What a delightful person Ms. Boh is! Even though she was still getting over a heavy cold, she was only too happy to share her memories of Mario Lanza with me, and she came across as an extremely warm, intelligent and articulate lady with an infectious sense of humor. She was most amused to hear that she had long been "the mystery singer" in the Lanza legacy! But more than anything else, she was amazed that her recording of the Otello duet had been heard by so many Lanza aficionados. She'd simply assumed that very few people knew of its existence, and, in fact, her own copy of the recording had long since deteriorated. She was thrilled to hear that I had a copy of it in reasonable sound quality, and, needless to say, I sent her the link immediately after our conversation. I also told her how much I hoped that BMG would one day release the recording commercially -- a wish that she also shares.
First, some background information on Ms. Boh ("please call me Gloria"). She was born in Ohio and is of Austrian ancestry. At the time that she recorded with Lanza, she was not a professional opera singer, but rather a student of singing in her late 20s. (That would put her in her early 80s now.) Her teacher was the one and only Giacomo Spadoni, who, as we know, was also Lanza's vocal coach -- and a very important musical figure in his life. (Among the many highlights of their eight-year association, Spadoni worked with Mario on the operatic material in Serenade and his 1949 Hollywood Bowl performance, as well as the second Shower of Stars Show, which he also conducted.)
In the early 1950s, Gaetano Merola, Music Director and Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera, invited Ms. Boh to spend six weeks with the Company -- not to perform as such, but to study and immerse herself in an operatic environment. (She was aware, incidentally, that Merola had invited Lanza to sing a one-off performance of Andrea Chenier at the San Francisco Opera, and recalled that Spadoni had the contract in his office.) It was at the San Francisco Opera that she met Mario del Monaco, whom she got to know (and liked). She even sang on one occasion for Del Monaco, recalling that he was "somewhat impressed" by her. Gloria's singing career was abruptly interrupted, however, when she "met a professor and fell in love". Consequently, it was only later that she began performing on the operatic stage, beginning with a La Traviata in Los Angeles and then in a number of works with the Madison Opera Company.
It was Giacomo Spadoni who recommended Gloria to Lanza (and to Warner Bros.) At the time, Ms. Boh was aware that Licia Albanese had already been approached to sing Desdemona in "Serenade", but due to contractual problems on Albanese's part (presumably with her recording studio), it had seemed that Licia would be unable to take part in the film. Gloria was therefore the back-up person, and had Albanese remained unavailable, then Gloria would also have appeared in the movie. ("I was prepped for it," she recalled, and also undertook a screen test.) When it eventually emerged that Licia would indeed be singing in the film, Gloria -- happily, a great admirer of hers -- took the disappointment in her stride.
But before Ms. Boh was signed up for the film, there was the matter of the audition. On the day that she came to the studio to audition, she recalled, she was told that Mario would be sitting inside a vestibule waiting to hear her sing. If he approved of her singing, he would emerge; if not, he would remain inside the vestibule! She sang "Vissi d'Arte" from Tosca, and Mario emerged :-)
First of all, I asked her what Lanza was like as a person. "He was just a gentleman to me, " she said. "He seemed very polite and happy around me, and he talked in a very natural way. He was really a nice guy." Physically, he looked well to her at the time -- somewhat overweight, but nothing out of the ordinary. She sensed, however, that he was insecure about performing in public (and we talked a great deal about the ways in which Hollywood had undermined his confidence), and was not surprised when I mentioned his drinking problem. (She had noted that he was sipping wine during their recording - a big no-no, she pointed out, for the voice when one is performing.)
But as a singer? "He had the stamina to do it all. While he needed the underpinning of a coach, he was a born singer and his voice was magnificent." She raved about the lyric beauty of his sound, and confirmed that he was a true lirico spinto. Interestingly, she mentioned that had been slightly disappointed with his singing when she first heard him in the movies -- feeling that he "oversang" somewhat in the early films -- but had no such disappointment when she encountered him in person.
As far as their recording was concerned, she remembers only doing retakes of the very beginning of the duet, and everything was completed on the one day (July 19, 1955). She had previously rehearsed alone with Heindorf and his orchestra (which, she pointed out, contained many former members of Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra.) [Mario, of course, had been working on the duet with Spadoni since 1954.] Spadoni was present throughout their recording, and guided them ("as a coach does"). Gloria was there in the studio right through to the end of Mario's "vil cortigiaNAAAA", which follows the duet (immediately before the Monologue), and vividly remembered his high C.
She chuckled when I said that he was naughty to have held onto it for so long when the tenor is only supposed to touch the note. She wasn't present, however, when he sang the Monologue two days later, but heard the recording and thought it wonderful. She also praised him for singing things in the film that were less familiar to the public at the time, including Nessun Dorma, which "was not so popular then". Interestingly, she also remembers listening to Sarah Vaughan's recording of the Schubert Ave Maria with Mario. They both liked her rendition very much, and she recalled that Lanza was studying this piece because he was planning to sing it in the film.
Gloria, incidentally, was very surprised when I told her that Lanza's first four lines on the recording with Albanese actually originated from her own session with him.
So there you have it! Although Gloria's time with Mario was relatively brief, he obviously made a lasting impression on her. "It was a very happy time in my life," she recalled. She chuckled when she remembered that he'd written "Gloria, I love you" over her "Otello book! For my own part, I was very impressed by her willingness to give up so much of her time to share her reminiscences with me. She was extremely knowledgeable about other singers as well (Di Stefano, for instance), and it's not every day that one meets a performer who's happy to talk at length about someone else. In fact, I told her so! (She laughed.) She was also delighted to hear about Armando's book, and very pleased that Lanza's legacy was still being honored. As she said toward the end of our conversation -- and with genuine delight -- "All of the tenors I've ever talked to idolize him."
Thank you, Gloria Boh.
Thanks so much Derek. What a scoop to be able to contact her and get such a wonderful interview. Just when you think there is nothing new we can find out about Mario lo and behold you manage to get this interview.Wonderful recollections.
I must say that she does very well on her recording with Mario for a
non-professional, as she was at the time. It must have been a daunting
occasion for someone so young and inexperienced! But obviously Lanza
put her completely at ease. In fact, she contrasted his warm, natural
manner with that of his co-star Vincent Price, who tended to "talk
down" to people. (Price must have been different toward Lanza,
however, as a couple of years later Mario referred to him as one of
his favourite film colleagues.)
Shawn: You'll be disappointed to know that Gloria doesn't have any
photos of herself with Mario. "If only!" she said. But I have asked
her if she could supply me with a pic of herself around the time of
her Otello recording, and she's promised to have a look through her
photo albums for one.
Ms. Boh again brought up how much she'd liked Lanza as a person.
"There was no stiffness about him," she said. "Meeting him for the
first time was just like meeting a member of your own family." She
didn't sense any of the sadness that Montiel later detected in him: "A
little nostalgia, perhaps, but not melancholy." He could also be quite
humorous, she recalled. (Well, no surprises there!! :-))
Gloria wasn't present inside the actual studio during any of the other
recordings that Mario made for Serenade, but clearly remembers the day
that he recorded Nessun Dorma, as she could hear him singing it from
wherever she was standing at the time! As for the Otello duet, she
recalled that on the day they recorded it (having previously rehearsed
it just once together with piano on the day of her successful
audition), she couldn't see Mario's face from her position in the
studio. "Nor would I have wanted to!" she added, given how terrifying
both the music and the nature of Lanza's interpretation of Otello
She again raved over the magnificence of Lanza's voice.
Interestingly, Ms. Boh has never seen the Serenade film, nor did she
ever see the film script (which, in any event, was still being
rewritten at the time of her Otello recording with Lanza). But she
recalls seeing Joan Fontaine rehearsing a scene with a young actor
(possibly the fellow who plays the sculptor?) on the same day that she
had her successful screen test at the studios.
She also recalled that both Renata Tebaldi and Victoria de Los Angeles
were mentioned at one stage as possible Desdemonas to Mario's Otello in the film
(though, presumably, neither was ever formally approached). Goodness,
imagine if the fabulous Tebaldi had performed the duet with Lanza!!
(Later, of course, Tebaldi did meet Mario on the Serenade set, and, as
Armando subsequently learned, spent a memorable evening at his home,
during which the two sang together.)
After Serenade, Gloria continued working with Giacomo Spadoni, and it
was only when the latter suffered a debilitating stroke that their
teacher-pupil association ended. (Spadoni's right side was affected by
the stroke, which meant he could no longer play the piano.) She
recalled visiting him in hospital.
So there you have it: more fascinating reminiscences from the
delightful Ms. Boh.
Here's one that *does* work (and do check out this wonderful recording
if you've never heard it):
It ends rather abruptly, I'm afraid, as the Monologue that immediately
follows it was on a separate track.
I've just listened to the whole thing (duet and aria), and this part
really stood out for me during the scene with Desdemona/Gloria at
8:33: "Il più nero delitto sovra il candido giglio della tua fronte è
scritto" (The blackest sin is written on the whiteness of your
forehead). This just before Otello calls Desdemona a "vil cortigiana"
(a vile courtesan), and Lanza's delivery is really quite chilling here
-- more so, in fact, than on the later recording with Albanese. No
wonder Gloria Boh was happy not to be looking at Mario when he was
singing these lines!!
If anyone would like to follow the Italian libretto for the duet and
aria *with* the English translation, then simply click here and then
scroll down to "Scena Seconda":
Before Ms. Boh was signed up for [Serenade], there was the matter of her audition.
On the day that she came Warner Bros. to audition, she recalled, she was told that Lanza would be sitting inside a vestibule waiting to hear her sing. If he approved of her singing, he would emerge; if not, he would remain inside the vestibule! She sang "Vissi d'Arte" from Tosca....and Lanza emerged.