Hello friends of Mario Lanza and opera!
I was in London for Christmas 2014 and my daughter and son in law offered me records by Isaac Stern and a booklet on Mario Lanza by Emilio Iodice published by Amazon.
Two great artists united again by the coincidence of Christmas gifts! They knew each other.
I remember the story of the two of them sharing the same dressing room for a show, Isaac Stern starting to rehearse on his Guarnerius violin, when Errol Flynn, another great movie star of the fourties-fifties (Robin Hood, Captain Blood, The Sun Also Rises, after Hemingway’s novel etc…) came visiting Lanza, who was silently listening to Stern.
Flynn, with his dazzling smile and the weary eyes of a man who had not fulfilled his dreams, had brought a bottle of vodka and started to drink, and talk loud. Isaac Stern, for the sake of elegance and hospitality laws, went rehearsing… in the toilets.
I have some other living images of Isaac Stern, his glasses on the top of his forehead, () working on a piece of chamber music with his friends Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose ; a beautiful face, strong and sweet, and smiling, a beautiful soul, a man who could bring for a public wearing gas masks in Jerusalem ; or on the french TV, with his eyes full of tears, remembering the young french violinist Ginette Neveu, killed in a plane crash in the Açores in 1949, alongside with the french middle weight world champion Marcel Cerdan on their flight to New York, Neveu for a series of concerts and Cerdan trying to regain his title lost against Jake La Motta…
The rescuers had found the sculpted head of Neveu’s violin in the remains of the plane and Isaac Stern was crying at the untimely death of the two and at the lost talent of the young woman, a wonderful tribute by a great artist who found only tears to express his gratitude to life and its wonderful accomplishments and tragedies altogether.
Stern’s music, like David Oistrakh’s, Nathan Milstein’s or Yehudi Menuhin’s, did not cease after the end of the piece he had played, silence itself was music, full, deep, dense, as if his heart was still playing in the auditorium or in the recording studio. I had that feeling when I heard him in the sixties in Paris, at the Chatelet Theater (or was it at Pleyel Hall ?).
I was then a student and I had a cheap seat in the height of the auditorium, but, sure, he was playing for me (one day, years after, I heard him in an interview, he said he did not play for « the public » but for each and every individual person and that was true, I had had that experience). That evening after he finished the Mendelssohn Concerto, people waited for what seemed a very long moment before bursting into applause and cheers, as if music was still in the air. So the « public » did not dare interrupting the sound of silence.
And you don’t interrupt music, do you ?
Same thing with Mario Lanza, his Guarnerius del Gesu violin was his body, his smile, like Stern’s, came from the heart, no tricks, only genuine sympathy, his voice sculpted the air and sent (and sends) his soul vibrations to us.
At this very moment, Christmas day in London, I’m writing this message and I think of the « Agnus Dei » by Bizet he recorded as a very young man, or of « I’ll Walk With God », or « Na Sera E Maggio », or « Dicitencello Vuie »
And I think of the Improvviso from Andrea Chenier (« ….e contra Dio scagliava e contra gli uomini le lacrime dei fiiiigli ! » – «and against God he cursed and against mankind, with the tears of his children », the lament of a father who could not feed his children, sung by Lanza with anger and almost tears when he says « fiiigli ») .
And I think of The Otello duet with Metropolitan and world opera Star Licia Albanese (« ….Che il vago avorio allumina il piccioletto artiglio… », the wonderful « allumina », those four syllables distinctly and musically said (you don’t learn how to add music to music, your heart knows, all this just flows out of you, – out of him -, to carve one word, one single word into a jewel, and after that you think: « it had to be delivered that way ! », although the score could not tell you more.
And when Lanza finishes his singing, you hold your breath in silence, because you do not interrupt music even though it is silence, do you?
A last word: We paid tribute to the wonderful Carlo Bergonzi, the master of singing and master of bel canto, who passed away this 26 july 2014. We broadcasted the tribute on the franco-italian channel Radio Aligre, in Paris (show « Cappuccino », 14 december 2014. You may podcast the show).
Bergonzi was a great Lanza admirer. But who was not a Lanza admirer, among the great ones?