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The World's Greatest Tenors - Mario Lanza

Updated on October 19, 2012

The World's Greatest Tenors - Mario Lanza

MGM Still - 1949
MGM Still - 1949
As Lt. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in the film The Toast of New  Orleans
As Lt. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in the film The Toast of New Orleans
Lanza as Otello
Lanza as Otello
Richard Tucker speaking with Lanza 1n 1958 at Tucker's Covent Garden debut
Richard Tucker speaking with Lanza 1n 1958 at Tucker's Covent Garden debut




Arturo Toscanini called Mario Lanza "the greatest voice of the 20th century although he only appeared in one full length opera, Madame Butterfly. Born January 31, 1921 in Philadelphia, he was the son of Italian emigrants. He began studying singing at age 15.


In 1942, he came to the attention of conductor Serge Koussevitzky who provided him with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, MA.


In 1943, his career was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. There, he performed for his fellow infantrymen and sang in the production of "Winged Victory". Upon his return he moved to New York where he performed concert dates and appeared on radio. The head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, signed him to a seven-year contract after hearing a tape and seeing him perform live.


In 1948, he performed Madame Butterfly at the New Orleans Opera. A year later he made his first movie for MGM, The Midnight Kiss, receiving acclaim for the soundtrack’s "Celeste Aida". His second movie, The Toast of New Orleans launched his first million-selling hit, "Be My Love".


The World's Greatest Tenors

4.2 out of 5 stars from 6 ratings of Mario Lanza


In 1951, Mario Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in the movie "The Great Caruso". This movie produced Lanza’s second million-dollar seller, "The Loveliest Night of the Year". Some music critics were critical of his performance.


However, Enrico Caruso Jr. later wrote "My Father and My Family can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography."



In 1952, Lanza was dismissed by MGM after he pre-recorded the songs for "The Student Prince" because of a disagreement over the singing of one of the songs. Edmund Purdom replaced Lanza, miming the songs to complete the film. In spite of this conflict, the soundtrack from this movie is outstanding with many beautiful songs.


I have chosen to feature a particular favorite of my sister, I’ll Walk With God". Listening to this recording helped her to get through a particular difficult period in her life.



Depressed by his dismissal, Lanza became a recluse for more than a year seeking refuge in alcoholic binges. As a result of poor investments and lavish spending, he also became bankrupt during this period. In 1955 he resumed his film career making the movie "Serenade" but it was not as successful as his previous films. He continued to work on films and performed a series of live concerts in Europe despite his declining health.


In April of 1959, Lanza suffered a heart attack followed by double pneumonia. He died in Rome on October 7, 1959, at the age of 38, from a pulmonary embolism after undergoing a controversial weight loss program.


During his short career, Mario Lanza has been credited with inspiring successive generations of opera singers including Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras. In 1994, Jose Carreras paid tribute to Lanza in a concert tour and is quoted as saying, "If I’m an opera singer, it’s thanks to Mario Lanza". In a 2009 CBS interview, Placido Domingo stated "Lanza’s passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera. I actually owe my love for opera thanks to a kid from Philadelphia".



Finally, I would like to close this article with a particular favorite of mine, "E Lucevan le Stelle" from Tosca. In the third act, Mario Cavaradossi awaits his execution on the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo. He gazes at the stars (e lucevan le stelle) and recalls his lover, Floria Tosca, who he will never see again and he no longer wants to live without her.


L’ora e fuggita, (I no longer care)

E muoio disperato! (I die in despair)

E muoio disperato! (I die in despair)

E non ho amato mai tanto la vita, (And never was life so dear to me)

Tanta la vita! (Life was never so dear!)



To visit my complete list of the world’s best tenors along with limited biographical information and links to their individual Hubs, go to:

The Worlds Greatest Tenors


Philadelphia Montage


Philadelphia, PA where Mario Lanza was born

Mario Lanza Movies


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hey hey hey, take a gadenr at what' you've done

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Goodbye to the most wonderful voice - he could make my hair stand on end and give me gspoebumos; for me he was always the best of the three tenors. Pancreatic cancer is a truly horrid way to end life - I lot a colleague in a previous job to that dread disease last October. Like you, I'm a big opera fan, I particularly like the tenors, and I like to play it very loud when I am on my own.

    • rjsadowski profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I had a reel to reel tape recorder for awhile but they were just phasing out. Fortunately for , Mario Lanza is evergreen.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great Hub. Stirred up some old and wonderful memories. My mother and father absolutely loved Mario Lanza. In the 50's and 60's they had many of his records and my father transferred his music onto tape...we had a cutting edge (at the time) reel to reel SONY tape recorder.

      A big heavy gray box sort of thing...that machine was my father's pride and joy. We were so modern, so ahead of the curve, Most everyone else was content with their little 45 's. I wonder whatever happened to it? Thanks for the article.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is fantastic!! I adore Mario Lanza..What a shame his life ended so young..Thank you for sharing his story..I enjoyed the videos...

    • profile image

      Ann Davis 

      7 years ago

      Loved Mario. He was wonderful. Was shocked at his early death.

      Very thorough hub. Nice work.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      7 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and awesome. I really love Mario Lanza. Some of his happier songs get me wanting to jump up and sing along but not with my voice. Thanks for this great hub!

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Franklin

      Really did your homework! Voted up!!! Thanks for sharing.


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