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Corelli vs. Del Monaco: Tenor Fanatics Speak Their Minds

“What a wonderful Christmas gift for my husband, John, and me to receive Del Monaco at His Most Thrilling! and Del Monaco on TV. The package came yesterday and we repeatedly watched and listened to the tapes for hours. They are absolutely priceless.

“Boy, were our endorphins flowing!! It’s amazing to experience this because it truly does allow the development of a point of reference for opera singers. I commented to my husband that the title really should be ‘Del Monaco at His Most Orgasmic.’ These programs turned me into a convert. I have always had my own listing for the top singers of all time, and Del Monaco had been tied for third place (Corelli had always been my favorite). I understand that variation and subtlety have their place, but unabashed, exquisitely distilled intensity must be recognized. When one also considers the perfection of Del Monaco’s physical features and emotional capacity, one must conclude that he is numero uno.

“I am usually not a fatuous or fickle person; my changing an opinion is highly unusual. When I first met my husband 30 years ago, we often went to the opera in Philadelphia. We saw Corelli in a number of performances, and my husband saw Del Monaco twice (I only saw him once—but it was in Otello). At that time, I disagreed with him about Del Monaco: the performance I attended was after his automobile accident, and I realize that he was not at his most vigorous, and I also realize now that I was overly harsh in my judgement.

“We are grateful, Stefan Zucker, that you are you. Without someone like you to somehow gather this priceless material, it simply would no longer exist. We are aware of video recordings from the Met and other sources, but the material you manage to get is out of this realm—it is so much more ‘real.’ What you manage to make available lends joy to the lives of people like my husband and me.”—Mary Triboletti, New York, NY

Are John and Mary Triboletti guilty of heresy? We invite you to compare these Del Monaco tapes to, say, Video #122, Corelli’s Favorite Corelli, or Video #91, Corelli in Concert with Orchestra and draw your own conclusion.

“I read Mary Triboletti’s letter, and since I think I can claim I am Franco Corelli’s foremost fan—being the author of the one and only existing book about him—I feel I have the duty of accepting the challenge.

“Mrs. Triboletti gives herself an answer when she writes: ‘I understand that variation and subtlety have their place.’ That is my point exactly. Corelli was the one and only tenor (at least in his generation) able to combine a big, thrillingly heroic and dramatic voice with variation and subtlety—he alone possessed the combination of voice, technique and sensitivity. I do not want to denigrate Del Monaco since he doubtless was a great tenor, but he did not possess by half Corelli’s richness of vocal and dramatic nuance: Corelli is the tenore di forza who always sings and never shouts. Where Corelli is in turn melancholic, loving, sorrowful, impassioned, heroic, sensual, desperate, Del Monaco is mostly angry. He always sings Canio, even when he is singing Manrico or Ernani.

“Obviously everyone is entitled to his or her own orgasms, and I am told most women secretly dream of being raped, once in a lifetime. But my personal advice remains that if you prefer to be caressed—even if in a very passionate way!—you’d better stick to Corelli.”—Marina Boagno, Parma, Italy

“My heart goes out to Mrs. Boagno, since I understand how she rightly idolizes Corelli. I also feel like a fool to appear to presume to criticize Corelli. Seeing one of your interviews with him a few years ago was so thrilling. My husband, John, asked him the question he had harbored for many years: ‘Why didn’t you do Otello?’ Corelli simply responded, ‘I made a mistake.’ What a night that was for us both!

“I first saw Corelli in the early 60s in Philadelphia as Roméo. Just to experience his stage presence (magnificent stature, grand gestures and powder-blue tights), not to mention that voice, was a highlight in my life. I do, however, remember that Corelli was often criticized by newspaper critics for a lack of what Mrs. Boagno calls ‘vocal and romantic nuance.’ I do not take most critics’ word as gospel, and they do like to contrive a flaw—even in the most perfect singers. To be fair, he did have a penchant for sustaining those dramatic notes—but that is one of the reasons I’ve always adored him. I actually cried when Corelli was ‘indisposed’ for a performance of Tosca, but when I realized that Milanov, not at her most youthful or lithe, was Tosca, I almost forgave him. Even his acting and dramatic flair would have been strained.

“If it’s vocal and dramatic nuance that is truly desired, then Di Stefano or Bergonzi would have to be considered, among the tenors of that era. I think we were so fortunate to have had such a rich cluster of magnificent voices and performers then. I wish we could be having a similar debate regarding today’s singers. I find myself pining for the wooden perfection of Richard Tucker.”—Mary Triboletti, NYC, NY

“Watching these great singers is for us—beginning singers—a valuable lesson in operatic technique.

Del Monaco at His Most Thrilling!—marvelous, exciting, fabulous, gigantic. What a technique, what a voice, what an interpretation, what a feeling! We don’t know why so many people criticize him. (Maybe he is too good.) In a letter in a recent Bel Canto Society catalog, Marina Boagno writes about MDM: ‘He is always Canio.’ Not true: When he sings ‘Lontano, lontano,’ with Tebaldi in Mefistofele or the duet in Gioconda with Simionato, he is most genteel and charming. We don’t find anything bad in Corelli’s singing—he is a great tenor—but we will not stand for it if someone says Del Monaco is shouting, not singing. No one sings Otello, Canio or Pollione better. He is the last great actor in opera history. He is not angry all the time. If Boagno says otherwise, then she never has watched him in ‘Niun mi tema.’ The interpretation is so strong that I cried. If someone likes impressive, big-voiced tenors and dramatic actors, then his favorite tenor will be Del Monaco. If someone likes dramatic nuance, beauty of singing and gentleness in a dramatic voice, then his No. 1 will be Corelli. We would like to thank Joe Pearce for understanding MDM and writing a kindly article calling him the ‘King Kong of tenors!”—Bartosz and Piotr Zamojscy, Gdansk, Poland

“In my early years as an opera fanatic I felt that Del Monaco was the greatest tenor because of the size of his voice, which sounded bigger than everyone else’s on records. During the past ten years, however, I have come to feel that Corelli is the top all-around heroic tenor.

”In Del Monaco at His Most Thrilling! and Del Monaco on TV he is indeed very exciting. In the live Otello and Walküre arias he is unequaled. In the Norma and Macbeth, however, everything sounds the same. He pushes through the phrases instead of caressing them and has a distinct nasal quality. Marina Boagno is correct when she says he always sounds angry, and that makes him sound less effective in music that needs romance and a warm sound. For example, in the Bohème aria he does not project a young poet with either his voice or expression. Contrast that with Corelli in Video #87 [Corelli in Scenes from Don Carlo, Bohème and Aïda]where he has the expressions of a young man in love, full of mischief and heart.

“I agree with Stefan that Del Monaco’s B-flats are better than anyone else’s, but above that he is less impressive. In the Turandot aria his middle voice is so big that the B-natural is a trifle unsteady and less than brilliant. Compare that with Corelli’s ‘Nessun dorma’ B in Corelli on TV, where it sounds like a golden trumpet. Also, for warmth of sound contrast the last scene from Aïda (1971) with Corelli on Video #87 with that of Del Monaco in the Tokyo Aïda (1961) [no longer available]. Here I find Corelli more believable, with a beauty of sound and a sincerity reminiscent of Gigli in the film Du bist mein Glück.

“When have we heard a voice as big and sensuous as Corelli’s with Pavarotti-like high notes? I guess Del Monaco is Number One provided the repertory is limited to dramatic roles with middle-voice tessituras. Corelli, however, has no rival in the larger repertory of spinto, romantic and lyric roles. His voice is powerful yet can be sweet. He also has that Gigli melancholy that adds humanity to his singing.”—Joe Li Vecchi, Langhorne, PA

“My husband just warned me that in connection with Corelli I should avoid the pornographic!

“I have my husband (who is 60) to thank for my appreciation of opera. For years he talked about and played among many others Del Monaco and Corelli—but I was a musical snob. They were too emotional and intense. They also shouted a lot. Nothing could surpass Wagner. Then, one day, these gentlemen appeared on my TV screen. I have not been the same woman since.

“Now I must add Corelli’s name to Richard Burton’s (as Hamlet) and Peter O’Toole’s (as Macbeth). They are on my list of bitter regrets—regrets that my age has denied me the opportunity of seeing these great men in person. Other women of my generation don’t know what they are missing. For me Domingo and Pavarotti just won’t do.

“As to Corelli, his voice and his beauty—at age 36 I’m at a loss for words.”—Louise A. Jeffery, Kent, England

“Until my wife had actually seen Del Monaco and Corelli ‘in the flesh,’ as it were, she regarded them merely as bawlers! All of her spare time is now spent watching and listening to the two bawlers!”—Tony Jeffery, Kent, England

“I own all of your tapes of Del Monaco and Corelli. I have been most impressed by the picture and sound quality. You have done a marvelous job in providing these documents of two of the greatest and most exciting tenors of the 20th century. Bravo!”—George Ryan, Bronx, NY