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Press About Conversations with Corelli

Encore (the magazine of BMG classical music service) reported:

Franco Corelli, known as “golden thighs” to opera audiences, was one of the world’s leading tenors from his La Scala debut in 1954 until his unofficial retirement from the stage in 1976. His matinee-idol looks coupled with his thrilling high notes earned him cult status during his singing career. A recent survey by the magazine Opera Fanatic [the radio program, really] named Corelli Favorite Tenor of the Century, out-polling even Björling (second), Caruso (third), and Domingo (nineteenth, tied with Jacques Urlus).

Jeannie Williams wrote in USA Today:

Look out Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti: Italian tenor Franco “Golden Thighs” Corelli, the Mel Gibson of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, may be back. Corelli, who left opera in 1976, made a rare weekend appearance on a New York radio show, “Opera Fanatic.” He said he quit too soon, he wants to sing Verdi’s Otello and do recitals. His reappearance would sell out Carnegie Hall in hours….” (“Starwatch”)

Michael Redmond treated the same story in the Newark Star-Ledger:

Last week’s big buzz had to do with a live radio interview given by Franco Corelli to the irrepressible Stefan Zucker, host of “Opera Fanatic.” During the interview, Corelli indicated a clear interest in returning to the stage to perform and record the title role of Verdi’s Otello, the brightest jewel in the Italian tenorial crown.

Corelli never sang this role during the years that he was the most brilliant and exciting tenor alive…. Well, this was news,…It is also a matter of public record (i.e., listeners heard Corelli say it), as well as a matter of on-tape record. By early this week, Corelli was waffling about the whole thing, saying that he had been mistranslated. The interview had been conducted both in Italian, which Zucker then translated, and in English. A difficulty with Corelli’s explanation is that he had said it in English. Hmmm. So why all the fuss? Simply because a return by Franco Corelli to sing Otello, or “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for that matter, would surely become a candidate for “hottest operatic ticket of the 90s”…. I had had the privilege of overhearing Corelli sing while he was teaching in Newark. The tenor sounded fantastico, high notes and all….(“Corelli Comeback: Yes or No?”)

Audrey Farolino wrote in Page Six of the New York Post:

Will he or won’t he? That’s what opera fans are wondering about Franco Corelli, considered the world’s best and sexiest tenor during his heyday from the 1950s through the 70s. Corelli worked music lovers into a fever pitch earlier this month when he suggested on WKCR’s “Opera Fanatic” program that he would still like to perform in Verdi’s Otello, something he never did during his career. Since then, “the phone here has been going wild,” says Stefan Zucker, the show’s host….(“Corelli: Coming Back?”)

On one of the programs Corelli described his diet, which Jeannie Williams then reported in USA Today:

Sixties superstar tenor Franco Corelli says he’s eating nothing but bananas and yogurt daily, plus water and coffee—and it works.

Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News also made mention of the Corelli shows and the prospect of a comeback.
Listeners having voted Corelli Favorite Tenor of the Century, Stefan Zucker booked a date at a concert hall for him to be interviewed by the audience and me and be presented with an award. Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News, Bill Zakariasen in the New York Daily News, Iris Bass in Sightlines, Jeannie Williams in USA Today and Tim Page in Newsday all noted the event in advance, while Albert Cohen in the Asbury Park Press described the audience’s reaction:

Zucker arranged for a fascinating evening when he brought Corelli to the stage of Merkin Hall in New York City for an evening of talk. Part of the fun was the capacity audience. Talk about fanatics! Whenever someone recognizable entered, the applause would erupt. Jerome Hines, the Scotch Plains basso, was greeted warmly.
Pandemonium took over when Corelli appeared. Everyone was standing, whistling and shouting “Bravo.” The fans really went crazy when he was given his “Tenor of the Century” plaque during this unusual evening. (“Fans Go Wild over ‘Tenor of Century'”)

The Honorable David N. Dinkins, Mayor of the City of New York, proclaimed January 7, 1992 “Franco Corelli Day.” On that occasion Stefan Zucker interviewed Corelli in Gould Hall, taking a microphone into the auditorium à la Phil Donahue so that the public could speak with him as well. After intermission mayoral representative Dr. George Seuffert presented Corelli with the proclamation, which among many things cited his “thoughtful expertise and delightful sense of humor” in interviews.
Joseph Li Vecchi wrote about the event in Gramophone:

When Corelli walked out on stage at Florence Gould Hall the audience reacted as if Caesar had just returned from the conquests in Gaul….Corelli was interviewed by Stefan Zucker and he answered questions from the audience. We were also treated to a number of his recordings….Corelli fans are devoted to the great tenor and one lady even drove in from Cleveland for a chance to meet him. [Another came from Raleigh, another from Miami.] After the interview there was a reception….

Li Vecchi then described Corelli’s vocalism, citing high notes and diminuendos, and maintained:

There is no voice before the public today with Corelli’s combination of power, range and color….

Ann E. Feldman, wrote in Sightlines

I know for a fact that Edward Rothstein, chief music critic for The New York Times, was not at the Corelli Master Class sponsored by the Bel Canto Society on Monday night, May 2. (He was instead at some Marilyn Horne or Hermann Prey thing, I can’t quite remember which.) Given that I think someone should cover this event, I happily fall into the breach. The reason I know Mr. Rothstein was not present is that I met him for the first time while paying a condolence call on the Tuesday evening following, at the home of a couple to whom I had once expressed the opinion that I did not agree with Mr. Rothstein’s criticisms and that he did not appear to have a true grasp of the Italian repertory. These two people are old fiends of ours and have two lively, precocious, and somewhat mischievous daughters, the elder of whom chose to greet Mr. Rothstein at the door with “You can’t talk to Andy Feldman, she doesn’t like you.” (There goes my career!) Actually, I may not always agree with him, but, upon meeting him, I did like him.

Anyone who has never attended one of Stefan Zucker’s (the moving force behind the Bel Canto Society) “Corelli” events has no idea of the fun they are missing. Abbott and Costello could learn from these two, and the audience itself is worth the price of admission, given that it is composed almost entirely of lovingly hysterical Corelli groupies.

 For those of you who have never attended a master class, the format is basically this: a young singer enters, is introduced, and sings an aria, after which the Maestro comments on various aspects of the voice and technique. The singer then repeats various parts of the aria as prompted by the Teacher, who meanwhile demonstrates how he or she feels it should be done. It is actually a very interesting and instructive process, both for the audience and the student, and frequently you notice the improvement right then and there as the young singer attempts to follow the veteran’s promptings. As far as Mr. Corelli is concerned, we had witnessed him in this role once previously, at an evening sponsored by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation a year or so ago, and in our opinion he has a great deal to offer.

The latest event took place at Florence Gould Hall. Up front as usual sat Loretta Corelli, Franco’s still very attractive spouse, and the legendary soprano Licia Albanese. The stage of the hall was set up with a small dais upon which three chairs were lined up, at stage right, floral arrangements to its right and rear. In the center was the piano, and at stage left was a lectern with a microphone, which as it turned out no one ever used. After somewhat of a delay, Mr. Zucker was wheeled out in a wheelchair, pushed by Mr. Corelli and the accompanist with Stefan himself giving assistance by sort of rowing with a pair of crutches. For those of you who are not regular listeners to the “Opera Fanatic” show on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM on Saturday nights at 10:30 PM, Stefan has been in a wheelchair since falling ten feet through an open trapdoor in a health food store a couple of months ago, and it is only recently that he has been able to get around even in the chair. Mr. Corelli was greeted with the usual standing ovation and cheers from the sold-out house, followed by the usual sound system glitches (mike feedback, not being able to hear anybody onstage) that we “regulars” have come to expect on such evenings.

Things finally got more or less straightened out, and our first singer of the evening, a young Mexican tenor, made his appearance to sing Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana. (In fairness to the participants, I have chosen not to mention names, with one exception, so I can be freer in my remarks.) Our primo tenore bore a strong resemblance to José Carreras, and the voice, also, was similar in timbre, if a trifle bleaty. The legato was decent, the phrasing somewhat idiosyncratic, and the upper register more like a falsetto than a head tone, but still there was something there worth hearing. Mr. Corelli began his comments by saying that the young man had “a really beautiful voice.” I am afraid that I missed a good part of what he said after that because all of a sudden I was distracted by Stefan, in obvious discomfort, attempting to uncurl himself out of his wheelchair with the aid of crutches (the New Testament text of Jesus curing the paralytic and Lon Chaney, Sr. in “The Miracle” both flashed before my eyes). Well, Mr. Z was not “taking up his pallet” and walking, but simply getting himself into a upright position in order to be able to hold a wireless microphone for Mr. Corelli so that we might hear him better. Why someone else could not have been recruited for this task is beyond me. The odd thing is that anytime Franco would begin to sing a few bars in order to demonstrate how a phrase should be sung, the microphone was quickly withdrawn. One senses some prior arrangement had been reached concerning this. As usual, however, I digress. Back to the subject at hand. The Maestro pointed out the need for more legato, rounder tones in certain areas, and requested that other parts be taken more softly. He suggested that the interpolated B-flat not be taken, saying that only Gigli did it in Italy, and that he, Franco, preferred the ending the way Cilea had written it! (He’s right. Everybody tries the B-flat now, often with crude results, just to show off a high note frequently not worth showing off.) In the end, after the gentleman had left the stage, Corelli also commented on how the color of the voice reminded him of Carreras.

Our next tenor (four out of five of the evening’s participants were tenors) was a very handsome fellow who chose as his aria “Che gelida manina.” For some reason Stefan and Maestro Corelli were both hanging on to the microphone in a chummy fashion at this point so I may not have heard correctly, but I could swear that Stefan, in introducing Tenor Two, said that he had recently sung SEVENTY performances of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in Sweden. If so it is a wonder that his vocal cords weren’t in vapor lock. In any event, although he was very cute (in spite of his oddly oversized shirt collar and his scuffed cowboy boots), he sang stiffly, with indifferent pronunciation, no inflection (all those Hoffmanns?), and off pitch. He did nail his high C and pulled off a nice piano on “vi piaccia dir.” Mr. Corelli was kind, saying that “it was not so easy to do this right away,” telling Tenor Two to begin more sweetly, with more legato and with care for what he was saying. He demonstrated by crooning the phrase “e i bei sogni miei” and I melted into a puddle…such memories! Tenor Two tried again, and was somewhat better, though one was still jarred by such things as “yew SA tee” (“usati”), “pa ROLL lay,” and “sin YORE ay.” Still, there is a voice there, and one must make allowances for the circumstances which could have given anyone a case of nerves and have affected performance.

Stefan took the opportunity during the space between Tenor Two and the next performer to comment on the “dreamy” quality of Mr. Corelli’s own “Che gelida manina,” to which he replied that Puccini’s music “goes inside” for him. He added that he would have done more Bohèmes at the Met, but that they needed him for heavier roles.

 Our next singer was a pleasant surprise (there was no printed program so we had no idea who or what was coming next): neither tenor nor novice, but a baritone and consummate professional, Theodore Lam-brinos. Mr. Lambrinos was one of the principal singers in the US premiere of Verdi’sJérusalem at Carnegie Hall this past season. He is covering the Met’s Boccanegras next season. On the present occasion, he sang the Prologue from Pagliacci, while the Maestro beamed his approval. After, Mr. Corelli praised the voice: its size, color, legato, and easy high notes. He did suggest again more “roundness” and a discussion centering on the passaggio of baritone voices ensued. Mr. Lambrinos repeated a large part of the Prologue with the approval of the enthusiastic audience, after which Mr. Corelli, commenting on the difficulty of the aria, said, “he does it easy and he laughs…he’s happy!” (recalling to mind this tenor’s own legendary stage nerves). The two artists then shook hands warmly.

Meanwhile, the pianist had trotted off to tell Tenor Three that he was next (we had a feeling that someone had not shown up). After a few more minutes of interesting repartee between Stefan and Franco, he arrived. Originally from China, he related a story of how, when he was growing up back in the days of Chairman Mao, his oldest brother had borrowed a tape of opera featuring, as chance would have it, Franco Corelli. (At that time, even opera was disapproved of as a symbol of decadent Western civilization.) When our young singer had heard it, his reaction was, “A god is singing here!” Tenor Three’s selection for this evening was “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller. This is a voice we are going to hear from: a big easy sound produced with the aid of a long breath line and a nice ring. His face is wide across the mask, perfect for resonance. Apparently he has already begun to be noticed, having won a major competition recently. Roles performed include Calaf and Don José. He studies with a 90-year-old Italian singer born in Rome.

Maestro Corelli praised the beauty of the voice, the legato, the “heart.” He commented on the squillo and the brilliance. He suggested a different ending to the cadenza (again preferring the one written), and wanted the “quando le sere” more mezza voce. There was one incident that will give you a better idea of the nature of the crowd in attendance. Tenor Three was having trouble with the sequence of notes in the phrase “amo te sol dicea” and Maestro Corelli kept trying to correct him without success. Finally, the entire audience hummed in unison!

Intermission followed, and then a second Chinese tenor, very tall, with dimples, also with an excellent, somewhat lighter voice and very good technique. He sang “Addio fiorito asil” from the third act of Butterfly. Mr. Corelli suggested broadening the tempo, which made it sound even better when the young man repeated the aria.

Mr. Lambrinos appeared again, giving us “Il balen” from Il trovatore, and this in turn was followed by a brief question-and-answer session which touched on such subjects as Mr. Corelli’s sense that vocal technique began to decline after 1963, and on his personal favorites among operatic greats (Gino Bechi for his charisma and command in spite of a faulty technique which caused his voice to begin failing at a fairly early age; Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Masini). When Mr. Corelli was asked his advice for young singers, a member of the audience answered first, saying “Study plumbing.” The evening ended with an autograph session, for which we did not remain. On the sidewalk outside Florence Gould Hall, a tenor who had been sitting behind us in the audience was serenading Licia Albanese with a section of the duet from Butterfly, and for a brief moment she joined in. When out-of-towners ask us how we can stand living in New York, these are the things we remember. (“Maestro Corelli Does a Master Class”)


Speranza declared,

“Stefan Zucker is a bel canto singer and radio host of ‘Opera Fanatic.’ His program airs each Saturday at 10:30 PM on WKCR (FM) in NY. He too is a great lover of la cultura italiana. Notable are his wonderful interviews with the great tenor Franco Corelli.”

On one of the programs Corelli described his diet, which Jeannie Williams then reported in USA Today: “Sixties superstar tenor Franco Corelli says he’s eating nothing but bananas and yogurt daily, plus water and coffee and it works.”

Jeannie Williams also published about the Corelli shows in New York magazine: 

The Phantom of the Opera Returns

“An event of ‘Garbo talks!’ proportions is unfolding in a cluttered little radio studio at Columbia University.

“As Warren Beatty once baffled Barbara Walters, and Marlon Brando fired hardballs at Connie Chung, so another media odd-coupling has set New York opera fanatics to frothing and sobbing. Stefan Zucker, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘the world’s highest tenor,’ has bagged for his WKCR show the reclusive Franco Corelli, Italian dramatic-tenor god of the Metropolitan Opera’s golden 60s.

“Corelli quit the stage in 1976, leaving vivid memories of glorious high Cs, movie-star good looks, and stratospheric duels with sopranos. Those are the days mourned by the cognoscenti.

“After retiring, the still-elegant Corelli hunkered down, teaching young singers and dividing his time among his Carnegie Hall vicinity apartment, Milan, and Rome.

“Enter the knowledgeably eccentric Zucker, whose audience thrives on debating the merits of booing and the diversities of divas. For years, he begged Corelli to appear; now the tenor, in his mid-sixties, has done four guest spots. He and pal Jerome Hines, the famed bass, stuck it out for five hours of call-ins during the first appearance, in February. And the tenor has been revealed as ‘an intelligent, analytical, shrewd man,’ says Zucker, ‘giving the lie to the idea he was a stud with a fabulous larynx but no brains.’ Corelli’s English is better than he thinks, though he sometimes reverts to Italian, with Zucker translating. His feisty little red-haired wife, Loretta, sits silently in the studio, restraining Zucker from asking personal questions (one female caller wanted to know what it was like to lie in Corelli’s arms).

“Corelli has dropped bombshells on the show. He said that he quit too soon, and admitted he would like to record again perhaps Verdi’s Otello and to do concerts. Offers flooded in from promoters; fans sneaked past the Columbia security to see the great Corelli again.”