Any tenor singing pop standards today must acknowledge, however grudgingly, the influence of Mario Lanza, the first male operatic singer to achieve runaway popularity doing pop concerts and starring in movies. Unfortunately, Lanza was increasingly unable to cope with his celebrity, and died of a heart attack in Rome in 1959, at age 38. But his eager-to-please, heart-on-the-sleeve style remains very much a cliche of the Italian bel canto tradition. Richard Leech, one of a handful of young American tenors who can carry off the most blatantly ardent Italian aria without looking silly, is open in his admiration for Lanza. Of course, nowadays it's much cooler--and more profitable--than it used to be for a classical singer to embrace the pop repertoire. Leech is convincingly handsome onstage, just as Lanza was; a recent New York Times profile described the middle-aged groupies who follow him around the world. He has appeared in several Chicago productions, including last season's Madama Butterfly, in which he sang Pinkerton (a role he's also handled in a movie version). His sturdy, clarion voice never fails to impress, though his deportment is sometimes stolid. Leech will open the Grant Park Music Festival this weekend with a tribute to Lanza, who first sang there 52 years ago. The medley of 15 arias and songs includes some of Lanza's greatest hits, such as "Be My Love" and "Che gelida manina" from La Boheme. The Grant Park Symphony Orchestra accompanies, under the direction of seasoned opera maestro Paul Nadler. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus Drive at Jackson; 312-742-4763. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jeffrey Volk.