other singer.
Listen to Mario sing "A Night To Remember"; and study the emphasis he put on each use of the word "night" throughout the song. This isn't just any old 'night', this is THE NIGHT! A real treat is "If I Loved You" from Carousel. Have you ever heard anyone sing this song with more feeling? Lastly, the Grace Moore song: "One Night Of Love". The line: "Then I'll recall... when at the break of dawn...I find my lover gone" is real pathos. Then comes, "I'll whisper with a smile, I've lived a little while, I've known one night of love." The voice changes to one of a feeling of satisfaction. How many of you ladies listening to Mario sing, "We kiss in the light of a world all aglow, this is OUR night, I love you so" don't still go weak at the knees? This is real emotion and meaning.
Of the Italian songs, a very good example is "Santa Lucia luntana". The Lanza feeling and emotion in this song is overpowering. Many tenors have recorded this song, so there are many examples to choose to compare, but with Mario "Santa Lucia" really IS a long way away, and boy does he miss it! Also, make the same comparison with the two hauntingly lovely songs "Ideale" and "Voce e notte". And now that we have a good recording on CD of "Non Ti Scordar di Me", you can hear a song that is tailor made for Mario, as it says, "don't forget me". But then, who would?
One album of Mario's that we do not hear of very often, and the songs have not been used much on CD compilations, etc., is "The Touch Of Your Hand" LP. Yet it contains some excellent examples of Mario's feeling for the mood of a song such as Jerome Kern's "You Are Love" from "Showboat" which has never been sung better.
The last song I would like to use as an example (there are many more, but space does not permit) is "The Donkey Serenade". Mario is so alive...so exuberant, and he is REALLY enjoying himself! After hearing Mario sing this song would you ever really want, or need, to listen to anyone else?
Many singers have performed "Mario's songs": singers like Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and the popular singers, Tony Dalli and Vic Damone who made a record dedicated to Mario. But whether they are popular or classical singers none can match Mario in his feeling for a song. The singer that comes closest, and this may come as a surprise to some, is in my opinion the American born German tenor Charles Kullman. He has real feeling in his singing. There is a CD available, CDMOIR429, called "Charles Kullman Serenade" which includes some of Mario's songs like "The World Is Mine Tonight" and "Gypsy Love Song" among others. If you like a singer with a voice that has feeling, this disc is worth listening to.
I listen to many other tenors as I have quite a large collection of records, CDs, and tapes of most tenors from the early 1900s to the present. Quite often, when I have listened to a song or aria by one of them, I will then listen to Mario singing the same thing; it is quite an experience and often the difference is phenomenal. Singers who "sing" songs are pleasant to listen to but we become disinterested after a while. However, with a singer like Mario Lanza who FEELS the meaning of the song, and lives the song to it's maximum potential, we know we are in the presence of a master. That is the reason why after so many years, although we may listen to other singers, we are always and forever devoted to Mario Lanza, because he is unique, and also because you cannot improve on perfection
Joe Curreri who was Publicity Director for the Mario Lanza Institute, wrote a letter to ˇ§PEOPLE MAGAZINEˇ¨ on March 11, 1995 stating that Victor Lanza was a fake and a fraud. The letter is as follows:
March 11, 1995
Time & Life Bldg.;
New York, N.Y. 10020
Victor Lanza is a proven fake and a fraud. Here at the Mario Lanza Institute and Museum in Philadelphia, the members, fans, friends and family of Mario Lanza are appalled at his claim of being the great tenorˇ¦s son.
Yes, ˇ§People cry when they hear Victor sing,ˇ¨ as Sergio Franchiˇ¦s widow said. I personally heard Victor sing. I cried. It was that awful. Yes, he looks like Mario. Imitators look like Elvis, too. Imagine if thousands of them claim to be HIS son.
If Victor ˇ§wants only to do a TRIBUTE TO MARIO LANZA,ˇ¨ stop the preposterous masquerade and sing ˇ§O Solo Mioˇ¨ in a tub with water ˇ§Over His Head.ˇ¨
Joe Curreri Public Relations Director
Mario Lanza Institute And Museum
Editors Note: Mr. Curreri was one of the first members who was involved when the Lanza Institute started. He served as Publicity Director for 35 years at the Mario Lanza Institute And Museum.