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Classic recital: Fernando Corena
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola - Miei rampolli femminini (5:19); Sia qualunque delle figlie (4:47); L’italiana in Algeri - Ho un gran peso sulla testa (4:28)
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)
Il matrimonio segreto (1766) - Udite, tutti, udite (4:59)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) 
Grisélidis (1894, rev. 1898) -  Jusqu’ici, sans dangers (4:12)*
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)
Le Caïd (1849) - Je comprends que la belle aime le militaire (5:15)*
Charles SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le pas d’armes du roi Jean (5:01)*
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Philémon et Baucis (1859-60) - Au bruit des lourds marteaux (2:55)*
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein (1866-7) - A cheval sur la discipline ...Pif paf pouf! (1:50)*
Fernando Corena (bass)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Gianandrea Gavazzeni
* L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/James Walker
rec. Teatro alla Pergola, Florence, September 1956, * Victoria Hall, Geneva, October 1956. ADD mono.
DECCA 475 7170 [39:15]


Decca’s operatic recital reissues continue apace. Some discs feature artists and repertoire that will be familiar to collectors today. Others might be less familiar – and this is one such.

As the reproduction of the original sleeve-otes is rendered all but illegible by the font size and typeface I consulted the Decca website to find out more.  Corena was born in Geneva to a Turkish father and Italian mother on 22 December 1916. After studying in Milan he made his debut in 1937 in Zurich. After the war he appeared as Varlaam at Trieste. For the Metropolitan Opera in 1954 he sang Leporello and Covent Garden saw him as Dr Bartolo - in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia - in the 1960s. He died at Lugano on 26 November 1984, and is chiefly remembered for his prowess in the buffo repertory.

An undoubted strength of this recital is that it captures Corena in the music he excelled in with his voice in good form. It is impossible not to be aware of Corena’s gifts as an interpreter of text. As one would expect, his approach is rather different from that of today. Some of the music has sadly passed out of fashion too.  For all that, his are fine interpretations even if occasionally they may seem a touch fussy or over-emphasised. But he certainly gets inside his characters. Don Magnifico (La Cenerentola) is given the full buffo treatment, and when the opportunity comes he does not shy away from using falsetto to invest the line with wit. His vocal agility throughout the programme is enviable.

The Thomas aria invites comparison with Ezio Pinza, and whilst Corena gives the music uncut and his reading is fine in itself, he does not show qualities to stand beside Pinza’s in terms of shading and shaping the vocal line. Saint-Saëns demonstrates that he was not most comfortable at the bottom of his voice – I’d say he was more a bass-baritone than a true bass. The short Offenbach aria with which the recital ends shows him very much on top form, relishing the humour of the piece. On the whole it is the humorous items that he appears more at ease with, and they for this reason they prove more memorable.

The recording sessions captured consistency in the voice itself, and both source recordings place him rather forward. Where the atmosphere and orchestral accompaniments are concerned differences can be noted. The September session in Florence seems rather cool, with little warmth to the tone. The Maggio Musicale orchestra appear of thinner presence than is ideal. The session with the Suisse Romande conducted by James Walker (who was also the producer) preserves the orchestra with greater fidelity, even if some small uncertainty enters into the vocal tone, for example during the Thomas aria.

Corena wasn’t a great singer, but he wasn’t a dull one either, and this enjoyable disc can be recommended.  My recommendation would have been stronger had texts been provided to accompany a playing time greater than the minimal 39 minutes given here. Other recordings of him exist in the Decca archive – largely on complete recordings of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, etc. – so ‘big aria’ extracts might have been included to provide a fuller picture of Corena’s art. The ‘classic recital’ marketing concept would not have suffered too much if the programme had been supplemented in this way.

Evan Dickerson


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