Music of the Gods: New Lanza CD

Lindsay Perigo's picture
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, 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:

E il chiedi?. . . Il più nero delitto
Sovra il candido giglio della tua fronte è scritto.

(You ask me? . . . The blackest crime
Is written on the white lily of your forehead)

... 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.

Guess what I'm listening to?? Smiling

Exceptionally, outstandingly well done, Kiddo! Liner notes are stellar. I'm just at the Butterfly, with which someone has performed a miracle. Robin Cherry? I'd like to mention a name.

Minor minor quibble. (Oh ****! "O notte serena." So resonant!) Couldn't you get a Che Gelida without the dropouts? Just copy the Naxos one! Smiling

The two Toscas—oh my god, Butterfly high C!!!!—destroyed me. Oh, here's Nessun. Enveloped in bass all of a sudden. Hahahaha. "Sulla tua bocca"? [Bone of contention between us in the past.] OK. I'll give him a pass. The tech has done wonders in somehow rebalancing voice and orchestra. OK, here we go: "dilegua o notte." Holy ****!!

Lamento. Yes, gorgeous sound. Great rebalancing. Love the lashings of bass. Yes, superb, though still not as good as the Coke. [Another bone!]

Addio, addio. More lashings of bass. How awful. Smiling "AngelIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII." ******! Never heard this sound this good. Pity about Mary-Jane Smith wittering away. But amazing how improved this sounds.

Mamma quel vino. Just the way it sounded on my grandmother's gramophone. Holy **** again. Those high notes! Some extraneous subterranean noise, but nothing. Ah. The first take ending. Sharp as buggery! Makes one's eyes water similarly! Beyond magnificent!

Vesti. Ah yes, that sandiness you complained of. Minor. Best I've heard it. Still not as good as my favourite [Great Caruso alternate take], but outstanding. Even the orchestra is redeemed. Oh, I'm loving all this mahogany!

Improvviso. I have Mario's words in that "swing or sentiment" article ringing in my head. How thoroughly he applied them! I seem to have to turn this one up. "T'amo." *****! And as for the B-flat finale ... destroyed again.

Come un bel di. God! Haven't heard this in ages. Forgotten how well he sings it. Electrifying.

Amor Ti Vieta. Well, slightly "boxed in," but still, again, the best I've heard it.

O Paradiso. Can there be a beyond-perfect? If so, this is it.

Otello duet. Singers seem slightly pushed back at the beginning. Comes right part way through. Incomparable performance by Mario. I'm cowering in fear. "Giura, giura e ti danna." Well done Ms Boh too. I hope she gets to hear this. So much detail in the orchestra in the bridge to the Monologue. "Quel raggio." Holy **** again. "Gioia" ditto! I'm shaking all over.

Death of said Otello. Sandy again, but minor, although worse than the Vesti. "Un altra baaaaaaaaaaa ..." Right up front. Absolute heart-wrencher.

I can't praise this highly enough, Derrico, but I'll do my best. You have achieved something we've waited decades for: a clunker-free, musically intelligent representation of quintessential Mario. No need to skip any tracks—every one a masterpiece. Get drunk and celebrate a seminal achievement! The pomowankers said a decent Mario CD couldn't make him go viral again. Let's prove them wrong. This CD shows conclusively that no one since Mario has come close to him. Before and during him they struggled too. This will show the world what *real* singing is, not the mewlings of Bocelli and Potts.

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!


Tore's picture

Here is a picture of me holding the CD, posted on my own domain.

Perigo knows why I do this, I will not say why -

Got it!

Tore's picture

Recieved this masterpiece in the mail today. I only have two words - holy shit. Lots and lots of tears of joy! Gonna buy one for my mom as well. Thank you, McGovern Smiling

It's worth it!

gregster's picture

I received mine from Propermusic about ten days ago. Very nice to hear the familiar (to me) arias from Lindsay's interview with Costa again. I'm now getting to know some of the others. Excellent product. Well done.

Hi Tore: I suggest you try

Derek McGovern's picture

Hi Tore:

I suggest you try Proper Music again. They must have been very briefly out of stock---probably because had exhausted its supplies as well. But I ordered a copy of the CD from them only yesterday, and received notice that it had shipped this morning. Here's the link again (and they clearly state that the CD is in stock):




Tore's picture

i tried to order it from propermusic, got a mail the other day from them where i was told it wasn't in stock...

just how many copies was printed of this cd? Sticking out tongue

Bravo Mario indeed! I hope

Derek McGovern's picture

Bravo Mario indeed! I hope that those who predicted that a Lanza operatic compilation would never sell are taking note :) 

And just a reminder that rather than waiting for Amazon to restock, the UK-based Proper Music company will get the CD to you more cheaply (and probably much faster) than any other outlet:

The CD's been at #7 on Proper Music's bestseller charts for about a week now, and at #1 in Classical. That's pretty remarkable for an artist who's been dead for over 55 years!

Sold out on Amazon!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Bravo Mario! Bravo Magovernio!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.