- Mario Versus The Rest
By Michael Davis
- 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.