Mannering on Lanza

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Derek McGovern

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Aug 4, 2014, 5:35:57 AM8/4/14
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Over the last ten years or so, I've noticed two interrelated topics that regularly pop up on the Rense Lanza forum: a) the suggestion that Lanza's later recordings (ie, those from 1955 onwards) are inferior to his earlier work, and b) the insistence that the man could never have forged a successful operatic stage career. 

Now it's probably no coincidence that the people who make these ridiculous assertions all have the same thing in common: they're only mildly interested in opera (if at all), and their main musical focus is The Great American Songbook and popular song in general. Perry Como, Robert Goulet, and Frank Sinatra are their musical heroes, not Carreras, Tebaldi, or Di Stefano. If they do praise someone outside of the Como/Goulet/Sinatra box, then it's far more likely to be Bocelli or Franchi than any of the great operatic singers.


There's nothing wrong, of course, in preferring Kern to Verdi or Andrea Bocelli to Andrea Chénier, and I wouldn't want anyone to infer from the above that I'm knocking the great Broadway composers. Far from it! Rather, my point is that Mario Lanza was not simply a singer of popular ditties and Broadway standards, and should not be pigeonholed as such. It's bad enough that he's been marketed that way on CD, but for professed admirers of the man to overlook or (worse) damn with faint praise his other significant achievements in opera and Italian & Neapolitan song is to sell his legacy woefully short.

Lanza's greatness as an artist does not begin with the Coke Shows and end with the MGM Student Prince.

Unless you're SonyBMG's trusted Lanza CD compiler Derek Mannering, that is. Of the truly appalling Coke version of The Desert Song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vtCTTXnbP4), Mr. Mannering recently wrote that this is "the sort of singing that endeared [Lanza] to millions." Oh really? Aside from the stylistic awfulness of the recording, Mario's voice is poorly produced, strained and completely lacking in resonance here. It's about as far from being classic Lanza as one could imagine. But no matter: Mannering uses the Coke version of The Desert Song to indulge in one of his seemingly favourite pastimes: knocking the later Lanza. The Coke version may be a "wild ride", he asserts, but it is still preferable to the "dull" 1959 recording.

Well, in this instance I happen to agree with him about the 1959 version, but I'd still take it any day over a bad piece of singing from a tenor who in this instance is obviously not using his voice correctly. But this is not really about The Desert Song; it's about rubbishing the notion that Lanza's singing in his later years was often superior to that of his Coke/Hollywood period of the early 1950s. It's also about ridiculing the idea that Lanza continued to grow as an artist after The Student Prince, with the ultimate goal -- I infer -- of dismissing any suggestion that Lanza could ever have sustained a successful operatic stage career.

Thus we find Mannering regularly making condescending comments about the outstanding "Mario!" album ("I am not one of those fans who genuflect at the altar of the MARIO! LP’s perceived greatness," he recently sniffed), and arguing that any stylistic superiority in Lanza's singing during his latter years had nothing to do with his becoming a more "dedicated" singer, but was instead due in part to a loss of "suppleness and range." (Ah, so that's why the thrilling 1958 version of Canta Pe' Me is superior to the Coke version: it's that loss of vocal agility! Sheesh! Talk about diminishing the man's achievements!)

To support his thesis that Lanza could not have become a successful stage singer, Mannering conveniently overlooks the many instances in which Lanza performed outstandingly with the likes of Eugene Ormandy, Walter Herbert, Peter Herman Adler, Franco Ferrara et al, and instead cites the dubious example of Jean Paul Morel, a stern taskmaster with whom Lanza instantly clashed, as evidence that the tenor was unteachable. Moreover, he writes, Lanza's "mostly movie-related operatic selections" cannot be compared with the performances of "titans like Domingo or Bjoerling". Ironically, he even cites as supporting evidence the substandard Coke performance of the Flower Song -- which he himself chose for release on CD!! -- dismissing it (accurately) as "sloppy" -- and implying that it is yet another example of why Lanza's operatic recordings cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned "titans".

Oh yes they can. It's irrelevant whether a piece of singing was recorded for a film, a radio show, at a concert, or in the studio. The only issue is whether the performance itself is good. And in many instances, whether Mannering likes it or not, Lanza's operatic recordings do indeed compare favourably with those of everyone from Caruso to Kaufmann. In a few instances, I would argue, Lanza's efforts actually surpass those of more celebrated operatic luminaries -- no mean feat for a man whom Mannering relentlessly describes as "not an opera singer" but a "popular tenor" who, he stated inaccurately on the
2005 BBC documentary, only sang opera "in films and on records."

But let me make it absolutely clear (given Mannering's penchant for making statements about "over-zealous" Lanza fans): no one is comparing the stage career of a man who only sang two operatic roles with that of Domingo, or anybody else.

I need to stop here, but I'm not by any means finished with this subject!!

Derek McGovern

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Jun 16, 2010, 11:09:45 PM6/16/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
A P.S. to the above: I was incredulous to hear (of all people) Mario's
daughter Ellisa state in a recent radio interview that her father had
signed up with MGM in August 1947 because he was "overusing his
voice". In short, Ellisa implied, Lanza didn't want an operatic
career.

What Ellisa overlooked, of course, was that at the point at which
Mario signed with MGM, most of his 86 Bel Canto Trio concerts were
still to come, as was his professional operatic debut in April of the
following year. Far from overusing his voice, he was only just
beginning to sing regularly in 1947 (having recently completed his
studies with Rosati), and the whole point of his signing with MGM was
to gain financial security, while at the same time being able to
continue with his goal of singing at the operatic stage. Ellisa seems
to forget that the MGM contract was only supposed to occupy him for
six months of each year. Moreover, Lanza himself stated in 1949 that
his dream was to perform at the Met.

Armando

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Jun 16, 2010, 11:55:26 PM6/16/10
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My dear Derek, as long as Mannering preaches to the musically deaf he
will continue to get away with his absurd statements and be praised by
his sycophantic followers to boot. I have nothing against Mannering
personally, but the truth of the matter is that, unfortunately, he
knows bugger all about classical singing, technique, voice production
etc. My suggestion to him would be to continue to write about Lanza’s
life and career but to refrain from making any comments whatsoever
about the singing.

As for Ellisa, just as in Damon’s and Marc’s case the fact that she is
Lanza’s offspring does not automatically qualify her as an expert on
her father’s career or singing.

Lets face it, the children were all very young when they lost both
parents, regardless, had they made an effort they could have become a
true source of information and knowledge about their father’s life and
career, instead the most I was able to get out of Damon, for example,
was “ He used to sing us to sleep with Guardian Angel.” Not that
impressive when you consider what the children of Caruso, McCormack,
Schipa
and many more have written about their fathers.

Colleen was in many respects a wild and undisciplined woman, but she
was also highly intelligent, and I can assure you she could discuss
her father’s singing more than competently.

Derek McGovern

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Jun 17, 2010, 11:57:00 PM6/17/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Armando wrote:

> Colleen was in many respects a wild and undisciplined woman, but she
> was also highly intelligent, and I can assure you she could discuss
> her father’s singing more than competently.

Ciao Armando: Can you recall any particular comments that Colleen made
to you about her father's singing? I know she didn't like the Lanza on
Broadway album ("I've never heard my father sing so badly," she said
on one of your interview tapes that I listened to).

It's wonderful that you were able to discuss Lanza's singing with both
his father and his eldest daughter.
Message has been deleted

Armando

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Jun 18, 2010, 5:50:26 PM6/18/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor


On Jun 18, 1:57 pm, Derek McGovern <derek.mcgov...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Ciao Armando: Can you recall any particular comments that Colleen made
> to you about her father's singing? I know she didn't like the Lanza on
> Broadway album ("I've never heard my father sing so badly," she said
> on one of your interview tapes that I listened to).

Hi Derek: Colleen was particularly fond of the first recording session
and singled out the two operatic arias and Mamma Mia Che Vo Sape.’ Not
so keen on Core ‘N Grato typical overblown Hollywood arrangement, nor
her father’s out of control Core at the start of the reprise. I
pointed out the exaggerated recitative and parlando in Celeste Aida
and she agreed that it was overdone but still thought that, overall,
it was a good performance of the aria.

Absolutely loved the commercial E Lucevan le Stelle, Song of India,
and just about all of the Student Prince score, particularly Beloved
and the Serenade. She said, jokingly, that if a man sang like that to
a woman she would fall instantly in love with him regardless of what
he looked like and then added “And my father was wasn’t exactly bad
looking, was he! ”

I asked her about the singing in Serenade and she told me that as a
very little girl she had seen the film of Othello with Orson Welles
and sort of fell in love with him as she thought he looked somewhat
like her father. “Although my father was better looking” she was quick
to add. A few years later she saw Mario as Otello in Serenade and
thought he looked marvellous in his make up. But it was not until she
saw Serenade as an adult that she fully appreciated his stunning
interpretation of the Moor. She thought the role was tailor made for
him and singled out both the monologue and “The terrifying sequence
with Albanese.”

She loved Vesti la Giubba in GC and equally in FTFT -she had
difficulty in choosing between the two, as she liked the sheer
excitement and shine of the earlier performance but also the burnished
dramatic sound of the latter. She also thought he was extremely
convincing in the death of Otello, but she preferred the costume and
make up in Serenade. Hated Pineapple Pickers with a vengeance but
loved O Sole Mio.

She had nothing positive to say about SHOR. She made me laugh with
this comment, “My father was really a soft touch, he must have felt
sorry for that screechy little girl and the result was that she ruined
a beautiful song!” (Arrivederci Roma)

I wish I had asked her what she thought about the later recordings:
Mario, Caruso Favorites etc. but, unfortunately, I didn’t.

We did talk quite a bit about her voice and singing- she had a
beautiful lyric soprano voice but not an ounce of confidence. So I
arranged to have dinner at Xavier Cugat’s restaurant (which also had a
resident pianist) with her plus her friend Ann Myers and some other
person whom I cannot recall. The idea was to try and get her to sing,
but even after she had a few drinks she wouldn’t budge and I ended up
singing on my own for the best part of an hour.

So there you have it. If I think of anything else she commented on
I’ll post it.







Derek McGovern

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Jun 18, 2010, 9:05:09 PM6/18/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Terrific post, Armando. I feel I know Colleen a little now, and I
would love to have met her. What an intelligent and deeply musical
person she obviously was -- a real chip off the old (Lanza) block, I'd
say. It was a bittersweet feeling, though, reading her comments about
Mario's singing, and reflecting that she never got to have such
conversations with him.

I wish her life had been a happier one.

Funny that she should make that comment about preferring Mario's
Otello costume and make-up in Serenade to that of For the First Time.
I've always thought that too, as much as I admire his beautifully
understated acting as Otello in the latter film.

Derek McGovern

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Aug 4, 2014, 1:46:39 AM8/4/14
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I see that Derek Mannering has responded in a roundabout way to some of the criticisms made in this thread by referring to one of my old 
posts.

Back in February, one of our members posted a query here about what was meant by the term "white notes". I wrote back saying that, "'White notes' are simply notes lacking in resonance. A good example is the high C ending to Lanza's commercial recording of Be My Love. While thrilling, it's not one of Mario's best high Cs. Compare it with the magnificent high C in the 1949 Che Gelida Manina, and you'll hear the difference in quality!"

Apparently, I should not have made the above comment. For while it's fine for Mr. Mannering to criticize so many of Lanza's later recordings, and to write long articles rubbishing the notion that the man could have returned to the operatic stage, my casually mentioning that a certain note could have been a little better is tantamount in his opinion to desecration:

"As for Lanza's 'white notes,' I think I said before that I'd probably
get rid of all my Lanza CDs if I started 'hearing' stuff like this
every time I played them. After enjoying Mario's fabulous recording of
"Be My Love" for over 40 years, I had to turn to [the Google] Lanza
forum to be told that the final, legendary high C is 'white.'

"I appreciate that some fans enjoy picking apart the recordings like
that, but to me it sucks all the joy out of listening to Lanza and
reinforces my belief that Lanza's greatest critics - by far - are his
fans" -- Derek Mannering.

Mr. Mannering: It's not about gleefully "picking apart" Mario's recordings, though I'm amazed that a person who freely admits that he can't hear "stuff like [white notes]" is comfortable donning the role of sole compiler of SonyBMG's Lanza CDs. I suggest you read the following thread (inspired, coincidentally enough, by a post by your friend David Weaver that was remarkably similar to your latest): http://groups.google.com/group/mariolanza/browse_thread/thread/4c4898399f7b2ae3#

You're also more than welcome to respond to posts made on this forum here, rather on the Rense forum. After all, you don't need to be a member of this site in order to be able to post here.

leeann

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Jun 19, 2010, 10:33:39 AM6/19/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Three cheers for this thread--and thank you so much for the insights
into Colleen Lanza!

You know, like much of the world right now, I'm hip deep in watching
and following the World Cup, and for the last few minutes, I've been
watching online with one eye on the Netherlands vs Japan and the
other, reading this list. And it suddenly hit me--although it's not a
particularly creative thought at all--how much collective time is
spent on sports, analyzing and dissecting games, following athletic
stars, and so on. And it's fun and exciting.

But I've never seen a soccer game that's moved my heart and touched my
soul the way music does, and I've never heard a tenor who so
consistently and completely enters my being the way Mario Lanza does.
How could I NOT want to know more about how this happens?

Understanding more about the extraordinary processes of singing only
makes the emotional impact more amazing.

That's one reason the analyses and discussions on this forum are
extraordinary, I think. And it would seem that recent work such as
Villazon's tenor program and the Eric Myers Opera News--and those are
only a couple of examples--seem to show that it's a bit old-fashioned
to continue to promulgate tired stereotypes limiting Lanza's
musicality. And I am glad to genuflect regularly at the altar of
Mario! At his Best. What a grand step that was--that and Caruso
favorites!

zsazsa

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Jun 20, 2010, 12:01:05 PM6/20/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Hi Armando,

it is great to read your post about your conversation with
Colleen.Yes, she was a highly inteligente person, she had a vibrant,
colourful and most interesting personality. I`ve met Colleen only
once, but we spent a whole evening and a half night with her with some
other Mario admirers after the Mario Lanza Ball in Philadelphia and it
was really an experience to talk and listen to her. She was full of
life (I thought alwas that she was very similar to Mario and she was
also an expert of languager, as I`ve heard her talking with Mario`s
Aunt, Julia in Italian, with a spain waiter in the bar Spain-language
and with my husband, somethimes German (although she told: `I`m not
very good in German.` But than she switched to Yiddish, which is very
similar to German language. Yes, it was a time with Collen, that we`ll
never forget, she hed a great humor as well and we were laughing a lot
together, but also cried somethimes, when she was talking about the
great and happy time with her Dad and Mom and Mrs. Cocozza.
Michaelle Short, the one-time president of the Mario Lanza Music
Society brought always Colleen`s memoires in her journals, and these
memoires are just great to read as she was very talented in writing as
well, so when you read these, sometimes heart-breaking memoires you
can see the whole situation before yourself, it is so vivid and so
well written. I don`t know what happened all of these memoires of
Colleen, but It would be really great, if someone, over there in LA
would collect them together and would find a book editor which would
issue the memoires in a book form, `Colleen Lanza, the great Mario
Lanza`s daughter remember.` Or something, like that. It would be
surely something that the people would want to have. You have always
so great idees Armando, please make thoughts about it, maybe you
could find out what would be the solution. It would be surely a
tribut to Mario as well as to Colleen, who really deserves it.
Please, think of this.

Ciao and very best always from Susan

Thelma

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Jun 20, 2010, 1:58:42 PM6/20/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Susan and Armando, I am so glad to hear your thoughts on Colleen, In
all these years, this is the most I have heard about Colleen. I only
knew that she sang some.
> > I’ll post it.- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Derek McGovern

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Aug 4, 2014, 1:51:26 AM8/4/14
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Hi Lee Ann: You're not the only one following the World Cup! It's been playing havoc with my sleep patterns (watching games that finish at 1am my time, and then having to teach seven hours later), and I know of at least two other members here who have been glued to their sets for about 10 days now, and show no signs of budging :-) In my case, I have at least two teams to cheer on: New Zealand and my adopted South Korea.


Yes, I thought it was a very apt comparison that you made between what we often do here (analyzing Lanza recordings) and the avid sports fan who studies players' techniques minutely, etc. But how boring it would be if we all followed Mr. Mannering's wishes and refrained from such analysis! As Lindsay Perigo recently wrote on the Lanza Legend site, "It does not destroy the thrill of something great to come to understand the mechanics and physiology of that thrill. I can assure you, it enhances the thrill."

I think you're right, Lee Ann, that there has been a move away from "tired stereotypes limiting Lanza's musicality" -- and I strongly believe that Armando's book has done much to dispel the tiresome attitudes that prevailed for so long. The fact that Armando is deeply musical himself made a crucial difference. Yet until his book arrived in 2004, it was Roland Bessette's negative take on Lanza -- the 1999 Mario Lanza: Tenor in Exile -- that served as the main source of reference for critics and academics alike. I intensely disliked Bessette's book; here's a sampling of my reasons from an earlier post:


Every professional review I've read of [Bessette's] book has accepted [his] thesis. Here's a typical example from Lee Milazzo in the American Record Guide:
"Mario Lanza lived a life of excess. He drank so constantly and so heavily that he was usually uncontrollable and frequently unconscious. He ate in such binges that not even his 50-inch chest and 19-inch neck
could hold the pounds. He attempted to diet only after his weight ballooned to 300 pounds and then would starve himself to lose well over 100 pounds in too short a time. He pursued women as if he were a
hunter and they were prey. He was so impossible to work with that his name was a curse word in Hollywood and elsewhere. He abused his magnificent voice to such an extent that it had begun to disappear in
his mid-30s.
"If all of this makes Lanza sound like a monster, he was - as Roland L Bessette demonstrates in his biography of the tenor."
Milazzo also accepts Bessette's assertion that Lanza was "unteachable". But what is this based on? The bitter reminiscences of a second-rate conductor at Tanglewood, who conveniently fails to
explain how such a poor student could somehow learn an operatic role in six weeks and be lavishly praised by the New York Times for his efforts. Bessette makes no effort to balance the view of Lanza the
musical ignoramus with the testimony of the many gifted musicians who did work with him successfully, and who invariably came away praising his intelligence and musicality. So rather than quote conductors of
the calibre of a Ferrara or a Peter Herman Adler in support of Lanza, he instead quotes the daughter of a member of an orchestra with which Lanza recorded a popular ditty, recalling that her father said he was
"no Caruso". Big deal! I'd accept Victor De Sabata's view of Lanza any day over the the secondhand account of someone who was in Henri Rene's orchestra.
It's this kind of slant throughout the book that I most object to.
 

Bessette also never addresses the obvious contradiction inherent in the assertion that Lanza was musically incompetent, yet somehow managed to learn the role of Pinkerton or record, say, a brilliant duet and monologue from an opera as difficult as Otello.

There's more here on Bessette's book and the other Lanza bios:

http://groups.google.com/group/mariolanza/browse_thread/thread/d6adeaba8d61069d/e841f182487bd0db?lnk=gst&q

Cheers
Derek

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