Listening to the great American tenor was a part of Mark Vincent’s childhood, and now the Sydney singer has drawn on the legend’s career to create his latest album, writes Matthew Westwood
The opera world has at least two kinds of lineage that connect the singers of the past with those of the future. One is pedagogical: a golden chain of teachers and students that links, for example, the doyenne of teachers, Mathilde Marchesi, with Nellie Melba and later generations including Joan Sutherland.
The other is a form of transmitted charisma by which great singers of yesteryear inspire new followers via recordings and film. You can draw a link from Enrico Caruso, one of the first superstars of recorded music, to Mario Lanza, the glamorous American tenor who played him in 1951’s The Great Caruso.
Lanza and that hugely popular movie would in turn inspire later generations including Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Andrea Bocelli and, later still, young singers such as Sydney’s Mark Vincent.
You may remember Vincent as the 15-yearold who sang Nessun dorma, and triumphed, on the televised contest Australia’s Got Talent in 2009. Now 23, he’s already the veteran of seven studio albums and is about to release an eighth, A Tribute to Mario Lanza.
Recordings by Lanza were part of his growing up in an Italian family in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, but it was his singing teacher who said to him: “Look, Luciano Pavarotti is amazing, but you have to listen to Mario Lanza.” Soon he was watching The Great Caruso and getting ideas about the singer he would like to be.
“He could sing, obviously, he looked great on camera, and he could act,” Vincent says. “He was a Hollywood phenomenon.
“I said to my family, ‘Hopefully, one day I can follow in his footsteps.’ And after watching that film, I started researching all about him, listening to more of his repertoire, and living and breathing his music.”
Born in Philadelphia, Lanza had a budding opera career that was interrupted by World War II and then by his greater success as a con- cert artist and screen star. He was spotted singing at the Hollywood Bowl and was signed by MGM for the studio’s 1949 musical That Midnight Kiss.
Through the next decade, before his untimely death at just 38, he appeared in films including Serenade, The Student Prince and Because You’re Mine, with their soundtracks of popular arias and songs.
Vincent has drawn on Lanza’s songbook for his album, and admits it was difficult to cull a list of more than 50 numbers down to 12.
It includes the Puccini arias E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, which Lanza sang in The Great Caruso, and Nessun dorma from Serenade. The opening track, Because You’re Mine, is a “virtual duet” in which Vincent sings with Lanza.
The album channels Lanza’s spirit, but is not a ventriloquist’s act. Vincent says he sings as himself, while also respecting the integrity of the music. ( Nessun dorma, though, is what he calls a “disco version”, an extended play in which he gets to sing the climax twice.)
“Remember, these songs are classics that people know,” he says.
“So I didn’t want to play too much with them, but I still wanted to make these songs my own … the album wasn’t rushed, it took a lot of time and effort to make sure it was the right sound, the right approach.”
Vincent credits his migrant grandfather,
[THEY] ARE CLASSICS ... BUT I WANTED TO MAKE THESE SONGS MY OWN MARK VINCENT
Bruno Riccio, as his life’s inspiration. Young Mark worked weekends at Bruno and his grandmother Angela’s Italian restaurant, and one day his grandfather overheard him singing the Andrea Bocelli-Sarah Brightman hit Time to Say Goodbye.
“My grandmother came out and he said, ‘Angela, our grandson can sing, he has a beautiful voice.’ He supported my career from that very moment.”
Vincent made his stage debut at 21 in the musical Dirty Dancing, and is currently on tour in Brisbane with Opera Australia’s production of My Fair Lady, singing On the Street Where You Live in eight shows a week.
He loves musical theatre — especially the big romantic shows The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables — and the big romantic operas of Puccini, which he hopes to sing one day.
“They are my dream roles,” he says. “I have always wanted to be in Tosca, Turandot and La Boheme, they are my top three favourite operas of all time.”
Lanza, he points out, was an opera singer before he was a movie star. But Lanza had to make a choice between the allure of Hollywood and the demands of the opera house. Just before his death he was planning a return to opera as Canio in Pagliacci.
Vincent may face similar choices. Lyndon Terracini, OA’s artistic director, says he has “certainly got potential” for an opera career, but will have to decide whether to commit to the rigorous training required, or to continue as a popular crossover artist.
The boy tenor reckons he’s got time on his side.
“I think opera is definitely later in my career, when I’m the right age,” he says. “With roles like the lead in Turandot, they’re big arias, and if you look at the leading men, they’re at least in their 30s.” Music on April 14. is released by Sony
Rising opera star Mark Vincent