8 June 2023

Forever young «voice of century»



Mario Lanza is one of the most famous US tenors, a performer of classical works and a famous actor. He was called «the voice of the century», «the sunny boy from Philadelphia», «the American Caruso» and «the great tenor». Mario Lanza was loved by ordinary listeners, stage colleagues and critics. This person made a significant contribution to the development of opera music and became an inspiration and example for such world stars as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli. Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Renata Tebaldi and many others admired him. But, as the website iphiladelphia writes, stage success became a painful loss for Mario Lanza. Unfortunately, the life of a talented person was too short…

Rebirth of the famous Caruso

Mario Lanza was born in 1921 in Philadelphia and came from an intelligent family. His mother Maria married at the age of 16 and devoted herself to her family, including her son. Antonio’s father, being a former military man, a veteran of the First World War, raised the boy quite strictly. The successor appeared to the parents after two years of married life, and no one could have imagined who he would become. The parents baptized the son Alfredo Arnold, and the family called him Freddie (when he grew up, he would take his mother’s name as a stage pseudonym, changing it to a masculine form, as well as her surname).

Until the age of 9, our hero lived in Philadelphia. Much later, his house will become one of the landmark buildings of the city, graffiti with the image of Mario Lanza will appear there. Later, in 2018,  the tenor’s house will be demolished to make way for modern facilities.

As a child, due to frequent moves, Freddie had to change several schools, but everywhere noted his indifference to the exact sciences. The boy liked sports, and he also dreamed of being a soldier. This continued until he found a collection of music records in his own house with recordings of the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. That day turned Freddie’s mind upside down, opening him up to a world of incredible music. Freddie tried to copy the voice of the opera genius as much as possible and listened to him for days. These records became a manual for him, or a kind of Bible. Later, biographers will find a certain connection between these personalities and call it a rebirth, because Lanza was born in the year in which Caruso left this world.

Young Talent was lucky with mentors

His parents noticed his son’s new hobby and musical abilities. At first, Freddie’s mother was not happy about it. But later, she suddenly changed her mind and took several jobs to pay for vocal lessons. Freddie was entrusted to master teachers. Under the tutelage of the talented singer and teacher Antonio Scarduzzo, the boy developed a musical style and the basis of vocal skills. Professional singer Irene Williams helped with the organization of the first performances, opening the stage for Freddie. She introduced the young talent to the concert manager of the Philadelphia Academy of Music, William K. Huff. Thanks to him, Freddie was lucky to get an audition with the famous conductor Serge Koussevitzky, and he not only recognized the boy’s talent, but also enrolled him in his prestigious school for young singers. Mario became one of her brightest students. At the exam, he performed Fenton’s part from the opera The Merry Wives of Windsor and immediately impressed all the respected experts present. Since then, musicologists, journalists and ordinary connoisseurs of beautiful music have been interested in the work of this artist.

When Freddie was called up for army service in 1942, music lessons did not just stop, but quite the opposite. Fighting continued in Europe. He often performed patriotic songs in front of the leadership and soldiers. The radio broadcasted his speeches in military units and other centers. Therefore, during the Second World War, gifted Freddie was well known in military circles. At the end of his service, he had the pleasure of meeting Robert Weed by chance. Thanks to him, the young man became a radio presenter and worked on the air for 5 years.

Desirable success

Soon, in the whirlwind of acquiring musical abilities, Mario Lanza met a new successful acquaintance with the teacher Enrico Rosati. Their relationship was not always smooth, but in the end they achieved great results. By the way, throughout his life, Mario continued to have a talent for acquaintances and good mentors. Finally, it was time for Lanza to become an opera performer. Back in the mid-40s, the aspiring singer moved to Hollywood, and in 1947 he began performing in the opera. The dream tour in Canada was crowned with an unexpected offer: he was invited to become part of the famous Bel Canto Trio. After the concert, being a part of the band, on the stage of the «Hollywood Bowl», Mario Lanza fully felt the popularity. The founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who was in the hall, offered the singer a contract with his film studio (later, the world-famous film studio organized his tour in support of the movie Midnight Kiss, where Mario played). Before the tour, Mario Lanza managed to sing with great success in the famous opera production Madame Butterfly and he was immediately offered to participate in La Traviata. There will be other masterful performances of wonderful works. But the tenor’s desire to show himself in the cinema will completely occupy his attention for many years. After the Canadian tour, Mario will take part in commercial recording for the first time. Giacomo Puccini’s aria from La Boheme was among the recordings. It made Mario Lanza very popular, and later earned a place in the RCA Hall of Fame. Mario Lanza would return to the stage already in the last years of his life. He would hold solo concerts in five countries. There were many plans ahead that had never been realized…

So the first serious film with his participation was Midnight Kiss. Mario Lanza arrived on the set three days after the unexpected invitation. The role in the image of his idol in the film The Great Caruso was also successful (Mario did such a scrupulous job to get into this role that the collection of musical compositions from the film became a golden disc. His work was highly appreciated by a descendant of Caruso, and Lanza himself could host his own TV show). He also played in such films that have become classics of world cinema, such as Because you’re mine, The Toast of New Orleans, Seven Hills of Rome and others. Film after film, Mario Lanza cemented his superstar status, and songs from the tapes became hits.

The Lord’s Prayer is the last symbolic song

Somehow, while working on the film The Student Prince, the singer did not find a common language with the director. Mario terminated the contract with the studio and paid for it with his own money, emotional stress and a ban on concert performances. He drowned his sorrow with alcohol. Later, Lanza returned to the film industry, cooperating already with the studio Warner Bros (the film Serenade, where he was able to choose the tracks for the film himself, in particular, he suggested and performed the famous «Ave Maria»). After that, Lanza started recording albums, touring and giving concerts. But his health failed and he was not singing like he used to… The artist ignored these signals, continued to perform and agreed to be filmed.

The prominent tenor was distinguished not only by his beautiful vocals, he was very attractive, artistic both in real life and in the movies. Women have always loved Mario. His love was Elizabeth Jeanette Hicks. Betty was the sister of Mario’s army friend. He often told Mario that his sister draws beautifully. When the army service ended, Mario went to New York to meet the artist and fell in love with her at first sight, just like her. The couple, having married in 1945, never divorced. They had two daughters and two sons.

Mario Lanza’s last concert took place in 1958. Then there were filming and song recordings. Health was failing more and more often. Within a year, Lanza experienced a heart attack and pneumonia. But he usually replaced health concerns with work. But new ailments, despite Mario’s young age, kept coming. On October 7, 1959, the artist died at the age of 38. The last work of the master was The Lord’s Prayer. The wife saw no point in living without her lover. It seemed to her that drugs would help deceive consciousness. Elizabeth died of an overdose within six months. The death of Mario’s sons at one time, like that of their father, was also caused by heart attacks. And his grandson Christian Lanza also became an opera singer. Mario Lanza was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his acting and performing activities. A park in Philadelphia was named after him…