In this latest BMG Mario Lanza CD, When Day Is Done, a collection of love songs from Mario's Coca Cola Show series, we are made irresistibly aware that music is indeed the food of love, & when that food is impregnated with the richly flavoursome, chilli-hot passion of a spice called Lanza, excess of it is to be relished! BMG & Derek Mannering are to be congratulated on this most fruitful collaboration, which has resurrected some performances that, though deserving of immortality, were in danger of being forgotten.
These recordings date from the most joyous & productive period of Mario's career, & his irrepressible joie de vivre at this time is manifest. This is truly a release in the superb tradition of Don't Forget Me & You'll Never Walk Alone. Such a shame that the good it will do for Mario's memory will be undermined by BMG's bizarre decision to re-release also his illness-affected 1959 recording of Christmas carols. For the moment, however, let us savour & be thankful for When Day Is Done. Here is this reviewer's song-by-song analysis.
One Alone. I happen to know that this is one of Derek's favourite Lanza love songs. It's not one of mine, & I have enjoyed chiding Mr M over his wayward preference for some time now! The beautiful clarity of the sound quality in this re-mastered version, however, has drawn me a little closer to it. (No doubt the added bit of context, in the form of Mario's introduction, spoken in his best, innocent-little-boy mode, helps!) The problem really is in the arrangement. The key is quite high, & then modulates to a higher one still in the orchestral interlude - a standard pattern, it would seem, in the Coke Show arrangements. As Mario approaches the last phrase, "If she were mine alone," one braces for an attempt at the tonic note of the scale, which fortunately is not forthcoming, as he settles somewhat uncertainly on the dominant note instead. But the beauty of the opening phrases in particular is undeniable (marred only by an uncharacteristic grammatical lapse on Mario's part: "Where a sweetheart's tender eyes, Takes the place of sand & skies ...") making this track a useful foretaste of much more satisfying pleasures to come.
Long Ago And Far Away. This I believe was originally intended for the Don't Forget Me CD, but was a casualty of space constraints. Nice that it made it this time - a startling illustration of Sammy Cahn's comments about Mario having a soft & loud pedal in his throat. Hear for example the dynamic variation in: "Just one look and then I knew, that all I longed for long ago was you"!
When You're In Love. Bliss! This should have been the title track. Mario at his rapturous best, ecstasising about his favourite subject: "The magic of, girl & boy, yours at last"! Some tricky territory to negotiate on the words, "And then each day will be like spring," especially the second time round after the inevitable upward modulation, but the notes just pour out with staggering brilliance. In my book, this performance could be Mario's answer to anything that might be said about him, musical or personal.
The World Is Mine Tonight. Again, about time this came out on CD! Low-key but suggestive, leading up to a blazing Lanza last note!
Time On My Hands. Below the standard of the rest of the selections - some very nice touches, but Mario's notorious intonation problem is too evident here for this track to rate.
Begin The Beguine. Most people would prefer Frankie doing this, I suppose, but I can only ask, why? Mario leaves Frankie in the shade. Again there are moments when I wish he'd pay more attention to pitch, but from a voice that is at home with Che Gelida Manina, this is extraordinary.
If You Are But A Dream. The Anton Rubinstein melody recorded here with lush orchestral backing & Mario extracting every last drop of juice from the lyrics. I defy anyone to listen to, "I long to kiss you but I would not dare, I'm so afraid that you might vanish ... in the air" and not melt, especially on the word "vanish"!
My Romance. Oooops! Boo-boo here by BMG - the wrong take, fellas! If you, dear reader, are expecting the tender rendering you remember from the original "A Kiss & Other Love Songs" LP, you'll be disappointed. This is a more hamfisted performance that might just pass muster if we weren't familiar with the original; but since we are, it doesn't.
The Thrill Is Gone. Another one we've all been waiting for, & it does not disappoint. Mario on the downside of love - and how starkly & bleakly he portrays it. Hear the contrast between "Love was grand when love was new; birds were singing, skies were blue," and "This is the end, so why pretend and let it linger on?" & realise anew what a master dramatist Mario was. A standout.
One Night Of Love. Hang on to your hairpieces - this is the alternate take with the High C ending that I wrote about in my wish-list essay elsewhere. Finally hearing it decently reproduced, I wish we could have the first verse of the original combined with the second verse of this take!
Fools Rush In. This one starts in too low a key, with Mario, clearly itching to burst out all over, flat & unfocused on some of his lower notes ("Though I see the danger there, if there's a chance for me ..."). Then it modulates to a more comfortable one, with Mario ending in spectacular fashion ("I felt my life begin ...").
Valencia. Beautifully introduced by Mario, & a much better reproduction than on the Ultimate Collection CD. Plenty of Lanza verve in this performance. Musically, however, not quite up to scratch, with Mario well sharp on his last note.
Tell Me Tonight. Another rapturous extolling of love. Mario nearly falls off the edge a couple of times, but saves himself. Example: second time round with, "So speak or never again ..." He splays out on the word "So," then recovers and does a glorious, vintage Lanza rendering of "Speak! Hhhhor nnnnever againnnnn ..."!
The Best Things In Life Are Free. Pleasant, unremarkable - and without Mario's spoken intro! Oy!
I'll See You Again. One of Mario's most melting performances, from the flip side of the original Student Prince LP, available for the very first time on CD. There has been some debate as to whether Mario sang sharp deliberately or not; it's clear that in this instance, when he goes a mile sharp on the word "world" in the repeat reading of "Now my world may go awry," it was deliberate.
The Moon Was Yellow. Cheeky, death-defying Mario at his most dare-devilish. Irresistible! Inimitable!
April In Paris. "This is a feeling no one can ever reprise." Well, this is a recording no one could ever sell me on. I have always had an irrational snitch against it, which I indulged by originally dismissing it in this review as "boring." Then Message Forum regular Pat Burkhart rightly pulled me up on my comment, forcing me to go back, cast aside my prejudice & listen to the thing properly. I hereby do now concede that it's a beautiful performance. And certainly, it's never been so well reproduced.
Marcheta. Back to full-throated expansiveness with some scary moments ("All has been sadness without you, Marcheta, each day finds me lonely & blue"), but Mario's throat - & our ears - survive intact.
Alone Together. Again, Mario's intro is dropped, but this track sounds far better reproduced than on LP. Performance-wise, it's another full monty.
Yesterdays. Another standout, available for the first time on CD, with the soft & loud pedals in full play & an intro by Mario as a bonus. The passage from "Joyous, free & flaming life forsooth was mine" through to the end is incomparable, an unwitting, poignant epitaph to Mario's own career.
A Little Love, A Little Kiss. Some sharpness here that I don't think was deliberate, redeemed by some gorgeous soft touches, & as always, that all-enveloping warmth.
When Day Is Done. Beautifully reproduced, but a strange choice to be the title song, let alone the track to end with, which should be a tour de force. There are some delightful Lanza-esque moments, such as " ... won't go love, I know love ..." but overall this selection is easily surpassed by most of the others.
Summing up: One is stunned all over again by the voluptuous, vibrant vivacity of this voice & impelled to ask: Was it really real, this force of nature, this Vesuvian temperament & talent, this rapturous love of life tinged with that unearthly presentiment of death?! Listeners might feel with me that the song titles say it all. Were he with us now, to our departed vocal Prometheus I would say, "Mario, hearing your voice again in such untrammelled splendour, I feel as if the world is mine tonight. The thrill is not gone! And if, perchance, you are but a dream, I hope I never waken. Because, if you ARE but a dream, when day is done, I'll see you again!"