After studying violin and piano briefly and unsuccessfully,
I discovered at the age of 19 that I had a voice. Soon I began serious vocal
study. I used all my free time for singing, and listened to every operatic
record I could find.
I worked for my grandfather in his grocery and trucking
business in the heart of Philadelphia’s “Little Italy.” He was strictly a
business man and did not hesitate to tell my music-loving father that he was
disgusted by the hours I wasted daily listening to records of operas over and
over again. “Now,” he said, “the boy is 19 and a man. He should get right down
to real work.” He gave me a job of driving a truck.
One day I had to drive the truck to deliver a piano to the
famous old Philadelphia Academy of Music, the city’s renowned and acoustically
fine structure on Broad Street. All the famous musical visitors to America
since 1857 have appeared there. Great singers from Adelina Patti to this day
have performed on its stage. Most of the Presidents of the United States since
Abraham Lincoln have spoken in the Academy. I feel like taking off my hat every
time I pass its doors.
Mr. William Huff, Executive Secretary of the Philadelphia Forum,
had heard me sing and when I arrived with the truck and the piano at the
Academy, he was amazed to see me in truck-driver’s clothes.
Dr. Serge Koussevitzky had just completed a vigorous rehearsal
of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was in his dressing room soaked in
perspiration. Mr. Huff took me to an adjoining dressing room and said, “Now
start singing and sing as you never sang before.” I jumped at the idea and
commenced with Leoncavallo’s “Vesti la giubba.”
Before long, Dr. Koussevitzky came out with his wonderful
eyes glowing and greeted me with extreme enthusiasm. “Where is that voice – that
On the spot he invited me to come to the Berkshire Music
Festival at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. When I arrived at Tanglewood three weeks
later, Dr. Koussevitzky placed me under the direction of strict taskmasters
such as conductors Leonard Bernstein, Lucas Foss and Boris Goldovsky who
drilled me mercilessly in solfeggio eight to ten hours a day.
Dr. Koussevitzky also insisted upon changing my name from
Alfred Arnold Cocozza to Mario Lanza, which was derived from my mother’s maiden
name, Mario Lanza.
In august I was considered advanced enough to make my debut
as Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Singing opposite me in
the role of Ford was the baritone, Mack Harrell.
He stared at me and said, “Aren’t you the Cocozza boy who
studied violin with me at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia?”
It was true. I, a former violin student turned singer, was
teamed in the opera with my former violin teacher, who also had become a singer.
We had a good laugh over this strange trick of destiny.
After Tanglewood I had many offers for concert appearances,
based on the reviews of my appearance, which were printed in the New York
papers. Manager Arthur Judson immediately signed me up for a 10-year contract
for concerts. R.C.A.-Victor followed with a recording contract. Even more
important to me at that time was the check for $3,000 from R.C.A.-Victor to
help me continue my studies. They did not ask me to make records until four
years later, when they felt that I was ready.
Then on September 2, 1942, the President of the United
States sent me a document headed “Greetings” which, plainly speaking, told me
“You’re in the Army now.” All my plans had to stop. Uncle Sam was calling and
Uncle Sam doesn’t wait. My Army career
was spent largely in music, and I did not even get out of the U.S.A. I was
assigned to the Air Corps and spent three years in the division devoted to such
stage productions as “On the Beam” and “Winged Victory.”
My debut in opera took place in “Madama Butterfly” in New Orleans.
This was followed by appearances with the Philadelphia and Boston Symphony
Orchestras. Then came concerts before massed open air audiences at the
Hollywood Bowl and at Grant Park, Chicago, where I sang for 76,000 people.
America is still the land of opportunity for vocal aspirants.
Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson sing in the recent Metro-Goldyn-Mayer production, "That Midnight Kiss".
The motion picture was premiered in Lanza's native Philadelphia.
Mr. Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer heard me sing in
the Hollywood Bowl and gave me a seven-year contract with a sliding scale
beginning with $750 a week for the first six months of each year. They have me
scheduled for a picture dealing with the life of Caruso and also for a musical
version of Sancha Guitry’s “Deburra” in which I shall have the honor of
appearing with Ezio Pinza.
Mr. Mayer has assigned Maestro Giacomo Spadoni to me as my
coach. Maestro Spadoni was at the Metropolitan Opera for ten years and at the
Chicago Grand Opera for 22 years and had coached many famous singers. He drills
me for one hour each day.
Under tutelage of Maestro Giacomo Spadoni,
Mario Lanza has gained a repertoire of six operas, is now adding four more.
Maestro Spadoni has coached many famous singers.
One must never forget that the singer is himself a musical
instrument and that his first obligation is to keep that instrument in the
finest possible condition. No matter how good a violin or a piano may be, a
Stradivarius or a Steinway out of tune is worthless.
Many singers break down early in life from wrong living
habits. I am six feet tall. A year ago I weighed 286 pounds. My normal weight
should be about 180. Today it is 180 and with the help of my physical trainer,
who subjects me to a severe daily routine as he would a prizefighter, it is
going to stay there.
But a singer must have fun. He must be happy. He must not
worry or be depressed. I find my happiness in my work and at home with my wife
Very valuable to me also have been the continued counsel of
my producer, Mr. Joe Pasternak, and the suggestions of Mr. Jose Iturbi.
Every public artist should have a good business advisor. I
owe a great debt to Mr. Sam Weiler, whom I met early in my career. Mr. Weiler is a New York business man who not
only provided me with the necessary funds for study and preparation, but has
given me his keen and sagacious judgment in all business matters. Such a mentor
is most important.
Mr. Weiler, who calls himself a “frustrated tenor with
ambitions,” was coaching with Miss Debarau Robinson of Carnegie Hall to whom I
also went to learn new compositions.One day we met in her studio and he decided at once to give up his
ambitions and devote himself to promoting my career. What a marvelous, unexpected windfall for me! He sent me at once to Maestro Enrico
Rosati. I studied with him for 15
months.Maestro Rosati was the teacher
of Beniamino Gigli from Gigli’s boyhood in Rome.
What does a voice trainer do? He takes what God has given
the singer and teaches him how, by breath control, relaxation and proper
placing, to sing in the most natural and simple manner. When I first went to him he said, “I have
heard you on the air in the Celanese program. You have the voice I have been waiting for for 25 years, since my
bambino, Beniamino Gigli, was a little boy.”
Slowly, carefully, he took me laboriously through exercises,
at first very pianissimo, for the entire gamut of my voice, so that now I can
sing for hours without becoming tired.
Such a training provides the drill which a singer must go through every
day of his life. It is what the
Italians know as bel canto. Mr.
Weiler not only paid for my lessons, my travel, home, living expenses,
promotion costs and provided me with fine clothes, but has cared for all my
business needs. Do you wonder that I am
grateful to him and that we made him the godfather of our baby? He has put out in all to date, nearly
$60,000. I make public this figure to
let young singers know that the expenses of a vocal education may run very
One thing I insist upon in my work is that I will not be
hurried or permit myself to overwork or oversing. Mr. Edward Johnson of the
Metropolitan Opera invited me to join that company, but without time for
adequate preparation and repose, this would certainly be inadvisable. I do not want to be presented to the world’s
greatest operatic audience until I have acquired a large repertoire of operas
and the seasoned experience in interpretation only long study and more maturity