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Paul Velda Remembered 

From Bill Ronayne
The following was written by Paul a few months before he went into the hospital. It was published in the April issue of "The Legacy of Mario Lanza " newsletter. He was a man of great courage and truly loved Mario. I think Paul's own words are a fitting tribute to him. Terry Velda told me that he was very pleased to see this article in print and I know that he would also be pleased that it was posted on the Lanza web sites... -Bill
My Life With Mario Lanza
By Paul Velda
This may sound like a strange title for this article, but I do feel quite justified in using it as I do think I have spent my life with Mario. Certainly if there had been no Mario, my life would have been quite different. I'm certain of that. But allow me to start at the beginning of my "life"
I am old enough to recall Mario arriving on the music scene in the very early fifties just as I was leaving school. I have always been musical and my favourites then were Jolson, Laine, Mitchell, Stafford, and such like. I knew and sang all their hit songs. Suddenly on a late night record show came this voice; this unimaginable sound. I was taken to another world. I had never heard anything so wonderful. I had just been born. That's the effect he had on me as that incomparable sound burned into my fourteen year old soul and stayed there. I had a good friend with similar musical tastes and the next day we talked all day about this magnificent singer we both had heard. The following day we went to our local record store and the lady (who of course knew of Mario) played Be My Love Tina Lina, (which I adored), and Celeste Aida for us.
This was my first real listen to an operatic aria and I must say I was not too happy with it! But over the next few days, I decided I loved Mario's voice so much I would try and buy everything I could possibly get which included several arias. Needless to say, I soon became entranced with opera and around this time I bought the two Chenier arias, which I had never heard before in my life, and nearly drove the household crazy as I played them over and over again. I adored the Improviso. The Great Caruso had just been released and it seemed that everyone had Mario mania. I was totally besotted with him. I adored him.
Because You're Mine was released and I think I loved him more at that time then any other. And though I love his voice now, at that time I thought of him so much and could hear him inside my head all day long. As the years rolled by, I started work. I was still crazy about his voice. Some of the old chaps where I worked said Gigli was far better than Mario. I got very uptight at this and really fell out with them. I read where he had bad trouble with his studio and I was very worried about this, but the Student Prince songs arrived which certainly reduced my anxiety.
In 1958 he did a concert tour of Europe which of course, took in the UK. I nearly missed getting a ticket, but to my joy of joys I did get one and prepared for what I knew would be the greatest day of my life, and it was! I took a day off my work (I was threatened with the sack, but did not care) and traveled to the big city of Manchester. On reaching the Kings Hall, I found I had a very good seat very close to the stage and when he walked out with Callinicos, I went light headed and almost passed out! He sang magnificently. I was so proud of him and so proud to be there as I knew that none of the critics would be able to say he had sung badly because he sang superbly and did not disappoint in the slightest. I would have loved to try and see him afterwards, but the train I had to catch was the last one back from Manchester. I ran to the station and just about caught it. I was on my own in the compartment and as the train pulled out, I pulled up my overcoat collar and relived every moment of the concert and my tears were pretty close. At my work the next day they all came to ask me about him. I was so pleased to tell them all about it. I could not stop thinking about it for weeks. I felt so lucky to have seen him.
I got married in 1959 and soon a baby was on the way. My wife was not a great fan by any means. She tolerated him for my sake, but did not interfere too much. The baby arrived on the 5th of October. I was just getting used to having a son when my whole world collapsed around me. I could not believe it. To say I was devastated was to put it mildly. I asked my wife if we could name the boy after Mario. She looked a little apprehensive, but she was OK with giving him the second Christian name of Mario. But the following day she said there were plenty of Mario's, but only one Lanza so he got the second Christian name of Lanza. I thought this was tremendous coming from a twenty three year old girl who was not really a fan and again my tears were fairly close. Very unfortunately she passed away three years later.
At this time I toyed with the notion of having a tattoo for him, but it was a year before I had my upper left arm permanently tattooed with "LANZA FOREVER" for all to see. I married again in the late sixties, and in 1992 as a wedding anniversary surprise present my wife decided we would go to America for the first time to the Mario Lanza Ball. Imagine my excitement! We spent a week in New York where we saw Pavarotti in Tosca at the Met then on to Philadelphia for a week and my first Ball. It was all so magical. Over the years we have managed to get to six Balls with lovely trips to New York where we saw Domingo several times, Walkure (superb) Fedora plus other great singers. Because of Mario my love of opera knows no bounds. Then in 1994 we went to New Orleans and I got into the auditorium where Mario sang his Madama Butterfly but unfortunately we were about a month late as the place was being torn apart by building contractors. We then carried on to Los Angeles and had the great pleasure of lunch and a day with Mario's eldest daughter Colleen. I also got to sing with her. What a bundle of fun she was. Later in the week we had lunch with his other daughter Elissa and Terry Robinson at her house . It was around this time that a new star for Mario was unveiled in Palm Springs which we saw. Our last trip to the US was in January 2005 when the Metropolitan Opera Guild honored Mario with a tribute for him at Alice Tully Hall. It was a surprise trip which my wife secretly organized. This was a wonderful event with lots of celebrities from Mario's life being present.
Now, in more recent times we have CD's and DVD's of him which are beautiful to hear and see. My email address is a further tribute to him. (lanzaforever@googlemail.com)
All these marvelous things would not have happened without Mario. I am delighted to say it has been a wonderful life with MARIO LANZA!
I would like to thank Paul for this heartfelt and moving article. He is a devoted fan and has promoted Mario for many years. Paul is also a very gifted performer with a fine tenor voice. The photo below is from the 2003 Mario Lanza Pre-Ball Dinner. -Bill Ronayne

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