About this Recording
8.120784 - LANZA, Mario: Because You're Mine (1952-1954)

‘Because You’re Mine’ Original 1952-1954 Recordings

‘In America every new tenor is immediately baptised a “new Caruso”. Lanza was, chronologically speaking, the most recent addition to the series. He died prematurely in Italy (in October 1959), after becoming world famous for The Great Caruso, a much-admired box-office success.’
– Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (in Voci Parallele, in 1977)

The debate still rages as to whether or not the world was robbed of another Caruso (or perhaps another Gigli?) when Mario Lanza chose the film-musical over opera. A vital performer in every sense, he was a natural target for such exploitation of his talents; but had he stuck to his guns and not allowed himself to be diverted by Hollywood, his story might have been very different. At least in embryo the finest of post-war lyric tenors he had, quite apart from an unquestionably glorious tenor voice, power and projection – not to mention performing fire and good looks. And, once a screen icon, he continued to receive – and consistently to reject – offers from such houses as San Francisco, La Scala (Milan) and Rome. However, before death overtook him, Lanza the reluctant opera-singer had agreed to open the Rome Opera’s 1960/61 season as Canio in Pagliacci.

The singer once hailed by the notoriously mercurial Toscanini as ‘the greatest voice of the twentieth century’ was born Alfred Arnoldo Cocozza into an immigrant Italian family in Philadelphia on 31 January 1921. Resident in America from the age of sixteen his father Antonio was a disabled World War I veteran, while his seamstress mother Maria Lanza was, luckily for Mario, a frustrated soprano. Weaned on the records of Caruso, Gigli and other tenor legends the young Mario shared his family’s broad musical tastes and his interest in singing was actively encouraged. Inclined more to sport than to academic pursuits, he remained nonetheless an avid vocal student in his spare time. During his late teens he trained for about eighteen months with the baritone Antonio Scarduzzo and was taught some basic repertoire by Irene Williams (1887-1979), a Philadelphiaborn soprano with connections in society circles.

In 1942, Mario auditioned for Sergei Koussevitsky during a Boston Symphony Orchestra tour of Philadelphia and was awarded a scholarship to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Later that year he made his stage debut (as Fenton in Nicolai’s Merry Wives Of Windsor) at the Berkshire Summer Festival at Tanglewood, the Boston Orchestra’s summer headquarters. Signed for a concert tour by Columbia, his career was temporarily interrupted by two years’ war service in the United States Air Force. Based at Marfa, Texas, after auditioning successfully for Peter Lind Hayes, however, he was in demand at forces’ shows and, after touring military bases in Frank Loesser’s On The Beam, following demobilisation in 1945, he joined the chorusline of the Broadway musical Winged Victory – a fund-raising flag-waver scored by David Rose and devised by Moss Hart, presented by an all military cast of US Army-Air Force personnel.

In mid-1945 Mario stood in for tenor Jan Peerce on ABC’s Celanese Hour and between October and February 1946 appeared in six ‘Great Moments In Music’ concerts in New York. During 1946 he toured Canada in concert with soprano Agnes Davis and embarked on further vocal training with Enrico Rosati (the teacher of Beniamino Gigli), through whose influence he was invited to sing in the Verdi Requiem with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, under Toscanini. Owing to nerves, however, Lanza turned down the opportunity but by 1947, his reputation and confidence had grown and in July, in company with soprano Frances Yeend (b. 1918) and bass-baritone George London (1919-1985), he formed the Bel Canto Trio, which during the next year gave 84 concerts in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

On 28 August 1947 the close of the Trio’s tour was marked by a gala at the Hollywood Bowl, with symphony orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. At this concert Fate intervened: Lanza was heard by Louis B. Mayer, who would soon be signing the tenor to a seven-year MGM contract. Subsequently, his Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly (in two performances during the 1948 New Orleans Opera season, under Walter Herbert), earned him some fine notices (‘Rarely have we seen a more superbly romantic leading tenor. His exceptionally beautiful voice helps immeasurably’ – St. Louis News; ‘[His] Pinkerton was admirable. His diction was excellent [and] the quality of his voice was a delight to hear.’ – Times-Picayune). However the experience had clearly prompted mixed feelings in the mind of the insecure Lanza.

Lanza’s success in Butterfly at St. Louis had brought him an immediate invitation to return there to sing Alfredo in Traviata during the following season, but he had meanwhile concluded that a greater future awaited him in the less stressful spheres of concert, radio and screen. He also (naively, it is claimed) believed that he would, at some unspecified future time, be able to combine screen stardom with an operatic career – a conviction which his lucrative MGM contract bolstered with an unexpected financial security. The terms of that contract assured him $750 per week for the six months spent preparing his first movie, plus a $10,000 bonus, $15,000 on completion of the film itself and freedom meanwhile to give concerts, radio appearances and make recordings (under a prestigious, exclusive contract with RCA Victor).

Produced by Joseph Pasternak, Lanza’s first film – a 98-minute musical called That Midnight Kiss (in which an unknown singer – somewhat predictably – becomes an international singing star) was released in 1949, pairing Mario for the first time with the comely, North Carolina-born soprano Kathryn Grayson (b.1922).

His second movie, The Toast Of New Orleans (Pasternak, 1950), again quasiautobiographical insofar as it cast Lanza as a Bayou bumpkin who rises to stardom of the New Orleans Opera, netted him a fee of $25,000. Its score also brought the added cachet of an Academy Award-winning song, “Be My Love”, by Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) and Nicholas Brodszky (1905-1958), soon to become a 1950 US pop charts No.1. By 1951 it was also Lanza’s first million-selling disc, eventually selling in excess of two million copies world-wide, making Mario a household name and recording superstar.

During 1951, Lanza began weekly broadcasts of ‘The Mario Lanza Show’ (for CBS, sponsored by Coca Cola) and made his third film-musical, The Great Caruso. Generally rated his best effort, it was certainly the most commercially successful and remains to this day highest in the affection of the tenor’s many fans. Its release was followed by a coast-tocoast ‘Caruso Concert Tour’ which gripped the USA with ‘Lanza Fever’. The LP of The Great Caruso soundtrack sold in excess of a million copies worldwide, and thus became the first ‘operatic’ long-player to attain Gold Disc status. In this film Lanza introduced the million-selling “Loveliest Night Of The Year” (based on the waltz “Over The Waves”) and resurrected “Because”, a 1902-vintage ballad earlier featured and recorded by, among others, McCormack and Caruso himself.

In Because You’re Mine (1952), operasinger- turned GI Mario wins the love of his sergeant’s sister (played by Doretta Morrow). Despite being another prime Joe Pasternak commercial cornball (Halliwell dismisses it as a “lumberingly inept star vehicle”), this contains some of the most melodious of all Lanza-lieder, not least its Academy Award-nominated Sammy Cahn–Nicholas Brodszky title-song (another Golden Disc for Mario and a US No.7 chart hit). In 1953 Lanza’s recording of Song Of India charted at No.20 (originally “The Song Of The Indian Guest” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1898 opera Sadko, its tune had entered the popular vocabulary via jazzed-up arrangements recorded by, among others, Paul Whiteman and Tommy Dorsey).

During 1952 Lanza had also recorded the soundtrack for The Student Prince, a vehicle in which ultimately he did not appear (MGM, thinking he had grown too fat for a credible portrayal of the hero of Romberg’s 1926 operetta, gave the part instead to Edmund Purdom, using only Lanza’s voiceover when the film was released, in 1954). The tenor’s recordings of numbers he featured in the film included a further US Top 30 chart hit: Drink, Drink, Drink (a No.21, in October 1954).

By now fighting a losing battle with obesity, Lanza briefly re-established himself with further film appearances, in Serenade (for Warner Bros, 1956) and, reinstated by MGM, in The Seven Hills Of Rome (1957). For The First Time (MGM, 1959), however, was to prove his last, for alcohol and barbiturates had taken their toll. Mario Lanza died at a Rome clinic, on 7 October 1959.

Peter Dempsey, 2005

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