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DVD: Mario Lanza - The Best of Everything | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Mario Lanza - The Best of Everything

DVD: Mario Lanza - The Best of Everything

Serviceable documentary about the pioneering crossover singer

Matinee idol: Mario Lanza in his prime

Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza to immigrant working-class Italian parents in Philadelphia, Mario Lanza was lauded by the likes of Serge Koussevitsky and Arturo Toscanini, becoming a huge Hollywood star by the early 1950s. Lanza couldn’t read music, and only took part in a handful of opera productions, but he was the first opera singer to have earned gold records, his versions of Puccini arias selling by the millions. Mobbed by screaming fans wherever he went, Lanza became a global phenomenon after starring in MGM’s The Great Caruso in 1951. His stage presence and charisma were legendary, and he did give millions of listeners their first, tantalising taste of opera.

The cracks were already beginning to show, though: Lanza’s huge appetites and ballooning weight were beginning to be a concern, and director Curtis Bernhardt laughably disapproved of the “excess passion” which Lanza displayed when recording the arias for his next film, The Student Prince. He was fired, his fulsome vocals subsequently mimed to by another actor. Lanza’s career never quite regained momentum. The weight continued to see-saw, a tendency controlled by crash diets, and Lanza developed gout, high blood pressure and phlebitis. He suffered at the hands of incompetent management, and the supremely confident stage manner was revealed to be a front; Lanza would often cancel performances at the very last minute, eventually relocating with his family to Rome in an attempt to rebuild his career.

Mario Lanza and Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1959's For the First TimeHe starred in a few more mediocre films (1959's For the First Time, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, pictured right), but the damage was done. Lanza suffered a fatal heart attack in 1959, aged just 38, his wife dying just months later. Alan Byron’s no-frills documentary, narrated in soporific fashion by Radio 2's Ken Bruce, argues convincingly that Lanza was the first crossover superstar. At its best when showing Lanza in action, it’s clear that he did possess an alluring, highly expressive voice. Though it’s frustrating that none of the talking heads assembled (a motley bunch including Genesis’s Steve Hackett, soprano Lesley Garrett and crossover tenor Russell Watson) would have actually heard Lanza live. We’re also left in the dark about how much of what we hear was down to the work of studio engineers, though an avuncular voice coach has a decent stab at analysing the singer's vocal technique. The most engaging interviewee is Lanza’s surviving daughter Ellisa. This story deserves a big budget biopic. Until it gets made, this serviceable film will have to do. As a bonus, there's footage of Lanza's 1957 appearance at the London Palladium.

 

 

Lanza would often cancel performances at the very last minute

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Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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I was a teenager when Mario hit the top of the charts with "Be My Love". It was the overwhelming power of his voice in clearly understood lyrics that won me over. I followed his career to the end. Even today, when I no longer play my record collection, I listen to Mario via YouTube. His voice is a marvel. Listen to "One Alone" and you will become an instant devotee. I don't understand much Italian (except when there is an English-language libretto available) but his voice is so clear and I hear those operatic arias so often it seems like I know what he is singing about. That's the way it is and was when Lanza sings. What a miraculous voice he had!!!

The clips in this documentary do make it worth watching. Lanza believed that his voice was stronger when he was in heavier, so he bulked up for recording sessions and crash-dieted before filming. And Pavarotti couldn't read music either.

Thanks for the review! Just one thing I'd like to comment on: You wrote: "We’re also left in the dark about how much of what we hear was down to the work of studio engineers...". The simple answer is to that is that Lanza's voice was not enhanced at all by the studio engineers! In fact, if anything, it was often *hindered* by incompetent engineering, particularly on most of his recordings made in Italy during the last two years of his life. If you're interested, there are quotes from opera singers and conductors who heard him or worked with him here: http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/quotes-from-opera-singers.html And the tiresome myth that Lanza had a small voice is demolished here: http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/myths-about-the-artist.html#myth1

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