An Opera Singer For All Ears

By Number Six

This review is from - The One Tenor (Kindle Edition)

I need to state from the beginning, my understanding, affinity for, and therefore genuine appreciation of opera is very limited. I am a part of the vast majority of music listeners who are best described as an admittedly unsophisticated follower of “popular” music. It’s not that I don’t see the importance of musical sophistication. I value the classical training which has provided the discipline for some of the greatest artists of every musical genre outside of classical music, and opera training for some of the greatest vocalists outside classical music.

My awareness of Mario Lanza, I am embarrassed to say, was limited to his popular music “crossover” material. I did not initially realize that Mr. Lanza had been far more than “opera trained”, but rather, he was a veritable opera GIANT. While not necessarily having an “ear” for opera, other than as a “flavor” rather than a “main ingredient” in the music I commonly listen to, I felt compelled to not only give opera music a good listen, but to try and understand the music intellectually. Mario Lanza, and the recent book by Mr. Lindsay Perigo about Mr. Lanza, “The One Tenor”, became my foray into one of the last types of music I had left to personally explore.

I wanted to do more than just listen to Mario Lanza, I wanted to understand how he was an artist and as a person, to put a human experience on music which I have until recently considered somewhat “otherworldly” for lack of a better expression. From what surprisingly little I knew about Mr. Lanza, I knew there had to be more to Mario Lanza’s artistry than the vocal acrobatics of the highest caliber which I had typically associated with opera music. I knew “The One Tenor” was likely the kind of opera singer who would move people to tears from all walks of life: from the sophisticate, to the simple, and inclusive of Godfather-esque hardened gangsters who are want to express any emotion apart from the boundless passion expressed by the subject of Mr. Perigo’s book.

I sought out Mario Lanza for these reasons, and perhaps because his crossover appeal belies a universal expressiveness that could easily be found in his traditional opera work, and indeed this was confirmed both by my listening (thank you, YouTube) and by the amazing account of his life and work in “The One Tenor.” I also had a feeling Mario Lanza was a little bit dangerous, in a ultra-charismatic sense, which was also confirmed in Mr. Perigo’s book (interesting to note that ‘Perigo’ in Portuguese means ‘danger’).

Lindsay Perigo literally places you in the artist’s head while remaining objective enough not to make assumptions. Alfred Arnold Cocozza, the artist who later became Mario Lanza, jumps off the pages of the book and into the mind of the reader. From the fist pages I came to agree with the author’s idolization of his subject, while at the same time the author pulls no punches regarding the controversies regarding some of Mario’s addictive behaviors.

Appropriately, Mr. Perigo even adds some modern scientific insight into Mario’s more eccentric and arguably destructive habits, as juxtaposed by his overpowering talent, charm, and warmth. I cannot help but wonder how many great artists (in jazz, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday come to mind) also represent a common thread in the narrative Lindsay Perigo unfolds. Even if opera music does not capture your imagination, Mario Lanza as an artist and all of his passionate experiences in his all-too-brief life, is a riveting read.

Opera music is no less “otherworldly” to me than before I plunged into “The One Tenor,” but it is now for me also very passionately human, which is the most benevolent gift offered by Mr. Perigo, whose work provides a clear backdrop for what the listener is hearing when their ears are digesting “Madama Butterfly” or “The Great Caurso.”

For opera and in particular Mario Lanza fans, “The One Tenor” is an essential read. For the opera-curious, particularly those who are looking to understand the inner workings of a uniquely powerful and historic musical artist, Mr. Perigo’s work is just as much required reading. I highly recommend “The One Tenor” for those who love music and those who against all obstacles internal and external, passionately perform music with reckless abandon.