Mario Lanza's Mystery Aria

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Derek McGovern

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Mar 8, 2014, 9:51:52 AM3/8/14
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It's always frustrated me that we've never been able to identify the intriguing operatic snippet that Lanza sings at the end of his private recording session for Maria Margelli in 1944. 

(It's a great little clip, by the way.)

Now we know that from a young age Mario was interested in obscure operas; in fact, as Armando discovered while researching for his Lanza biography, he even appeared in one as a teenager: Crispino e la Comare (1850), by Federico and Luigi Ricci, for the YMCA Opera Company in Philadelphia. A few years later he sang in Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor -- and that wasn't exactly familiar fare either. Then in the early 1950s Lanza talked about performing the role of Paolo in Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini. Around the same time he rehearsed an aria from Giordano's Madame Sans-Gêne (the tape of
which has survived), and later still he rehearsed a large number of obscure arias by composers such as Cilea and Leoncavallo for an album that, sadly, never materialized. (I wonder if RCA got cold feet?)

So much for Lanza only being interested in the usual old operatic "lollipops", as one lazy critic claimed a few years back!

But getting back to the "unknown aria" (or is it in fact the beginning of a duet?) that Mario recorded for his friend Maria Margelli...about a month ago I made a real effort to unearth its identity. I posted a request for help on Opera-L, an operatic forum with a large number of subscribers, and included the link to the recording. I even transcribed the words that Armando and I could make out ("Eterna...calma, o quieta...ora vieni ancora").

Someone immediately wrote back saying it was an aria from Giordano's La Cena delle Beffe. That made a lot of sense, actually, since, like the aria, this opera is a brooding work. A shocker in some respects. And lo and behold, Armando happened to have a videotape of a performance of this very unfamiliar work. But on dutifully sitting through the whole four-act opera on our behalf, he and his simpaticissima wife discovered that the aria was nowhere to be heard! It then transpired that the Opera-L fellow had merely assumed it was from La Cena delle Beffe. 

I received other suggestions from the Opera-L crowd (Gordano's even more obscure Marcella, for example), but no concrete leads. I even wrote to a Mascagni expert thinking it might be from Nerone or something, but was told emphatically that it wasn't from that opera or any known Mascagni work.

So now I'm back to square one! But I haven't given up hope yet -- and who knows? Perhaps someone specializing in Giordano, Leoncavallo and the like may just happen to stumble upon this post and enlighten us...
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Vince Di Placido

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Sep 9, 2009, 2:28:48 AM9/9/09
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Ciao, Derek! That "Unkown aria" has always fascinated me, a great wee
clip & Mario sounds great! All we can assume is it's definitely
Verismo...
(I will be posting more soon, I've been working on my first cd, really
excited, at the mixing stage this week...)
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Derek McGovern

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Oct 10, 2009, 4:44:33 PM10/10/09
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Just an update on this mysterious aria: no new leads, but at least we
can now rule out another composer: Respighi. I thought it may have
been from one of his operas, since the words and mood seem to fit in
with some of his themes. A grandi-tenori poster agreed with me, saying
it was reminiscent of Respighi's musical style (and of his song
Nebbie). But a Respighi expert I've just been in contact with -- a
fellow who also knew the composer's widow -- has told me that it's
definitely not from any of Respighi's works. He's very kindly offered
to investigate further on our behalf, though.

So who is it? Giordano? Leoncavallo? Or someone we've never heard of?!
I'm starting to wonder if Maria Margelli herself wrote it! :-)

Derek McGovern

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Nov 13, 2009, 6:58:38 PM11/13/09
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I'm just moving the following new posts from another thread to keep
things tidy:

barry oderfer
Nov 14, 11:46 am
This was sent to me from a youtube friend ShawDAMAN. Maybe someone
recognizes this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0h3pVeUUZI&feature=email

***************************************************************************************

Shawn
Nov 14, 11:51 am

Hi Barry,
I'm sorry, I should have mentioned that most people on this forum will
already be aware of this little mystery. There was an earlier thread
on it here and I know Mr Derek and some others have made inquiries but
I thought I could expose it to some of the opera experts I had grown
familiar with on youtube through my channel since no one as yet has
come up with anything definite on it. (I am known as "ShawDAMAN on
youtube :-) )

Sorry for the confusion and I hope this is OK.

Derek McGovern

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Nov 13, 2009, 7:06:02 PM11/13/09
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Shawn: Good on you for trying to to solve this little mystery. Having
written to various Respighi & Giordano experts, and posted on Opera-L,
the "Classical Music and Opera Forum", grandi-tenori.com, etc, I think
I've exhausted my own lines of inquiry!

Speaking of mysteries, I'm still curious as to what it is that Lanza's
singing when he tests out his new mike on the 1952 home recording
(available in our Photos & Recordings section). It begins with "Non
temer..."

Derek McGovern

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Dec 14, 2012, 10:30:33 PM12/14/12
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It was recently suggested by an opera impresario that Respighi's "Nebbie" was the title of the elusive Unknown Aria of which Lanza recorded an extract in 1944. "Forget the words Lanza is singing, and focus on the piano part," he volunteered. Well, I listened to Pavarotti's live version, and, sure enough, there were similarities, especially towards the end. But it's not the Unknown Aria. Yes, it could well be Respighi (even if an apparent expert on that composer doesn't recognize it as one of his works), but not this song. And, as Armando has pointed out, the lyrics that Lanza sings are simply too elaborate and poetic to have been improvised by the young tenor.

So what the heck is this aria? I'm determined to find out, and have been poring through various online libretti over the last couple of weeks. I can now rule out quite a long list of obscure or seldom-performed operas, so I guess that's progress. A few days ago, I also posted the message below on Opera-L, hoping once again that someone could at least put me in touch with an expert on verismo (or late 19th century/early 20th century) Italian opera. But I've received not a single response. So let's give it another shot here! Perhaps some of our newer members---George, for example?---may have some ideas.

This is a mystery that's crying out to be solved!

Here's what I wrote on Opera-L:

Several years back, I posted a request for help in identifying an aria of which Mario Lanza recorded a brief portion on a private recording. I didn't get anywhere, with suggestions ranging from Giordano's La Cena delle Beffe to Respighi's song Nebbie, but I'd like to give it another try. Perhaps someone here can put me in touch with a verismo expert?
My assumption is that it's a verismo aria (and not a song or vocal exercise, with Lanza improvising the words, as some have suggested). The other arias that Lanza recorded that day (for Maria Margelli, who happened to be Ezio Pinza's secretary) were all from the same period and/or genre: Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Puccini. It certainly sounds like a verismo aria, and has a Respighi-like quality to it, although one apparent expert on that composer doesn't recognize it as one of his compositions. I do wonder, though, it if could be from Respighi's Maria Egiziaca or Belfagor. Another possibility is Cilea's Gloria. Unfortunately, however, the librettos for all three of these operas are not available online.
      
Here are the operas I've managed to rule out:
 
Francesca da Rimini, La Campana Sommersa, La Cena delle Beffe, Madame Sans-Gene, Lodoletta, L'Amore dei Tre Re, La Fiamma and Chatterton
The lyrics that I've been able to make out from Lanza's recording are: "Eterna...l'alma acquieta...Io con amor, si', tremo....or rivieni ancor."
And here's a link to the recording itself:
 
http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/audio-concert-performances--private-recordings.html#aria (It's under "Unknown Aria")
Less important, but still intriguing to me: I'd love know what opera the ending of this Lanza home rehearsal of "Questa Bocca Tua Pura e Profumata" comes from. (Lanza interrupts his rehearsal to complain about "the lights," and then concludes with something from another opera.) All I know is that it's *not* from Giordano's Madame Sans-Gene:
 
http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/audio-concert-performances--private-recordings.html#bocca
Any help would be enormously appreciated.
Regards
Derek McGovern     
         
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Derek McGovern

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Mar 8, 2014, 10:11:35 AM3/8/14
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The mystery of the unknown aria continues! 

This evening I came across a YouTube uploading of Lanza's "mystery aria" by forum member Shawn (I wonder whatever happened to him, by the way!), and in the comments section it was suggested by singer Aaron Caruso that the aria was from Giordano's 1903 opera Siberia. A description on Wikipedia of the plot of this obscure work's often gloomy second and third acts got me excited, as it seemed to fit the mood of the aria. But having just pored through the tenor part in the online libretto, sadly I have to report that the aria is not from Siberia.

So that's another opera we can cross off! 

I live in hope that a verismo expert will stumble upon this thread and put me out of my misery by finally identifying the wretched thing....   

Michele

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Mar 10, 2014, 10:34:40 PM3/10/14
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Hi Derek,
Sorry, I put my message about this mystery aria on the "Di Rigori" site.  Have not played it yet but the Mystery Aria  is on (as I said) one of Damon's
C.D.'s and it is only referred to as again Mystery Aria, so good luck finding out just what it is, hope you do. Just those 45 seconds are really very
beautiful and I have to say Mario was in fabulous voice when he recorded it.

Michele  

Derek McGovern

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Mar 12, 2014, 3:32:08 AM3/12/14
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Hi Michele: Yes, I have that Damon Lanza Productions CD. In fact, that recording (and the rest of the session) has been floating around since at least the 1970s, with no one seemingly able to identify it. Mind you, the ending to the Madame Sans-Gene aria that Mario sings on another private recording (from 1952) is just as baffling: 
 
 
Cheers,
Derek
 
 

Steff Walzinger

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Feb 16, 2021, 12:20:04 PMFeb 16
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Hi Derek,
About two weeks ago, on the occasion of Mario's birthday, I had some e-mail correspondence with a man from Austria regarding Mario Lanza. He is a studied musicologist, who was working for the Vienna States Opera and currently is head dramaturg of another Viennese opera house. I took the opportunity and asked him if he would do me a favour and listen to the mystery aria. His reply came within a few minutes: "Give the recording to me!" So I e-mailed him the piece. His instant reply - I don't remember that ever before I got such a fast reply to one of my many requests - and his spontaneous guess was that it sounded like "L'amore dei tre re," by Montemezzi, and he said, that if he wasn't that busy right now, he would immediately listen to the complete opera to check this! Now that's what I call true enthusiasm, right?!  Well, I see, you have already sorted out this opera, and I told him so. He then voiced suspicion it might be a "fake,"  means that Mario just invented it - maybe kind of improvisation or fun piece. He said the lyrics just would not make any sense (no context between the sentences), which I cannot assess myself.
However, he gave it a try, which I appreciated very much, and I felt how much this mystery bothered him.
Have you really checked the Montemezzi opera in its entirety? 
My personal guess, whenever I listen to this piece, is that, in case it really was an excerpt from an opera, it was not part of an aria but rather taken from a sung dialogue or monologue. It just does not sound like an aria to me. 
Well, the mystery goes on ...

Steff

Derek McGovern

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Feb 17, 2021, 12:15:15 AMFeb 17
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Hi Steff: That was kind of your Austrian musicologist acquaintance to try to help us with this perplexing aria. And with all due respect to the gentleman, I do think it's part of an aria (not just a recitative, for instance), and not a fake. As Armando has already pointed out, the words are too poetic and elaborate for Mario to have simply invented, especially on the spot.

I think it's likely that Maria Margelli had only recently introduced him to whatever the piece is---perhaps that same day---and he was trying it out for the first time. He's just experimenting with it. That's why he tells her, "This is just for you: don't play it for anyone else." 

As far as the Montemezzi opera (L'amore dei tre re) is concerned, I read the entire libretto back in 2012 and couldn't find any section with the words we've managed to identify ("Eterna...l'alma acquieta...Io con amor, si', tremo....or rivieni ancor"). Since then, someone has uploaded a 1959 recording of the entire opera on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiSoxxuRW_c  And here's the libretto (with an English translation): https://archive.org/details/lamoredeitreret02elkigoog/page/n4/mode/2up  I've listened to bits of it, and found it pretty tedious, to be honest! But be my guest if you have a free 96 minutes and want to check it out for yourself :)
The main tenor role, incidentally, is Avito, although if the mystery aria really does come from this opera, the music that Mario sings could well be that of a different character. 

Cheers,
Derek
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