Mario in Martinborough!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Sat, 2019-12-07 06:11

Mario in Martinborough!

A butcher's shop—Scotty's Meats, aka Carnivore Heaven—from which you can smell the blood a mile away. The world's finest wines. The world's most irresistible foods (including sinfully sumptuous whitebait!).The world's most humming cafes and pubs. The world's most convivial inhabitants having the world's most spirited conversations. The best shops and boutiques and the best outdoors. Such is Martinborough, New Zealand, where Mario Lanza, bon vivant, would have been very much at home.

Martinborough is located just over an hour's drive north of the capital, Wellington. It was home, on November 14, to "An Evening with Mario Lanza and Lindsay Perigo" presented by yours truly. One of my longest-standing friends, author, vigneronne and former Member of Parliament Deborah Coddington, bon vivant, hosted the event in her new bookshop. So many people crammed into it that we had to haul in seats from the pub next door. Technical whizz John Henderson saw to it that Mario's power and charisma flowed from the screen and resounded through the speakers seamlessly. People who bought my book The One Tenor that night would have been left in no doubt as to why I chose that title.

I began with the "virtual" duet between Mario and Mark Vincent, the young Australian tenor whose inspiration was Lanza and who continues to tour his tribute to Mario across his home country. Then I brought Sir Antonio Pappano and Joseph Calleja to the screen to discuss the ongoing enormity of Mario's impact on succeeding generations of singers. I discussed the seminal triumph of The Great Caruso and the debacle of The Student Prince and the tragically fallow period that followed. Naturally I included Drink! Drink! Drink!, especially since Deborah wants it played at her funeral (I said there was no need to wait that long). I had Pavarotti duet with Mario in a scene from Lanza's comeback movie, Serenade. I played the Triumphant March from Verdi's Aida, as featured in For the First Time, as a foretaste of what was supposedly to come as Lanza prepared to make his debut at the Rome Opera in 1960. I recounted how, in October of 1959, 60 years ago, the world learned that it was never to be. There were few dry eyes left as in conclusion we watched the finale from The Great Caruso.

In my overview of why what happened happened, I said the following:

Biographer Roland Bessette is of the view that Mario suffered from bi-polar disorder, and I interview Roland about about that in my book. In my subsequent chapter, 'Mario's Magic Madness,' I examine Roland's evidence and find it unpersuasive. I believe that Mario was by nature a man of uncommon joie de vivre that was not part of mood swings but his default state of mind ... all things being equal. That joie de vivre is unmistakable in his singing. But all things were not equal. Both his physical and mental health were severely compromised by the extreme dieting he did, mainly to be slim for the movies. He would routinely lose up to 20 kg in a month, then put it back on with interest when the pressure was off.

There's no question either that at some point, probably during the extended time he was without work, he became addicted to alcohol. Liver dysfunction was among the conditions he suffered from at the time of his death.

Then too, he was bewildered at the succession of people he hired to manage his affairs who fleeced him. Daughter Ellisa goes through them one by one in the recent Screenbound documentary, The Best of Everything. She says he ended up with a generic disappointment in humanity. He himself, so innocent, naive, open and benevolent, assumed everybody else was the same. He sought only good fellowship, good cheer and a good time; often he'd end up with a knife in his back.

We should also note that, while his singing brought not just joy but sheer rapture to millions, it drew scorn from many in the musical elites, for that very reason. No one that popular could possibly be any good! As someone said recently on one of the internet Mario forums, sometimes you can be just too good for your own good!

All in all it's fair to say Mario's natural exuberance took a series of batterings, some no doubt self-inflicted, and the results were fatal.

In the Q & A that followed, Deborah's husband, Colin Carruthers, QC, bon vivant—CCQC as Deborah calls him—ventured to hope that I, possessed of an unremarkable bass-baritone voice, might give it an outing. I obliged with Danny Boy. I managed not to empty the room.

Attendee Nalini Baruch wrote on Facebook the next day:

Deborah Coddington opened a much needed bookshop in Martinborough 6 months ago. The shop is a thing of beauty, and a must visit for locals and tourists alike. Tonight, she raised her own bar by hosting the first of (hopefully ) many writers, Lindsay Perigo. Lindsay will be no stranger to people of my generation, especially if they held an interest in politics. Tonight, we not only discovered Lindsay’s interest in Mario Lanza, the tenor, through his Visiting Writers presentation, but that he can sing as well. His rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ had a few of us reaching for a tissue. Thank you Deborah for such a treat. We look forward to many more.

Others e-mailed Deborah:

"Hi Deborah. Thank you for such a lovely sundown event tonight. Very delightful, especially all the music ending with a live finale!"

"Deborah, May I just say how very much I enjoyed this evening listening to Lindsay Perigo and those magnificent voices, what a treat, thank you."

"Good. Morning Deborah. Thank you for last night - just loved it - wallowed in nostalgia!"

"Deborah, what a wonderful informed evening we had last night I had no clue about Mario Lanza. Well I knew who he was, but nothing else ... such a wonderful and successful evening. Thank you."

"A lovely gathering last Thursday, Mario would have been delighted."

I think he would have. And in my mind from now on when I think of that incomparable town, it will be as Marioborough!


NZ Country Towns ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... indeed have much more interest and intimacy for an event such as this than our cities do. Our cities are where the rat-race is, and are full of rats. Consultancies, lawyers, PR, HR and the like ... all utterly abominable. Our towns are peppered with the salt of the earth. Genuine humans. Life on the level. I was reminded of this during the Mario Operatunity tour in 2016. Back to towns such as the one I was raised in. No need to lock your cars or houses. And the juke boxes were full of love songs, including Mario's. Romance and sentimentality were rife. May we have them back? Well, they were back in Marioborough, for this event at least.

NZ country towns...

Olivia's picture

have so much more interest and intimacy for an event such as this than our cities do. I can just picture it all perfectly.

LS salutes Deborah (what’s her nick-name - or are there too many?) for hosting such a great evening - and Linz, I’m rapt that you had such a time of unbridled happiness!

I couldn’t think of anything more enjoyable. Smiling

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