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ClassicsOnline Home » PINZA, Ezio: Some Enchanted Evening (1949-1954)
Today, the concept of a “crossover artist”who
sings classical as well as pop may almost be a
But 55 years ago, when former Metropolitan
Opera star Ezio Pinza was cast in the lead of
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, it
made front-page headlines across America.
Pinza’s decision to “go legit” occurred
shortly after his retirement from the Met, a
partnership which had lasted for 22 years, 51
roles and 850 performances.
At that point, he was 57 years old and
although his voice was past its peak operatic
glory (New York Times music critic Howard
Taubman described his final Don Giovanni as
“saddening”) it was still far superior to many of
the instruments heard on Broadway.
Consequently, in the last decade of his life,
Pinza was to achieve greater fame than he had
earned at the peak of his classical career.
He was born in Rome as Fortunato Pinza in
1892, the seventh child of a poverty-stricken
family. After serving in World War I, he pursued
fame as a professional cyclist and worked his
way up to championship status.
It was his father who urged him to pursue
his vocal studies and at the age of thirty, he
made his debut at La Scala in 1922. By 1926, he
had arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, where he
remained until 1948.
Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Opera
took a two-year exclusive contract on his
services and brought him to the attention of
Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were looking
for someone with continental charm and a
persuasive voice to play the mature French
planter, Emile De Becque, opposite Mary
Martin’s perky southern gamine, Nellie Forbush,
in their upcoming musical South Pacific.
Although director Joshua Logan struggled
with Pinza’s almost incomprensible English
diction, the final performance galvanized
audiences and was a major factor in the show’s
smash hit status.
The canny, self-promoting Pinza parlayed his
success as De Becque into a multi-tasking
empire as a recording and film artist. He even
ventured into television, with a 1951 variety
series (“The Ezio Pinza Show”) as well as a
short-lived live 1953 sitcom called “Bonino”.
where he played a widowed opera singer with
five children. (One of them was a ten-year-old
named Van Dyke Parks, who later went on to a
successful music career.)
But the failure of Pinza’s various film and
television projects, as well as changing public
tastes, caused interest in his work to decline
He made one more successful appearance
on Broadway, in the 1954 musical Fanny, but
then his health began to fail. A series of
coronary problems presaged a stroke on 1 May
1957. Six days later, he died quietly in his sleep
of a heart attack.
The selections on this recording are all from
the period 1949 through 1954, when Pinza’s
newfound pop stardom was at its peak.
The first two are songs from South Pacific
(Some Enchanted Evening and This Nearly
Was Mine), presented in a mini-version of the
musical that Pinza and co-star Mary Martin
presented on the popular series,The Bell
Telephone Hour, which was heard on NBC
Radio from 1940 to 1958 before transferring to
TV from 1959 to 1968.
Worth noting are the additional lyrics for
This Nearly Was Mine not heard on the
original cast recording.
Also from South Pacific, although not sung
by Pinza in the show, is Bali Ha’i heard here in
a studio version made six months after the
Pinza was known as a great romancer,
onstage and off. Martin would often cut short
his onstage embraces, prompting him to
complain “When I kees, I kees!”. Consequently,
the following two selections, from a January
1950 recording, play to that image.
Just A Kiss Apart is from Gentlemen
Prefer Blondes, and Te Amé (“I Loved You”) is a
bilingual heart-throbber where it’s often difficult
to tell if Pinza is singing in Spanish or English.
Pinza’s short-lived movie career began with
the 1951 film,Mr. Imperium. A piece of MGM
hokum about a playboy prince and a Hollywood
star, it matched Pinza up with Lana Turner.
From that film,we hear a number that
Harold Arlen and Dorothy Fields composed for
Pinza, Let Me Look At You as well as more
Spanish sentiment, this one by Augustin Lara and
Ray Gilbert, called You Belong To My Heart.
Pinza’s second feature film was far superior,
the Preston Sturges romp, Strictly Dishonorable.
In this one, Pinza got to play a womanizing
opera star (no comment!), which gave him
licence to sing an eclectic assortment of
material, including the two numbers featured
here, I’ll See You In My Dreams (Isham Jones
–Gus Kahn) and Everything I Have Is Yours
(Burton Lane–Harold Adamson).
Many of the other selections heard here are
romantic standards from Broadway and
Hollywood, showing Pinza’s fondness for the
lush melodies of Jerome Kern:Yesterdays, All
The Things You Are, The Way You Look
He also does handsomely by Alan Jay Lerner
and Frederick Loewe’s I Still See Eliza from
Paint Your Wagon and Cole Porter’s So In Love
from Kiss Me, Kate.
His version of the haunting September
Song by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson,
however, is marred by a “big ending” that
conductor Johnny Green allowed Pinza to put
on to show off his voice.
The popular “cowboy”songs of the period
are reflected in a pair of numbers Pinza
recorded with the Sons Of The Pioneers in
1951: The Little Ol’ State Of Texas and The
Wind Is A Woman. In one photo of the
period, you can even find Pinza sporting a
highly inappropriate ten-gallon hat.
The final two selections are from Harold
Rome’s beautiful score for Fanny, based on the
trilogy of films by Marcel Pagnol about life and
love in Marseilles.
This 1954 musical was highly successful at
the time, but has never been successfully
revived and the 1961 film version (with Charles
Boyer in Pinza’s role) eliminated all of the
It’s comforting, then, to end this collection
with two touching songs from Pinza’s final
stage appearance.The first is the haunting Love
Is A Very Light Thing, which talks about the
nature of parental devotion.
And the conclusion is Welcome Home, a
heartfelt ode to finding the location where you
When Pinza speaks the lines “This isn’t a
place to go away from, it’s a place to come back
to”, you feel he’s talking about the stage – be it
opera or musical theatre – where he could
connect directly with his audience.
It’s only right that at the very end of a long
and distinguished career, Ezio Pinza was
– Richard Ouzounian
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PINZA, Ezio: Some Enchanted Evening (1949-1954)