A Rockapaedia Obituary

Mario Lanza

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Mario Lanza died aged thirty eight on 7th October 1959 of a heart attack in Rome, Italy. He was survived by his wife, Betty and four children.Photo of Mario Lanza
Mario Lanza was born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. and was exposed to classical singing at an early age by his Abruzzese-Molisan Italian parents. By age sixteen his vocal talent had become apparent. Starting out in local operatic productions in Philadelphia for the YMCA Opera Company while still in his teens, he later came to the attention of Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In 1942, Koussevitzky provided young Mario Lanza with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Mario Lanza made his opera debut, as Fenton in Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor, at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood in 1942, after a period of study with conductors Boris Goldovsky and Leonard Bernstein. This was when he adopted the stage name Mario Lanza, for its similarity to his mother’s maiden name, Maria Lanza.
His performances at Tanglewood won him critical acclaim, with Noel Straus of The New York Times hailing the twenty-one year-old tenor as having "few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power". Mario Lanza sang Nicolai's Fenton twice at Tanglewood, in addition to appearing there in a one-off presentation of Act III of Puccini's La bohème with the noted Mexican soprano Irma González, baritone James Pease and mezzo-soprano Laura Castellano.
Mario Lanza's budding operatic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was assigned to Special Services in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He appeared in the wartime shows On the Beam and Winged Victory. He also appeared in the film version of the latter. He resumed his singing career with a concert in Atlantic City with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in September 1945 under Peter Herman Adler, subsequently his mentor. The following month, he replaced tenor Jan Peerce on the live CBS radio program Great Moments in Music on which he made six appearances in four months, singing extracts from various operas and other works. image of Mario Lanza
Mario Lanza studied with Enrico Rosati for fifteen months, and then embarked on an 86-concert tour of the United States, Canada and Mexico between July 1947 and May 1948 with bass George London and soprano Frances Yeend. Reviewing his second appearance at Chicago's Grant Park in July 1947 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Claudia Cassidy praised Mario Lanza's "superbly natural tenor" and observed that "though a multitude of fine points evade him, he possesses the things almost impossible to learn. He knows the accent that makes a lyric line reach its audience, and he knows why opera is music drama."
In April 1948, Mario Lanza sang two performances as Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly for the New Orleans Opera Association conducted by Walter Herbert with stage director Armando Agnini.
Following the success of these performances, he was invited to return to New Orleans in 1949 as Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata. At the time of his death, Mario Lanza was preparing to return to the operatic stage. Conductor Peter Herman Adler, with whom Mario Lanza had previously worked both in concert and on the soundtrack of The Great Caruso, visited the tenor in Rome during the summer of 1959 and later recalled that Mario was working two hours a day with an operatic coach, and intended to go back to opera, his only true love.
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song: 'Drink, Drink, Drink' by Mario Lanza