It’s entirely possible that the bitter Winter weather will cause many of us to dream of stealing away to paradise in the South Pacific. It’s also possible — maybe even probable — that those of us who have been around a while will form a mental image of a movie scene in which a tanned and debonair Rossano Brazzi sings “Some Enchanted Evening” to Mitzi Gaynor. But actually he didn’t.
In that 1958 film musical, South Pacific, veteran Italian actor Brazzi did a perfectly acceptable job playing Emile de Becque, the French plantation owner who sang to Ensign Nellie Forbush. But his singing was dubbed by a Chicago-born opera star, Giorgio Tozzi, whose bass voice boomed out in opera houses all over the world for many years.
A much-respected singer, Tozzi stayed in touch with his South Pacific roots by playing the part of de Becque himself in occasional later revivals. But to get to the true beginnings of the movie character and his classic song, we need to talk about another Italian opera star — one who had a long singing career in spite of the fact that he couldn’t read music.
Ezio Pinza was a native of Rome, and as he grew to adulthood his rich voice led him into a singing career. His vocal range was classified as basso cantantet, which meant that he could handle all but the lowest bass notes and also perform most baritone parts. His good looks didn’t hurt either, and he soon built a solid career in opera.
By the post World War II years, he’d become a long-time star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and when director Joshua Logan began putting together a new Broadway show featuring the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, he was a natural fit. Appearing with Mary Martin and other members of the original cast, he helped create one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time.