Who is Mario Lanza?
The year was 1921 and Warren Harding was our 29th president. The song Someday I’ll Find You was a popular favorite and Prohibition was the law of the land. The greatest of all tenors, Enrico Caruso, died on August 2 and January 31 in the heart of southern Philadelphia, Alfredo Arnold Cocozza (Mario Lanza), the son of Italian immigrants, was born at 636 Christian Street. The house is still standing today, just two blocks from the Mario Lanza Museum. A historical marker in Pennsylvania identifies his birthplace.
The younger years
As a young boy, Freddie became attracted to the Victrola family. With increasing intensity, he listened to 78-lap opera recordings with an emphasis on his favorite, Enrico Caruso. Soon he was singing and studying plots. In his early teens, he could discuss opera arias and plots with authority. His first formal musical training consisted of violin lessons, but his heart remained in opera. Recognizing her son’s latent talent, Maria Lanza Cocozza went to work to pay for Freddy’s singing lessons with Irene Williams, a reputable local teacher.
Mario Lanza was born
In July 1942, the famous conductor Serge Koussevitzky was visiting Philadelphia and heard Freddy sing. His response was shocked, sincere and immediate. Repeating the words Caruso redivivus, the maestro made immediate plans for Freddy to sing at Tanglewood. This led him to sing the role of Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was at this time that Freddy took the male form of his mother’s maiden name and became Mario Lanza.
The War Years
With the world at war, Mario was not long recovered. He soon sings in front of a new audience, this time in soldier’s uniform. Prior to his release in 1945, he had starred in two Army productions, Frank Loesser’s On the Beam and Moss Hart’s acclaimed production Winged Victory. These days also brought into her life the charming sister of an army buddy, Betty Hicks. It was love at first sight and they were married on April 13, 1945. The union produced four children: Colleen, Ellisa, Damon and Marc.
The salad years
After his release, Mario spent more than a year studying seriously with Enrico Rosati, the former singing teacher of the great tenor of the golden age Beniamino Gigli. He signed a contract with the management of Columbia Artists and toured as tenor of the Bel Canto Trio with soprano Frances Yeend and baritone George London, both of whom enjoyed a very successful opera career. After singing with Yeend at the Hollywood Bowl on August 28, 1947, he was brought to the attention of MGM film mogul Louis B. Mayer and the course of his life was changed forever.
The Glory Years
As the saying goes, MGM made Mario an offer he couldn’t refuse. In addition, a registration contract was entered into with RCA Victor. Events were moving at a very fast pace. While waiting for his first film, Mario fulfilled his commitment to sing the tenor role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on April 8 and 10, 1948 for the New Orleans Opera Association. His first film That Midnight Kiss was released in 1949 and was a resounding success making Mario Lanza an overnight movie star. This was soon followed by Toast of New Orleans in 1950. Mario met fate and fate in 1951 when he played the role of his childhood idol, Enrico Caruso, in The Great Caruso. It was a major triumph in every respect and brought Mario to the pinnacle of success. This was followed in 1952 with Because You’re Mine.
Lanza leaves MGM and the United States
Due to artistic disputes with MGM, Mario was replaced as the star of The Student Prince in 1954, but his voice was used for the soundtrack. RCA Victor released the LP recording and it became the debut album of the soundtrack of a million sellers. Mario Left MGM, made several recordings and appeared in radio and television shows until 1956 when he starred in the artistic serenade of Warner Brother. The Lanza family left for Italy on 17 May 1957, after which he performed for the Queen of England in several sold-out recitals, and directed his last two films, The Seven Hills of Rome in 1957 and For the First Time in 1959.
The end of the road
During the first days of October 1959, Mario felt excruciating pain in his left leg. Tests at a clinic revealed advanced phlebitis. He suffered a fatal heart attack on October 7 and could not be resuscitated. His family and the world were left heartless. Five months later, on March 11, 1960, his beloved Betty joined him. They left the world behind.
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