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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Franco Corelli - The Tenor as Hero
Franco Corelli (tenor)
rec. 1958-68. ADD
full track-listing at end of review
EMI CLASSICS ICON 2648872 [4 CDs: 308:34]
Experience Classicsonline

To hundreds of thousands of people all over the world Franco Corelli was the archetype of a matinee idol: tall, slim, with film-star looks and charisma - a rarity indeed among tenors. He was the undisputed star at La Scala and later the Met and he was a popular guest at Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera. He sang in his youth but had no aspiration to be a professional singer and worked for a number of years after his university exam for local government. Friends encouraged him to take singing lessons and in 1951, shortly after his thirtieth birthday he took part in a singing competition, which led to a stage debut just a couple of months later. And he jumped in at the deep end, singing Don José in Carmen at Spoleto. Within months he advanced to the Rome Opera and then the field was open. Two years after that lucky competition he was already Pollione opposite Maria Callas’s Norma in Rome and on 7 December 1954 he made his La Scala debut on the opening performance of the season, in La vestale, again opposite Callas. His Met debut in January 1961 was also spectacular. He sang Manrico in Il trovatore opposite another house debutant, Leontyne Price. This night has gone into the history-books as one of the most applauded performances ever. Ms Price had 42 curtain calls and though I have no statistics concerning Corelli I presume he wasn’t far behind. Throughout the nineteen-sixties he held his position as the greatest Italian tenor hero - though Mario Del Monaco was a keen rival - and as late as 1973 he was still in reasonably fine fettle at a televised concert in Tokyo together with Renata Tebaldi. OK, he seems rather blasé at times but he makes amends with some fine Italian songs (see review). Some of the arias and songs on that recital programme are also featured on the present compilation.

I don’t think it was very wise to open the first disc with A te, o cara from Bellini’s I puritani. I can’t think this role was in his stage repertoire. It requires a lyric bel canto tenor with extraordinary height. Corelli sings with glorious tone, fine legato and beautiful pianissimos at the end of phrases. But he also exaggerates accents, he slides up to notes, top notes are held forever and he inserts some sobs, though admittedly rather moderate. Gedda and Kraus from Corelli’s generation and Pavarotti from the next are more in tune with the requirements.

Much the same characteristics can be found in Pollione’s aria from Norma, but this is a role for a dramatic tenor and few have surpassed him fort intensity. Domingo is more tasteful but hasn’t the raw power, Todorovich live in Berlin runs him closer (see review) and I believe Giacomini on the Sony set with Renata Scotto is superb too. Anyway the cabaletta Me protegge is gloriously sung by Corelli in one of his first complete sets. Donizetti was hardly Corellis’s cup of tea either but after an intense recitative the aria Spirto gentil is in many respects sensitively sung but as usual he grabs every opportunity to show off. Like Giuseppe Di Stefano he is never bland - rather over the top sometimes - but unlike the Sicilian he has the voice and the stamina to bring off even the most strenuous arias. Manrico was one of his great roles and the two showpieces that round off act III find him, warths and all, at his most effective - just listen to how he scales down to a beautiful pianissimo just before the end of Ah si, ben mio. Di quella pira is as brilliant as it could be.

This scene is from a complete recording while the following six arias are from recital records. In Rodolfo’s aria from Luisa Miller he is too blustery - Bergonzi is the touchstone here - but Alvaro in La forza del destino is better suited to his tenore robusto and this is a fine reading. Macduff in Macbeth was his last new role in 1973 and the great aria is one of his best achievements on this recital from 1967. On the aforementioned Tokyo DVD he sings La donna e mobile at a practically constant fortissimo. The version here is of the same kind, glorious but unsubtle. The Ernani scene is another knockout version. The aria from Un ballo in maschera is a strange mixture. The orchestra was recorded in London in 1958, while Corelli recorded the vocal part six years later in Milan. It is rather tastefully sung but considering the comparatively late date of recording the voice is surprisingly feebly recorded and there is some overload. It has to be said that for benchmark recordings of all six arias Bergonzi is preferable but there is still a certain tingle factor about Corelli.

I bought the complete Aida recording when it was issued in 1967 and it is in many ways a superb version. Corelli’s Celeste Aida is a reading to treasure, not least for final B flat, starting fortissimo and then being gradually and seamlessly fined down to a beautiful pianissimo. The end of the Nile scene finds him in heroic form and Birgit Nilsson seems almost like a soubrette by his side to begin with. The confrontations between Nilsson and Corelli in the opera houses are legendary and it seems they have brought this rivalry into the Rome studio as well. Sparks are really flying when Ms Nilsson lets loose and the trio is completed with Mario Sereni’s strong-voiced and sonorous Amonasro.

Raoul in Les Huguenots was a role he sang only once at La Scala. In bygone days many of the legendary tenors had this aria on their repertoire and like Corelli here they usually sang it in Italian. There is a most beautiful introduction for solo cello and the instrument is also heard at the beginning of the aria proper. The singing is as brilliant as one is ever likely to hear again. Another even greater rarity is the tenor aria from Catalani’s Loreley, from which one occasionally can hear a soprano aria, but Nel verde maggio is a lovely spring song well worth reviving, at least for recital purposes.

On CD 2 Cielo e mar is powerful but sung with too many intrusive ‘h’s. L’anima ho stanca is however one of his most stylish and beautifully sung arias and when we come to the inseparable Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci Corelli is on his home ground. Viva il vino is a show piece but Mamma quell vino e generoso is one of the most emotionally charged arias in the opera literature. Here it begins off-stage before he comes into full focus. There is a great risk that the tenor becomes too lachrymose but Corelli largely avoids this and turns in a reading to set beside Björling or Bergonzi - and more heroic than either.

Pagliacci was his first complete opera for EMI, set down a month and a half before the more famous Norma. He is heard here in three key scenes: early in act I, where Un tal gioco is sung with melting tone, almost on a par with Bergonzi’s early Cetra recording. Vesti la giubba is again comparable to Bergonzi’s, though a size larger. Tears at the end can’t be avoided but up till then it is almost classically stylish. No, Pagliaccio non son finally, and to the bitter end, is impossible to play ‘straight, which would be in opposition to the whole idea with verismo. But even here Corelli keeps a certain mental distance but he has all the power in the world for the climaxes. With Met stalwart Lucine Amara a strong Nedda this is one of the most bloodcurdling recordings of this finale.

Emotions aplenty are to be found also in the Puccini arias, where E lucevan le stelle is memorably sung with a spectacular diminuendo in the middle of the aria. These arias are also from a recital record. He recorded Tosca complete opposite Birgit Nilsson, but that was for Decca. For EMI they did Turandot, however, and this is a classic. Corelli is tasteful in his first act aria - tasteful but glorious - and EMI generously gives us the rest of the act as well, the great ensemble and chorus where we also hear Calaf’s three beats on the gong. Nessun dorma is …glorious - there is no other word for it - and the duet with the icy princess and the unknown prince is the expected combat of giants.

The title role in Andrea Chenier was also ideally suited to Corelli’s voice and the five excerpts here give us a large portion of the tenor role. He is at the top of his form and Antonietta Stella is almost in the Tebaldi class in the concluding duet

CD 3 opens with excerpts from two French operas. He recorded Carmen for RCA (and much later for Eurodisc) and Faust for Decca and besides that there was the complete Roméo et Juliette for EMI. Corelli’s Roméo was hardly one of his greatest assumptions and one need only play the famous tenor aria Ah! lève-toi, soleil and compare it with Björling, Gedda and Alagna to hear what is missing. Corelli is far too coarse and unsubtle and this becomes even more apparent when his Juliet is the lovely Mirella Freni, one of the very best sopranos in French repertoire forty years ago. He is much better in the aria from Massenet’s Le Cid. There is an exaggerated portamento at the beginning of the aria and some over-energetic declamation, but he sings with beautiful tone and long unbroken phrases. Domingo on the complete CBS/Sony set from the 1970s, though no master of French either, is more stylish but Corelli’s glowing final phrases are stunning. In the Tokyo recital this aria was also one of his best efforts.

The rest of this disc and the whole of CD 4 are occupied by non-operatic material. There are swings and roundabouts here. Schubert’s Ave Maria sung as though it was a verismo aria and with a soupy chorus of angels and harp to match is hardly desert island music and the famous entrance aria from Handel’s Serse has little of baroque about it. Rolando Villazon on his new all-Handel recital (due for review before long) shows that it can be sung stylishly by a modern operatic tenor.

Ingemisco from Verdi’s Requiem is, howevwe, sung with deep understanding and some marvellous pianissimo shadings. His use of portamento to such a degree can always be questioned but by and large this is a fine reading. The jaunty Domine Deus from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle - which is neither petite nor solennelle - is sung with restraint, and though the bombastic orchestral prelude to Granada is ill-boding, the singing of this one-time Mario Lanza hit is splendid and free from histrionics. The following songs are little known, some of the arrangements are a bit over-blown and Corelli doesn’t always invest them with the nuances he is able to. But it is honest, full-throated and in the main tasteful singing of a kind and quality that is encountered only a few times in one’s lifetime. Carrettiere by the conductor of the first session is a song that Corelli seems to have a special affection for - it stands out as the most personal in the whole programme. Porquoi fermer ton Coeur is also Corelli at his best.  

There are some ups and downs also on the last disc, where Mammina mia is adorned by a terrible ladies’chorus. Many of these songs are also unhackneyed and they are well constructed with attractive melodies but they do not always possess that extra that makes for instance Torna a Surriento so memorable. Personally I got a liking for Falvo’s Dicitencello vuje and the Spanish flavour of Guapparia. Lama’s Silenzio, cantatore is another favourite and actually all the songs from the Milan sessions in October and December 1961 (CD 4 tr. 13-23) find Corelli in exceptionally fine voice and a stylish delivery to match. A vucchella may not measure up with Tito Gobbi’s light and airy recording from around 1964, but he sings it with piano and Corelli also makes the melody die away at the end very elegantly.

There can be no doubt that Franco Corelli was the possessor of one of the most glorious voices of the second half of the last century and even though his sense for style wasn’t always on a par with his vocal capacity he was no mean artist. This compilation includes a few performances show him to less than his greatest advantage but the majority of the titles present the very best of him. The whole set is a worthy tribute to this most heroic of Italian tenors and at the price shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a liking for grand tenor singing.

Göran Forsling

Full Tracklisting 
CD 1 [75:42]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
1. A te, o cara (I puritani, Act I) [3:33]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Franco Ferraris
rec. 29 June and 1, 3, 5, 13 July 1961 and 8 September 1962 at Kingsway Hall, London
2. Meco all’altar di Venere …Me protegge, me difende (Norma, Act I) [6:08]
Piero de Palma (tenor), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Tullio Serafin
rec. 5-16 September 1960 at Teatro alla Scala, MIlan
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 - 1848)
3. Favorita del Re! …Spirto gentil (La favorita, Act IV) [4:53]
see track 1
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
4. Ah si, ben mio …Di quella pira (Il trovatore, Act III) [7:09]
Gabriella Tucci (soprano), Angelo Mercuriali (tenor), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Thomas Schippers
rec. 6-12, 14, 17, 19, 31 July and 7 August 1964 at the Opera House, Rome
5. Oh! fede negar potessi …Quando le sere placido (Luisa Miller, Act II) [5:16]
6. La vita è inferno …O tu che in seno agli angeli (La forza del destino, Act III) [6:33]
7. O figli, o figli miei! …Ah! la paterna mano (Macbeth, Act IV) [3:47]
8. La donna e mobile (Rigoletto, Act III) [2:26]
9. Mercé diletti amici …Come rugiada …Oh, tu che l’alma adora (Ernani, Act I) [4:52]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Franco Ferraris
rec. 15, 17, 20, 25 February 1967 at KIngsway Hall, London
10. Forse la soglia attinse …Ma se m’è forza perderti (Un ballo in maschera, Act III) [5:09]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduardo Pedrazzoli
rec. 26, 30 September and 3-4 October 1958 at Kingsway Hall (orchestra) and 25, 28 September 1964 at Basilica Santa Eufemia, Milan (voice)
11. Se quell guerrier io fossi! …Celeste Aida (Act I)[4:43]
12. Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida …Ma dimmi (Act III) [12:26]
Birgit Nilsson (soprano) (12), Grace Bumbry (mezzo) (12, Mario Sereni (baritone) (12), Bonaldo Giaiotti (bass) (12), Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Zubin Mehta
rec. 21 June - 6 July 1967 at the Opera House, Rome
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 - 1864)
13. Non lunge della torre …BIanca al par di neve alpine (Les Huguenots, Act I) [5:21]
see track 1
Alfredo CATALANI (1854 - 1893)
14. Nel verde maggio (Loreley, Act I) [2:23]
see tracks 5-9

CD 2 [76:08]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 - 1886)
1. Cielo e mar! (La Gioconda, Act II) [4:42]
Francesco CILEA (1866 - 1950)
2. L’anima ho stanca (Adriana Lecouvreur, Act II) [2:19]
see CD 1 tr. 1
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
3. Intanto amici …Viva il vino spumeggiante [2:53]
4. Mamma, quell vino è generoso [4:05]
Adriana Lazzarini (3) and Corinna Vozza (4) (mezzos), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Gabriele Santini
rec. 1-5 July 1962 at the Opera House, Rome
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858 - 1919)
5. Un grande spettacolo …Un tal gioco (Act I) [5:14]
6. Recitar! …Vesti la giubba (Act I) [3:46]
7. No, Pagliaccio non son (Act II) [6:22]
Lucine Amara (soprano) (5 and 7), Mario Spina (tenor) (5 and 7), Tito Gobbi (baritone) (5 and 7), Mario Zanasi (baritone) (7) Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Lovro von Matačic
rec. 27 June - 7 July 1960 at Teatro alla Scala, Milano
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
8. Donna non vidi mai (Manon Lescaut, Act I) [2:32]
9. Recondita armonia (Act I) [3:00]
10. E lucevan le stele (Act III) [3:23]
see CD 1 tr. 1
11. Non piangere, Liù …Ah! per l’ultima volta (act I) [4:39]
12. Nessun dorma (Act III) [2:51]
13. Principessa di morte! (Act III) [5:30]
Renata Scotto (soprano) (11), Birgit Nilsson (soprano) (13), Franco Ricciardi and Piero de Palma (tenors) (11), Bonaldo Giaiotti and Guido Mazzini (basses) (11) Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
rec. 24 June and 2, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16 July 1965 at the Opera House, Rome
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 - 1948)
Andrea Chénier
14. Colpito …Un di all’azzurro spazio (Act I) [5:37]
15. Credo a una posanza arcane (Act II) [3:23]
16. Legray! …Andrea Chénier! …Si, fui soldato (Act III) [3:15]
17. Come un bel di di maggio (Act IV) [3:21
18. Vicino a te (Act IV) [7:58]
Antonietta Stella (soprano) (16 and 18), Mario Sereni (baritone) (16), Paolo Pedani (16) and Giuseppe Modesti (15 and 16) (Basses), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Gabriele Santini
rec. 25-27, 30 June and 1, 2 July 1963 at the Opera House Rome

CD 3 [78:12]
Jules MASSENET (1842 - 1912)
1. Ah! tout est bien fini …Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père (Le Cid, Act III) [4:49]
see CD 1 Tr. 5-9
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893)
Roméo et Juliette
2. Ange adorable (Act I) [4:32]
3. L’amour …Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! (Act II) [4:35]
4. Ô nuit divine! (Act II) [8:20]
5. C’est là! Salut! tombeau! (Act V) [6:28]
Mirella Freni (soprano) (4), Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris/Alain Lombard
rec. 20 June - 6 July 1968 at Salle Wagram, Paris
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
6. Ave Maria D839 [2:20]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
7. Frondi tenere …Ombra mai fu (Serse, Act I) [4:02]
Giuseppe VERDI
8. Ingemisco (Requiem) [4:22]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
9. Domine Deus (Petite Messe Solennelle [4:22]
Agustin LARA (1900 - 1970)
10. Granada [4:36]
Stefano DONAUDY (1879 - 1925)
11. Vaghissima sembianza [3:55]
Ernesto de CURTIS (1875 - 1937)
12. Ti voglio tanto bene [2:59]
13. Mon ciel, c’est toi [2:27]
14. Il canto della rinuncia [4:27]
Raffaele MINGARDO (1923 - 1978)
15. Carrettiere [3:41]
16. Tu lo sai [3:33]
Chorus and Orchestra/Raffaele Mingardo
rec. 6, 19 June and 16, 21 September 1963 in Milan (6-9); 18 May 1964 and 16, 17 June and 27 September 1965 in Rome (10-16)
17. Pourquoi fermer ton Coeur? [3:57]
Luigi DENZA (1846 - 1922)
18. Sit u m’amais [3:59]
Orchestra/Franco Ferraris
rec. 14, 16, 26 October and 21 December 1961 in Milan

CD 4 [78:32]
1. Mammina mia [3:55]
José SERRANO (1873 - 1941)
2. Te quiero, morena (El trust de los tenorios) [2:56]
see CD 3 tr 10-16
Salvatore CARDILLO (1874 - 1947)
3. Core ‘ngrato [3:33]
Ernesto de CURTIS
4. Senza nisciuno [3:25]
5. Addà turnà [3:39]
Vincenzo d’ANNIBALE
6. ‘O paese d’‘o sole [3:33]
Gaetano Errico PENNINO
7. Pecchè? [3:56]
8. Fenesta che lucive [3:48]
Ernesto TAGLIAFERRI (1889 - 1937)
9. Piscatore ‘e Pusilleco [3:19]
Ernesto de CURTIS
10. Tu, ca nun chiagne! [3:10]
Eduardo Di CAPUA (1865 - 1917)
11. I’te vurria vasà [4:05]
Ernesto de CURTIS
12. Torna a Surriento [3:46]
Rodolfo FALVO (1874 - 1936)
13. Dicitencello vuje [3:36]
14. Guapparia [2:18]
Gaetano LAMA (1886 - 1050)
15. Silenzio cantatore [3:21]
Ernesto de CURTIS
16. Voce ‘e notte! [3:07]
17. ‘O marenariello [3:51]
Vincenzo VALENTE (1855 - 1921) and Ernesto TAGLIAFERRI
18. Passione [4:06]
Eduardo Di CAPUA
19. O sole mio [3:20]
Enrico CANNIO (1874 - 1949)
20. ‘O surdato ‘nnammerato [2:00]
Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846 - 1916)
21. ‘A vucchella [3:00]
Nicola VALENTE (1881 - 1946)
22. Torna! [3:08]
23. Addio, mia bella Napoli [3:24]
Orchestra/Franco Ferraris
rec. 7, 9, 11 July 1961, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (3-12) and 14, 16, 26 October and 21 December 1961 in Milan (13-23)
Franco Corelli (tenor)
EMI CLASSICS ICON 50999 2 64887 2 1 [4 CDs: 75:42 + 76:08 + 78:12 + 78:32] 

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