LANZA, Mario: Because You're Mine (1952-1954) (Constantine Callinicos Orchestra/ David Lennick/ Elizabeth Doubleday/ Jeff Alexander Choir/ Mario Lanza/ Ray Sinatra/ Studio chorus) (Naxos: 8.120784)
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MARIO LANZA Vol.4
'Because You're Mine' Original 1952-1954 Recordings
'In America every new tenor is immediately baptised a \new Caruso". Lanza was, chronologicallyspeaking, the most recent addition to the series. He died prematurely in Italy (in October 1959),after becoming world famous for The Great Caruso, a much-admired box-office success.'
- Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (in Voci Parallele, in 1977)The debate still rages as to whether or not theworld was robbed of another Caruso (orperhaps another Gigli?) when Mario Lanzachose the film-musical over opera. A vitalperformer in every sense, he was a naturaltarget for such exploitation of his talents; buthad he stuck to his guns and not allowedhimself to be diverted by Hollywood, his storymight have been very different. At least inembryo the finest of post-war lyric tenors hehad, quite apart from an unquestionablyglorious tenor voice, power and projection -not to mention performing fire and good looks.
And, once a screen icon, he continued toreceive - and consistently to reject - offers fromsuch houses as San Francisco, La Scala (Milan)and Rome. However, before death overtookhim, Lanza the reluctant opera-singer hadagreed to open the Rome Opera's 1960/61season as Canio in Pagliacci.
The singer once hailed by the notoriouslymercurial Toscanini as 'the greatest voice of thetwentieth century' was born Alfred ArnoldoCocozza into an immigrant Italian family inPhiladelphia on 31 January 1921. Resident inAmerica from the age of sixteen his fatherAntonio was a disabled World War I veteran,while his seamstress mother Maria Lanza was,luckily for Mario, a frustrated soprano. Weanedon the records of Caruso, Gigli and other tenorlegends the young Mario shared his family'sbroad musical tastes and his interest in singingwas actively encouraged. Inclined more tosport than to academic pursuits, he remainednonetheless an avid vocal student in his sparetime. During his late teens he trained for abouteighteen months with the baritone AntonioScarduzzo and was taught some basic repertoireby Irene Williams (1887-1979), a Philadelphiabornsoprano with connections in societycircles.
In 1942, Mario auditioned for SergeiKoussevitsky during a Boston SymphonyOrchestra tour of Philadelphia and was awardeda scholarship to study at the New EnglandConservatory in Boston. Later that year hemade his stage debut (as Fenton in Nicolai'sMerry Wives Of Windsor) at the BerkshireSummer Festival at Tanglewood, the BostonOrchestra's summer headquarters. Signed for aconcert tour by Columbia, his career wastemporarily interrupted by two years' warservice in the United States Air Force. Based atMarfa, Texas, after auditioning successfully forPeter Lind Hayes, however, he was in demandat forces' shows and, after touring military basesin Frank Loesser's On The Beam, followingdemobilisation in 1945, he joined the choruslineof the Broadway musical Winged Victory -a fund-raising flag-waver scored by David Roseand devised by Moss Hart, presented by an allmilitary cast of US Army-Air Force personnel.
In mid-1945 Mario stood in for tenor JanPeerce on ABC's Celanese Hour and betweenOctober and February 1946 appeared in six'Great Moments In Music' concerts in NewYork. During 1946 he toured Canada inconcert with soprano Agnes Davis andembarked on further vocal training with EnricoRosati (the teacher of Beniamino Gigli), throughwhose influence he was invited to sing in theVerdi Requiem with the NBC SymphonyOrchestra, under Toscanini. Owing to nerves,however, Lanza turned down the opportunitybut by 1947, his reputation and confidence hadgrown and in July, in company with sopranoFrances Yeend (b. 1918) and bass-baritoneGeorge London (1919-1985), he formed the BelCanto Trio, which during the next year gave 84concerts in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
On 28 August 1947 the close of the Trio'stour was marked by a gala at the HollywoodBowl, with symphony orchestra under EugeneOrmandy. At this concert Fate intervened:Lanza was heard by Louis B. Mayer, who wouldsoon be signing the tenor to a seven-year MGMcontract. Subsequently, his Pinkerton inMadama Butterfly (in two performancesduring the 1948 New Orleans Opera season,under Walter Herbert), earned him some finenotices ('Rarely have we seen a more superblyromantic leading tenor. His exceptionallybeautiful voice helps immeasurably' - St. LouisNews; '[His] Pinkerton was admirable. Hisdiction was excellent [and] the quality of hisvoice was a delight to hear.' - Times-Picayune).
However the experience had clearly promptedmixed feelings in the mind of the insecureLanza.
Lanza's success in Butterfly at St. Louis hadbrought him an immediate invitation to returnthere to sing Alfredo in Traviata during thefollowing season, but he had meanwhileconcluded that a greater future awaited him inthe less stressful spheres of concert, radio andscreen. He also (naively, it is claimed) believedthat he would, at some unspecified future time,be able to combine screen stardom with anoperatic career - a conviction which hislucrative MGM contract bolstered with anunexpected financial security. The terms ofthat contract assured him $750 per week forthe six months spent preparing his first movie,plus a $10,000 bonus, $15,000 on completionof the film itself and freedom meanwhile to giveconcerts, radio appearances and makerecordings (under a prestigious, exclusivecontract with RCA Victor).
Produced by Joseph Pasternak, Lanza's firstfilm - a 98-minute musical called ThatMidnight Kiss (in which an unknown singer -somewhat predictably - becomes aninternational singing star) was released in 1949,pairing Mario for the first time with thecomely, North Carolina-born soprano KathrynGrayson (b.1922).
His second movie, The Toast Of NewOrleans (Pasternak, 1950), again quasiautobiographicalinsofar as it cast Lanza as aBayou bumpkin who rises to stardom of theNew Orleans Opera, netted him a fee of$25,000. Its score also brought the addedcachet of an Academy Award-winning song,"Be My Love", by Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) andNicholas Brodszky (1905-1958), soon tobecome a 1950 US pop charts No.1. By 1951 itwas also Lanza's first million-selling disc,eventually selling in excess of two millioncopies world-wide, making Mario a householdname and recording superstar.
During 1951, Lanza began weeklybroadcasts of 'The Mario Lanza Show' (for CBS,sponsored by Coca Cola) and made his thirdfilm-musical, The Great Caruso. Generallyrated his best effort, it was certainly the mostcommercially successful and remains to thisday highest in the affection of the tenor's manyfans. Its release was followed by a coast-tocoast'Caruso Concert Tour' which gripped theUSA with 'Lanza Fever'. The LP of The GreatCaruso soundtrack sold in excess of a millioncopies worldwide, and thus became the first'operatic' long-player to attain Gold Disc status.
In this film Lanza introduced the million-selling"Loveliest Night Of The Year" (based on thewaltz "Over The Waves") and resurrected"Because", a 1902-vintage ballad earlierfeatured and recorded by, among others,McCormack and Caruso himself.
In Because You're Mine (1952), operasinger-turned GI Mario wins the love of hissergeant's sister (played by Doretta Morrow).
Despite being another prime Joe Pasternakcommercial cornball (Halliwell dismisses it as a"lumberingly inept star vehicle"), this containssome of the most melodious of all Lanza-lieder,not least its Academy Award-nominated SammyCahn-Nicholas Brodszky title-song (anotherGolden Disc for Mario and a US No.7 chart hit).
In 1953 Lanza's recording of Song Of Indiacharted at No.20 (originally "The Song Of TheIndian Guest" from Rimsky-Korsakov's 1898opera Sadko, its tune had entered the popularvocabulary via jazzed-up arrangementsrecorded by, among others, Paul Whiteman andTommy Dorsey)