Vintage Vanni Broadway


Sample Songs

You're Breaking My Heart
Kiss Of Fire
My One And Only Love

Buy CD

'Amore e Napoli' Great International Hits, Volume 1



Notes by Enzo Fiero

In Italian, we would say “che bella cosa, la musica!” (“What a beautiful thing, music!”). What would we do without it? Mostly, music speaks of things we feel, like love, smiles, laughter, desire, God, hope, longing, honesty, sincerity, and faith. Of course, there is hurt, pain, disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and all the emotions that make us human as well. Music and emotion are synonymous. And our emotions are universal, meaning all peoples of all countries have emotions in common. We respond to life and love as we respond to music. What makes music truly international are the expressed emotions we all share. Music and mathematics are the true universal languages. Music contains both. Also, as in this album, a multi-lingual presentation melts any remaining barriers. Some songs, for example, will be sung bilingually in this CD (Passione, Mala Femmina, etc.) while other songs will remain in English, but will reflect the international flavor, such as Kiss of Fire (Spain) or Love This Is My Song (England). Does it matter what language a song is in as long as we comprehend the meaning through our feelings? “Musica sei abbastanza!” (Music is enough!). This quality is what makes music timeless and universal: it is enough within itself and needs nothing else to complete it.

When I was first asked to write something about an American-Italian singer named Dario Vanni, I was reluctant. He was unknown to me. Hey, bambino, I’m a Bocelli and Pavarotti fan. Why would I wish to review old analog recordings from before my generation of digital technology? It is true I do review classical music, singers, and jazz ensembles. But who was this mysterious tenor most people had never heard of before? A persuasive older Englishman named Clarkspur Emden, who is a retired music critic from The London Daily Times, talked me into listening to a few cuts of Dario Vanni’s voice, recorded in his prime years between 1965 and 1980. Well, I did and, Mamma mia, was I happy I did! There is no way to describe Dario’s semi-classical (or is it semi-popular?) voice quality, technique, and very instantly recognizable sound that he mostly displays in this album. I must admit I first heard his Italian operatic arias and was blown away; then I sampled a few of his Neapolitan songs and, again, I got what Americans call “goose bumps” all over. This man could sing! It is a rare experience to hear a legitimate operatic tenor turn around and sing intimate love songs and not sound like an opera singer with a thick accent singing in English.

But, getting back to the album at hand, what kind of voice can be huge and dramatic one moment and soft and intimate the next—and never take the music out of context? Take some of the songs on this album, for example. I grew up listening to my grandfather’s recording of Martinelli singing Mattinata (“You’re Breaking My Heart” on this CD). Dario Vanni takes this song and puts the passionate romanza into it in such a way I can’t recall ever hearing it done better. It’s not operatic yet it is classic or “classical” by nature. In Italian we would say, “Miracolo!”. A half-century ago, America produced another American-Italian tenor named Alfred Cocozza who became Mario Lanza. His gift was outstanding, his voice ringing and passionate, but Lanza’s emotionally out-of-control temperament got the best of him and he often became melodramatic, not always singing in the best of taste. Tragically, he died at 38 of over-indulgence.

Dario Vanni takes Italian songs like Mattinata, Mala Femmina, Non Dimenticar, Dicitencello Vuie—not to mention his spectacular version of Passione—and makes them warmly accessible to us while using that wonderfully disciplined voice of his to win our hearts. And that’s where it is for me: the heart. It does not matter how technically brilliant one is, without heart there is no song. In a sample of Neapolitan songs Mr. Emden was kind enough to lend me, Mr. Vanni sings a famous Southern Italian folk tune entitled “Canta Pe Me!” which is exactly what Dario does straight from the heart. As you hear these wonderful Americanized songs reverse themselves and get sent back across the Atlantic to wash upon the shores of Sorrento in the Mediterranean, I hope you will feel richly rewarded for owning this recording. Happily, this music belongs to the world—as does the marvelous singing voice of Dario Vanni—on a truly international scale. Salud—and enjoy!

Enzo Fiero

(The Songs in this album are reviewed by Clarkspur Emden)


1. You’re Breaking My Heart (Genaro/Skylar/Leoncavallo)

In 1948, a pair of American music writers “borrowed” Leoncavallo’s wonderful melody about dawn, “Mattinata”, and turned it into what we will hear on this album. In a way, such writers perpetuate the music of nearly forgotten composers of the 19th century—after all, Leoncavallo wrote the incredible Pagliacci! Even though the original lyric has nothing to do with “breaking my heart,” the later penned English re-do nevertheless fits and, as Mr. Fiero says in the introduction, “What makes music truly international are the expressed emotions.” I couldn’t agree more. No matter the lyrics—they’re about love—coming or going! What’s very pleasant about the arrangement of the song in this CD is its warm simplicity. A very nice moving background of piano, strings, mandolins, and stand-up bass complement the singer, who begins the song right off without any musical introduction. That sincere, romantic voice of Dario’s soars over the notes in D-major, down from the original E in order to “intimatize” the melody with the lyric. First he’s in English and then he shifts gears by going into the original and lovely Italian lyrics. Now we’re home in sunny Italy! Dario then goes back into English (“I wish you joy, the tear drops burn…”) and ends with a recap on a dandy belted out and dead-on high-A natural. I’ll tell you, this man makes it seem so easy—I hate him! But, then again, I know how hard he worked to achieve that “ease” in his vocal execution. And I almost forgot to tell you how romantic this voice is, as well as the arrangement and performance. Makes us wish we were standing there in some moonlight scenario, singing this song to some beautiful woman. Yes, indeed, this is a very satisfying rendition.


2. Love, This Is My Song (Chaplin)

The multi-talented Charlie Chaplin wrote this song for a 1962 international film that he produced and directed, “The Countess from Hong Kong,” which starred Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. Although the movie wasn’t successful, the song was. Chaplin had also written two other classics in his earlier career: Smile and Theme from Limelight.

Dario’s version begins with the wonderful verse which Petula Clark used in her hit of this song. But Dario puts a wonderful, dramatic authority to the tune, again soaring up and down the E-flat scale without losing a speck of the essence of the song. The accompaniment is wonderfully simple again, acoustic guitar, percussion, bass, and light strings maintaining the valse feel. When Vanni cuts into the Italian part of the song, he transforms it completely and then it becomes an international gem. Recorded in 1976 in Hollywood, California, the singer hits an awesome high B-flat at the end to remind us this is indeed a primo tenore at the peak of his powers.


3. Ay, Ay, Ay! (Freire)

This Chilean song in Spanish was a tenor’s concert staple for years in the 30s and 40s. It was highly successful also as played by Marachi bands and Mexican tenors. Written in 1932, some of the great tenors of that era recorded the song, including Gigli, Bjoerling, and even Nino Martini. The recording here is surprisingly close-mic’d, but wow, does it deliver! The incredible shades of tone color sell the song and internationalize it without Vanni even having to try in this rendition. His beautiful sotto voce is heard here to lovely effect, while his masculine Italian-tenor-singing-Mexican-tenor has rousing results and ends with a covered high-G with all the spit and drama that becomes both the singer and song. In my opinion, the accompaniment leaves something to be desired, but we must remember none of these recordings were ever ear-marked for public release. Plus the voice is so wonderful, who cares?


4. Canadian Sunset (Heywood/Gimbel)

I’ve always had a soft spot for this one-of-a-kind tune; it’s the sort of song that romantically transports one to those ski trails in Canada—and, certainly, that nation is truly international with many languages spoken in different provinces. Pianist Eddie Heywood wrote this tune in 1956 and it became an instant radio and jukebox success, launching his career into high gear.

Immediately, Dario calls to us from a deep-echo with a haunting rubato treatment of the first verse, setting the tone for the possible unknown romance about to unfold. Then Dave Cherry goes into the Heywood motif on the piano that drives the tune. On and off, the singer comes in and out of tempo to color the mood. “A weekend in Canada was all I had bargained for” leads us into the chance meeting and we feel the exotic, romantic Canadian escape become part of our experience. Short as it is, this song and Dario’s fine interpretation make it more than a worthy entry in this collection.


5. Mala Femmina (Toto)

This lovely melody, filled with romantic pathos, is sung entirely in Italian here by the artist. The arrangement is strangely becoming, with strings, mandolin, harp, piano, an electronic vibraphone, and a saxophone and guitar in the bridge. As in Ay, Ay, Ay!, the microphone is fairly close to the singer, but his marvelous resonance makes so many colors that it all fits. I love this singer especially in the Italian language when his ardent passions are set loose. This song is especially reminiscent of a natural performance, probably rehearsed once or twice and then recorded. Its organic presentation is irresistible.


6. Bali Ha’i (Rodgers & Hammerstein)

What is more haunting or exotic than this song? We are drawn in, as it were, transported to the South Pacific instantly. Here the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II have an ethereal content rather than a romantic one, per se. It is a kind of exotic wisdom lesson and, with Richard Rodgers’ masterful melody, it becomes a classic again. We listen to this unique ballad, created for Bloody Mary in the mega-hit, South Pacific. Written in 1948 and having its Broadway debut in ’49, it ran literally for years with a rather ragged Enzio Pinza opposite a lively and articulated Mary Martin. It was made into a hit motion picture in 1955 via 20th Century Fox’s Cinemascope grandeur, starring Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor, with Brazzi’s voice dubbed in by the wonderful Metropolitan baritone, Gorgio Tozzi. This blockbuster, however, had a hard path to hoe because of some of its content. The racial references in “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” did not sit well with certain censors, politicians, and bigots, especially right after WWII. But the public loved the whole musical and embraced it. Internationally, the soundtrack sold by the millions. Song after song enchants.

Dario executes this the song with lots of feeling, as if there was a pre-wisdom in him, as if he was the face peaking through the “low-flying clouds,” singing of that mysterious attraction, of our being able to be free at last in paradise. “Most people live on a lonely island, lost in the middle of a foggy sea…” always resonated with me emotionally. Trapped in a critic’s post in New York City for a London newspaper, day in and day out dealing with throngs of people, evaluating talent, some good, some not so good, socializing at the countless parties looking for an honest smile, a new talent, trying to be kind whilst not losing one’s temper; taking the subway amongst smelly crowds who increasingly spoke less and less English and dressed down as peasants going to the marketplace. Ooops! I apologize for digressing. Back to the facts, ma’am. The arrangement on this track fits the mood: high soprano voices, strings, vibraphone electrified, and Dario’s performance (not too high in F-major) is consistent and conveys the words and feelings to us. As he concludes, he has the audio engineer fade the voice back into the clouds via an echo chamber. I really enjoy this track and I hope it makes you stop to think, also, as it does me. Where are we? Who are we? Why are we doing the things we do over and over, day after day? Is there a Bali Ha’i for us somewhere?


7. My One and Only Love (Wood/Mellin)

My One and Only Love is a high-water mark in romantic love songs. For the tenor voice, there is not a more sweeping, encompassing tune than this one. I had not heard of the song before, actually, and did not know the composers. It’s one of those “sleepers” you are privileged to hear now and then. Dario’s stellar performance (this is the young Vanni with members of the Beverly Hills Symphony orchestra, I understand) makes me re-think what an exceptional singer can do with a lyric. There is a semblance of a Mario Lanza passion here, although I cannot find that Mario ever recorded it in the RCA catalog. But, perhaps, what we hear that might compare the two, is simply the Italian flavor that all boys from that genetically warm clime possess, driven as they are by Mamma, pasta, musica, beautiful women, and happy sunny days by the sea. There I said it! At least that’s always been my suspicion: the code is hidden there in the genes and joyfully expresses because it is compelled to.

After a nice trumpet solo in the bridge, Dario comes back in Italian, hits a smashing high-B-flat, then ends with a pp on a high G-flat. It is a dashing and romantic performance with all the ardor requisite in such a song. I wonder if the American composers would recognize their wonderful tune in the hands of a pro like Vanni?


8 & 9. I’ll Set My Love to Music (Oliviero/Castaldi/Grudeff)

This was an unrehearsed “live” recording. Word has it that this song is dedicated to a mysterious lover and that she is actually present as Dario records it for a later live performance that evening. This story unfolds sometime in the late 1960s. In fact, if one listens carefully, at the end of the second English verse, you can hear the singer doing an aside, “Pretty melody, isn’t it?” Dario asks the beautiful woman at his right side. Well, now, any woman with healthy hormones and red blood would swoon to this number sung by a prime time Dario Vanni. I can just imagine this mystery woman’s response (I understand she was married, wealthy, and very much in love with the artist) as he leaves the English and kicks into the melting and passionate Italian lyrics. Whoa! What a night that must have been! Oh, to be a fly on the wall….

The song came from a movie soundtrack originally. Mondo Pazzo (crazy world) followed Mondo Cane (dog’s world) in the late 1960s. These two films were Italian-made documentaries decrying the pitiful state of human behavior. The song hit from the first film was entitled “More” and sold millions of copies; Voglio Bene al Mondo did not fare as well, but people like Matt Monroe and Placido Domingo recorded it, as well as The Four Preps, Enoch Light, The Lollipops, Milva, and Kai Winding, so it must have had sufficient quality for them to consider associating their names with the tune. Dario’s performance here is like a snapshot-in-time of the artist: just arriving at the prime of his career, his artistry growing leaps and bounds, his repertoire expanding, the women gathering around him like bees to honey, status in the live performance world—wow! I hate him! Not really. But all said, Dario chose (at my request, actually) to include this “rough cut” in the recording studio so we would have yet another window into his international stature as a superb singer of love songs, operatic, folk, popular, or movie soundtracks. There is a magic in the visual of him singing “live” to the beautiful and mysterious lover.


10. Non Dimenticar (Redi/Galdieri/Dobbins)

“Anna” was a featured song in a 1951 motion picture released in Italy, starring the beautiful Silvana Mangano and leading man Vittorio Gassman, who later became a fine director. When Nat “King” Cole recorded a single (45 r.p.m.) for Capital Records around the time of the film’s release, a classic was born. Cole’s intimate vocal style brought the song international attention via radio and the LP vinyl recording, not to mention countless jukeboxes where you could hear it for a nickel.

I advance that Dario Vanni can sing almost anything and make it convincing. Not that he’s trying, it just pours out of him. Like there seems always to be a little tear in his voice which claims right to the sincerity with which he delivers a song. Non Dimenticar is no exception. The arrangement on this album begins with light strings and flute, bringing in the singer to cover the whole song once through in English. In the break between, however, there is this wonderful musical twist as trumpeter Gil Evens enters for a few measures and returns in and out as the song progresses. When Dario launches into the Italian language section, we hear the wonderful solo mandolin behind him. Dario’s style here is interesting: it’s almost as if his earlier life exposure to vocalists created a fascinating hybrid, somewhere between Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Jerry Vale. BUT…because it’s Dario Vanni, the “underpinning” is exclusively his and the quality of the voice actually transcends the crooners’ ability to do what he does on this song. That said, the song winds down with the tenor “Oooo-ing” quietly as strings and the other instruments help conclude this most satisfying performance of a classic international popular song.


11. Passione (Tagliaferri-Nicola/Bovio/Vanni)

Undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful Neapolitan songs ever written, Passione evokes the minor-key cry from its first phrases. Composed for an Italian motion picture in the 1930s (“Omonimo”) it quickly caught on with Italian-born tenors, notably Gigli and the post-war La Scala tenor, Guiseppi DiStefano. Mario Lanza recorded it in the 1950s. So Dario is in good company here, if not at risk of comparison. But, not to worry. Our tenor in this album chose to write some English lyrics up front—and, personally speaking—I think they are dandy! “Happy days I remember, born in the cold December, smiles of a dying ember, that it could last forever…..tears seem to follow laughter, when it’s over ever after…then a smile’s just a lie, hiding empty insides.” Whoa! This is potent stuff! He tells us a new love story as old as the hills. He wraps up the English lyrics as minor turns to major key in ¾ time with, “We found love, we shared love, we left love, we found dreams, we spent dreams together… matter what happens tomorrow….we found love, we shared love, and did it together.” Now he shifts into Italian (2nd verse for those who follow the score) with the lament, “E cammino, e cammino, ma nun saccio addo vaco…” He briefly returns to the English at the wrap up and ends with Italiano in the expected dramatic high-A at the end of this mini-aria.

The orchestration is wonderfully effective and simple: strings (I love the low strings in this recording), mandolin, piano, acoustic bass. The vocal performance is semi-classical in content and very even. The constant lament in many of these Italian folks songs always reminds me that, somehow, down deep in the Italian romantic psyche, there is the expected demise of a loving relationship, that someone is going to jilt someone else and really come down with a case of heartbreak. Normally, we don’t think about it because it is so integrated into the total performance, but the efficacy of Dario’s vibrato astounds me. Here we have a voice that commences the vibrato on the attack and maintains whether it is expanding or contracting the dynamic of the tone. No one tapers a note better than this tenor, in my humble opinion. Listen to the moving string work when Dario begins the Italian language section, as the mandolin weaves its way along with the voice. Also, one is reminded of how fine a quality of voice this is when one listens with the volume turned up a bit so we can hear all the incredible subtle colors. Absolutely healing—even the cheap Gemini speakers on my iMac reproduce this voice brilliantly. Have a listen, hear what I mean…


12. Kiss of Fire (Villoldo/Allen & Hill)

I never forgave the handsome Tony Martin for marrying my secret love and girlfriend, Cyd Charisse, she of M-G-M 1940s & 50s musical motion picture fame. In 1952, Martin recorded an adaptation of South American composer A.G. Villoldo’s hot Latin song, “Kiss of Fire”. Martin’s release was romantic and sexy (that’s how he probably won her, the bum!) and the song soon appeared on jukeboxes and radio stations throughout the United States. Many artists recorded it thereafter, including the very talented and lovely Caterina Valente, of The Breeze & I fame. Now, enter Dario Vanni, twenty years after the song was a commercial success. From the moment we hear Phil Mallory’s wonderful tremuloso acoustic guitar work plus the high strings in the background, we are anticipating something special. And we are not disappointed. I have a feeling Sr. Villoldo would have been proud to hear his music returned to its semi-classical roots as Dario’s warm tenor rips into this tune as the Latin beat ensues. After following the original English lyrics for a while, Dario launches into what sounds like some Latin American dialect of words (Villoldo’s?) in the key of A-flat minor and whams the ball out of the park, hitting a high C-flat) before he leaves us wanting more in this carelessly marvelous performance from a 1972 studio recording never intended for release, but done, need I remind, to prepare for the live performance stage.


13. Just Say I Love Her (Dicitencello Vuie) (Falvo/Fusco)

This is a 1971 “live” performance and although the sound quality leaves something to be desired, it gives us a good sonic picture of this man in action on the stage. When he was at home in Santa Barbara during the summers, he would produce, m.c., and sing in singers’ showcases, which highlighted new talent. Singers came from as far away as Los Angeles just to be in a Dario Vanni Singers’ Showcase.

The interesting thing to note in this performance (despite the distortion) is the drive, passion, power and emotional depth of the singer, not to mention his technique. The covered high-G as he ascends, “’e volgio te campa!,” reminds us how “Caruso-ian” Dario Vanni was during these years, even though he was in a popular—or at the very most—a semi-classical idiom. We can also tell by the audience’s response of clapping, yelling, and screaming that Dario’s energy must have absolutely taken them over. This snapshot is one of several live performances the artist had recorded in order to hear himself later. The recording equipment varied from excellent to so-so, but, at least, we have those performances documented. The man introducing the singer is the world-famous Estonian juggler, Gene Silla, who was a big fan of Vanni’s talent and performance ability. Here he is serving as MC because of his love for the artist and admiration he kept until his own death in the 1980s. It was not unusual for Dario to have fans who followed him wherever he appeared.

14. BONUS SELECTION: Gigi (Lerner & Lowe)

If you enjoyed this album, you might also equally enjoy “Broadway's Greatest Hits” a compilation of the most popular love songs of the Great White Way’s prime years.