Franco Corelli - A Perfect (Italian) Tenor
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Arias from Aida, Ernani, I Lombardi, La forza del destino, Il trovatore
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
Arias from Andrea Chenier, Fedora
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Arias from Cavalleria rusticana, Lodoletta
Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950)
Aria from Adriana Lecouvreur
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
Arias from La fanciulla del West, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Turandot
Franco Corelli (tenor)
Loretta di Lelio (soprano) (6), Orchestra of RAI, Torino/Arturo Basile
rec. 1954-1957
REGIS RRC 1315 [73:53]

Born in Ancona in 1921, Franco Corelli initially intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a shipbuilder. While studying at the University of Bologna he took part in a singing contest and was encouraged by the judges to study singing. Thus he entered the Conservatory of Music in Pesaro. He was however dissatisfied with his voice teachers and decided to be his own teacher, listening to recordings of great singers of the past and imitating them. In 1951, when he was already 30, he won a singing competition in Florence and the same year he made his stage debut at Spoleto as Don José in Carmen. During the next few years he rose to fame in Italy, appearing in many smaller houses but from 1953 to 1958 he was a leading tenor at the Rome Opera, where he also sang opposite Maria Callas for the first time in Norma. Guest appearances followed, in Italy as well as internationally: La Scala for the first time in 1954, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Arena di Verona in 1955, Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden in 1957. It was during these years that he made the recordings on the present disc for Cetra. For that company he also recorded his first complete opera, Aida, in 1956. In the late 1950s he was signed by EMI and during the next decade he recorded a number of complete operas and recitals. Highlights from those years are available in a 4-CD box at super budget price (see review). Together with this Regis disc we get a fairly full picture of Corelli from the fifteen years when he was at the height of his powers. During this period his voice was remarkably intact and I don’t believe that it is possible with certainty to decide in a blindfold test which recordings are from the beginning and which from the end of the period. In those cases where he recorded arias several times the interpretations are usually very similar.

He made three studio recordings of Celeste Aida. The earliest one is the opening number on the present disc, recorded in 1955. The voice is in glorious shape; he holds the climactic high notes seemingly forever and scoops up to them. Other tenors have been more tasteful but few as brilliant – and he has nuance as well. On the complete recording a year later his delivery is beefier, more forceful but basically very similar. In both cases he disobeys Verdi’s morendo marking on the final B flat. A dozen years later when he recorded the opera complete again, with Birgit Nilsson as his Aida, he had matured stylistically and makes a superb diminuendo. Corelli was an exhibitionist, whether showing off his volume or his diminuendo, but in that particular case his artistic sense had deepened – and the voice is just as glorious.

The Verdi arias were new to me and they are valuable even though one misses the stylishness of Bergonzi. He is on his best behaviour in the Forza aria, one of Verdi’s greatest tenor arias. Manrico in Il trovatore was one of his greatest roles on stage – he recorded it for EMI under Schippers in the early 1960s. Here Ah, si ben mio is full of light and shade but it is marred by sobs and other ‘dramatic’ effects. Di quella pira has generously held high notes. There is also a very good comprimario tenor as Ruiz and a serviceable Leonora, his wife-to-be Loretta di Lelio.

Corelli’s larger-than-life approach is better suited to the verismo repertoire and the two arias from Andrea Chenier are among the best, impressively stylish and with that typical thrill and wholehearted involvement. The Fedora arias are also well executed but even more engaging is the excerpt from Cavalleria rusticana. The intensity and identification is certainly tangible and a few sobs near the end are only part of the style. The remaining items by Mascagni, Cilea and Puccini are just as engaging. The Tosca and Turandot arias are good to have in these early versions for comparison with his complete recordings a decade later, both incidentally opposite Birgit Nilsson. The very last number, Nessun dorma, is afflicted by some distortion. Otherwise the sound is fully acceptable. Cetra were not famous for hi-fi sound in those days.

Some years ago all these verismo arias were issued on the Urania label, plus two arias from Pagliacci and as a bonus three substantial excerpts from the complete Aida. Those who invested in that issue may probably want the present disc for the Verdi numbers but the best proposition is to keep the Urania disc and buy the EMI box.

In spite of some misgivings for stylistic reasons, Corelli is still one of the most glorious tenors who ever set foot in a recording studio. He will without doubt be remembered for many years to come. These early offerings are as valuable for the knowledge of his art as were Caruso’s 1902 records for the appreciation of his art. Both singers grew considerably in maturity.

Göran Forsling

Full track listing:

Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
1. Se quel guerrier io fossi … Celeste Aida [4:55]
2. Merce diletti amici … Come rugiada al cespite [3:54]
I Lombardi
3. La mia letizia infondere [2:34]
La forza del destino
4. La vita inferno … O tu che seno in angeli [6:53]
Il trovatore
5. Deserto sulla terra [1:49]
6. Ah, si ben mio … Di quella pira [8:36]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
Andrea Chenier
7. Improvviso: Un di all’azzuro spazio [5:48]
8. Come un bel di di maggio [3:22]
9. Amor ti vieta [3:23]
10. Mia madre, la mia vecchia madre … Vedi io piango [7:06]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana
11. Mamma quell vino e generoso [4:00]
12. Se Franz dicesse il vero [5:03]
Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur
13. La dolcissima effige [2:16]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
La fanciulla del West
14. Una parola sola! … Or son sei mesi [3:49]
Madama Butterfly
15. Addio fiorito asil [1:51]
16. E lucevan le stele [2:56]
17. Non piangere Liů [2:37]
18. Nessun dorma [3:00]