The biggest Paris cemetery, full of yellow and orange fallen leaves all along the alleys, crows flying from tree to tree or trotting between the graves, leaning as if listening to words spoken from trough the ground and looking at you intensely, trying to share with you some knowledge, some mystery.
I had it. I took my car and left through the big gates, November mood and heavy heart. I remembered my telephone call of the day before, Sunday November 1st, to Bill Ronayne at The Mario Lanza Museum.
It was 5 PM Paris time, 11 AM Philadelphia time. I knew that the Sunday mass was over at Santa Maria dei Pazzi, the nearby church were Mario Lanza had served as an altar boy and sung the Ave Maria by Schubert, and where his body had been displayed after his return from Rome after his untimely death at 38, October 7, 1959.
I had called Bill at the Museum because I knew many people would be there, to visit the Museum and see all the Mario Lanza memorabilia, and have coffee, tea and some cakes.
Last time I was there, we listened to Giovanna, Luciano Pavarotti’s friend and secretary, who told us stories about the great tenor (she sits now on the Board of the Mario Lanza Institute).
I wanted to wish Bill, Jeanette, Carol Shea (Mario Lanza’s first cousin and her brother Al Gagliardi) and all my friends there a wonderful Mario Lanza Ball and Singing Competition, and to express my regrets for not being with them to share warmth, frienship and love of this wonderful opera singer named Mario Lanza, in the neighbourhood where he was born and lived his youth.
I told Bill that I had had a hard year as an excuse for my absence and my wife’s from that almost family meeting (our friend, the late Bob Dolfi had a wonderful motto : « Mario Lanza brings good people together » ; well, I don’t know if I’m any good but meeting these people in Philadelphia for a short week end every year since 2006 for five years has always been an unforgettable experience for me and made me feel good).
Bill told me: « We appreciate your phone call. I know it’s been hard, but if you don’t feel well, listen to music by Mario and you’ll feel some solace. »
Now in my car, out of the cemetery and in the flow of the traffic, I took « our own » Mario Lanza Cd. I say « our own » Cd of Tribute because it’s the one our small « Opera Club de Paris Mario Lanza » had published (out of commerce) for the 50 th Anniversary of Mario Lanza’s passing.
Our own choice of arias and songs, a private Cd for a group of friends (the choice was hard to make as we stuck to the public domain only, but Lanza is Lanza and when he takes a song or an opera aria, most of the time his performance is unique, unforgettable, in fact it’s more than a performance it’s …well, a unique experience).
So I put the CD in the player and started listening Andrea Chenier’s « Un Di, All Azzuro Spazio, Guardai Profondo… » ; then « I listened to « Na Sera E Maggio » (« One Night in May ») in neapolitan, splendidly pronounced and highly emotional, with magnificent baritonal tones at moments ; then it was « Non Ti Scordar Di Me », beginning with a sweet young voice (Partironno le rondine, dal mio paese fredo e senza sole … ») ; I skipped the opera arias, I wanted to hear the spoken voice explaining : « What makes the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein so great is that it often conveys thoughts worth remembering… I’d like to sing one of them : « You‘ll Never Walk Alone, from Carousel »… : moment of grace ; And then comes « I’ll Walk with God », where he starts on a slow tempo, a tempo of majesty, on a medium voice, slowly and humbly climbing to a medium high, perfect pronunciation, attention to each word and then you feel he now must be opening his arms, like embracing the world, and progressively taking flight till this glorious « His Hand will guide … », high note on Hand coming not from the throat but from the faith, definitely not a song in his mouth, but a genuine prayer, nothing calculated, all natural art and true beliefs.
You can’t prevent tears, especially on the record of the same song he made at the end (Album « The Later Years: 1955-1959 ») the voice is darker (april 1959), alongside with the cello, same november mood (« whatever road I may walk alone »), full of majesty and power, but you feel the many sufferings and etrospectively, it’s very sad to hear the splendour of the voice (« He will not fail me ») knowing he is near the end. And though, what a power mixed with the prayer !
You cannot pretend you pray when you only sing, even beautifully.
It takes more and Mario Lanza had it : the soul, only his soul was of the singing kind, altogether young and somehow naive or pure, and also deeply rooted in his unknown and mysterious background, as if this young man knew that life is short and man needs hope (« May the Lord May be always with me » he says), as if he conveyed the very old memory of the very old.
Like a beautiful and Old… testament… of which we are the heirs…
Paris, November 2, 2015
by Marcel Azencot