Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Desert Song

Mario Lanza, Judith Raskin etc.; RCA Victor LSC-2440, LP, recorded 1959.

Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza (1921-1959) was one of the finest tenors who ever lived, when it came to beauty, tone, powerful one-on-one communication and love of singing. I have a number of his recordings covering opera arias, popular songs from the ‘40s and ‘50s, Broadway show tunes, Christmas carols etc.; but I have most often enjoyed his singing of the two operettas, Rudolf Friml’s The Vagabond King and Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song, both of them taped shortly before his sudden death from a blood clot on October 7, 1959, and with the late soprano, Judith Raskin (1928-1984).

Sigmund Romberg’s operetta was based upon the book by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel. Its first performance in New York was November 30, 1926, at the Casino Theater on Broadway and 39th Street, after successes in Wilmington, Delaware, and Boston.

Judith Raskin

Lanza and Raskin’s duets in the title song and One Good Boy Gone Wrong resonate with the great duet recordings of Nicolai Gedda and Mireille Freni in La Boheme, Jussi Bjoreling and Victoria de los Angeles in Madame Butterfly, Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann in the Tosca Love Duet, Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine’s Passing Strangers, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s Something Stupid, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore’s My Romance and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Maria Stader’s in Mozart’s Magic Flute, The solos of Lanza’s One Alone and Raskin’s Romance are some of many reasons life is worth living.

Selections from the album can be heard on YouTube.

Before his death, he was approached by RCA Italiana to record a few operas. Unfortunately, fate intervened. His widow, Betty, died of a drug overdose in early 1960. three of their four children since then; two sons, Marc and Damon, from heart issues, and a daughter, Colleen, after being hit by a driver while crossing the street and dying two weeks later in a coma.


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