Ode to Bacchus—Sepia's Latest Lanza CD

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Tue, 2021-07-20 02:20

The only thing extraordinarily ordinary about the extraordinarily extraordinary new CD from Sepia is the title: The Immortal Voice of Mario Lanza—A Centennial Celebration. The rapturous musical fare served up here is far better suited to the Wine, Women and Song title I long ago urged upon the master-mind of Sepia's Lanza CDs, Derek McGovern. I acknowledge, however, that in 2021 such nomenclature might well "trigger" the Church of Woke and cause the CD to be "cancelled," so perhaps something innocuously prosaic is indeed called for. In any event, this CD, hands down, wins the prize for the cleverest Mario Lanza compendium ever: a position occupied for decades by RCA's You Do Something to Me LP/CD which Dr McGovern and Team Sepia—Richard Tay, Robin Cherry, Ray Leaning, Vincent di Placido, Carmel Parisi and Armando Cesari—have now decisively knocked off its perch. This is easily the most intelligent and imaginative Lanza compilation to date, by Sepia, RCA/Sony or anyone—not, as one might fear with a commemorative release, a parochial, predictable re-hash (yet again) of "greatest hits"; not Be My Love for the millionth time; rather, a uniquely loving, thoughtful (and thought-provoking) selection of rare and precious jewels, four of which have never before been commercially released.

The Immortal Voice begins with wine and ends with song, or more precisely, Without a Song. Many women get to be sung about or to along the way, with trees, wine, cities, wine, villages, wine and God making it into this divine mix as well. Every track sounds better than it ever has (the genius of Mr Cherry), and I am going unashamedly to use a much over-used adjective, "stunning," to describe the end effect. It happens to be the best word I can think of because playing the whole CD three times in quick succession left me .... stunned. The surging top notes in If I Loved You never surged quite like this before; the baritonal quality in Mario's later recordings never sounded so positively bassal as it does here; Vesti la Giubba and E Lucevan le Stelle never wrenched my gut quite this much; Mario's trademark naughty sharpness on occasional high notes never sounded so deliciously thrilling as in his re-entry in Neapolitan Love Song; and so lustily (and often) did he toast the joys of Bacchus that I confess I was left not just stunned but deliriously intoxicated.

If wine did not exist Mario Lanza would have found it necessary to invent it. Born to drink as well as sing, he might well have altered Oscar Wilde's witticism to: "Drink is the nurse of the singing classes."

Devout alcoholists may be thankful that Mario abjured the strictures of the morbidly sober, and that their modern-day counterparts, from the aforementioned Church of Woke, are currently too preoccupied with infantile pronouns to think of cancelling adult libations.

"For if I die as I hope to die/then I'll never be sober again not I" Mario exclaims in the uproariously Unwoke Drinking Song from The Vagabond King. ("A flagon of wine, a gallon of wine, a barrel of wine will doooooooooo ... an OCEAN of wine will do!")

To all intents and purposes he got his wish, leaving a legacy of uninhibitedly joyous singing with a style and voice that made him indubitably, as someone has called him, The One Tenor. Never has that legacy been so well honoured as on Sepia's latest CD, replete with erudite and heartfelt commentary in Derek McGovern's accompanying booklet.

A toast to all concerned. Beviam!!

Dedicated to Lillian Young, 1923-2019, who, were she here, would understand.