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Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 2 by Stefan Zucker, 6″ X 9″ X 352 pp., with 139 lithographs and photographs, beautifully reproduced.

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Stefan Zucker on six revolutions that have reshaped singing.

In this volume, in discussions with Stefan, Franco Corelli looks back on his life and career. Here are a few examples:

FC on the “Rome Walkout”: Callas was a little sick, and that didn’t permit her to sing at her best. Some in the audience heckled her. When she came offstage after Act I she was completely calm, but then she began to stew and announced she was canceling. The management went to her, to push her to continue the performance. She became a lioness and began to scream. She threw some vases and a chair. Little by little she lost her voice. When she left the theater, however, she looked elegant, as if nothing had happened.

Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965
Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965

SZ: Are you suggested that she could have continued the performance had she not started to scream?

FC: Absolutely. She was in possession of a fabulous voice and an excellent technique. As late as 1958 she always was able to sing. She could have continued.

FC: There’s always rivalry onstage. To go up against Nilsson I had to learn how to put forth 110 percent of the voice that I had. At La Scala in 1964 they screamed “hams” at us because we held high notes so long, trying to outdo each other in Turandot. Nilsson was born dominant—her voice was, too.

FC: In the Faust recording Ghiaurov screamed and was good only in the laugh. Sutherland hooted. I was the only one who truly sang, with a free voice and an expressive top. I threw away some recitatives, though, because I didn’t know them well enough.

SZ: Are you able to judge to what extent your pleasing appearance affected your career?

FC: Besides voice, musicality and physique du rôle are important. Callas also said that you need a nice physique du rôle. If I hadn’t had my voice my appearance wouldn’t have helped. But if I were a hunchback I would not have had the career that I did.

Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965
Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965

Some chapters focus on Corelli’s personal life and how it intertwined with his singing, including interviews with his wife and two long-term mistresses.

Mrs. Corelli: I was extremely jealous. I didn’t have ten fingernails, I had twenty, to scratch out the eyes of women who were after Franco. I gave up my singing career to keep an eye on him. Still, if a man is determined to cheat there’s nothing you can do about it.

FC: People assume that in old age I am hearing Verdi and Puccini in my mind’s ear. No! The music I am hearing and that keeps me going is the sound of Teresa Zylis-Gara having orgasms. She was my great love, and I think about her all the time. She was the reason I made so many pretexts to send Loretta [Mrs. Corelli] back to Italy.

FC: Barbieri had paid people not only to applaud her but also to boo me. The man I assaulted had been paid by her!

Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965
Callas and Corelli in Tosca, March 19, 1965

Loretta’s past was the real reason Corelli and Boris Christoff dueled with swords on the stage of the Rome Opera. (They wounded one another.)

Corelli’s letters to Lauri-Volpi: some are affecting.

Three unsatisfactory Corelli biographies and an OK one as well as John Potter’s Tenors.

Corelli had a no-holds-barred rivalry with Del Monaco, with each trying to block the other’s career.

Callas, Corelli and Gobbi in Tosca, March 19, 1965
Callas, Corelli and Gobbi in Tosca, March 19, 1965

Roberto Bauer (Rudolf Bing’s Italian factotum): Franco told La Scala as well that he wouldn’t sing anymore in seasons that also include Del Monaco… He says he knows himself very well and realizes he is capable of socking Del Monaco in the jaw if he ran into him unexpectedly.

A collector’s item, the three volumes contain 483 lithographs and photographs, many published for the first time, of tenors from the 1820s to today. For this volume The Metropolitan Opera Archives contributed twenty-one pages of correspondence by Bing and Bauer about the Corelli–Del Monaco rivalry, and John Pennino of the Met Archives provided a list of the Met’s payments to Corelli and comparisons to those to Del Monaco and Callas.

Sample PDFs:

Alan Bilgora, Reviewing in The Record Collector:

“Both Stefan Zucker’s first and now second book and, no doubt, when published, Volume 3, should be made compulsory reading for all music critics and reporters who review operatic performances. If, indeed, the singers’ names are mentioned these days they receive a cursory comment such as ‘acceptable’, ‘adequate’, ‘pleasing’ or maybe ‘confident’. An understanding of the singing voice and the use of a vocabulary as used by Stefan Zucker might enable these critics to give an appraisal of the singer’s vocal timbre, and of how they technically acquitted themselves in difficult arias or concerted pieces. This is an art that has, seemingly, been lost.

“Stefan Zucker has continued to use the fulcrum of his discussions about the revolution in tenor singing, by continuing to examine further the careers of and rivalry between Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco. However, this is not before developing the important aspect of the disappearance of the castrati and the gradual loss of florid singing (happily there is now a renaissance). This he does by discussing the lives of those legendary singers Duprez, Nozzari, Nourrit, David and Rubini. Clearly expanding on several other well known commentaries, he highlights the advent of emitting top notes from the chest, as opposed to using a voce mista, spending time on discussing the important aspect of covering the tone, particularly in the passaggio and on any acuti. He uses, among others, examples by Gigli and Di Stefano to support his points. Zucker also gives a list of singers both male and female, who, in his opinion, covered their tones and some who did not.

“Corelli’s emergence as a tenor of the front rank is frequently attributed to his being self taught, gaining only some technical advice from a tenor friend Carlo Scaravelli, who was studying singing with Arturo Melocchi. Thankfully we now have in printed form more details of those highly individual and unconventional yet probing interviews that Stefan Zucker had with this singer. Stefan Zucker as an interviewer frequently walks where others might fear to tread and sometimes their directness might be likened to a political inquisition rather than an artistic one. In Corelli’s case, however, Zucker appears to have gained not only the tenor’s trust, but also access to his psyche. We can now read the singer’s surprising, very candid and considered revelations, in which he is prepared to discuss his initial concerns about the basic timbre of his voice and about himself as an artist and singer. Corelli has, seemingly, also felt obliged to admit much about the insecurities that plagued his life, studies, love and marriage, and an intimate admission of having had another great love (I leave the reader to find out who this was), together with his constant seeking for what might be considered by the reader as some sort of vocal Nirvana. He confesses that initially unsatisfied with his progress as a young singer, he took lessons from what he states was ‘half the teachers in Italy’, including those who had been noted singers, like Nino Piccaluga, Nazzareno De Angelis, Francesco Merli, Apollo Granforte, Riccardo Stracciari and he even at one time consulted with Titta Ruffo.

“Stefan Zucker in particular questions strongly some inaccuracies published in what he calls ‘three botched’ biographies on Corelli, and one rather shadowy subject that focused on advice sought from Lauri-Volpi. The implications are that these requests were somewhat casual and sporadic and that Lauri-Volpi is certainly quoted as saying he never formally taught Corelli. However, we can now read the numerous heart-felt and warm letters dating from the early 60’s to 1973 between Corelli and the veteran tenor, who is always addressed as Commendatore. They reveal Corelli’s gratitude covering a period of some thirteen years, when they used to speak regularly on the telephone to discuss his career progress, the roles he was currently undertaking and how he was coping or if there were alternative ways to deal with vocally difficult passages in the score. They also many times met at Lauri-Volpi’s and his wife (the former soprano) Maria Ros’s home to iron out certain problems, both technical and artistic. These sessions evidently led to Corelli occasionally altering his placement of tone into the ‘mask’, an effect that puts the tone in a more forward position. This was something that was not only advice given by Volpi, who was, when he thought necessary, critical but therefore helpful about some of Corelli’s singing, and was of course, also something advocated by many singing teachers.

“During the narrative covering the various stages of his career, his true age and that of his wife Loretta are laid bare (both losing a few years to help their public image) and also how their long and stormy relationship had much to do in affecting his choices of roles, and where and with whom he sang. Although Loretta herself is quoted and, as might be expected, showed a natural jealousy and displeasure about any of his amorous affairs, she did over the years also gain a poor reputation for being a difficult person to deal with. Nevertheless, at one point Corelli firmly stresses that she was only reacting in a manner as directly instructed by him, that no doubt at the time was in order to avoid too close a contact with some of his avid fans and likewise the ‘press’. Like many marriages there were ‘ups and downs’ both allowing artistic temperament to bear often on their relationship. After all, Loretta was prepared to give advice on his performances, having herself been a singer and, if not a star, recorded evidence certainly shows a very talented performer. It is apparent from some of the events described in the book that Corelli was at times quite cruel to her, and he certainly would not qualify as being an ideal husband: nevertheless they did stay married.

“There is one chapter where Zucker warns readers that if the subject offends them, they should go to the next one. It deals with various comments from other tenors about sex, and its possible effect on a singer before a performance, and Corelli’s own comments are revealing about his early behaviour and the sexual proclivities he had indulged in before singing. There are too, many glowing comments about some of his leading ladies, including Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, and Magda Olivero and what he learned from them. In return some of his leading ladies like Grace Bumbry (and others not all that well-known) have outlined in brief what they thought about singing with him as an artist and a personality.

“On the conflicting careers of both Corelli and Del Monaco, there can be no doubt that each saw in the other a tenor who was capable of performing successfully in roles in which they overlapped. Zucker points out that both tenors at one time had altered and refined their techniques to incorporate the Melocchi teachings, where the lowering of the larynx imparted a larger and darker, if perhaps a less malleable sound, with Del Monaco admitting to originally having had a rather small and insignificant voice that was developed by the Melocchi method.

“Corelli admits to initially admiring Del Monaco (whose career had blossomed a few years before his own) for his committed singing and performances while Bing, in one letter to Del Monaco expresses regret that two artists of their calibre should be so worried about the other’s successes. For the first time reams of correspondence that flowed between Roberto Bauer (Rudolph Bing’s Italian agent) and the Met management are now published in the book, and show the huge demands made by Corelli, once he had become established. Although Bing, in his biography 5000 Nights at the Opera, admits that Corelli was “what being a great tenor star was all about” he realised his true value as a ‘crowd puller’, but in his correspondence he is very critical and shows his disappointment about some of Corelli’s behaviour as a human being. It becomes evident that it was often difficult to accommodate his demands, from either fees or from an artistic point or view. His firm refusals to accept a contract for any season that might contain performances by Del Monaco certainly show that Corelli’s intransigence on the matter seriously curtailed Del Monaco’s appearances in certain theatres. Del Monaco, too, was also capable of writing things that ‘fanned the flames’ and did not help in smoothing out their rivalry. What is very interesting is a scale of fees paid to Corelli over a period from 1961 to 1975 that rose from $1500 to $4000 (which would probably equate to something like $25,000 per performance today) plus large and growing travelling, rehearsal and tour per week expenses. Del Monaco’s fees are shown running from 1950 to 1959, and even allowing for inflation during the applicable years, they were still small by comparison.

“Zucker deals with several of Corelli’s recorded performances and his illuminating analyses of how Corelli uses his voice when singing various well-known arias and concerted excerpts demonstrate a varying use of technique that shows that Corelli was continuing to seek out what was the best way for him as a singer.

“The book is published in hard-back and printed on high quality paper and like volume 1 is lavishly illustrated with many rare photographs. I look forward to reading the final volume that promises to be even more informative, about balancing Corelli’s and other top tenors’ contributions that raised them to a high place in the pantheon of great voices of the 20th Century.”

Huntley Dent, Reviewing in Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors:

“In Fanfare 38:5 I began my review of Stefan Zucker’s vastly entertaining first volume on Franco Corelli by saying, ‘Turn to this book if you want to hear operatic singing spoken of with heartfelt emotion and lifelong understanding.’ That recommendation holds good for Vols. 2 and 3 as well, and the entertainment value proceeds apace. But a question naturally arises. Is even a great tenor like Corelli worthy of three-volume treatment? I’d say yes, resoundingly, because Zucker’s broader topic is tenordom from its roots in the 18th and 19th centuries. He maintains, as other vocal experts do, that a major turning point was the popularization of a high C sung from the chest, for which credit goes to the French tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez—Zucker considers him ‘the most influential singer ever.’

“As the subtitle of all three volumes indicates, the scope of these books extends to 54 tenors, making Corelli a central focus while surveying a wide landscape. We get a wealth of information about how the mechanics of singing, and the teaching of singers, actually works. This is a hotly contested realm, and Zucker enters with bold opinions about technical matters that the lay reader (so to speak) is likely to find new and intriguing, such as ‘placing in the mask’ and ‘the lowered larynx.’ Without absorbing such fine-grained technicalities, a reader won’t be able to grasp topics such as ‘tenors who covered’ and ‘tenors who didn’t cover.’

“Fanfare‘s readership, being record collectors, will be particularly intrigued by Zucker’s opinions about the recordings and videos of every current tenor of note; these appear in Vol. 3. He has decided views on the strengths and weaknesses of Jonas Kaufmann, Vittorio Grigolo, Juan Diego Flórez, et al. to whom he applies rigorous standards of vocal production as well as his own personal preferences. A taste in voices is a very personal matter for opera lovers, and a devotee of Flórez, is likely to nod in agreement when Kaufmann is criticized, and vice versa. Arguing silently with someone else’s opinions is endemic to music criticism, and Zucker offers ample scope for entering the fray.

“Technical matters aside, opera is a gossipaceous arena, and these books are rich in anecdotes. Have you heard the one about Corelli and Boris Christoff fighting a duel with swords on the stage of the Rome Opera? The cause was that Corelli had taken Loretta Di Lelio, who subsequently became his wife, away from Christoff. The two combatants were both wounded. Do you crave inside knowledge about Corelli repeatedly sending his wife to Italy so that he could keep his mistresses away from her eagle eye, or how far he and Mario Del Monaco went to jealously undermine each other’s career? No one who loves opera is immune from curiosity about its scandals, rivalries, and intrigues. Zucker satisfies this curiosity in abundance.

“Perhaps even more fascinating—and aimed higher—are the interviews with Corelli and other tenors, exposing their private opinions about a host of operatic subjects, including famous historical incidents. Corelli was intelligent and thoughtful, and being, for many, the prince among Italian tenors in his generation, he’s a credible witness to how opera looks from a conqueror’s vantage point.

“For example, regarding the starry recording of Gounod’s Faust that Decca made with him, Joan Sutherland, and Nicolai Ghiaurov: ‘Ghiaurov screamed and was only good in the laugh [of Méphistophélès], Sutherland hooted. I was the only one who truly sang, with a free voice and an expressive top. I threw away some recitatives, though, because I didn’t know them well enough.’ Each reader will have to sort out ego, expertise, professional rivalry, and sharp-eyed criticism, yet all are intriguing elements in the serious-ridiculous-inspiring art of opera.

“I can’t resist quoting a lengthy passage from a Corelli interview in Vol. 2 that centers on ‘the Rome walkout,’ a notorious incident in the career of Maria Callas at which Corelli was present. On January 2, 1958 Callas was starring in a gala performance of Norma at the Rome Opera, with the president of Italy and most of Rome’s social elite in attendance. When she walked out after the first act, a scandal ensued. Corelli was singing Pollione and he recounts the affair at first hand.

“Corelli: Callas was a little sick, and that didn’t permit her to sing at her best. Some in the audience heckled her. When she came offstage after Act I, she was completely calm, but then she began to stew and announced she was canceling. The management went to her, to push her to continue the performance. She became a lioness and began to scream. She threw some vases and a chair. Little by little she lost her voice. When she left the theater, however, she looked elegant, as if nothing had happened.

“Zucker: Are you suggesting that she could have continued the performance had she not started to scream?

“Corelli: Absolutely. She was in possession of a fabulous voice and an excellent technique. As late as 1958 she was always able to sing. She could have continued.

“Zucker is himself a tenor and hosted Opera Fanatic on WKCR-FM in New York for many years. Whether he is breaking down voice teaching into eight categories, interviewing illustrious tenors like Alfredo Kraus and Carlo Bergonzi (in Vol. 3), skewering three botched biographies of Corelli, or recounting, after interviews with over 100 singers how most handle the passaggio (the tricky break between the chest and head voice), Zucker has created three luscious page-turners.

“According to him, today’s tenors are restricted to one or two modes of vocal production—the art of ‘chiaroscuro,’ as Zucker calls it, died with Beniamino Gigli. But one could as easily mourn the era when opera singing was a blood sport and tenors bought into their stage image as romantic ideals.

“Corelli unblushingly declares, ‘People assume that in my old age I am hearing Verdi and Puccini in my mind’s ear. No! The music I am hearing and that keeps me going is the sound of Teresa Zylis-Gara having orgasms.’

“As in Vol. 1, these two later volumes are lavishly illustrated with lithographs and photos, totaling over 483 for the whole series. The paper is heavy and enameled. Having devoted years to this project and laying out tens of thousands of dollars to publish and illustrate the books, in the forewords Zucker asks for donations to Bel Canto Society. Considering the treasure trove contained between the covers of all three volumes, it should be any reader’s pleasure to comply.”

Because of the unprecedented nature of these books, Fanfare published two reviews by two separate authors. The first is above. The second is below.

Ken Meltzer, Reviewing in Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors:

“Stefan Zucker is well known to many of us who, to borrow his phrase, are ‘opera fanatics.’ As President of Bel Canto Society, Zucker has produced numerous recordings, both video and audio, documenting great singers throughout the ages. As host of the radio program ‘Opera Fanatic,’ which aired on Columbia University’s radio station, Zucker interviewed scores of opera personalities, including many of the finest singers, past and present (he was also editor of Opera Fanatic magazine). A singer who traces his lineage to 19th-century artists Giovanni Battista Rubini and Giacomo David, Zucker earned the title of ‘The World’s Highest Tenor’ from the Guinness Book of World Records when he sang an A above high C at the 1972 New York City Town Hall world premiere performance of the fourth version of Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini. Now he has written three books that are fascinating, thought-provoking, informative, and entertaining.

“From 1990–2003, Stefan Zucker maintained a friendship and correspondence with the legendary Italian tenor Franco Corelli. Corelli was a frequent guest of Zucker’s, both on the ‘Opera Fanatic’ radio program, and at live events held in various theaters. During the interviews, Corelli chatted with Zucker at great length on a wide variety of topics, and answered audience questions. Zucker’s conversations with Corelli—both the aforementioned public discussions, as well as some in private—form the cornerstone for the three volumes of Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing. Those Corelli discussions are of extraordinary value. I also had the privilege of interviewing Franco Corelli in the early 1990s for my own opera radio show, which then aired on Baltimore’s classical music station, WBJC-FM. I spoke with Corelli for a couple of hours in his New York apartment. It was clear even from that relatively brief encounter that Corelli was an intensely searching, thoughtful, and self-critical artist, and a keen student of the technique and artistry of his predecessors. Those qualities emerge in even greater depth and detail during the course of the various Zucker interviews. In the three volumes under review, Zucker examines not only Corelli’s life, career, and artistry, but also a host of other issues relating to the history and development of tenor singing from the 1800s to the present. The topics are numerous, wide-ranging, and sometimes, well off the expected path. As you might consider (at least, initially) purchasing fewer than all three volumes, I think it important to list various chapter titles, or a summary of their content:

“Volume I: Del Monaco, Corelli, and Their Influence; Nuance Versus Massive Darkened Tone; Donzelli, Duprez and Nourrit; Jean de Reszke; Tamagno; De Lucia; Caruso; Pertile; Martinelli; Schipa: Unaffected by Caruso; Schipa’s Specter; Gigli; Lauri-Volpi vs. the Verismo Style; Björling; Tagliavini; Richard Tucker; Del Monaco: Corelli’s Chief Role Model and Rival; Polar Opposites: Corelli and Di Stefano; Pavarotti; Domingo; Carreras; The Fluctuating Fortunes of Vibrato; Eighteen Radamès Recordings Compared; Appendices.

“Volume II: Six Revolutions Have Shaped Singing; Seismic Shock (Gilbert-Louis Duprez and the high C from the chest); The Dying Out of the Castrati and Their Traditions and the Decline of Florid Singing; Heroes on the Rise; Last of a Breed (Rubini); Corelli: Tenore del Mondo; Corelli’s Covering; A Note on Vocal Placement; Corelli: The Hamlet of Vocal Technique—and Why His Voice Declined; Corelli’s Letters to Lauri-Volpi, 1962 (?) — 1973; Grace Bumbry; Callas Critiques Corelli; Lauri-Volpi Attacks Corelli’s Technique; Observations on a Career and a Life; Franco Corelli: Some Missing Information; To Return or Not to Return?; Three Botched Bios; Fanizza Refutes Seghers; The Duel with Christoff and ‘Barbieri sola, sola’; Potter’s Corelli Chapter; Collaborating with Corelli; Appendices.

“Volume III: An Evening in the Theater with Franco Corelli and Stefan Zucker, Merkin Concert Hall, June 5, 1991; From Del Monaco to Chris Merritt; Booing: True Confessions; Conversations with Carlo Bergonzi; Alfredo Kraus; The Origins of Lowered-Larynx Techniques; Jean de Reszke’s Larynx-Lowering; Did Caruso Use a Laryngeal Method?; Some Lessons with Melocchi (1879–1960); Corelli’s Real View of the Stanley Method; Some Mario Del Monaco Successors; My Lessons with Marcello and Mario Del Monaco (Emilio Moscoso); Del Monaco’s Diaphragm; A Corelli Student (Enrique Pina); Francisco Araiza: A Rossini Tenor Who Lowers His Larynx; Olivero Attacks Del Monaco’s Technique; Different Singing Techniques; The Rise and Fall of Elena Filipova; Roberto Alagna on Sometimes Using Mask Placement, Sometimes a Lowered-larynx; Bill Schuman, Marcello Giordani, Stephen Costello, James Valenti and Michael Fabiano; Four Lowered-Larynx Tenors (Kaufmann, Cura, Villazón, Walter Fraccaro); Mask-Larynx-Hybrid Tenors (Galouzine, Beczala); Mask-Placement Tenors Who Don’t Cover (Grigolo, Filianoti, Florez, Brownlee and Banks, Cutler, Bros, Calleja); Mask-Placement Tenors Who Do Cover (Álvarez, Antonenko, Vargas, Licitra, Botha); Summation.

“Throughout the three volumes, Zucker spends a great deal of time discussing the ‘lowered-larynx’ technique, taught by Arturo Melocchi, and adopted by Corelli’s chief rival, Mario Del Monaco. That technique, as described by Zucker, ‘is based on singing with the larynx lowered to the bottom of the neck.’ According to Zucker and Corelli, this can lead to a vocal production capable of extraordinary power, but little nuance or dynamic variety. Corelli chose to adopt a variant of the technique, one in which the larynx ‘floats’ in order to allow for greater vocal pliability. But this is just one of many technical aspects covered; not only by Zucker and Corelli, but by several other singers interviewed by the author. And among the gems of these three books are Zucker’s interviews in Volume III with tenors Carlo Bergonzi and Alfredo Kraus, both masters of their craft who are able to describe their techniques and approach to performance in precise, compelling, and endlessly fascinating detail. [The purpose of the technical discussions is to show the choices and tradeoffs that caused tenor singing to evolve, from the late eighteenth century until today.—SZ] Other highlights are a series of letters written by Corelli to his teacher and friend Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (Volume II). The letters are quite touching, both for the respectful, tender way Corelli addresses his mentor, but also for the glimpses of self-doubt that begin to creep in during the early years of Corelli’s vocal decline. Also of considerable value are the various scholarly articles by Zucker that trace the history of tenor and castrato singing. Taking us from the sublime to the ridiculous is a 40-page chapter (Volume III) dominated by various opera fans who explain why they believe it is a higher calling to sabotage performances by booing, in order to demonstrate to the world they know more than anyone else. [Corelli advocated booing. Some of the listeners confessed to having booed him. He stood his ground.—SZ] If you are all too familiar with this type of buffoon, it will get your blood pressure going. It certainly did mine. And if you are at all prudish, be forewarned that these books include quite a bit on topics of a sexual nature. They range from the perhaps expected allusions to singers’ affairs and illegitimate children, to graphic discussions of sexual acts preferred by some artists (and even recommended by the author as a way to improve vocal technique!). The author provides fair warning that prurient subjects are on the horizon. But you are just as likely to encounter such material out of the blue (no pun intended). Of course, the concept of the operatic tenor as a sexually charismatic figure is undeniable, and has long been a subject of fascination and discussion. Perhaps the author, either by conscious or subconscious motivation, includes such material to advance discussion of that topic. I’m not easily shocked or offended, and these diversions did not impact my overall enjoyment of the books (they didn’t add to it, either). But in any case, you’ve been forewarned.

“Given the length and breadth of the three volumes of Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, this is a review that could go on for pages, far more than I am allotted. Suffice it to say that I found all three volumes compelling reading. Zucker is an opinionated writer, but he is also a highly informed one who consistently provides the material to support his opinions. His appraisals in Volume I of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the ‘Three Tenors,’ for example, are as spot on as any I’ve read. And I will give him the highest compliment I can give an author who writes about singers. When I read Zucker’s descriptions, I immediately want to go to the artist’s recordings and listen once again. In addition, the numerous photos, many quite stunning, are reproduced beautifully with the utmost clarity, and the entire copy is printed on the kind of high-quality paper rarely used nowadays. For those who are endlessly fascinated by tenors and their unique impact on the world of opera (as I am), Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing has a tremendous amount to offer, and in a fashion you are unlikely to find anywhere else. If you are at all curious, try Volume I. If you like it, I feel comfortable in saying you will enjoy the others as well. Recommended to fellow tenor fanatics.”

This volume stands as an impressive resource for opera fans and scholars, with the author breaking down many of Corelli’s performances in detail, explaining vocal techniques and their origins. The romance, passion, and competition of modern opera come alive in this sequel, aimed at aficionados.

—Kirkus Reviews

Nino Pantano Reviewing Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 2 in The Italian Voice and Brooklyn Discovery

“This volume, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing (volume 2), by Stefan Zucker comes at a time when many traditional opera customs are being looked upon with such inquisitional curiosity by today’s book burners. The directors’ various brain and sexual disorders appear to be silencing the singers and appealing to guilt laden complexes that seem to be working on the side of the devils. Make-up gone, Canio castrated, Don José executed by Carmen and Calàf beheaded by Turandot. How can a book, however scholarly on opera singers and composers, have any relevance today? Well, this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening book has been a source of unalloyed joy and pleasure to me, and Stefan Zucker’s (Bel Canto Society) insatiable appetite for gossip, rivalry and jealousy among these artists speaks volumes.

“I was blessed to have been an opera-file as a young man when Franco Corelli (1921–2003) was having his triumphs. My love of the voice of the great tenor Enrico Caruso made me a follower of the careers of so many legendary names. Since Franco Corelli began his rise in the 1950’s I can aptly say I saw and heard him with his brilliant powerful voice, film star persona and the excitement of his physical presence that made him unique. No one today can rival those exceptional qualities. He had sex appeal, power, pathos and could diminish a tone until it became a whisper. His larynx lowering was part of his vocal magic. I believe that Giacomo Lauri-Volpi was the tenor who influenced Corelli the most. Franco Corelli’s personal letters to Lauri-Volpi are very touching and show his great admiration for this legendary tenor. Franco and Loretta were very devoted to Lauri-Volpi and his wife Maria, and Lauri-Volpi still sang in his eighties.

“The author, Stefan Zucker, gave concerts with his mother, famed soprano Mme. Rosina Wolf, embellishing the nine high C’s in the La Fille du Regiment aria. Stefan’s mother knew Franco Corelli, who baby-sat for her while she was performing in Italy in 1951, watching young Stefan. Stefan became one of the great personalities in the opera world creating a “buzz” and a “stir” with his comments and his “Opera Fanatic” radio show, which featured many opera singers and was truly an anchor for Franco Corelli.

“I met Stefan at the home of TV opera pioneer Lina Del Tinto and her husband Harry Demarsky and found Stefan to be not only extraordinarily intelligent, but a delightful dinner companion with a strong wit and willing ear. Mr. Zucker discusses 54 tenors spanning 200 years from cast ratings to castrati!

“The great composers wrote music as well as the embellishments so championed by the great singers of the day. The singers’ knowledge allowed them to enhance the music with phenomenal scales and variations.

“But things changed and composer Gioacchino Rossini felt that a grand era was ending and that singing was becoming lackluster. Gilbert-Louis Duprez formed a high C in singing that swept the opera world.

“Farinelli and Velluti were not the name of a law firm in Italy but were two of the great castrati who, like dinosaurs, reigned supreme. The castrati recalled my grandmother Rosalia’s Easter and Thanksgiving feast, which was a delicious capon with its tender breast meat—always tasty—never fowl. These birds were a delicious blend of male and female capabilities that evoked unique (eunuch) rich voices and many rhapsodic fans of both culinary succulents and operatic ecstasy! The last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi (1858–1922), made a series of recordings with the Vatican choir in 1902–04 for the Gaisberg Brothers, who also recorded the young Enrico Caruso as well as 93 year old Pope Leo 13th. While Moreschi was not a great castrato, he sang with rooster like tones, haunting and sad.

“Rossini admired the castrati who themselves added the coloratura and vocal displays that thrilled and drove audiences to a Farinelli frenzy. When my grandparents re-visited Gangi, Sicily in the Madonie Mountains near Palermo in 1939, they took their son my Uncle Ignacio along. They planned a big surprise. The surprise was a farm girl who scrambled pigs testicles in a pan with eggs and milk. It was made for adolescent young men and was called “La Festa di Pape.” (The feast of Popes) He had the good sense to say NO, thank you! He is 91 today and a retired ballroom dancer. (Bill Tano) guess he didn’t need that extra testicular jolt!

“Giovanni Battista Velluti who was a “ladies man” rather than the opposite (man’s lady), was the last operatic castrato hero, and Rossini and others mourned the loss of the great “senza gazze.”  Giovanni Battista Rubini (1795–1854) was a fabulous high C tenor who studied with Andrea Nozzari and sang some of the repertory of Giovanni David, who was called the “Paganini of Song.” Two wonderful illustrations of Rubini are enchanting. There is a lengthy segment on “Balls” and the varied surgeries that made castrati.

“The new school of “high C ” tenors took hold ultimately, leading to such stars as Francesco Tamagno (1850–1905) Verdi’s first Otello, Enrico Caruso (1873–1921), Beniamino Gigli  (1890–1957), Giacomo Lauri-Volpi (1892–1979), Giovanni Martinelli (1885–1969), Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli. When Enrico Caruso passed away in 1921, the world went into mourning. Tenor Giovanni Martinelli said Lauri-Volpi, Beniamino Gigli and he had to sing the late Caruso’s roles. Mario Del Monaco (1915–1982)  was a handsome, robust voiced tenor whose rise to fame was about the same as Franco Corelli’s. They became intense rivals. I saw both these great tenors in their primes. As soon as Del Monaco heard of Corelli coming to the Metropolitan Opera, he left. Del Monaco was not a relaxed singer. You felt the tension and saw his muscles collaborate, and his burnished and dramatic tones rocked the house. Del Monaco, whom I saw in Norma with Callas at the Met made a film where he was heard as “The Young Caruso.” He was also quite an exhibitionist—but that’s another story. Franco Corelli would step back, open up and out would fly these free and furious notes, defiant and heroic. Once he tapered the tone to a whisper at the end of Celeste Aida. His defiance of his Turandot, Birgit Nilsson was an outpouring of two volcanoes, his melting kiss was a triple gelato almost too much to bear. Corelli said it would not be out of place if he saw Del Monaco and punched him in the jaw. Corelli did bite Birgit Nilsson on the neck in Turandot when she held their duet note longer than he and ran offstage in Italy to challenge a student who booed him—with sword in hand!

“A friend, artist and Italofile James Albano, told me of Corelli’s singing of Calàf in Vienna that had women throwing their keys at him. Corelli’s wife Loretta was in constant tension about these real or imagined liaisons. She said “I was extremely jealous. I didn’t have 10 fingernails, I had 20, to scratch out the eyes of women who were after Franco.” Corelli said that soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara was his greatest love (She was a brilliant Tosca), but he and Loretta stayed married. Franco Corelli sang at The Metropolitan Opera from 1961 until 1975. In 1975, Corelli and Tebaldi sang a legendary concert at Brooklyn College. That’s the year they both left the Metropolitan Opera. They were, according to Zucker, associates and friends, not lovers. There is a chapter on Corelli’s various liaisons, mistresses and flirtations.

“This splendid book has many glorious photographs including those of Franco and Loretta. They were a handsome couple, and one extraordinary shot of Franco Corelli as Turiddu and Brooklyn’s great tenor Richard Tucker as Canio. Can you imagine, seeing them both on the same night? I did! Corelli was a superb Turiddu and Tucker a great Canio. Corelli’s “Addio alla Madre” was impassioned and Richard Tucker’s heartbreaking “Vesti la Giubba” and his screamed “La commedia è finita” haunt the memory! They too were rivals but “friendly” ones. Tucker and Corelli became closer as time passed. Tucker told Corelli how to secure a note (or the other way around), and they were much friendlier after that. Metropolitan Opera Manager Sir Rudolf Bing used to assuage them by threatening to pay the other one dollar more! I recall seeing Franco Corelli at Richard Tucker’s (1913–1975) wake at the Campbell Funeral Home in New York in 1975, and he looked, in his grief, as if he had been punched in the stomach. Tucker had a brilliant 30 year career with the Metropolitan Opera. Tucker still lives on through The Richard Tucker Music Foundation run by his industrious son Barry. Beniamino Gigli (1890–1957) had a voice of incredible sweetness and honeyed tone. He could “cover” and also add some delicious “fortes” and made about 20 films including Forget Me Not, in England where he sang “Non ti scordar di me” and “Mamma.” In Mamma (1940) Gigli sang the title song and the delightful “Se vuoi goder la vita,” where his diminishing tones were breathtaking. Corelli listened and learned. He was no Gigli but he was renowned for his dimuendos and silvery masculine tones. Gigli’s final film was the charming Taxi di notte in 1953. I would go to the Benson Theatre with my grandparents Antonio and Rosalia Pantano to see his films. She would loudly curse the villains, both wife and her lover, and weep for the poor cuckolded Gigli! Gigli succeeded the mighty Caruso at the Met (1920–1932 and again in 1939 to demonstrate his Radamès. He came back to America for three Carnegie Hall concerts at age 65 in 1955. I attended one of the concerts where Gigli sang a dozen arias and about 15 encores. He “covered” beautifully and his “covering” pianissimi were still prominent, his top, a bit short but quite thrilling. At age 65 he was still a wonder. His intoxicating and emotional “E Lucevan le stelle” tore the house down. His “Oy Marie,” and ““Quann’ a femmena vo’” drove the audience to a frenzy. It’s all been recorded and is incredible to see, but also to witness—amazing! According to Zucker, Gigli’s greatest gift was “chiaroscuro of timbre.” I met Franco Corelli at a Michael Sisca’s “La Follia” concert when he was about 80. I kissed his hand in respect. He said “No, no, no!” But I thanked him for the visceral thrills he gave me and so many others. Corelli was a very nervous performer. His professional recordings don’t have the special “edge” that his “live” performances had. I recall with a shiver and a smile his incredible performances in his prime, but I never listen to his recordings for comfort or inspiration. Occasionally I play Gigli (I love his Spanish song “Marta”) and I always find comfort in Caruso. When not in a tenor mood, it’s great basso Ezio Pinza who moves me. Once in a while I play (castrato) Moreschis’s “Ideale” with his haunting ironic torment. On occasion, Martinelli, Peerce, Tucker, Melchior and Sicilian tenor Di Stefano help fill the void.

“I wish to thank Stefan Zucker for his brilliant and stimulating book with its vital and vibrant photographs. It is what opera is really about and of the importance of all these great artists who used their vocal talents to remind us of the troubadour. Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini surely second the motion. Soprano Gigliola Frazzoni said, “Corelli was the Callas of tenors!” This splendid book has 351 pages adorned with 144 magnificent photographs of Franco Corelli in costume and with his wife Loretta and other artists from Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi to great baritone Tito Gobbi. Illustrations of the distant-past singers are incredibly artful and truly make the reader part of the action. Whether its romance, gossip, technical truths or memory refreshing, this book stands out as stimulating reading for the next year and decades to come. I strongly recommend Stefan Zucker’s Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, volume 2, as I did volume 1.

“We eagerly await Hitler’s Tenor, a book on Beniamino Gigli, another tenor from the Adriatic (Recanati) whose world-wide fame put him among the gods of opera as well as thrilling audiences worldwide for over 40 years! Some may object to the relationship of Gigli to the German Nazi regime, but all that will come out in Stefan Zucker’s forthcoming book. My advice is listen to Corelli and Gigli! It is artistry, voice and the universal pleasure reserved for angels and tenors.”

Customers Review Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 2

Submitted by Paul Pothwell on Tuesday, 01/23/2018 at 6:06 pm.

These are beautiful and informative books. Exquisite photographs throughout. So much information, they are hard to put down. The quality is superb, I can’t wait for volume 3.
I can’t recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in opera.
Thank you, Mr Zucker.

Now reading and enjoying volume 2. Again.
Excellent read, excellent quality.  Fabulous collection
of photographs. And last but far from least, informative. 
The only thing lacking, Sir, is an autograph of yours.
Thank you again for these great books.

Paul Rothwell 
Gresham, OR

Submitted by Col. William Russell (ret.) on Friday, 01/19/2018 at 7:04 pm.

As with Zucker’s first volume, this one again is superbly written and well-illustrated. True, not all will agree with Zucker’s comments and observations but he presents them so concisely and persuasively that he makes his points with clarity and conviction. Books like this often have a limited availability so grab it while you can. Hopefully, there will be a volume 3.
Col. William Russell (ret.)
Springfield, VA

Submitted by Michael J. Peterson on Wednesday, 01/24/2018 at 1:14 pm.

I purchased Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 1 first, which was so impressive that within a very few days of reading the fantastically historic and organized book I had to order Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 2. Both of these volumes give a huge wealth of information about not just the singers, but even reference: 

*recordings which are available in various places online
*feuds between rival factions and singers
*the color, timbre, range and stylistic approaches of the voices
*massive collections of interviews with Franco Corelli which form the basis of the book
*endless photographs of singers about whom I’ve heard but never seen
*explanations of vocal technique and famous instructors who taught these singers

Stefan Zucker is a masterful interviewer and author with his engaging style and cross referencing which makes this book, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 2, a serious need for any singer who should know and understand the stylistic differences in the singers’ art, and be aware of not only resources to find examples of their work by title, but to be fully founded in the singers’ art.

All of which leads me to recommend this book to any student of voice including those whom I teach (the Garcia Method through Margaret Harshaw – IU School of Music 1981), music history, opera buff or casual reader who would like a comprehensive set of beautifully bound books with glossy covers and the best quality paper I have in my library.

I cannot wait until the hoped for release of Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 3 
I’ve already searched to buy it to have “the rest of the story.”
Michael J. Peterson 
Frankfort, IN 

Submitted by Jane DeRocco on Friday, 01/19/2018 at 10:38 pm.
Volume 2, of course, is a continuation of Volume 1, with the same format, approach, and high quality. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. The text describes Corelli in his historical context and is always illuminating. Although the technical jargon may not be as meaningful to non-singers, that should not discourage anyone from buying this book. Corelli’s singing was always special; his voice had a brilliance to it that others lacked and his singing was always dramatic and expressive. He deserves to be a standard by which others are measured. I hope Volume 3 will be available soon.

Jane DeRocco
Utica, NY

Submitted by Remo Caminada on Tuesday, 01/29/2018 at 2:44 pm.

With the books Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, the great Stefan Zucker gave us and the following generations an incredible gift. Talking about and with all the great tenors, mostly singing in or influenced by the Golden Age of classical singing, we get closer to the real artistic value of all the master tenors who brought the art and the love for classical singing to us today. Zucker’s efforts over decades, his clear imagination and knowledge of sophisticated singing techniques, make the quality of all the interviews possible and for us readers accessible.

With love and gratitude,
Remo Caminada
Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna

Submitted by Tobias Mostel on Tuesday, 01/29/2018 at 10:44 pm.

One of the best things about the book is the collection of writing about singing. This kind of writing has fallen by the wayside in our contemporary world. Now critics write about the quality of the production, the sets and the costumes. Often it is possible to get through a whole review without any lengthy discussion of the singing. In my considered opinion, any audience that comes out of an auditorium talking about the sets of an opera has been subject to a failure of singing. Who cares about sets? Who cares about the production designer? In opera it is singing that’s the issue, not the scenery. There is no scenery talk at all in vols. 1 or 2. I heard Corelli in all his roles at the Met. In fact, I was in the boys chorus in the revival of Turandot.  I was a page in Act II and onstage for the whole riddle scene. Corelli did his best against Nilsson whose high notes were loud, legendary and lengthy. My mother, Kate, said that Nilsson reminded her of Eva Turner who, she said, cleaned the dust off the chandelier on the intake of breath. On the exhalation, the dust was restored.

Volume 2 has extensive interviews with Corelli. I am of two minds about interviews with performers. Some of them know what they’re talking about, others don’t know what they’re talking about and offer rationalizations of what they do. I put Corelli in the latter class. Corelli spends much time being politic about other singers. He has nothing of interest to say about Milanov and little of interest about Callas, though he talks about her a lot. Mostly he’s interested in himself—this was true onstage, too. Corelli could create a no-man’s-land space around himself onstage. No other performer could get through. He did not do this all the time, but he did it some of the time. Any sense of ensemble or drama suffered when he indulged in this behavior.

My standards of stage behavior come from my father, Zero Mostel. I take Zero as the standard against which all stage performers are measured. Corelli, due to his self-indulgence, doesn’t do very well. A picture on page 149 of Corelli and Price shows what I mean. Stefan notes that “Both singers seem to be posing for the camera without relating to each other.” Price was notorious for this. Farrell was in the same class. Part of the thrill of opera is the drama. When performers ignore this, the drama suffers. Opera without drama is ham without eggs. Drama must be part of an opera performance. No amount of high notes will make up for the lack of drama.

In the long middle section of the book Stefan discusses many recorded performances of Corelli. This is for serious students of the voice. My only sorrow is that he doesn’t discuss what everyone else was doing, too. This brings to mind the scene in the boiler room of Fellini’s movie And the Ship Sails On. All the singers try to out-sing each other on higher and higher notes to the engine-room crew which is not that interested. Much of the talk from singers in the book is about outdoing others. At the end of the book, Stefan attacks other biographers of Corelli. This section is fun. It is always interesting to read scholars running each other over the coals of accuracy. Stefan is right up there with Gore Vidal in the accuracy department.

On page 269 is perhaps the most honest self description in the history of music, perhaps in the history of art. Bravo to Stefan for getting it out of Corelli! [Corelli volunteered it out of the blue.—SZ] Also there is much discussion of the egos of the stars. This is exciting stuff. It’s good to have the who, what, why, where and when of stories that have been floating around the standee line for years. All in all this is a fine book largely about Corelli and the art of singing. Anyone interested in these subjects will consider the money well spent on such a fine book with so many excellent pictures.

Tobias Mostel
Tallahassee, FL

Submitted by Joe Pearce on Sunday, 02/11/2018 at 3:04 pm.

As with vol, 1, I enjoyed 2 very much. Stefan’s knowledge is never a surprise, but I’m always impressed by just how much Franco C. understood about singing—his and other people’s—and for that matter how much he knew about other tenors of both his own time and before. I didn’t let Stefan’s warning about skipping that one crazy chapter with all the sex deter me, but I don’t know if it helped the book all that much (although if it got into the right hands and was mentioned in reviews, it might have done the job). It’s too bad Stefan and Franco never had another of those “let’s-compare-tenors-in-fifteen-or-twenty-recordings-of ….”– say, Trovatore or Turandot, as that section on Aïda  in vol. 1 was truly memorable–especially when they both had good things to say about the Gigli 1946 set, which I grew up on and still love. [The chapter on recordings of Aïda was written by me, without Franco’s participation.— SZ]

Joe Pearce, President
The Vocal Record Collectors’ Society

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Here is the email to which these customers responded:

Thank you very much for having bought Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol.2.

I have a favor to ask you: would you review the book, with a view to having your critique published on our Web sites, on Facebook and in our e-newsletters?

Stefan Zucker