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.
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.