Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 3


To order all three vols. at once, at a discount, click here

Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 3 by Stefan Zucker, 6″ X 9″ X 358 pp. and 139 photographs, beautifully reproduced.

This vol. contains interviews of Corelli, Bergonzi, Kraus and Alagna, among others.

Bergonzi: “De Lucia, Pertile, Merli, Schipa, Gigli and Galliano Masini had their personal styles but weren’t faithful to the composer, because they introduced ritards, rests and effects. Del Monaco was the first singer to respect the composer. Toscanini and Bruno Walter were the only conductors who heeded what the composers wrote.” Bergonzi also declares, “The difference between my singing of Bohème and of Trovatore is the degree to which I cover. Rodolfo is a lighter role, so I cover less, but Manrico is more dramatic, so I cover more.” This statement proves controversial among others interviewed in this book. He describes his breathing method as well as the first five years of his career, when he sang as a baritone in casts that included Gigli and Schipa.

Kraus describes his vocal technique in detail, takes a stand against covering and for a variety of reasons excoriates Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Caballé and Callas. He discusses being partnered by Callas in the Lisbon Traviata.

The origins of lowered-larynx techniques. Jean de Reszke’s larynx-lowering (with many gorgeous photos from The Metropolitan Opera Archives). Caruso’s technique. Melocchi’s teaching of Limarilli. Corelli’s real view of the Stanley method. Marcello Del Monaco’s pupils, among them Giacomini, Martinucci and Lindroos. Tenor Emilio Moscoso on lessons with Marcello and Mario Del Monaco. A Corelli pupil, Enrique Pina, describes “floating” the larynx. Araiza’s describes combining larynx-lowering with mask placement. Aspiration. Matteuzzi and Morino—unaffected by Del Monaco and Corelli. Olivero attacks Del Monaco’s technique.

Roberto Alagna describes placing “behind the nose and between the eyes.” He explains that he sometimes switches to larynx lowering and re- corded an album with it. Like Corelli he learns technique by singing along with records—in his case Gigli’s above all—and recording himself doing so. He discusses tenors on old records as well as his personal life.

Elena Filipova recounts how after learning larynx lowering from Rina Del Monaco (Mario’s wife) her career blossomed. Then she studied a more extreme version with Alain Billiard, lost range, agility and her pianissimo, and her career collapsed. She regained her voice from studying placements with Hilde Zadek. “She reintroduced me to my head resonance.”

Bill Schuman (today’s most prominent voice teacher) explains his technique, which involves floating the larynx, mask placement and, for high notes, lifting the palate, top-of-the-head placement plus smiling and, for breathing, using the diaphragm as a pump. Also interviewed are four of his current or former pupils, Met tenors Giordani, Costello, Fabiano and Valenti. (Schuman dismissed Valenti from his studio for concurrently studying a more extreme lowered-larynx method with Arthur Levy and dismissed Fabiano and Costello for reasons discussed in the book.)

Reviews of forty-seven CDs and DVDs of today’s top tenors, among them Kaufmann, who continues in Corelli’s footsteps, Cura, Villazón and Fraccaro, who continue in Del Monaco’s, Grigolo, Flórez, Brownlee, Banks, Filianoti, Cutler, Bros and Calleja, who continue in Kraus’s and Licitra, who continued in Bergonzi’s, as well as Galouzine, Beczala, Álvarez, Antonenko and Vargas.

Corelli advocates that inadequate singers be booed, citing in particular Chris Merritt in I vespri Siciliani at La Scala. Listeners to “Opera Fanatic” confess their booing, including some who booed Corelli and the notorious organizer of the Scotto booings.

Franco Corelli and Simona Dall’Argine in Tosca, offstage
Aureliano Pertile as Nerone in the world premiere of Boito’s Nerone (1924)
Miguel Fleta as Cavaradossi
Carlo Bergonzi as Rodolfo in Bohème. “Each one of these great tenors at the apex of tenors, Bergonzi, Pavarotti and Domingo— I don’t think you can find defects. He who doesn’t have one thing has another. They all are worthy of the names they have.”— Carlo Bergonzi
Del Monaco as Don José in Carmen, Met, 1952 “Del Monaco was a highly passionate Don José, complementing my own portrayal. And yet he never hurt me— never a bruise, a scratch or anything even though he was a very physical Don José. He threw me to the ground, knelt down, bent over me. We were very effective together— an intense, passionate couple— and audiences were excited. Yet, despite his apparent violence toward me and his apparently brutal treatment of me, he never caused me any pain.” — Giulietta Simionato, in outtakes from the film Opera Fanatic
Alfredo Kraus as Roméo, 1986
“When I performed blood clots came out of me! I felt the sound in my chest and teeth. But up high, where you need the mask, I couldn’t find my sensations. Above high A I couldn’t feel the sound at all, on account of the swelling… Thank God I had the courage to continue to sing with an instrument that no longer was responding and to endure the nastiest and most malicious criticisms.”—Roberto Alagna

Sample PDFs:

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.”

Alan Bilgora Reviewing in The Record Collector:

“For devotees of opera, the singing voice and in particular record collectors, either on 78 rpm discs, LPs or CDs, and, even more especially, lovers of the tenor voice Stefan Zucker’s first two volumes were fascinating and informative. However, Volume 3 can now be considered a ‘must’ and is compulsive reading. As with the first two volumes, this book is lavishly illustrated with many unusual photographs and printed on superior paper, and surely the set must constitute the most comprehensive and illuminating survey of tenor singing technique ever published. It should be compulsory reading in every music academy where singing is taught, but that is unlikely, as reference to great singers of both the past and recent past seems to be taboo. One hopes that, even if for reference alone if not for its informative and colourful content, it will be read for decades to come by devotees of operatic singing and of the most popular voice, that of the tenor.”

A Review in Kirkus Reviews:

“The author, an accomplished singer, former host of Columbia University’s radio show Opera Fanatic, and a preeminent scholar, shares transcripts of salon-style interviews in the 1990s with Corelli. As with the other volumes, the photographs included here, particularly those featuring singers in full costume, are quite stunning, capturing the visual glamour alongside the work’s deep, rich dissection of methods.

“Strictly for opera connoisseurs, but for those in the know a treasure trove of information on tenors, methods, and performances.”

Nino Pantano Reviewing in The Italian Voice:

“Franco Corelli Volume 3 arrived and any page that one finds is loaded with fascinating detail and beautiful photographs. There are many tenors mentioned including some current ones. This splendid book by Stefan Zucker deserves our plaudits, readership and thanks. Mr. Zucker may be an iconoclast but where else and who else can produce such a range of reading on the human voice. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” prevails in the brilliance, charm and love that Stefan Zucker has put into these volumes. They keep opening a magic box that modern events have tried to silence by declaring them of the past, forgotten, or of no use. Open the magic box and a pinata of voices come out to enlighten and make one listen to a continuing era of beauty, individuality and creativity!” Bravo Stefan Zucker!