I grew up with the voice of Mario Lanza always being played at my home. The tenor from South Philly became a Hollywood star, giving up a career on the opera stage.
He did sing in an opera only one time – yep in good ole New Orleans.
Here is a picture of Lanza in his dressing room on the night of his professional operatic debut (as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly), New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, April 8, 1948.
My grandmother was in attendance that night and always said that the label that his voice was not big enough for the opera house was completly false. His voice soared over the entire house that night and was beautful.
As I attempted to show in my article on Bel Canto, that style of singing in opera was eloquent, structured, with long melodic lines.
However, tastes change. Around the turn of the century, a new fad was taking hold in the literary world. Naturalism or as it became known in Italy, Verismo, now looked for true, realistic and contemporary storytelling. No longer were stories about Gods, mythological figures, or Kings and Queens. But instead, the protagonists would be real people in real situations, such as a woman working in a cigarette factory or a Diva pursued by the Chief of Police, or a story based on a real trial of a clown in a traveling show.
Emile Zola and Giovani Verga were the famous authors of this literary movement. And then, in 1875, along came Bizet’s opera, Carmen, and one can say Verismo in opera was born.
No longer was there the long elegant melodic lines, but instead a passionate, declamatory style of singing was born.
Here is a clip of Carmen showing this passionate style.
The Carmen here was Agnes Baltsa and Don Jose, the Spanish tenor, Jose Carreras. They sang these two roles all over the World.
One could say Carmen was the antecedent to Verismo, which soon took complete hold on the opera world of Italy. Here the young Italian opera composers, such as Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, and Leoncavallo, would fundamentally change opera. Of course, Verdi and Wagner were influences, but these composers made Verismo their own style.
No longer were the composers creating works with set pieces and recitative and in a very structured way, but instead, the entire work was a seamless musical composition.
Puccini’s Tosca is one great example of Verismo. Real passion with people struggling with life’s issues. Here is a clip from the conclusion of Act 1.
Sherrill Milnes is spectacular in this role; don’t you agree?
The two works that really are the heart and soul of Verismo is Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. So much so, these short one act operas by Mascagni and Leoncavallo respectively have been joined in performance almost from inception.
“The author has tried to paint for you a glimpse of life” — So says Tonio in the Prologue and with those words the composer has really provided to the listener the entire goal of the Verismo movement.
Here is Pavarotti singing one of the most famous arias from Pagliacci.
The verismo style also changed the way singers sang opera. Now, a more spoken style of singing was introduced. Florid singing was out, and a more, let’s call it, heart on your sleeve style of singing was put forth.
Perhaps, the great tenor, Enrico Caruso, is the best example of this unabashed style. Here is a short clip for you to view.
Recorded in 1905, his miraculous voice still shines through the dim recording.
Verismo lasted until the early 20s. One could say with the death of Puccini, so died Verismo. A short lived style of opera, but one that still brings much excitement and joy to those of us still listening today.
Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna.
Today we are going to get a snippet of the era of Romantic Bel Canto singing.
First, what is Bel Canto?
It means simply: “Beautiful Song.”
This type of vocal singing, introduced in Italy, ruled Europe during the 18th centry and early 19th century. It is most known for long, melodic lines, along with legato phrasing and skill in high, florid singing.
Here is a quick clip to give an example.
The tenor was Rolando Villazon. Notice how his voice just floats along the melodic line. Gorgeous right? Renee Fleming described this singing the best when she compared it to a clothesline, and the clothes pins along the line are the notes. The melodic line just keeps going forward while the vocal line does the same all the while hitting the notes along the way.
Next, who were some of the famous composers of Bel Canto?
Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gaetano Donizetti.
I wanted to share this clip of Elina Garanca singing and discussing Bel Canto.
At some point in the 19th century, the public taste for operatic drama evolved. Composers, like Verdi and Puccini started composing operas that demanded more intense and powerful singing. Soon, Bel Canto was replaced by Verismo – which tried to bring realism to the arts. We will look at Verismo another time.
Bel Canto should not be forgotten. It is a glorious part of the tradition of opera. And when a singer comes along who can sing in that style, audiences can relive what it must have been like to attend opera centuries ago.
I leave you with Maria Callas – the soprano who brought Bel Canto back to the forefront in the 40s and 50s and paved the way for Sutherland and Pavarotti who flourised in the Bel Canto Operas.
Author of A Song for Bellafortuna: An Italian Historical Fiction Novel.
On April 23rd of this year, my father, Vincent T. LoCoco passed away. He was my inspiration in all of my life’s endeavors. Here is my Eulogy I offered for him at his funeral.
My father always loved the scene in the movie, A Man for All Season’s, when Sir Thomas More is standing on the scaffold, awaiting his execution, and pulls his daughter into his arms. He tells her:
“Have patience, Margaret, and trouble not yourself. Death comes for us all; even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh. It is the law of nature, and the will of God.”
Even though we know death is certain, death still stings to those left behind, whether it is sudden or, as in this case, expected, after a long, slow walk through aging, dementia and sickness. It doesn’t matter if at the time of death we are young or old, rich or poor, if it is summer or winter. The only thing that matters is that we have lived a good life, one in which we have lived for others, and that we have given ourselves completely throughout this venture of life for Ad Majorem Dei Gloria (For the Greater Glory of God). So that when we pass away, Jesus will meet us at the gates of Heaven and say, well done, faithful servant, come inside. I will open the gates for you. There is a place prepared for you.
Vincent Theodore LoCoco lived a good life. Indeed, he was a good and faithful servant. He accepted life’s sufferings and tribulations without ever a complaint. There is no doubt that the gates are wide open upon his arrival.
My mother asked me to say a few words. I sat down with my sisters and this is what we wanted everyone to know. We were blessed to have this man as our father. The life lessons he taught us, we can only hope that we can pass down to our children.
As most of you know, my father was in the seminary and studied in Rome at the Gregorian University. He left the Seminary and became a lawyer- as he put it- to help people. And that is what he did. He was a unique lawyer. One who cared more about the truth rather than victory. One who would rather lose a case than lose his soul.
When he graduated from law school, he took his first job with a small firm. He handled all sorts of matters, including defending some ladies of the night as they were called back then. After a few cases, he was called in by the heads of the firm who had received many complaints from some of the Madams, advising that the young attorney assisting these women in legal matters was also working on having them leave their life behind. If you knew Vincent, this really would not be a surprise.
I had the pleasure working with my father for over 20 years in law practice. I have never seen any other attorney walk into a courtroom and from the bench the judge would yell out – well it’s the Pope, a nickname that stuck with him his entire life. I also had the honor of reading some of his briefs written to many Appeals Courts and the Louisiana Supreme Court. Yes he argued the law. But morality and ethical considerations flowed throughout.
As just one example, in a Constitutional case before the Louisiana Supreme Court, this is what he wrote:
“I call upon this Court to honor our profound heritage and legacies of our history. There must be a renewed dedication of the citizens of Louisiana and for all of the American people to the still unfinished and continued experiment of this democracy to reach a full realization of the value of human dignity, the freedom of the human spirit, and the sacredness of the human person under God.”
He was fearless in taking on cases, and he represented clients from all backgrounds, races or creeds, from millionaires to cab drivers. Each client received the same dedicated representation and counsel. If he taught me anything it was this – your reputation is all that matters. And his reputation was impeccable.
My father loved the law, but he loved his family even more, and always had time for us, sitting down to dinner with his family every night.
He was the Clark Griswald of Vacations before there was a Clark Griswald. Taking us to places such as Alustee, Florida, The Crater, and Thunderbird INN in Winnemucker, Nevada on the way to The Little Big Horn. That was quite memorable.
With his dad, he formed the Sunday Morning Summer Club, which took place year round, playing Key to the Fort or sneaking into Tad Gormerly Stadium to play football.
He was a slave to fashion. Riding his bike in City Park to watch me at Jesuit baseball practice dressed in his Bermuda shorts and high black socks. I would quickly deny to my teammates that I knew who that man was standing by the school bus.
He was proud of his Sicilian Heritage, with his family immigrating from Cefalu and Monreale. He loved Italian food and desert, opera and in particular, the music of Giacomo Puccini, and the tenor, Giuseppe di Stefano.
He was a romantic who loved Errol Flynn movies and the film music of Korngold.
It is so appropriate that we are here at Holy Rosary, a place that he loved and dedicated his entire life to and where all of us went to school.
He left the Seminary in hopes of one day having a son. Although he had two girls before his wish was granted, he did end up loving those girls almost as much me. All joking aside, he loved all of us, as well as all of his ten grandchildren – even those who went to Holy Cross.
As for our mom, his wife of 54 years. What can be said to a woman who cared deeply for him and attended to all of his needs, which only grew over the past few months. She kept him at his home, a place where he grew up, for as long as humanly possible. All we can say to you Mom is thank you for a job well done. Dad would want you to know that “Walking through life with you has been a most gracious thing.”
For a man who spent his entire life telling others, “God, bless you,” it’s time we ask God to bless him. Vincent has earned his reward. Today he is reunited with his parents, Sugar and Mustache, a whole host of Sicilian aunts and uncles fawning all over him, providing him with sphenchi and Spitzedatda.
Where he once again can see Rose and Rosemary, Colin and Bert.
My final thought is to quote from perhaps his most favorite movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom, I know for certain when the casket leaves this Church after mass, this quote will be on our minds.
“ Miss Jean Louise: Stand up. Your father’s passing.”
For any writers out there whose books are for sale on Amazon, one of the things you need to make sure you do is to claim your Amazon Author Central Page. This is a page Amazon establishes on their site that tells readers all about the author. Yet, and this is the key, Amazon allows you to tell your own story.
Here is my page so you can see what it looks like. It’s a great marketing tool, so make sure to claim yours today.
One of my favorite festivals in New Orleans is the French Quarter Festival this weekend. For a tourists, it’s a great way to see such the vibrant culture of New Orleans. For locals, it’s another reason to thank God that we live in one of the world’s most unique cities.
So come on down to New Orleans and enjoy the Fest.