Here’s an album I grew up with…or maybe it wasn’t quite this album, but it was certainly this guy singing. I most definitely remember this version of “We Three Kings”, but I don’t know if this is actually the original record or if this selection is a repackaging. Anyway, it’s the Christmas stylings of American tenor Mario Lanza.
This music is really a throwback to a style of operatic singing that isn’t much in vogue anymore. Born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza, and taking the name “Mario Lanza” as a stage name later on, Lanza started out as a classical tenor before his big voice and good looks carried him straight to Hollywood, where stardom beckoned. After World War II he ended up with MGM, where he made several films before various difficulties led to him being dismissed from MGM, spending a year as a recluse, returning to film but with less success, and finally to planning a return to the opera stage in 1959. By this time Lanza had a number of health problems owing to his weight and probably alcoholism, and he died in 1959 of an aneurysm.
His personal life seems to have been a mess, and his family didn’t really life happily ever after, either. His wife died of a drug overdose just months after he did; his son died of a heart attack when he was just 37 (younger than Lanza himself had been at his death), his daughter was killed when she was hit by a car while crossing a street, and his other son died in 2008 at just 55 years of age.
Setting aside the sadness of Mario Lanza’s life, his voice is something to hear. No, he’s not Pavarotti or Domingo, but he had a big and golden-sounding voice, and listening to this record now, I’m struck by his command of phrasing and his superb diction. He’s not just a big-voice, big-chested tenor belting out high C’s from the sky, and like many things I remember from my youth, I appreciate this sound a lot more now than I did then.
Here’s Mario Lanza.