Mark Vincent is an insanely busy opera singer. In a show of how much of a workhorse he is, Vincent has released seven albums since winning the third season of Australia’s Got Talent. More recently he’s been performing as part of the current Australian production of My Fair Lady, which somehow has been interspersed with recording his eighth album A Tribute to Mario Lanza.
We were lucky to have a chat with him not too long ago in the midst of preparing for the premiere of My Fair Lady in Melbourne to talk about his process of studying and performing the songs of one of the most revered tenors of the 1940s and 1950s, Mario Lanza.
Your latest album is a tribute to Mario Lanza. Explain why you decided to make this album a tribute to him in particular?
Well, it all started when I was 10 years of age. My singing teacher gave me the film The Great Caruso. Now Mario Lanza played the character of Enrico Caruso in 1951, it was when the film came out. When I heard Mario perform, his voice blew me away. I said to my family, “This has to be one of the best tenor voices I’ve ever heard. Period.”
Mario Lanza was a superstar in the 50’s. He was Hollywood royalty and he had such an incredible career. Sadly he passed away so young, but what drove me to do this tribute album as well is that nobody in Australia, any classical singer in Australia has never done a tribute album for him before which really surprised me. I was quite shocked about that, I thought well now somebody has to live on his legacy. I’m just so honoured that I got permission from the Lanza estate and his only living daughter, Elissa, to go ahead and record the album.
What was the process in talking with Elissa in regards to going ahead with this album? She obviously gave you her full support…
Absolutely and I’m quite surprised how quick it all happened, to be honest. For some reason it just clicked in my head: oh, I should do a tribute album to Mario Lanza, so I called my manager and he said, “Okay, leave it to me.” Within two weeks or three weeks at least, everything was falling into place, which I couldn’t believe and Elissa said, “It’s an honour for me to pay tribute to my father.”
Obviously, she did a whole heap of research on all my music performances and she was very happy for me to do the tribute album for her father, which I think is such a huge honour.
You performed in many smaller venues throughout your earlier time as a performer which has seen you, over time, now performing currently in a production of [the recent Australian production] of My Fair Lady. You have a career trajectory that has, I wouldn’t say similarities, but there is a certain element of stylistic similarities between you and Mario Lanza as well. How much would your voice or your style of singing be influenced by him?
Oh in many ways. You see Mario Lanza had such a beautiful rich tone and I say this humbly, my singing teacher would always say to me, “Mark you’re singing tones are kind of very similar to Mario’s,” because what Mario Lanza would do, he would sing beautiful rich, rich tones down the end of his voice. Then all of the sudden, he would reach to a top C like it was effortless. His voice was unique and the other thing is too, he was very expressive in his songs which is something that I do quite often in my performances. It must be an Italian thing, I don’t know.
The other thing as well, he told a story. He would always say, “When I perform my songs, it’s like I’m performing at the last moment on earth. I believe every lyric that I sing.” Which is something that I try to do as well. Plus he’s Italian and I’m Italian, so there are a lot of similarities that we both have in common, Mario and I.
Tell me about the process of actually making the album. One of the intriguing things I find in regards to this album is a virtual duet that you do have with Mario Lanza. Can you explain how you went about recording that particular song “Because You’re Mine” and the process of doing a duet with him?
Well, I had to very much research carefully what were his most beloved songs that Mario did in his career and I heard this song “Because You’re Mine” that Mario performed about 1954. When I heard this, it blew me away, so I said to my producer, Chong Lim, can we write an arrangement of “Because You’re Mine” and we’ll get Mario to do the ballad with me as a duet, so we have to match the orchestra with his vocals because we used his old recording from the 1950’s and it took a lot of time because you have to match his timing exactly to the point where it had to be exactly precise. Then I had to sing harmonies on top of his melody.
This took as I said a lot of time, a lot of effort in the studio, but eventually, we got there at the end. When I heard the finished product, I heard Mario sing the duet with me on the album, the hairs on my back stood up. It was such a beautiful moment to witness in the studio.
I also think about things like the production values of when Mario was alive and the production values of recording music today. I don’t know how much involved you were in the process of actually cleaning up his voice or having the quality of his voice sound similar to yours. Did you suggest anything in regards to cleaning things up or doing along those lines?
Look, I didn’t want to change too much because I believe classic songs, it’s not good to play around with them too much. It’s good to respect them for what they are and it’s funny you mention that because there was a time where my producer wanted to change a couple things and I said, “Look let’s just leave it is because it’s fine the way it is.”
You know talk about artists like Michael Jackson as well. The greats and they believed that an incredible big hit song, leave it for what it is, don’t change too much of it. Respect it for what the song is. That’s what I wanted to do with “Because You Are Mine” because I wanted to have that old 1950’s style with his recording. I didn’t want to get that away from him. Even though we matched the orchestra with his vocals, I wanted when Mario came for his part of the duet, I wanted it to be that old fashioned kind of feel, so it brought people back to that moment when he was alive and when he performed in the 50s. That was my whole purpose of doing this duet. I didn’t want to change too much, I wanted to keep it to what it was.
I also read his book about his whole life story and it just blew me away. Actually reading the book gave me a whole different perspective of Mario’s life because there’s a lot of things I read in there that I didn’t actually know which I’m glad I read. It’s funny enough his real name was Freddy can you believe? It wasn’t Mario.
I was just going to ask if there is anything in particular that you were surprised by when you read that book.
Yeah, I was. His last name was Cocozza. It’s wasn’t Lanza. His mother’s last name was Lanza so he had a very interesting life, Mario and he achieved so much in his career. In that short bracket of time that he was around, it broke my heart that he passed away so young.
Mark, you’re a very busy performer yourself, I read something when I was researching this interview that you’ve released six albums by the age of 20 or something interesting along those lines and you are constantly on the go in terms of work and recording and trying to produce albums all the time. With this particular album did you find it was an easy task for you to do or is it as with most the albums like a difficult task?
This tribute album took the longest out of all my recordings.
Remember we’re paying tribute, if you think about it, you’re paying tribute to one of the best classical singers of all time. When you’re doing his hits, all his hits songs, Neapolitan songs and arias, you have to bring them justice because people who buy this album, it’s obviously they will compare. It’s only normal to, so I said to my producer, Chong Lim, we cannot rush this. Even if it gets released later on, it doesn’t matter, we have to do this right. There were times where I was in tech week for My Fair Lady and I was flying to Melbourne on my days off.
I was flying on Monday to do extra work for the album because I didn’t care how tired I was, I wanted to get this right. I’m glad I did all this … I say this humbly, all this hard work because it’s definitely paid off. After listening to the album, I’m proud of it because it took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and I gues that’s how to get ahead.