Musings on the Mario! and Caruso Favorites albums

Mario Lanza

by Michael McAdam

Michael McAdam


First off, I must admit I feel doubly silly now for putting this LP back on the shelf all those years ago instead of buying it! I have heard so much said in praise of this Rome recording session and it certainly doesn't leave you wanting. A couple of these selections would be well worn by now if they were on the old vinyl media!

It's also advantageous to have three or four of these Neapolitan songs on the 'Don't forget Me' CD, sung by the young(er) Mario. What an eye-opener to compare that exuberant, youthful, soar-off-into-space 1951-52 voice with the disciplined, mature and often poignant voice he brings to these sessions.

I think he really found his niche here, a niche he stuck his toe in during those earlier, uncoached Coke selections but without the sensitivity he shows here. I don't think I've ever sat through a Lanza recording before without waiting for some tasteless slip, note-slide or high C yell. None of that here. His high notes are all there but are not used just willy-nilly. His maturity and obvious professionalism in this outing speaks of an artist who wanted to come out of the studio having done Mom & Pop (and Italian fans) proud. Guess what, Mario? You did it in spades.

I also think it's the first time I've heard songs where Lanza sounds so 'up-front' with the orchestra simply accompanying rather than competing. Thank you, Signor Ferrara and thanks to Armando for making me more appreciative of this. does make such a difference, doesn't it?

Would that Mario had 'hung out' with this conductor a while longer. What additional great things might have transpired?

But let's be thankful for small mercies. The wonderful vitality and evenness of delivery with which Mario imbues these uniformly-great songs must truly make this one of our tenor's 'Legacy' recordings.

The songs....

Dicitencello Vuie: Mario's mother's favourite? Lovely song. Amazing phrasing and a heartfelt delivery.

Maria Mari': Nice upbeat piece; well presented. I notice both Pav and Mario both give similar readings of this number and also the impression that they love this type of song.

Voce e Notte: A beautiful song, beautifully recorded. Mario really puts a lot of heart into this piece. Very poignant with lots of vocal style on display here.

Canta Pe Me: Compared to the somewhat over-the-top Coke recording, a good, disciplined reading, but with a somewhat abbreviated ending?

O Surdato 'Nnammurato: Sounds like he's having fun here. Love the Fife 'n' Drum-like intro.

Come Facette Mammeta: Catchy, semi-rollicking song. Did I hear a little chuckle at one point?

Santa Lucia Luntana: Restrained and tasteful here. Masterfully sung. Great lower register display and what a honey-dipped middle voice! The Coke version suffers by comparison where even a vocal dweeb like me can tell Lanza isn't using his voice 'properly'. Another 'what if': If Mario had lived and become a vocal coach in his later years, imagine his use of these two recordings as an illustration of how to sing and how not to sing a piece?

Fenesta che Lucive: An achingly sad song. Movingly rendered with some fine orchestral touches.

Tu Ca Nun Chiagne: Great line, power and very assured cadenza-style ending. One of the highlights of this collection (the Coke version suffers from an overpowering orchestra and sloppy final notes from Lanza).

'Na Sera e Maggio: Disciplined rendering of a great song with seamless shifts between registers. The Coke version isn't too shabby either. That youthful exuberance and the let-it-all-hang-out vocal acrobatics (complete with Lanza crack/sob in the opening high notes) are great to compare to this more subdued 1958 version.

Passione: Last, but definitely not least! A haunting, beautiful piece of singing. While the LP version sounds just fine, the CD version has a slight edge in orchestral spread between speakers and quite an edge in vocal fidelity. The harmonics and colour in Lanza's voice are unreal, especially in that last high A. Really nice orchestral bits also, with overlaid mandolin and cor anglais. Hard to forget and the right song to end this great Lanza/Ferrara collaboration with.

Mario Lanza Sings Caruso Favourites

In these particular selections Mario does sound tired, ill and even a little strained, i.e: vocal differences immediately noticeable to those who recognize his voice instantly - anywhere - and in all its shades and moods. He acquits himself quite well though in most of these Caruso numbers but, again, the boffins and control room technicians at RCA or BMG have not done well by our lad. Some selections sound wonderful (notwithstanding Paul Baron's attempts to overpower a tenor of substantial vocal power), others don't! There are some noticeable differences between the LP and CD versions.

Pour Un Baiser, Senza Nisciuno and Vaghissima Sembianza (as heard on the stereo LP, LSC 2393) are well recorded with Mario well up front and good orchestral balance (albeit, an unimaginative placement of instruments).

Pour Un Baiser - a little short in length but haunting and vocally 'splendorific'. Lovely middle-voice ending.

Senza Nisciuno - I concur with Mr. McGovern's sentiment, 'achingly sad'. Full of pathos and emotion but with Lanza's illness-diminished lung power evident in the final notes.

Vaghissima Sembianza - Oh, what a showpiece. Operatic and demanding with some great high notes (As).

L'Alba Separa Dalla Luce l'Ombra (as heard on the CD 'The Great Caruso & Caruso Favourites') suffers from some high-end vocal distortion akin to someone scraping the edge of a knife softly across a porcelain dinner plate. Pity, because it is a lovely song with a hummable melody that sticks with you through the day. Since distortion is a common complaint with respect to this particular CD, then someone at RCA/BMG should be pilloried post-haste!

The other 'from CD' selection here, Luna d'Estate, is well sung in a baritonal way and suffers only marginally from distortion. Great phrasing and a lovely ending.

The five 'Caruso Favourites' represented on the 'Encore' CD are beautifully engineered and distortion-free. Songs such as Santa Lucia, Vieni Sul Mar and the perennial tenor favourite Musica Proibita show off Lanza's by-then-darker voice quite well. He is subdued but he acquits himself well in these readings. Serenata and one I have long waited to hear, Ideale, are in a class by themselves.

Caruso's Serenata - a difficult song to sing and Mario does himself proud.

Ideale - a wonderful piece of singing, surprisingly baritonal and a difficult one to leave off the CD deck for very long.

Incidentally, it's interesting to compare the '52 Coke Musica Proibita with the rendition offered here. Compared to Mario's 'Caruso Favourites' version, the '52 Coke Musica Proibita is somewhat untutored but full of those youthful, inimitable Lanza touches. Using his 'soft pedal' immediately after a flurry of full-throated singing is a little undisciplined, even for the younger Mario. I get the feeling he didn't get to practice this number too much before recording it. His '59 reading is sung 'full-pedal-to the-metal' but in a mature and disciplined manner. After three or four playings I find I quite prefer this version.