Mario Lanza(1921-1959): Great Tenor Voice


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The following prose-poem explores Mario Lanza's bipolar disorder and raises the question: "what would his singing and his life been like if he had been treated/diagnosed for BPD?"-Ron Price

One of the great tenors of the twentieth century, Mario Lanza, died at the tragically early age of thirty-eight, on Wednesday 7th October 1959. That same week I joined the Bahá'í Faith. I was 15. Mario Lanza had been hospitalised in Rome with phlebitis. A substantial piece of clot had broken away and lodged in his pulmonary artery. His death was listed as a heart attack. Several days later his body was flown home to America first to his home city of Philadelphia and then to Los Angeles. His death was mourned by countless fans around the globe. His achievements are venerated by the Three Tenors: Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras who have all praised his influence on their careers.

Yet Lanza was a controversial figure and his life possesses a dark, turbulent side. Born in South Philadelphia of Italian parentage, he was undisciplined and self-indulgent, spoilt from the start by a doting mother. He learnt by emulation, listening over and over to gramophone records of opera stars; he never learnt to sight read. But the voice was prodigious enough, in tone, strength and range, to impress the notoriously demanding conductor Koussevitzky at the beginning of his career.-Ron Price with thanks to Ian Lace’s review of Mario Lanza: Tenor in Exile by Roland L. Bessette, Amadeus Press, 2005 in Music Web International Internet Site.

Your wife, Mario, was unable to cope
with your seductions of many women,
the competition from your domineering
mother and the pressures of your very
successful Hollywood career. She sought
solace in drink and drugs and continually
berated you instead of supporting you—not
surprising, Mario. You were basically, what,
a man with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder?
They called you insecure, subject to those fits
of intense depression and paranoia, with weight
and drink problems. Sounds like simple manic
depression to me, Mario. This condition should
have been treated, but they were only beginning
to learn how to do it back in the fifties, Mario....

What miracles of singing you could have achieved
in films, records, in concert and in opera had your
talent been studied, directed and disciplined, Mario.
Would your raw energy, sensuality and
spontaneity have been sacrificed? No!!
You were born too early, 1921: another
twenty-five years and what a story you
would have had, could have had, Mario!

Ron Price
22 August 2009