Mario Brings Life To Giamnina Mia
By Martino

It seems that every great legacy begins with a clean slate, ie, the canvas is blank and history has not been recorded yet. Of course there were great voices before Lanza but none were used the way Mario used his. Rob points out that Lanza could sing everything from opera arias to simple songs, all in a way to please his audience. His opera singing was so good it even inspired other great singers and his "pop" singing pleased a broader, more general audience. Lanza's uniqueness came from singing songs to people who would not normally listen to, let alone be captivated by, an operatic style voice no matter what they sang. Mario was the first to bring his extraordinary talent to those people and provide an awareness of what a truly great voice is capable of bringing to music - any music. Other singers tried but it took Mario Lanza to really succeed. This is the basis and foundation of his legacy.

Rob, you asked about Lanza wanting Deanna Durbin to be in one of his movies. I think I read somewhere that he wanted her to co-star in BYM, instead of Doretta Morrow. I had a few moments to myself this morning (finally) and listened to several youtube clips of "Giannina Mia", the hit song from Rudolph Friml's "The Firefly". Many singers, male and female, sang this song, including Richard Tauber, Jeanette MacDonald (who starred in the film version of this operetta), Alan Jones (who starred with MacDonald in the film and actually sang the song to her), Eleanor Steber, among others.

One of those "others" was Deanna Durbin, who sang it live in a Texaco radio concert. Like many other singers, she sang the introduction and, also like the others she sang it in old style phrasing. We can hear that same style from Tauber and MacDonald especially. Jones was a little more modern, but not much. Lanza on the other hand discarded the introduction and burst right into the meat of the song in his usual style, which as always, was so much more modern and distinctive than any of the other classical singers of his time and those just preceding him.

Of the other tenors, Tauber took a truly classic turn to this song, even using violins during the orchestral stanza break (with Lanza they inserted a chorus at this point instead). Although Richard does very well as always, he seems to sing the song for its own merit - wonderful musical notes and enchanting, poetic words but with little thought to the actual seduction. The same can be said with Jones in the movie version, except he never seemed serious enough while singing it to MacDonald - and she responded in like measure, as can be seen in the movie clip. Lanza, however, finally sang it with the aplomb and carefree style he gave many of these older songs and in so doing, breathed a new life in them that made them more relevant to modern audiences. Unlike the others who sang it like a romance, when Mario sang "Giannina Mia" there was no question he would succeed with "Nina" - he knew it and she knew it. And more importantly, the audience knew it. And if there was any question of it in anyone's mind, his blazing interpolated high C at the end (which no one ever did before or since, to my knowledge) removed all doubt. Friml lived to an old age and I am certain he heard the Lanza rendition of his song. I wonder what he thought of that high C? The operetta is Spanish in character with the tenor lead being sung by the character "Don Diego", and Lanza's smoldering, confident Latin way with it might just have been what Friml had in mind. I guess we'll never know what Rudolph thought of Mario's take on his music. The other familiar tune from this operetta, "Donkey Serenade", was also sung by Lanza in a much different style than most of the singers who came before.

All these "Giannina Mia" renditions are at youtube and if you listen to several of them back to back you will see how truly blank the canvas was from 1912 (when the operetta was composed) until Lanza burst on the scene and gave not only this song new life, but made relevant to modern audiences many of the older songs as well. "Giannina Mia" was always good, but never this good. The Lanza legacy lives on to this day because his unique style was the great communicator and bridge to modern times - and it has never aged, even after half a century.



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