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Linz's Mario Book—Updated!
It is morally defensible to establish a nation-state built around maintaining a specific and exclusive ethnic population
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Music of the Gods: New Lanza CD
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sun, 2015-02-22 06:39
"Singers should sing words, not notes. The words tell the story of the music, and should be made clear to those who want to hear them. I will never sing an operatic aria if I do not know the words, because I do not believe that the melody is enough, no matter how beautiful it may be."
—Mario Lanza, August 1959.
I had just read these words of Mario's, in an interview promoting his then-newly-released-latest movie For the First Time, when I received my copy of the now-newly-released-latest Lanza CD, Mario Lanza, Greatest Operatic Performances. How his remarks reverberated through my skull as I listened to these conviction-charged, exemplarily-articulated performances! Untold tenors have recorded these arias; none comes close to telling the story of the music via the words as well as Mario Lanza. That conclusion is inescapable after hearing this stellar compilation of Lanza at the Opera. Another is that as well as being a deft weaver of words, he had the advantage of possessing the greatest tenor voice on record: "the greatest singing instrument ever bestowed on a human being," in the words of bass-baritone George London, who sang with him many times. "The greatest tenor voice I've ever heard," said Maria Callas, who regretted never having sung with him at all.
This new CD leaves one in no doubt as to why such luminaries would say such things. Compiled by Derek McGovern, founder of the website MarioLanzaTenor.com, it has been released by the UK-based Sepia Records, using the most pristine vinyl 33s and 45s Dr. McGovern and his intrepid co-conspirators Armando Cesari and Vince diPlacido could find. Sepia, you see, are not the official custodians of Lanza's recordings—that distinction belongs to Sony, ex-BMG, ex-RCA, who have dishonoured their charge most lamentably. Their anointed compiler, Derek Mannering, has collaborated with them in releasing a trickle of CDs over the years that have abounded in Mario's Greatest Hits, again, again and again, and been deficient in new or rare material. None has been free of a "cringe factor"—an ill-chosen track or three that make one long for someone of greater musical literacy to be in charge.
Derek McGovern clearly fills that bill. There is no cringe factor on this CD. From the opening, lush M'Appari through the previously-unreleased trio from Cosi Fan Tutte through the ridiculously stratospheric Di Rigori Armato through knock-out renderings of the two Tosca arias to equally heart-stopping performances of the likes of Otello and Andrea Chenier, every track is a gem. MLGOR is a clunker-free zone! As Mr. Cesari, author of the best Lanza biography out there, has been known to observe, "We've only been waiting nearly sixty years for this!"
Special honours must go to Sepia's sound engineer, Robin Cherry, who has done an outstanding job of reproducing the mahogany warmth of the old vinyls and simulating it when it wasn't there, as in the live Hollywood Bowl performance of the Madam Butterfly duet. None of these recordings has ever sounded better (except, in a couple of cases, in the movie theatre); most take me back to my childhood when that "mahogany warmth" on old-fashioned monograms was the norm. Hearing Recondita Armonia and E Lucevan le Stelle that way again after so long nearly destroyed me. So rich and vibrant at the same time; no clarity sacrificed for depth or vice versa. By the end of the CD, where the expiry of Otello occurs, I had nearly expired myself, convulsed as I was in a hybrid of nostalgia and rapture.
Especially thrilling is the ACT III duet from Otello with Gloria Boh. Originally unearthed by Damon Lanza Productions, this showcases Lanza as an even more terrifyingly jealous husband than in his later legendary recording with Licia Albanese. His delivery of the following lines in particular:
... is chilling in its menace and a perfect expression of Mario's musical philosophy quoted above. Mr. Mannering had sniffily made it clear that we shouldn't expect Sony to release this recording, so I congratulate Dr. McGovern on his inclusion of it here.
As for other tracks, I can do no better than reproduce the comments, minus awe-struck expletives, I was sending through to Derek McGovern as I was listening.
All I would add in conclusion is that if Sepia had forgotten to pack the CD and just sent me Dr. McGovern's liner notes I'd still consider the money well spent, if I'd spent it. It's a pleasure to read something so well-expressed and musically informed. Sepia—please keep 'em coming! Sony—please use this Derek for your future releases!
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