Friday, June 02, 2006

He Brought Opera to the People

Mario Lanza sings "Addio Addio" from Verdi's "Rigoletto"
Learn more about music and emotional intelligence at Club Vivo Per Lei/I Live for Music.

Alfredo Arnold Cocozza (Mario Lanza) was born January 31, 1921, in South Philadelphia, the son of Italian immigrants.

I saw his movies when I was a kid, and have rediscovered them through the wonderful videos available on The videos of Mario Lanza, from his movies, are exceptional quality. Look at the intensity in Celesta Aida. He's a real actor -- look at those facial expressions and those eyes. I love to watch him move around, too. Check out Che Gelida Manina. He moves like a real person, and like a man, infatuated.

Opera is such a feat to pull off -- we'd like to have a Turandot that the tenor/lover can actually get his arms around ... and a handsome Duke on Mantua who is virile and in good shape, you know, convincing in the role. Intead, we have people with fantastic voices.

In Mario Lanza, we have close to the full deal.

Growing up, he listened to Caruso’s records and was given violin lessons, but his heart was with opera, so his mother, Maria Lanza Cocozza, went to work to pay for voice lessons for her “Freddy.” Later he took his mother’s name, masculinizing the Maria.

He was discovered in July 1942 by the famous conductor Serge Koussevitzky who was visiting Philadelphia, and arranged for him to sing at Tanglewood. “Caruso redivisus,” he declared. It was then that Freddy Cocozza became Mario Lanza.

He was drafted in World War II, then took serious study with Enrico Rosati, and then went on tour as the tenor in the Bel Canto Trio at which time he was discovered by Louis B. Mayer.

A great event in his life, and a fortuitious one for us, was when he was cast in the role of his hero, Enrico Caruso in “The Great Caruso.” Don’t you think it was created because of him? Who else could have played the role?

You’ll find many beautiful clips on One of my favorites is “Ave Maria.” (See on earlier blog). Turns out the little boy’s voice is dubbed. It is still gorgeous.

Evidently there were disputes with MGM and Lanza was replaced as the star of “The Student Prince,” but his voice was used for the soundtrack, which became the first million-seller soundtrack album.

Disputes continued, and in 1957, he took his family (wife Betty and 4 kids) to Italy.

In 1959, at the age of 38, he suffered a heart attack and died. Only 5 months later, his beloved wife joined him in death.

That is so operatic.

I underrated him in my memory, because I remembered him as "a movie star" not "an opera star." Analagous to Norman Rockwell. Rockwell brought art to the people, and Lanza brought opera to the people.


Click HERE to order Mario Lanza OPERA ARIAS AND DUETS with Testa Adorata, Nessun Dorma, O Soave Fanciulla and all your favorites.

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