Christmas with Mario Lanza

Posted By: biory

Christmas with Mario Lanza

1. Deck the Halls
2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
4. Joy to the World
5. O Christmas Tree
6. I Saw Three Ships
7. It Came upon a Midnight Clear
8. Ave Maria
9. O Holy Night
10. The Virgin's Slumber Song
11. Pietà, Signore [Live]
12. The First Noel
13. O Come All Ye Faithful
14. Away in a Manger
15. We Three Kings of Orient Are
16. O Little Town of Bethlehem
17. Silent Night
18. Guardian Angels
19. I'll Walk With God
20. The Lord's Prayer

Born Alfredo Arnoldo Cocozza on January 21, 1921, tenor Mario Lanza went from the streets of Philadelphia to the stage and screen as a singer described as "the greatest voice of the twentieth century" by none other than renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini. The child of Italian immigrants who loved opera, the young "Freddy," as he was known to his family, sang along to the recordings of Enrico Caruso, and announced his intention to become a singer at age 16. (He changed his name as a tribute to his mother Maria, a gifted soprano whose maiden name was Lanza and whose own father forbade her from pursuing a singing career.) Upon hearing Lanza while on a visit to Philadelphia?s Academy of Music, conductor Serge Koussevitsky offered the young artist a scholarship to the Berkshire Music School (the predecessor to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra?s summer home), where he made his debut in 1942 as Fenton in Nicolai?s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Drafted into the service during World War II, Lanza appeared in the Army shows On the Beam and Winged Victory. In April 1945, after completing his term in the military, Lanza married Betty Hicks, sister of screen star Bert Hicks (whom Lanza had met during Winged Victory), and returned to the stage. Victor offered Lanza a record contract that summer, and the singer embarked on his professional career, giving performances across the country while studying with Enrico Rosati, the famed teacher of tenor Beniamino Gigli. In July 1947, the tenor formed the celebrated Bel Canto Trio with two other singers, soprano Frances Yeend and baritone George London. On August 28th of that year at the Hollywood Bowl, Lanza?s career took a swift turn. At that performance?his 200th concert appearance?MGM chief Louis B. Mayer heard him sing, and Lanza landed a seven-year contract with the film studio.

His film credits include That Midnight Kiss, The Toast of New Orleans (which featured his signature song, "Be My Love"), Because You?re Mine, Student Prince, and Serenade. But his most meaningful film was 1951?s The Great Caruso, in which he portrayed his artistic hero and inspiration, whom he had heard countless times on his family?s old Victrola.

The late 1950s heralded a new, international era in Lanza?s career. After moving his family to Rome in 1957, Lanza appeared in two Italian films, The Seven Hills of Rome and 1958?s For the First Time. He began giving extended tours in England, Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland, and was invited to open the Rome Opera House?s 1960 season with Tosca. Plans were underway for further touring in Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere, and he arranged to star in more films. By the spring of 1959, however, health problems began to plague the 38-year-old; he suffered his first heart attack in April, and a second in August of that year. On October 7, 1959, Lanza died of a third, massive heart attack.

His film and radio appearances on The Coca-Cola Show and Great Moments in Music, coupled with live performances and his Victor recordings?which often featured songs from his films?earned Lanza a devoted audience. Although his experience on the operatic stage was limited to two appearances?the first at the Berkshire Music School, the second as Pinkerton in Puccini?s Madame Butterfly in 1947 at the New Orleans Opera House?Lanza?s concert and film performances included collaborations with such luminaries as London and Licia Albanese. Lanza introduced a wide public to the beauty and emotional power of classical arias. His mixed repertory of classical arias and popular romantic songs proved to be a hit combination, an approach that paved the way for later generations of crossover artists such as The Three Tenors.