Mario Lanza – At His Best (with highlights from The Vagabond King) – Mario Lanza, tenor/ featuring Judith Raskin, soprano /Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Franco Ferrara – Sony/BMG Living Stereo Series

by | Mar 1, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Mario Lanza – At His Best (with highlights from The Vagabond King) – Mario Lanza, tenor/ featuring Judith Raskin, soprano /Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Franco Ferrara (with Constantine Callinicos conducting The Vagabond King selections) – Sony/BMG 82876-71625-2  Living Stereo Series Multichannel (3-channel) SACD, 79 min. ****:

Mario Lanza lived a fabled existence, from his humble beginnings as a Philadelphia truck driver to his meteoric rise to singer/movie star/heartthrob – capped by his untimely death at age 38 – at the peak of his popularity in 1959. This generously-proportioned SACD disc offers two complete albums, both recorded in Italy just prior to his death, and also includes previously unreleased bonus material from the musical play The Vagabond King. With the exception of one track (for which the three channel original tapes couldn’t be located), the performances are offered for the first time as originally recorded in three channel sound, and to superb effect.

The first twelve tracks comprise the 1958 release Mario Lanza At His Best, and these Italian songs are alone worth the relatively meager price of admission (less than twelve bucks!). Ranging in temperament from the joyful playfulness of “Funiculi funicula” (a tune everyone is familiar with, whether they realize it or not), to the fiery melodrama of “Dicitencello vuie,” these songs cover the full range of emotions and are tantalizingly addictive to listen to. The remainder of the disc comprises selections from the musical play The Vagabond King, and features Mario Lanza singing (in English) with soprano Judith Raskin. While the material here is enjoyable, and will prove quite valuable to Lanza completists, I personally didn’t find it anywhere nearly as indispensable or entertaining as the first twelve selections.

Sound quality was also at issue with the Vagabond King selections. While the entire disc, save one selection, was presented in three-channel sound, the Vagabond King recordings were more distant and less immediate in character than the earlier selections. Mario Lanza’s voice was less prominently featured in the mix, and the entire affair seemed to have a more distant perspective, and lacked the warmth of the earlier Italian recordings. That’s not to say that, taken as a whole, they’re not worthwhile, they just weren’t in the same league sonically as the 1958 selections. A minor quibble though, considering the generous length of the disc, and the overall excellence of the 1958 material, which serves as a thrilling reminder of what an incredible talent he possessed. Very highly recommended.

— Tom Gibbs 

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