A crossover artist extraordinaire, Mario
Lanza was known in the 1940s and 1950s for starring in Hollywood films
(“The Great Caruso,” “The Toast of New Orleans”) and performing both
operatic arias and popular radio songs (“Be My Love,” “Because You’re
Mine,” etc.). An award for outstanding achievement in the field of
music bears his name, and even Elvis Presley called him an inspiration.
Lanza skyrocketed to fame and died of a
heart attack at 38 in 1959, renowned as the most famous tenor in the
world. He signed his first contract with MGM after having sung only two
opera performances. This month marks the 52nd anniversary of Lanzas
“He could do everything well: That’s the
magic of Lanza,” says Dino Valle, artistic director of the Bellini
Opera Theater of Michigan, which pays tribute to Lanza this weekend.
Valle became a Lanza scholar after receiving the aforementioned award.
Bellini Opera Theater was co-founded by
Vae and fellow opera enthusiast Rosolino Lo Duca to promote opera in
Michigan and to provide a multi-cultural exchange between the United
States and Europe, as well as providing young people with an affordable
exposure to opera.
“Young people today are swayed by music all around, but rarely opera,” Valle says.
This weekend’s tribute features several
of Lanza’s hits, such as “Grenada,” but also some of his less
well-known songs. Valle says in selecting the scenes to use in the
tribute, Bellini Opera Theater tried to be as general as possible.
“Lanza did everything well, from croooning to opera to the canto. We
hope to reawaken the Lanza phenomenon.”
Four singers — Valle, Eva Evola,
Kimberly Swan, Shawn McDonald — will performat as the Bel Canto
Quartet, alongside pianist Jacqueline Csurgai-Schmitt.
Valle says that opera is an art form
that young people today aren’t getting much exposure to, but he
believes they can appreciate if given the chance.
“When you talk about opera you talk
about history," Valle says. “It is the most complete artform: You have
symphony, singing, ballet, story.
“Without young people, the artform can
diminish. It’s opera; it’s not going away, but we want it to be as
popular as football or baseball.”
An Operatic Tribute to Mario Lanza
Bellini Opera Theater
3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16
Lansing Community College, Lansing