Ecouter Mario Lanza

Leoncavallo : VESTI LA GIUBBA
Dicitencello Vuie
Verdi: OTELLO "Dio mi potevi"
Na sera e maggio
Serenade de Romberg
Leoncavallo: LA BOHEME

Mario Lanza and l’Alba separa dalla luce l’ombra



A few days ago, I was driving and I decided to listen to some music from a few Cds I had in the car.

I took some of them: I had Brahms (Ein Deutches Requiem, Schwartzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau, with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra under Otto Klemperer; Max Bruch, Violin concerto by Itshak Perlman, The New Philharmonia Orchestra, under Jesus Lopez-Cobos, the light and humanity of Dinu Lipatti, on Bach’s partitas; gone so young too; Ramon Vargas singing “Arie Antiche” and Alfredo Kraus doing just the same; and Mario Lanza and his ultra-famous “Mario Lanza sings Caruso’s Favourites”, Cd “The “Great Caruso” (RCA Victor)….

Hard choice as sometimes, some of these artists move me to tears, especially Lipatti and Lanza, plus all the other great artists, Perlman, Kraus, Klemperer, and this wonderful “Requiem” which is not a mass, like the other Requiems, but a collection of texts from the Old Testament and the Gospels; not the idea of a funeral but instead the enlightened hope of redemption and rebirth…That leads us to “L’Alba…”

I took Mario Lanza’s CD, that I have heard and reheard and that I, like many other people, know in detail. But strangely, every time I listen to it, I discover something I had not noticed before, like those books on your bedside table that are always available to raise your spirit and make you think.  Just extend your arm and start reading again.

First I went directly to the beautiful Serenata, by Caruso and Bracco (“La luna scende e tua cara…”) and waited for the glorious five notes, almost at the end of the aria (Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!) Oh, God ! That fifth note!  Caruso pumps it up, with force and separately from the previous ones, the notes climbing one by one! Impressive! While with Lanza, the four notes are given with a subtle and “sweeter” escalation, an unbroken line till the rendez-vous with the fourth blazing note, a high B flat easy and almost casual but resplendent, a ball of fire.

So I played it again and again (of course I also often listen to the beautiful rendition by Caruso, who, as we all know, wrote the lyrics, and also by the young American tenor, Michael Spyres, also with a beautiful rendition (in concerts in France). Spyres gives a powerful Carusoesque rendition, but Lanza does it almost bel canto and gives me goose bumps: as always, his fire comes from the heart and does not need any excess of power. Listen to it, with Lanza, Caruso and Spyres and I hope you will see what I mean.

No surprise: we are talking about a man who knew what words meant and delivered them as if he were writing his will.

And now let’s come to the poem of l’Alba.

 D’Annunzio was, in my opinion, a true lyrical and romantic poet. At first, you would think there’s some excess in each and every word and each and every verse of his poems, like the French romantic poets of the ninetinth century (Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny etc…), poetry of open and “bleeding” hearts and indiscreet sel-peeping or introspection, excessive weeping, excessive torments – but not mortal torments or real sorrows -). Our present view of romanticism has changed and evolved to a sort of discretion and restraint (same thing in the singing?), less sophistication and less self-esteem and ego.

But, on a second thought, d’Annunzio was not like that. He appears for what he was: playing cash, speaking cash, an acting in real life, adventurer who was a poet (or the contrary). I have his poems in Italian and I see he never hides behind the word,, he is naked through the words (and let’s admit he appears sometimes a little bit crazy…and also courageous during W.War I… He had a dark side: his political and military adventures when he took the city of Fiume from the Allies with his own “army”I n 1919 and his (though only “soft”) support of Mussolini (like Malaparte …and Schipa, Gigli and Lauri-Volpi…) but his memory is saved by his resolute hate of the Nazis and of Hitler (he tried, in vain, to convince Mussolini in 1937 not to make an alliance with Hitler and to open his arms to France and England…).

In fact, this man was not meant for his century. I think d’Annunzio would have liked to live in the times of Cicero, Cesar and Pompeius Magnus (the man who, to his astonishment, found only a Veil in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple…), times that inspired to him the Roman salute – which would be “stolen” by Mussolini – and later by Hitler- as the fascist salute…-; antic times where you could risk your head and your hands and live and die violently by the bronze “gladium” as did the three named above, or die by poison, like d’Annunzio, who was finally poisoned by his Austrian nurse… who, after that, worked for Von Ribbentrop…

I apologize for this long series of parenthesis, but d‘Annunzio was so complex a man…

And he was a great poet and a great novel writer.

That is why I think “l’Alba…” was written in genuine and sincere words (probably during the night, when the magic of darkness works on the mood with the dim light of remote “pupille ardenti” of stars…).

And Lanza took the words and the verses for himself, maybe in a process of unconscious (?) self-identification to the poet. He made the poem his and he spoke to us.

The poem starts with a biblical style and a clear reminiscence from the Genesis Chapter,  the dawn of Creation according to the Holy Scriptures: The Eternal God separated light (“Or” in Hebrew) from darkness (“Hoshekh”) and called the light day (“Yom”) and the darkness “night” (“Laïla”) : “l’Alba separa dalla luce l’ombra…This is it ! With the poet playing God, (which, as we know, is the privilege of poets, masters of the Verb).

 Hence, for me, the majestic tempo and singing from the start by Lanza, “L’Aaalba”, first word of the aria, is sung and sculpted like a bow, a rainbow, the singer and the poet claiming the word, the verb of Creation: let the light be ! L’Alba is the light and an order is given to the stars : “spegnetevi incorrote!” (“switch off your light and stay uncorrupted”), and then “I must die” (morir debbo”, the heart of the matter, movingly enhanced – especially “debbo”, “I must” – by Lanza, “for the love of my dream and of the night”.

The “Night” is one of the two antagonistic characters of the dramatic play, “it-she” is the new mother, “Enclose me Ô Mother (pardon, “Ô Night!”) on your maternal breast” (Chiudimi Ô note, nel tuo sen materno !” (breath), then comes the most moving in my opinion, the magnificent Lanza’s rendition of “Mentre la terra…”, slow and majestic again (“While the pale earth turns its face to dawn”), “mentre la terra palida s’irrora” (breath), the incoming kingdom of the day and the introduction of the rebirth from the poet’s-singer’s own blood, “ma che dal sangue miiiio” (again slow and majestic by Lanza) “naasca l’aurooora”, “ Let from my own blood come the rebirth of dawn”. !

And the end, ”e dal sogno mio breevee, il sool eteernoo, et dal sogno mio breve (brief word…) “il sol eteeernooo !”(long word, Eternity) “and from my own brief dream, the eternal sun”, the God Amon, the Sun God, comes back again (the eternal cycle), born from the poet’s-singer’s blood…

Splendid poem in which any hint of preciousness is saved by the magnificent and moving Lanza’s genuine singing-praying.

Last note? I did not feel it was missed or distorted (although we know by the sound engineers that Lanza’s voice was so powerful that the sound was distorted and he had to push the microphones ahead of him before singing).

Ever heard this poem-song by Ben Heppner? Beautiful as always with Heppner – although, comparing with Lanza, I do not feel the drama of death, desperation and rebirth in Heppner’s singing (or with any other singer’ singing). Maybe the splendid Heppner is a happy man with no ghosts around him, so no angst, no desperation, no call for death) At the end, Heppner’s “glissando” of the last note (eteerno) is slightly missed[1].,.

 All this reminds me of a small poem on the Night and the Day I read on a café table (written on the white marble of the table with a thick felt pen) in Mesagne (Puglia, Italy) three years ago, a short and beautiful half-anonymous poem.

Litterally :

”E poi chiude il giorno, accostando la porta de la raggione e spallancando quella dei sogni, Rita 1-10 2015 ».

I paid twice my tribute to « Rita »: by this article and by the poem in french I wrote and published on her poem,… but hers is definitely better than mine.

Marcel Azencot

[1] I saw and heard Ben Heppner at the Opera Bastille in Paris in Lohengrin. He was imperial (with Waltraud Maier) but the direction, costumes and settings were a copy of the Berlin Wall, all grey and brown, even hats (!) and coats, people were grey and stone faced like the Politburo of the ex-USSR, old dictators waiving from the Kremlin Wall. The second time, it was a recital at the Opéra Garnier, Paris, where Ben Heppner, alone on stage, sang almost 20 numbers. I kept the program and reread it recently. Outstanding. No cheating. Too bad he had to stop his career (another Mario Lanza fan, by the way, explaining on a Cd of melodies dedicated to his mother and her time, that Mario Lanza was her favourite. He never forgot that voice and sang “The Roses of Picardy “as an encore at Paris Opera Garnier).