“The first act of Butterfly should be sung very sweetly but not with the voce infantile [a childlike or white voice suggestive of innocence and virginity]. Butterfly has renounced her family and changed her religion—the actions of a mature woman.”
Adami Corradetti was born in 1903. Her father, Ferruccio Corradetti, was among the most important baritones from the late 19th century into the 1930s as well as an actor and critic. Her mother, Bice Adami, created the leading soprano part in Mascagni’s Le maschere. Both parents made many recordings. Adami Corradetti began as a concert pianist. Toscanini attended a party at which she not only played but sang. He engaged her for La Scala, where she made her debut in 1927, as the Page in Wolf Ferrari’s Sly. For several years she mostly sang comprimaria parts. She appeared under Toscanini’s baton and those of every other famous Italian conductor of the period as well as of Blech, Mascagni, Zandonai and Strauss. Adami Corradetti performed nearly 100 parts in operas by composers from Carissimi to Menotti, creating roles in 35 operas, including many by more than 20 now-obscure composers favored by the fascist regime. Famous for Zandonai’s Francesca, at La Scala from 1938 she “owned” Butterfly. In 1946 she married and, to please her husband, retired—a decision she came to regret.
Adami Corradetti grew up disliking opera and claimed to have absorbed little about it from her parents or anybody else. Her singing technique was largely self-taught.
A critic remarked that she wedded verismo expressivity to such traditional graces as legato. Another critic maintained that, as an interpreter, she “balanced head and heart.”
In her recordings of “Flammen, perdonami” (Lodoletta) and “Paolo, datemi pace” (Francesca da Rimini), from 1940, she brightens her tone to imbue it with more tenderness, fragility and pathos. In Italy at this time characterful tones were prized and it didn’t matter if they were so bright and penentrating as to be acerbic. Bianca Scacciati and Adelaide Saraceni sang with vowels that were still brighter and more open and penetrating than Adami Corradetti’s. (In Germany, England and the U.S. singing was expected to be mellow.) But by the time of Adami Corradetti’s song recordings from 1954 and ’57, she too was cultivating a mellow sound—darkened and rounded—as is now expected worldwide.
All the divas in the film teach or have taught singing. Adami Corradetti’s protégées included Ricciarelli and Margherita Rinaldi. Carteri, Valentini Terrani and Mara Zampieri also studied with her. Adami Corradetti told me she was opposed to the use of chest voice. However, her pupil Diana Fanizza said Adami Corradetti didn’t stop her from singing with it.
Adami Corradetti had musical intuitions so powerful that, without being able to verbalize her reasons, she phrased as if by intellectual analysis of the music’s structure. After I interviewed her I sat in on a lesson. A soprano sang “Oh! quante volte” from Capuleti, making the notes of cadenzas equal in value—and the result was dull. From time to time Adami Corradetti stopped her and demonstrated the way she felt a phrase should be sung. In singing a cadenza she would begin slowly, accelerate in the middle and then slow down at the end.
Adami Corradetti also sang an ascending half-step dissonance slightly sharp, which made it more telling. In general she emphasized dissonances—moments of harmonic tension—and deemphasized their resolutions. But when I asked her why, she was unaware of what she had done and had no explanations as to the reasons she had lengthened certain notes and shortened others.
Having appeared as Liù to Cigna’s Turandot, in 1930, Adami Corradetti declared:
Cigna’s kind of Turandot is far removed from the way I conceive the role. I’m not so enthusiastic about virago interpretations such as Cigna’s and Nilsson’s because, from my point of view, the princess is a fragile girl, psychologically weak, who in the end falls in love like all women do. Nevertheless I recognize that Cigna gave some stupendous performances of this opera, with her beautiful, cutting, vibrant voice.
Iris Adami Corradetti died June 26, 1998. This interview is the only footage of her. (Another portion of it was used in The Tenors of the 78 Era, Volume 1) Her last words to me were, “I’d still love to be able to sing, to give, because my soul is still alive.”—Stefan Zucker
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