I'm very happy that Jeff has asked me to be a regular contributor to this endeavor. Some of you have never heard of me and I might qualify as a well-kept secret.. Above all, I hope my name is associated with the finest recorded sound of Mario's voice. I was a friend of Constantine Callinicos and I plan to retell some of Costa's wonderful stories about Mario in the future. For my first topic I've picked Mario's name! Next issue I'll begin to discuss the beauty of his voice.
When Caruso was beginning his career, the great tenor in whose footsteps he was following was so famous he was only known by one name. Guess what that name was? And guess what name was always thrown up to Caruso as a comparison? It was Mario! And Caruso all too often heard the refrain: "You'll never be as good as Mario!" An amazing irony.
Also, very early on, Alfredo Arnold Coccozza recognized he was facing a problem with his name. The name Coccozza means squash in English. But in Italian, it also is a term of derision meaning that the person has the intelligence of a cucumber! It has grown to further mean a jerk or a shnook. It is shortened in the U. S. to chuch with the ch sounding the same as in the word church. (A common Neapolitan dialect one hears here in the States). In classical Italian, the expression would be cucutz.
The result of all this is that when Mario realized he was destined to be a great singer, he quickly recognized that he did not want to sing as "Mario Squash" or "Mario the Shnook" (to Italian Americans). As Lanza fans well know, "Freddie" finally came to choose the masculine form of his mother's name "Maria" and her maiden name "Lanza"...and the rest is history.
Let me now speak about another issue that has been causing difficulty for years: bootleg CD's which don't offer anything new and are of no value to fans. They usually contain familiar RCA recordings or movie soundtrack songs. The sound is nearly always poor in quality and neither Mario's children nor RCA are paid ANY royalties. Understand that the profit RCA earns from Mario's CD's are used to produce more new Lanza CD's. If RCA can't sell it's existing Lanza products, we don't get new Lanza material. It's that simple. And out of our love for Mario we also respect his children and want to do everything possible to protect their interests.
Some time ago, a Lanza newsletter wrote a glowing report of a bootleg CD that was dreadfully flat in pitch and did a great disservice to Mario's singing brilliance. By encouraging fans to purchase this bootleg CD, that newsletter implied that it cares not for the welfare of Mario's children nor does it respect the hard work of many both within and without RCA who have done so much to assure Lanza's place in music history.
We will be talking much more about the technical aspects of Mario's recordings, especially CD's, in coming articles. You my write any questions about Mario's recordings you want to inquire about...a favorite recording...or even how many times he recorded a favorite song, etc. I'll be happy to answer your requests.
11 Buena Vista Road, Belle Terre, N.Y.
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I could also entitle this article: "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet!". The fact of the matter is the Lanza voice is even more beautiful than what most people have ever heard.
Constantine "Costa" Callinicos, Mario's long-time accompanist and friend, said it to me best: "I could never even imagine a voice so beautiful."
Mario's voice was also more powerful than was ever conveyed to us in his RCA records. Richard Weede is the son of the late baritone Robert Weede with whom Mario sang Golden Days from the Student Price on the radio show Great Moments in Music in 1946. As a young boy, Richard got to sit in on many of Mario's voice lessons in the early 40's. He said, flatly, that when Mario opened up, "you became afraid the walls would give way." And this is from someone who grew up listening to the power of his own father's world-famous operatic voice!
When we listen to Mario on LP records, or see his movies, we are enchanted by his diction, breath control, incomparable phrasing, innate musicality, and his incredible range...all of these are accurately conveyed in the RCA recordings. However, only a hint of the magnificent power and resonant beauty of the voice come through.
This is no one's fault. Home playback equipment simply could not reproduce the power of Mario's voice nor was it practical to put it on the RCA LP's, given the usual care LP's received. And marketing considerations demanded compression of the sound range to allow for surface noise and high ambient noise in the room in which the records were being listened to.
Additionally, Mario's voice did not sound like a typical big tenor instrument should. While awesome in its size, it also radiated incredibly beautiful qualities that just don't usually go with tenor voices. Mario del Monaco, Franco Corelli, and Pavarotti all sound like big tenors regardless of the fact that, in reality, they are one heroic tenor and two lyrico spintos. Mario, on the other hand, actually produced a soft sound that would gently caress the ears as well as a rich sound that thrilled the mind itself. There was no sharp "edge" to Mario's voice and this is a big part of what distinguished him from the tenors listed above.
Ironically, this amazing softness is exactly the opposite of that which Mario is commonly known for around the world today. And the world is wrong! After 1955, however, his voice did take on the characteristic tenor "edge" (a slightly raspy sound) due to the recording technology.
The LPs of the mid-to-late 1950's and 60's actually gave Mario's voice this typical tenor "edge". It simply wasn't there in Mario's live voice, and the master tapes prove it. Regarding motion picture recording, it is important to note that the technology of films simply could not reproduce the entire voice and the voice tended to sound "dull". The Student Prince was an exception because it was released in Stereo with a magnetic sound track. It's a safe bet that all of the other Lanza films in general distribution contained the inferior optical sound tracks.
To hear examples of any of the above, listen
to the following: The Serenade (LP) presents the tenor "edge"
but it is a function of the LP...not Mario. Mario was unbelievably great;
and in Lanza on Broadway (also reissued as Pure Gold) you will witness a
vocal sound that lies dead in the water...there is ZERO dynamic range, the
result of the recording being compressed to death by the engineers. Many
Lanza fans consider this LP so bad as to be unlistenable. You now know the
reason why. But I am happy to report that hearing the actual (uncompressed)
master tapes is an astonishing revelation: Mario hits you with a wall of
sound that nearly knocks you over when he accents certain phrases. This
brings us to the point of the entire article: Mario Lanza's complete voice
WAS captured by RCA on its master tapes. And now the CD's (and cassettes)
of today can reproduce this sound successfully. One example is the old Albert
Hall LP compared to the recent CD and cassette release Live From London.
A word about cassettes: I believe that RCA's compact cassettes of the 90's
sound every bit as good as the CD versions. So, don't fret if you don't
have a CD player. If you want to hear what Mario really sounded like, try
Don't Forget Me. Let's all hope that RCA once again makes the entire Lanza
catalog available again on CD. As great as he was on the records of the
1950's, Mario will knock 'em dead on CD's!
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In this issue I am going to cover a number of different Lanza topics. So, let's begin. Some of you may have heard of Victor "Lanza" who has claimed for some time that he is a son of Mario, born out of wedlock to one of his early benefactors, Maria Margelli. Rest assured, there are absolutely no illegitimate children of our Mario. Victor has been attempting to identify himself as a Lanza child to further promote his nightclub "tribute" performances of many of Mario's standards. I have a videotape of Victor displaying his vocal abilities and there is nothing, ZERO, in his voice to remind anyone of Mario. Enough said.
A few reminiscences now, of Constantine "Costa" Callinicos, Mario's longtime friend, music arranger, and vocal coach. When Costa went to MGM with Mario to pre-record the music for "The Student Prince", he looked the music over and refused to conduct Walk With God. He told the studio brass that it was a transparent takeoff on The Lord's Prayer and that he and MGM would end up as the laughing stock of the music world. The composers went back and rewrote the song and that's how we (and Mario) got the song we have today.
When Mario had his giant hit, "Be My Love", Costa was working on a song for Mario. He changed the title and called it "You Are My Love". I believe he hoped it would be the successor to "Be My Love" for Mario. If you think about it, in "Be My Love" Mario is pleading with his imaginary sweetheart. In "You Are My Love" she has become his sweetheart. Quoting: "...so tell me youÕll always be mine." It's "Be My Love, II."
A few words about my last article. Mario's glorious voice was not "made" or enhanced by the recording engineers because you can't add beauty to a voice! If that were the case, with today's technology Pavarotti would have a "beautiful" voice...which he most assuredly does not. The next thing we may hear from Mario's detractors might be, "Well, the engineer who did it has died, taking his secret with him." Or. "It's a lost art. The secret equipment they used has vanished." Actually, the opposite is true. The LP of the 1950's limited Mario's voice and actually reduced and took away from its brilliance. Future CD's should reveal more of the matchless beauty of the Lanza voice than ever before.
Was Mario a heroic tenor or a lyrico spinto? What makes the difference -- how loud he sings? No. They type of tenor voice is determined by the method of vocal production. A heroic tenor could learn how to "croon" or to make the pure tones of a lyric tenor. Classic lyric tenor voices are Luigi Alva and Gigli. A heroic tenor or 'helden" tenor, make a rich sound, full of harmonics. Leo Slezak and Mario Del Monaco are good examples. A lyrico spinto is a lyric voice "pushed" to be big. It is clearly a "forced" sound, muscled up and outward with great effort. It is often the least beautiful of all tenor voices. Pavarotti is a prime example.
The best answer, in my humble opinion, is that Mario was completely unique. He could, and did, sing in all styles. He crooned in his Coke show standards. He was lyric up until 1948. He was lyrico spinto in most of his opera work from 1949 on. But in his Serenade film soundtrack, he was a truly awesome heroic tenor.
From time to time, I come across copies of the Callinicos book on Mario. I'm sure every reader is familiar with it. I would like to offer a few copies for sale. The conditions are as follows: I'll draw names as I get books. Price: $55 which includes postage and handling. You must promise not to sell the book for more money than you paid for it. All copies are like new with dust jackets. Send me your name, address, and telephone number if you are interested. 11 Buena Vista Road, Belle Terre, N.Y. 11777
For fans not familiar with the Bel Canto Society, let me tell you about it. Do not take the following as an endorsement of the Society because they do not pay royalties to the artist's families. They produce the largest nationally distributed catalog of opera video. The Society is run by Stephen Zucker, a tenor who I understand is a personal friend of Franco Correlli and is reportedly in the Guiness book of records as having the world's highest tenor voice.
The Bel Canto Society has in its catalog a video of Mario, and now this video is being sold in stores. Please do not buy it, as no royalties are paid to the children. An authorized, high quality version should be released which would generate royalties for the Lanza children. I have all the original tapes and film but it is not my decision to make.
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First, let me discuss a few of Mario's recordings. "Be My Love" sung by the house tenor in the Ulpia nightclub in The Seven Hills of Rome was Mario imitating Mario! Nevertheless, in spite of every bad vocal habit the beauty of the voice is still there. I pointed this out to Costa as he watched the film in my home. He said only, "most likely" but wouldn't commit himself any further because he did not direct Mario's vocals in the film.
The later Student Prince recording made by Mario in Rome in 1959 is in stereo. This RCA LP has long been considered less than acceptable, if not downright defective, by most fans. In fact, this LP is flat in pitch by 17 cents (a music term)! As far I can tell, no one has ever pointed this out before. Okay now, all you musicians out there: borrow the LP and play it on a good turntable and give a listen to the pitch of Mario's voice. 17 cents is 17/100 of a semi-tone or half-tone (which is a 6% step in pitch).
The actual RCA recording session master tape is on pitch, but someone along the way had a destructive bent (sabotage?). When you hear it on-pitch, Mario's performance is not bad at all. As you know, when it came time for RCA to put The Student Prince on CD, they selected the 1954 film sound track version in mono over the stereo version. If anyone can authentically confirm my thesis about a 17 cent error or wants to suggest another number, I would like to know. As far as I am concerned, the error is between 16 and 17 cents but closer to 17.
The RCA Vaults. There is definitely plenty of new, unreleased Lanza material although most of what remains unissued is not of particular commercial interest to RCA....but is of great interest to us. The difficulty lies in making it available to the fans. The most equitable way, the fairest, would be if it were released through the Mario Lanza Institute in Philadelphia with the profits earmarked for music scholarships. I didn't think of this idea but I wish I had. It was thought up by one of Mario's children with a kind heart to the fans.
Most unfortunately, two major snags developed along the way. The first was caused by me, although inadvertently. I made up a couple of audio cassettes for a Lanza fan in New York to be played for a mutual friend, a big Lanza fan, who was dying of advanced brain cancer. At that point -- "The road to hell is paved..." (you know the phrase) I then shared some of the material with a few top people in Lanza fan clubs. Sadly, two of them betrayed my trust and allowed the material to get into limited circulation.
The second problem is that the Lanza fan who gave my video cassette to Stephen Zucker (you remember the story from my last article) still owes me an apology and I will not cooperate without a sincere apology from this individual. If you recall the last article, there was nothing to identify this person in it. Nevertheless, a world-class "apple polisher" wrote that I had committed "character assassination" in my article even though no one could identify the person who had betrayed my trust. Let me respond to that letter writer with two points: 1. Did it ever occur to the person to call the unnamed person to ask him if he had done as my article stated? (Truth is always an affirmative defense) 2. Sorry, but he assassinated his own character!
I've been asked what my goals are. Simply put: 1. Making Mario's audio and video material available to everyone; 2. Protecting the interests of the Lanza estate -- I am dead set against pirates; 3. I have not and will not derive any personal profit from the pursuit of my goals.
In case some of you haven't noticed, the world of Mario Lanza fans and fan clubs is rife is dissention, backstabbing, bickering, and petty jealously. It is, indeed, a very sad state of affairs. Often, when the truth doesn't serve the needs or motives of someone, rumors are used to damage the intended/innocent victim. If you are told a rumor, write that rumor down! And then ask the individual where he/she first heard it and suggest that they trace it back to its source. Otherwise, you will be taken as gullible and set up as an easy mark. Soon, the laughter behind your own back may be loud enough for even you to hear!
As an example of people with their own self-serving agendas, several years ago I sent out a few cassettes to some close friends. I sent half out for free -- I paid the postage and for the cassettes. I sent the other half out for a total charge of $4.00...enough to just about cover my costs: $2.00 for postage and the box and $2.00 for the cassette (usually a TDK or Maxell 90). One doesn't make money by giving things away! However, these cassettes kept these key fans excited and interested in Mario at a time when there was nothing new from RCA...and nothing much in the way of plans for new releases.
Guess what? There turned out to be another source of Mario Lanza "home-made" cassettes...for $10 apiece...and containing truly dreadful sound quality. If anyone wants to dispute that these tapes sounded like, I can ask the person who actually made the cassettes to describe their quality. He is now free to comment. Some of the poor quality tracks on his tapes actually were from my own cassettes which had been sent to him, once again, without my permission and recopied onto his inferior cassettes.
My cassettes were well-known for their superior sound quality and the competition became too much for the individual selling the $10 tapes. So, lo and behold, someone phoned someone who phoned RCA about me! RCA then phoned me (this is years ago) and said they didn't give a fig about the 20 or 30 cassettes I had sent out privately -- but that they had received this phone call from "someone" complaining. RCA followed by sending me a formal letter. However, and here's the giveaway: the person who sent the formal letter failed to mark a "bcc" (blind carbon copy) on it so I wouldn't know who else might be receiving a copy of it. He just wrote: "copy" and a name (deleted here). He is no longer employed by RCA at this time or I wouldn't write this little epic for you. This formal letter was his way of letting me know that this was more of a personal matter than official RCA business.
Because of the petty jealously of someone, you fans are not able to enjoy material from my collection. Is this working for the fans or against them?
This information is known to more than a few but I thought you should have the full background on it. And with the spotlight now burning brightly on this matter, I cannot issue and give away any new cassettes of unreleased Lanza material, even to 20 or so close friends, because the demand would escalate so fast that it would quickly turn into a minor commercial venture. The only two ways I can see to issue new, unreleased Mario Lanza material would be to work out an agreement with the Lanza estate or the Institute either of which would receive all the profits. I can't sell the cassettes without an agreement, so please don't write me and ask.
Make no mistake about it: there is plenty of new, unissued Mario Lanza material, so please feel free to contact the Institute or the Lanza estate...anyone but me! While it is true that there is unreleased material available, the quality is dreadful, or at least has surface noise (clicks and pops). I am now in the process of using a computer to remove the noise from all of this material, so that it would all be in "Hi-Fi", and fans now holding cassettes would buy new ones, gladly.
Regarding the extremely poor quality Lanza "archival" video now available in stores, I could create a first-rate, highest quality all-encompassing video for sale and distribution but the same parameters as the audio cassette would have to be adhered to. So, if you want to hear new Mario on cassettes, and see a new, historic 4-5 hour video, write to the above mentioned sources! They know where to find me.
Now, to a most interesting final note...a fantastic one at that! Do you remember the Jim Carrey film wherein his face could "stretch"? That trick was done with a computer used to "morph" his face. Such computer technology could yield an incredible exciting future for Lanza fans! Imagine replacing Oreste's face with Mario's in the 1956 film, The Vagabond King. Even Gordon McCrea's in The Desert Song. I admit Gordon's performance was superb but imagine these two films as Lanza movies! It could happen.
Let's take it a simple step further and
think about recordings. Take every frequency that made up the voice of Oreste
and replace them with the frequencies that comprise all of the range and
sound of Mario's voice -- imagine the new recordings we might hear of Mario
singing any song you can imagine -- for the very first time. (No pun intended!)
However, I realize that not every fan may approve of this idea.
Mario Lanza's Recording Logs for "Serenade" and "The Student Prince"
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In my last two articles, I had mentioned that a video cassette I had produced made up of Mario's appearances and outakes had been given to Stephen Zucker, who is the largest seller of opera videos in the U.S. The copies which were subsequently put on the open market are of very poor quality.
A friend of mine, "B", called Maynard Bertolet and asked him why he had given a copy of my original private-use video to Stephen Zucker. Maynard replied that he didn't think Zucker would release it to the public. I'll give my opinion about that in a future essay. Stephan Zucker told me the tape copy did come from Maynard. "B" told me Maynard admitted that fact to him. How's that!?
Now, on to the good news: Damon and Colleen Lanza have asked me to represent their interests at BMG (RCA). They represent a controlling majority interest in their family's estate. Their decision gives me a better chance to assist BMG in scheduling and releasing new Lanza CD's. Additionally, Damon and Colleen's decision also clears the way for Damon Lanza Productions to release new material. By the time this information makes its way to most Lanza fan club newsletters, there should be an announcement here on Jeff's Mario Lanza internet site of Damon Lanza Production's first major offering. This has all been made possible by the kind permission and support of Colleen Lanza Davis.
Eventually, I would think that almost all
the coke shows will be made available in far better sound quality than any
of the bootlegs. So, please do not buy any Coke shows from any other source.
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