By Joseph Kottke, Staff Writer
Feb. 15, 1951:
Opera singer and movie star Mario Lanza performed for an over-capacity crowd of 6,000 at Scranton’s Catholic Youth Center gymnasium on a Friday night.
Lanza’s smooth, romantic singing was met with vigorous applause as he performed pieces in English, French, and Italian. The playlist included such songs as “Lamento di Federico” from Cilea’s “L’Arlesiana,” “Gia Il Sole Dal Gange” by Scarlatti, “The House on Top of the Hill” by Ernest Charles and “Bonjour Ma Belle” by Behrend.
In an interview with Jeannette Reese, Scranton Times society page editor, Lanza explained his start in showbiz came from moving pianos. As he delivered one of the instruments to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, he took the opportunity to play it and was overheard by Conductor Sergei Koussevitsky, who recognized his talent. Koussevitsky took Lanza to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to sing at the annual summer festival, starting Lanza’s career in music.
Lanza also told Reese about a “frightening” experience that occurred when he autographed records at the Globe Store in Scranton that day.
“Mothers with babies in their arms, young girls, older ones squeezing each other and elbowing me all over the place, knocking cash registers open and five women actually fainting,” Lanza recalled.
He added, thinking of Frank Sinatra, “I never dreamed that was coming to me. I was scared of what could happen if the crowd ever got beyond control. It was a sea of faces.”
Lanza also spoke of his familiarity with Scranton. Over the years, he had helped with the operation of Camp Echo Lark near Forest City and met many Northeast Pennsylvania natives through the entertainment industry, such as Allan Jones, Lizbeth Scott and the Dorsey Brothers.
Lanza followed his Scranton show with an engagement in Utica, New York. He died of a heart attack in October 1959.
Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 15 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He is also the co-host of the local history podcast, Historically Hip. He competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast