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Franco Corelli - Verismo Arias
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
1. E lucevan le stelle [2:48]
2. Non piangere Liù [2:29]
3. Nessun dorma [2:56]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
Cavalleria rusticana:
4. Mamma, quell vino [3:54]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
5. Mia madre … Vedi, io piango [7:01]
Madama Butterfly:
6. Addio, fiorito asil [1:40]
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur:
7. La dolcissima effige [2:06]
La fanciulla del West:
8. Or son sei mesi [3:39]
Andrea Chenier:
9. Come un bel di di maggio [3:10]
10. Un di all’azzurro spazio [5:37]
11. Amor ti vieta [3:13]
12. Se Franz dicesse il vero [4:59]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919)
13. Recitar … Vesti la giubba [3:40]
14. No! Pagliaccio non so! [3:16]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
15. Se quell guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida [4:47]
16. Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida [12:43]
17. La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse [10:42]
Franco Corelli (tenor)
Maria Curtis Verna (soprano) (16, 17); Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/Arturo Basile, Alfredo Simonetto, Umberto Cattini; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI/Angelo Questa (15-17)
rec. 1956-1957
URANIA URN 22.319 [78:52]


Franco Corelli was born in Ancona, Italy, in 1921 and died in Milan in 2003. He was self-taught but won two competitions, in Florence and Spoleto in 1951, whereupon he made his stage debut in Spoleto the same year as Don José in Carmen. After that his rise to stardom was meteoric, making his La Scala debut opposite Maria Callas in Spontini’s La Vestale on the opening night of the 1954 season. From then on he was invited to all the great houses in Europe and from 1961 until 1976 he appeared every season at the Metropolitan. Not only was he the possessor of one of the most magnificent voices ever to be heard, he was also a handsome man with dashing stage appearance. When he died his tenor colleague Carlo Bergonzi said in an interview: “We have lost one of the greatest tenors of the world. One of the greatest tenors of the century. He was the most serious of his profession, and he was a great interpreter who made great sacrifices for his career."

The arias and scenes on the present disc are, as far as I know, the first commercial recordings he made, setting them down for the Italian Cetra company in 1956 and 1957. The inlay to the disc doesn’t specify dates, venues or with which conductor he recorded what but that is hardly important. Arturo Basile and Alfredo Simonetto were among the most experienced in this field and the radio orchestras, though hardly in the class of The Rome Opera or La Scala, were a great deal more than just serviceable. The problem with many Cetra recordings was the mediocre sound and it has to be said that the restoration engineer has done what was possible to achieve in the shape of dynamics and acceptable fullness of the sound. However the thin and wiry, not to say glassy string tone is still a serious drawback. Had this been a purely orchestral issue it would have been ruled out without further ado but since it is the singing that is the main thing it is quite possible to enjoy the disc – with a modicum of indulgence. What is most irritating – and actually a reason for ruling it out anyway – are the practically non-existent gaps between the tracks. One does expect at least three or four seconds, two might be tolerable but here the next aria starts before the echo from the previous one has died away. While in a pernickety mood I find no logic in the order of the arias: no chronology, arias from the same opera are haphazardly sprinkled about and even when they are together, as in Andrea Chenier, they are in reversed order. Someone must have done some thinking, or …? To me it seems that the producer pressed “Random”.

Over to the singing, then. A glorious voice it was, with brilliant  ringing top notes, a volume to match Del Monaco’s and a lung capacity beyond belief. He had an ability to fine down the voice and sing wonderfully soft, often going from a ringing forte to a hushed pianissimo in one unbroken phrase. On the debit side is an irresistible wish to show off. Long high notes at the end of phrases are held on to forever and his execution of hairpin dynamics are not always motivated by the music or the dramatic situation – they rather tend to be a kind of circus performance. His taste is also questionable; though there is a deeply-rooted tradition of adorning the singing with various sobs, hiccups, crying and glottal stops to enhance the feeling. With the intensity he can muster through pure singing it shouldn’t be necessary. He has a quite regular habit of scooping up to notes, intrusive Hs are not infrequent and his heavy lisp also disfigures some of the singing.

Whatever the drawbacks one can’t help marvelling at the sounds and the beauty he produces. His is a natural force which is hard to resist. ‘Larger than life’ could be a soubriquet and his singing is so full of life that a record collection would be so much poorer without him. He recorded several of the roles represented here complete for Decca (Tosca) and EMI (Turandot, Cavalleria, Pagliacci, Andrea Chenier and Aida). I haven’t made direct comparisons but knowing several of them very well I can say that he was pretty consistent in his approach, even when there are many years between them.

Among the best things here are the first two arias: E lucevan le stelle with a soft opening, deep feeling and, a few sobs apart, stylish singing. Non piangere Liù is also well balanced while in Nessun dorma I missed the chorus in the second verse. Mamma, quell vino from Cavalleria rusticana is truly glorious. It is sung with such conviction and intensity and fairly free from sobs that this version much rank among the best from any tenor. The long scene from Fedora (tr. 5) is good to have – normally we hear only Amor ti vieta, but here he is certainly too lachrymose. The improvviso from Andrea Chenier is again excellent and after an over-done Vesti la giubba he finishes the recital with No, Pagliaccio non so! in a reading where he lets the music speak without too many extraneous intrusions. There he shows greatness.

And this is where the verismo recital ends, but Urania have added as a substantial bonus: almost half an hour of excerpts from his first complete opera recording, the 1956 Aida. The sound here is very acceptable and Angelo Questa leads his Turin forces with gusto. The aria is skilfully nuanced – a little showy – and he holds on to the final note at an unrelenting fortissimo, but in the main this is a fine reading. The duet from act 3, the Nile scene, is more than that. Corelli’s clarion tones are imposing and at first Maria Curtis Verna sounded occluded by comparison. That said, it soon turns out that here is a soprano who is warm and lyrical and wants to create a believable character of the Princess. Corelli is also deeply involving. Towards the end we also hear Piero Guelfi – though uncredited on the inlay – as an imposing Amonasro; a magnificent voice in the Ruffo mould.  The finale, the tomb scene, is lyrical and inward and both Curtis Verna and Corelli are on their best behaviour. In many ways the Aida excerpts are the most valuable items here. Those who don’t have the complete recording, or the later EMI with Birgit Nilsson as Aida and Zubin Mehta in his debut recording, should lend an ear to this disc. As I have indicated there are several excellent things among the verismo arias too and with such a wholehearted singer as Corelli one has to take the bad with the good.

Göran Forsling 




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