Mario Lanza—All the Things He Was

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sat, 2019-07-20 07:02

Is the latest Derek McGovern/Sepia Mario Lanza CD, their seventh, sensational?

Back in the day, in cases where answers were obvious, one might have responded rhetorically, "Is the Pope a Catholic?!"

To do so in our present circumstances might cast doubt on the CD's indeed being sensational, so let me just say flatly, "It is sensational."

Here's what I e-mailed the good professor after my first hearing:

"Just played it right through. I'm a bit shattered, I have to say. I didn't imagine it could get that good. I was resolutely supine with my Grant's Whisky, and lost count of the number of times I wanted to go bolt upright. Up until Lover [Come Back to Me] I thought, yes very good, but nothing startling as yet. But with Lover, the earth moved.

"With Gypsy [Love Song], honestly I started to shake with terror and disbelief, a kind of Dominique reaction that such beauty was ever permitted. I think for the first time I had the full realisation that recordings indeed couldn't really capture him, though these reproductions obviously come closer than ever and it truly scares the hell out of you, as Sammy observed. All the Things [You Are] was terrifying also. I was waiting for the walls to collapse or the speakers to rebel.

"Coupla details: listening to the last note of Lover intently, I couldn't hear anything wrong with it. I always thought there was a wobble at one point, but I didn't hear it this time. The Coke Chenier sounds bloody amazing! And the sharpness in Cielo just didn't matter any more..

"It was a very good idea indeed to end with Summertime [in Heidelberg]. One needed that release from all the intensity. It sounded just the way I remember it at the age of 9 in the movie theatre!

"The two Vestis are astonishing.

"I can't praise it highly enough, but I'll do my best. Just give me a day to recover."

I have recovered. I'll say nothing more of the singing itself, other than to say that every human with a heart that beats red blood should avail himself or herself of it. Engineer Robin Cherry has again done a superb job of combining clarity with depth and warmth, and Derek McGovern has surpassed himself in the imaginativeness of this compilation of The One Tenor's performances. It was indeed a master-stroke to end with Summertime [in Heidelberg], like drifting off to sleep in the delicious afterglow of prolonged, vigorous lovemaking (for those who can remember what that was like).

It's the spirit of the thing that so shattered me. Amidst the grisly events of this year and the steady advance of occasional cortices in the West, one becomes desensitised to ugliness and evil and the worship thereof, and assumes they are the norm. To hear this glorious voice from over fifty years ago pouring forth such rapture from such a beautiful soul is to be reminded that ugliness and evil, however much they may be on the march, are not the norm, and should never be accepted as such.

To Mario Lanza—and all the things he was!

All the Things He Was, and Still Is

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Beautiful tribute to Mario here:


BWW Interview: Sean Patrick Murtagh Debuts MARIO! at Green Room 42

Sean Patrick Murtagh has been making the rounds lately, hitting the open mic nights in the nightclubs and cabarets and wowing the crowds with a voice the like of which is not heard every day. This writer sat in one of those open mic crowds, eyes and jaw both wide open in wonder, and took mental note of the date August 14th because that is the night Mr. Murtagh will debut his new cabaret musical Mario! Mario! Is a tribute to an artist from the last century that was known as the golden tenor of Hollywood, Mario Lanza, and given the performance I saw, Mr. Murtagh is the right man for the job. A San Francisco native, Sean Patrick is still considered a fixture of the cabaret scene there, even though he has been living and working in New York City for a while, and with Mario! He will make his Manhattan solo cabaret debut. The intimate and nostalgic evening, directed by Chris Giordano and musical directed by Cody Dry, will feature music from classic Hollywood musicals, the world of Opera, and some Neapolitan favorites, all put on display by Mr. Murtagh's own golden vocal cords.

After witnessing his Herculean vocal performance at an open mic, I reached out to the singing actor, who told me a little about the enterprise and action of creating this one-man musical love letter to an idol worth remembering.

Sean, who is Mario?

Mario Lanza is the golden tenor. He's the icon, what to live up to, what to aspire to. He is, for me, a mentor from beyond. His legacy really sits with me and is an inspiration.

Mario Lanza's been gone a long time, you're a young dude - how did his first artistry reach your attention?

I was introduced to him by my voice teacher in San Francisco, Richard, who was another tremendous singer - big, huge, larger than life voice, touched by god and when I started training with him he said "You need to listen to Mario and that's how we need to start training your voice. It's what you need to aspire to be. Keep listening to him, don't mimic him but listen and find what he's doing and how he's doing it, how he's filling all that space with passion while still respecting his instrument." That's when my love affair with Mario began and has been going on ever since.

Why do you think it's important to put this spotlight on Mario now?

A lot of times when we talk about singers like Mario, whether or not people are familiar with him, for those who are, the constant sentiment is "Oh we just don't make singers like that anymore" or "What a gift, it's a shame nobody sings like that anymore". No, people DO! We just don't celebrate them, and we need to change that. We need to celebrate those singers and not forget that this is great singing. This is a beautiful art form and I think, especially, the bigger goal of mine is to introduce him to a newer audience. I'm glad to share this love affair with people who grew up listening to him, whose Nana's played the records growing up, who have such an experience with Mario - I'm glad to share that with them and relive those memories. But I think that it's really important, because he's a wonderful role model, as far as singing goes, for young artists to aspire to - to sing with full passion, everything you have, feel every moment, and to not let anything slip through. That's my bigger goal, to share him, because I think we need more mentors like that - people need singers like Mario to look up to.

This show is about more than just Mario, to you, isn't it?

Yes. Richard was a very influential man in my life. He took a chance on me, I worked for him in exchange for voice lessons and he really believed in me. I was almost like his protegee, but unfortunately, he had more in common with Mario than just a voice - he had his demons and it ended up spoiling our working relationship, and I left him as a student, as an employee, and as a friend - and he was more like family. It really hurt - it was as if he died. Richard did end up passing away and it was like I had to mourn him twice - and I got very angry, and all my experiences with him were soured. Then one day I was at work and I was listening to Mario, as I tend to, and I just started crying. Uncontrollable. But it was also beautiful and in that moment I felt that I had this healing with Richard, I was forgiving him. Mario kind of taught me how to forgive him. I realized that while Richard couldn't take care of himself and be there to protect himself, while he couldn't be the mentor for me, he had given me Mario, as somebody to look after me in his absence. It was a really beautiful moment of communion and reconciliation at the same time, and letting go and forgiving. I couldn't do the show if I didn't do it in honor of Richard as well - those are my two big tenors, two big influences. So now when I listen to Mario, I'm also hearing Richard as well.

Sean Patrick Murtagh in Mario! Plays Green Room 42 on August 14 at 7:00 pm

An Andante for the Ages

Derek McGovern's picture

To set the record straight, I fell in love with Borodin #2 before I met my horn player  :) 

But that Andante is surely one of the great movements in symphonic history. It's just sublime: full of surprises and achingly beautiful. There's a moment near the end that always makes me tearful.

What I love about Borodin's music is its big heart, its sense of romance, its constant melodic invention, and its utter lack of neurosis. Take that, Mahler!

I admit there's something endearingly clumsy about the 2nd Symphony that probably prevents it from reaching the greatness of, say, Tchaikovsky's final three symphonies. I've never quite put my finger on it. But I still find myself returning to it more often than any other 19th century Russian symphony, except perhaps for Tchaiks' 6th.  


Lindsay Perigo's picture

I suspect your enamouredness with the Borodin had more to do with the horn player in the gorgeous 3rd movement than with Borodin. Evil

I've become more familiar with it and quite fond, but it's not as great as some of the hype suggests. Stravinsky, for example, said it was the greatest Russian symphony ever, surpassing even the last 3 Tchaiks. Nonsense on stilts!!

I am determined that tonight I shall *not* listen to the Mario, though I resolved the same thing yesterday and my resolve crumbled faster than Robert Mueller's credibility at today's congressional hearings.

I've loved Borodin's Symphony

Derek McGovern's picture

I've loved Borodin's Symphony #2 ever since I first heard it 25 years ago; in fact, I love everything by Borodin! (Not that he left us all that much completed music; the guy was just too busy with his day job. But what a Renaissance man he was!)

Yes, The Five had an amazing camaraderie---not a hint of bitchiness or envy among them. And such talent! Of the Mighty Five, Borodin's the one whose melodic invention touches my heart the most, but Mussorgsky and (especially) Rimsky have their moments too  Smiling And, of course, Rimsky gave us what eventually became the Song of India, a piece immortalized by Mario Lanza.

Speaking of whom, I'm naturally delighted to hear that his CD has been seducing you every night. Long may it continue!  

Cursing Mario!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm trying to acquaint myself with thousands of great Romantic works on my Bucket List before I die. Hard when a lifetime is not sufficient to become familiar with all the great works that benevolent genius has created and one, leading a "normal" life, has not had a chance to take in. Did manage today to listen to Borodin Symphony #2, but need to give it multiple more hearings. The whole story of Borodin and The Five is irresistible. The Five Musketeers, all for one and one for all ... and they made it work for years. Rejoiced in each other's success. Tut-tut! Pseudo-macho pseudo-Objectivists would disapprove wholeheartedly, if they had hearts. But it's hard to stay on track with this project when this goddam Mario CD seduces me every night. I vowed tonight I'd bypass it, but couldn't. Went straight to Gypsy Love Song and played the rest of the accursed thing right the way through. Damn you, McGovern! Eye

"Total passion for the total height"? This is it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, and leaving aside the overwhelming passion, just study the way Mario sounds EVERY closing consonant of every word. As an old-school radio announcer, I couldn't appreciate this more. It is so sorely lacking now.

Thanks for the great review,

Derek McGovern's picture

Thanks for the great review, Linz. I wish I’d been there with you (with Grant’s Whisky in hand) when you were experiencing this CD for the first time. 

Back in late 2014, when I first approached Sepia Records’ Richard Tay with a Lanza CD proposal, I never could have imagined that less than five years later we’d be celebrating our seventh release. (In comparison, Sony, which owns the masters to all of Mario’s commercial recordings, has released only one Lanza CD compilation since 2009.) But it surely demonstrates the enduring appeal of the man, especially when he’s treated with the kind of respect lavished on him by Sepia. No embarrassing bargain-basement-like covers and spotty selections will do for Mario from this company!

Sepia’s sound quality has also been a revelation. Initially, I never thought they’d be able to match, let alone surpass, the sound on BMG/Sony’s CDs, since the sources for the commercial recordings on Sepia’s releases have all been pre-1964 vinyl (give or take the odd reel-to-reel tape or acetate). But on All the Things You Are, there is proof galore that when remastered properly that old vinyl has a way of revealing both a brilliance and a lusciousness to Mario’s voice that was hitherto partially obscured. You certainly appreciated those qualities (to the point of being shaken!) on the triple-whammy of Lover! Come Back to Me, Gypsy Love Song, and the title track. Elsewhere on the CD, as Lanza aficionado Martin Illaqua wrote a couple of days back, it’s as if “a veil over the voice with a dark hue” has finally been lifted.

A music critic who attended one of Mario’s US concerts in 1951 marveled in his review that the young tenor “radiated charm and goodwill” and with “fervent prodigality of vocal means sent his audience well out of this and several other worlds.” Those same qualities illuminate this CD, and were never needed more than they are today.

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