Tag Archives: “Una furtiva lagrima”

Mario Lanza tribute a showcase for Pennsylvania tenors

Tribute to Mario Lanza, April 10

The Wednesday Club of Harrisburg offered an afternoon of music Mario Lanza made famous on Sunday, April 10, featuring two sopranos, three tenors, and a baritone.  

In the opening remarks, the host and local soprano soloist Cheryl Crider mentioned that Lanza’s tessitura was so big that it required three vocal parts to cover his repertoire. Now, that’s a tessitura!  

Without a doubt the tenors made the program, and if you are going to do a Mario Lanza tribute, you darn well better have solid tenors. No offense to the other vocal parts, but the burden for this program rests with the tenors.  

In the opening remarks, Crider mentioned that the Wednesday Club, the sponsoring organization, had brought singers in from “New York. *ooh, ahh.* To my mind, the imported talent wasn’t necessary.  

Mario Lanza was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I live in Pennsylvania. I’ll try to be objective about the Pennsylvania singers in this program because their performances merited objectivity. But I thought the singers from Central Pennsylvania delivered the stronger, more nuanced and also more balanced performances, especially tenors Clifford Bechtel and Jonathan Kaufman — without going over the top.  

While the tenor from New York, Alejandro Olmedo sang powerfully, his performance was hardly nuanced. Rather than sing bel canto, Olmedo was all about can belto, and for me, he became very tiresome by his third solo.  

Crider, however, sang a lovely “Ave Maria.”  And the Bulgarian soprano, Anna Veleva, sang “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Puccini very well. As she sang it, I couldn’t help thinking, for pity’s sake, what opera standard didn’t Lanza sing?  

Kaufman’s and Bechtel’s solos were my favorite performances of the program. Kaufman’s aria “E Lucevan le Stelle” from Tosca was artfully rendered.  

Clifford Bechtel, soloist in the Mario Lanza tribute

Cliff Bechtel’s “Una Furtiva Lagrima” was simply magical. I really liked this piece on Cliff because he wasn’t merely concerned with delivering a certain vocal quality but also took care to act the performance. I had just seen The Elixir of Love in New York, so the entire scene was fresh in my mind, and Cliff met my expectations. He also sang the traditional tune “Danny Boy” with a  tender and plaintive quality that only a lyric tenor of Cliff’s caliber can deliver–it was a lovely number.  

I didn’t grow up in the era of Mario Lanza, so I was very moved by the program notes. Lanza died at 38– and that’s way too young for anyone to shuffle off their mortal coil, but especially someone with his gifts. Lanza seemed to be ground up and spit out by the Hollywood machine, which makes you stop and consider that life at the top of the arts and entertainment food chain is harder than any one of us can ever imagine. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a family to ground him, his wife dying of a drug overdose not long after he died.  

I would have liked the program to have been selected with more care and less popular appeal. But perhaps that what Mario Lanza was–an extraordinary talent shoehorned into an American pop star. Which makes me wonder whether Lanza had stayed in the world of opera, if he’d have had an enduring career like Plácido Domingo, for instance, instead of crashing and burning far too young.

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“Love Potion No. 9” meets “Jack in the Beanstalk” in an 18th century Italian village

As promised, today we’ll take a closer look at L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti. It is an opera bouffe, or classic opera known for elements of comedy, satire, parody and farce. According to Opera America it is one of the top 20 most-often performed operas in North America.

And why not? Isn’t the premise a winning one? A peasant falls for a woman who is out of his league and buys a love potion with all the money he has (think magic beans) so that she will fall for him. He buys the potion, which is really cheap wine, and drinks all of it, believing he has just ingested the elixir of love. When he sees Adina weeping, he knows that she has fallen in love with him and that the  elixir works.

The opera contains the popular, “Una furtiva lagrima” (A furtive tear), which is one of the most famous and often-excerpted arias in all of opera and has been sung by the likes of Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and every other tenor of consequence in the opera firmament.

You might enjoy watching Rolando Villazón, a Mexican-born tenor and one of the top young guns in the present day international opera circuit, singing  “Una furtiva lagrima.” I love how expressive his face–his eyebrows are when he sings and that he conveys the emotion of the song through his whole body. No stone statue singing, not for Villazón. Also, the scenery is picturesque. The opera is sometimes updated, for instance, San Francisco Opera recast the show in the Napa Valley, circa 1915. Sometimes a traditional approach, as was used in Vienna production featured below, is quite winning. And holy smokes, what an ovation he gets! So glad it’s included in the clip. It makes you feel like you are there.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Performers, Terminology