The Soundtrack Album of For the First Time

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Derek McGovern

Nov 8, 2008, 11:08:52 PM11/8/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
Since we're currently discussing Lanza's recording of Niun Mi Tema on
another thread, I thought it would be an opportune time to discuss the
other material from For the First Time, as well as some of the
differences between the actual film soundtrack and the so-called
soundtrack album.

Firstly, what an amazingly diverse musical programme the film itself contains:

La Donna 'e Mobile (Rigoletto) (part)
Bella Figlia dell'Amore (Rigoletto) (snippet)
Come Prima
O Sole Mio
Vesti la Giubba (Pagliacci)
E Voi Ridete (Così Fan Tutte)
Niun Mi Tema (Otello)
I Love Thee (snippet)
Ave Maria (Schubert) (part)
Hofbrauhaus Song
O Mon Amour
Pineapple Pickers
Gloria all'Egitto (Aida)

It's interesting comparing this programme to that of Mario's previous
two films, Serenade and Seven Hills of Rome. In the former, the focus
was almost entirely on opera -- and the less familiar repertoire at
that (as Armando puts it, it was a film for operatic connoisseurs) --
whereas in the latter, there was almost nothing operatic at all. Yet
depressingly, and I'm sure to Lanza's amazement, the thoroughly
lightweight Seven Hills of Rome was by far the more successful film at
the box office. For that reason, I suspect the musical programme of
For the First Time represented Lanza's attempt to strike a balance
between the kind of popular numbers that would appeal to mainstream
audiences and the type of less commercially palatable operatic fare
that he'd first sung in Serenade, and which he knew would interest the
more serious type of music lover.

I think he succeeded brilliantly for the most part. The only two
things I don't like in the film are Pineapple Pickers (great B-flat
ending aside), simply because it's an even sillier song than the same
composer (George Stoll)'s There's Gonna Be a Party Tonight from
Mario's previous movie, and the rather strained and poorly sung La
Donna 'e Mobile.

For me, the highlights are O Sole Mio, Vesti la Giubba, E Voi Ridete,
Niun Mi Tema, and Gloria all'Egitto. I'm also fond of Come Prima -- a
song that's a vast improvement on the title song from Seven Hills of
Rome the year before -- though I wish he'd sung it in Italian, and
with the beautiful intro -- arguably the best part of the song in its
original form -- which he merely speaks in the film. (It's been
claimed, incidentally, that Lanza *was* planning to re-record Come
Prima in Italian at one point in 1959.)

It's bizarre, however, that the soundtrack album omits some of Mario's
singing, ie, the two Rigoletto extracts -- with the exception of La
Donna e' Mobile, which replaced Pineapple Pickers on the British
version of the album -- and the Così Fan Tutte trio, yet (as Michele
was lamenting on another thread) *includes* three eminently
forgettable tracks that don't even feature Lanza (the Mazurka, etc).
What's more, I Love Thee and Ave Maria -- presented here in their
entirety -- are different takes from those featured in the movie! In
both instances, Lanza's renditions in the film are actually slightly
better, with a particularly good ending to I Love Thee. We can't blame
RCA, though, for unfortunately the snippets we hear in the film were
only partial takes in each instance. (Presumably, though, the complete
versions were recorded at the same sessions.)

There are other anomalies too: on the soundtrack album version of the
wretched Pineapple Pickers, Mario doesn't sing *with* the fellow who
begins the song (though it *is* the same recording), and the ending of
Gloria all'Egitto is a different take. And in the film, the balance
between Lanza and the violins on the brief O Mon Amour is also
different, with his voice brought significantly forward on the
soundtrack album.

(As an aside, I've always wondered if the gravelly "singer" we hear on
Pineapple Pickers singing the title words -- he's the little fellow
with the moustache in the film -- is actually Lanza himself!)

The sound quality also varies considerably between the British and
American versions of the album, with the former much better
reproduced, particularly on I Love Thee and Ave Maria. I would love to
get my hands on a decent reproduction of the British LP, and, in fact,
the entire album is crying out for a first class remastering on CD.

But let's hope that if For the First Time is ever reissued, it also
includes the brief but delightful E Voi Ridete. Here's that unreleased
gem of a recording, with the orchestra more forward (as indeed it
would be in the opera house itself) than is heard in the film:

Derek McGovern

Nov 10, 2008, 3:35:07 PM11/10/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
A P.S. to the above: I may be wrong about the ending to the Gloria
all'Egitto (Grand March scene) being a different take on the album to
that of the film. I was listening to both this morning, and certainly,
the balance (and sync) between Lanza and the orchestra & chorus
differs markedly between the two. But they may be the same take after
all; it's hard to tell! I'll be interested in your thoughts.


Nov 11, 2008, 6:46:40 AM11/11/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
Hello Derek,
Have just read yr. post about FTFT. and guess what I have the C.D. of
it but I also have the British L.P. as well. I bought it
from a 2nd hand shop in Fremantle. I have to confess I've not played
it, bought it because it was there and I didn't have it and
had to have it. Will give it a listen tomorrow and let you know what
it is like. It is supposed to be in mint condition. We'll
hear whether or not tomorrow. Your comments about "Pineapple Pickers"
are spot on, but as usual it is one of those songs like "Boom Biddy
Boom Boom" that only Mario could really pull off. I agree the "O Sole
Mio" is great, I wish some one with a voice like Mario had, had been
at my wedding to sing it to me. I often think about what it must have
been like for those people who actually heard him in concert.
Watching the U.S. election reminded me that Mario had sung at Grant
Park about 60 yrs ago and it was quite a night from what I've read.
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