<i>Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing</i>, vol. 1
Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 1 by Stefan Zucker, 6″ X 9″ X 384 pp., with nearly 200 lithographs and photographs, beautifully reproduced.
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Franco Corelli and Stefan Zucker, in edited transcripts of thirteen years of conversations on the radio, in their theater presentations and master classes and in private, discuss changes in tenor singing:
Beginning in the 1820s Donzelli and Duprez sang with a massive darkened tone at the expense of vocal inflections and agility. Their coarser, more obvious but more exciting style won out over the more nuanced singing that had prevailed until then.
Stefan critiques Donzelli, Rubini, Nourrit, Duprez, de Reszke, Tamagno and De Lucia, and together Franco and Stefan discuss Caruso, Pertile, Martinelli, Schipa, Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Björling, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Tucker, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras.
A central question for tenors is whether or not to “cover” their tones (explained in the book). Verdi extensively coached Tamagno who didn’t cover, but Verdi tenors from Caruso through Domingo do, resulting in a very different sound.
Caruso and those who followed him mostly sang at full volume. Compared to his predecessors, such as de Reszke, Tamagno and De Lucia, Caruso had less musical nuance, variety of dynamics and rubato; in short he had less musical imagination. He also had less control over dynamics.
Franco describes how, using Arturo Melocchi’s controversial lowered-larynx technique, he and Del Monaco revolted against sweet tenor singing in favor of older-sounding tones and a more “virile” approach.
Franco explains that he tried to combine Del Monaco’s fortissimo, Lauri-Volpi’s high notes, Pertile’s passion, Fleta’s diminuendo and Gigli’s caress. He describes using more portamento than his predecessors, his copying of some of Pertile’s interpretations and his attempt to emulate Schipa’s Werther.
Stefan describes Franco’s music-driven interpretations and Di Stefano’s word-driven ones, the history of vibrato, Gigli’s two kinds of chiaroscuro, chiaroscuro of dynamics and chiaroscuro of timbre, and compares eighteen Radamès recordings with Pertile, Martinelli, Gigli, Tucker, Del Monaco, Björling, Di Stefano, Corelli, Bergonzi, Vickers, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti.
Robert Tuggle, Director of The Metropolitan Opera Archives, contributes a chapter on Björling to the appendices.
The volumes are printed on top-quality paper and feature more than 483 rare lithographs and photographs, the majority provided by the Met Archives.
This is not a biography, nor is it a book of anecdotes. Instead it explains the evolution of tenor singing from 1820 to Domingo.
Eight Magazine and Newspaper Reviews of Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 1 by Stefan Zucker
Huntley Dent, Reviewing in Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors:
“Turn to this book if you want to hear operatic singing spoken of with heartfelt emotion and lifelong understanding. Or you might be enticed by savory tidbits such as how much Mario Del Monaco was paid for his debut in the 1950-51 Met season ($150), which tenor was consistently the highest paid at the Met in the 1950s (Jussi Björling), and which soprano other than Kirsten Flagstad got the top salary of $1,000 a performance (Lily Pons). There are so many toothsome nuggets that we’re consuming a fruitcake that is almost more raisins than cake. Stefan Zucker has earned his place as an encyclopedia of tenor singing. Who else started out in childhood by having Franco Corelli as a babysitter?
“But the direct subject, the cake, is equally fascinating. Zucker’s adoration for ‘the Apollo of bel canto,’ as Corelli has been called, is much more than the love of a fan. Himself a tenor and a self-styled ‘opera fanatic’—the name of a radio program that Zucker hosted on WKCR-FM in New York for many years—he gives us a Corelli placed in a noble singing tradition: ‘Franco tried to combine Del Monaco’s fortissimo, Lauri-Volpi’s high notes, Pertile’s passion, Fleta’s diminuendo and Gigli’s caress.’ Those forebears and many other luminaries are discussed in depth, as indicated by the new book’s subtitle, Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years.
“Zucker makes clear at the outset that this isn’t a biography or book of anecdotes. It’s one man’s theory of how Italian tenor singing has evolved up to Pavarotti and Domingo. Corelli, who was interviewed on the radio for 43 hours by Zucker over the years, speaks in his own voice on many subjects. His comments appear at the ends of chapters on specific singers (e.g., Schipa, Gigli, Del Monaco), 11 in all. His astonishing voice and glamorous presence onstage may have diminished some aspects of Corelli that emerge sharply here. He was an intelligent, sober commentator on singing and a serious student of the Italian tradition. Here’s a passage to illustrate what I mean.
“Zucker: In Del Monaco’s singing, what did you like?
“Corelli: The heroic quality of the phrasing, the sculptured phrasing, the diction, the long breath span, the color of steel and bronze, the brilliance and strength of the voice, its impetuosity, its scatto [punch, swift attack].
“Zucker: What didn’t you like?
“Corelli: He produced sounds not entirely suitable for his throat and louder than his volume. He exaggerated, striving to produce 110 percent of the sound that he had. The laryngeal method often leads to muscular singing.
“Zucker: What are the bad effects of muscular singing?
“Corelli: It can lead to difficulty with sweet passages, mezze voci and diminuendos.
“Opera buffs will relish eavesdropping on this kind of insider talk. Most of the book, however, consists of Zucker telling us what went right or wrong with individual singers. Being both expert and opinionated, his criticisms of great singers such as Caruso, Björling, and Pavarotti won’t be agreeable to everyone. The author gets to thrust; the reader doesn’t get to parry.
“Especially engrossing are two longer chapters, ‘The Fluctuating Fortunes of Vibrato’ and ‘Eighteen Radamès Recordings Compared.’ In the latter, famous names are dealt with briskly: ‘Carreras rarely goes flat, but he sharps so often as to induce audio fatigue. He sings with little variety of dynamics or inflection.’ Zucker avoids getting too technical, although when speaking of how a particular tenor produces his sound (e.g., Carreras ‘places in the mask’), Zucker’s description will remain abstract except to a trained singer. He’s never catty or insulting, however, and there’s always a recognition that these are major artists being discussed.
“So, like Neapolitan ice cream, three layers are sandwiched together in this book: a history of tenor singing, sketches of numerous famous tenors in the Italian tradition, and a lengthy treatment of Franco Corelli that includes his personal participation. All three layers make for compelling reading, and we get lavish photographs throughout, almost 200 in total. Having devoted years to this project, and laying out tens of thousands of dollars to publish and illustrate the book, Zucker asks for donations to the Bel Canto Society in the Foreword. To me, the request seems more than justified by the admirable results.”
Alan Bilgora, Reviewing in The Record Collector:
“Most devotees of recorded vocal art will know Stefan Zucker as a highly colourful and sometime controversial interviewer and also the presenter of TV documentaries in the USA. As a singer, he was once described in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘The World’s Highest Tenor’. He employed a technique based on that of the tenors of the 19th century, with special accent on a high placement of vocal tone, and use of voce mista and falsettone. Without doubt, and in spite of his unconventional style in expressing his views, he possesses a vast knowledge of opera, its traditions, and in particular the change that took place over the years of the tenor’s role in the history of classical vocal music, and of course in particular the realm of opera.
“In this first volume of a series of three, Zucker comments fairly briefly on the importance of voices, style and technique pertaining to earlier tenors such as Donzelli, Duprez and Nourrit, with the darkening of vocal tone (the voix sombrée), which enabled these singers to adopt a more dramatic stance in their roles. This subject has been well covered, too, by John Potter in his excellent book The Tenor and also by Henry Pleasants in his book The Great Singers. Zucker then proceeds to highlight the singing of de Reszke, Tamagno and De Lucia and their special talents. It is, however, when he writes of his many hours interviewing Franco Corelli, with Corelli’s own ideas about vocal technique, that this book becomes very enlightening indeed. In answer to questions from listeners to the programmes or in response to a comment by Zucker this great tenor reveals his initial insecurities, his adopting and then adapting a technique of lowering the larynx promoted by Arturo Melocchi and practised by Del Monaco. This did impart more power to the vocal tone but also limited the ability readily to modulate dynamics. Zucker, later in the book, discusses openly their merits and the rivalry between Del Monaco and Corelli that developed when the former artist’s position at the Metropolitan Opera suffered after Corelli started to sing there. However, it would appear that Corelli (unlike so many great singers) was interested in the voices, techniques and styles of many of his predecessors, both of the long and recent past, and is quoted as saying that in particular he ‘tried to combine Del Monaco’s fortissimo, the top notes of Lauri-Volpi (who became his mentor), Pertile’s passionate interpretations, Fleta’s diminuendo and Gigli’s caressing quality, while also attempting to emulate Schipa’s singing of Werther’. Following probing ‘no holds barred questions’ Corelli confesses his feelings about his singing, his wife’s influence, sex and romantic indiscretions, and these are followed by Zucker’s own comments about his theories (with photographic evidence) of the correct position of a tenor’s genitalia, which if badly supported by poor costumes can affect the tenor’s singing.
“Open and covered tones, squillo and chiaroscuro effects and the passaggio are discussed. The inclusion, or exclusion, of the names of many other tenors who recorded, who, in his and Corelli’s opinion, exhibit these various traits in their vocal armoury, may cause some dissent among readers. Interviews with Corelli about Caruso, Pertile, Martinelli, Schipa, Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Björling, Tagliavini, Del Monaco, Di Stefano and Domingo examine the vocal timbre and special communicative talents of each of these particularly well known artists.
“Corelli evidently admired the florid techniques of both Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker, while some observations of other tenors’ talents might not always please the dedicated fan of any one particular singer, they are all worthy of consideration.
“There is a special chapter about portamento and vibrato and Zucker then compares in some detail the interpretations of the role of Radames as recorded by Pertile, Martinelli, Gigli, Tucker, Del Monaco, Björling, Di Stefano, Corelli, Bergonzi, Vickers, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti.
“In the appendix a keen listener to Zucker’s programmes and a lively correspondent, Gian Paolo Nardoianni, submitted a detailed defence of Lauri-Volpi’s ability to interpret a role, which Zucker had once questioned when he had said that he thought that Lauri-Volpi did not communicate or interpret but essentially only vocalised. Likewise he invited a response by Robert Tuggle to a somewhat dismissive comment about Björling, who, allowing for his beautiful voice, Zucker did not find interesting after a quarter of an hour. Tuggle (Director of the Metropolitan Opera Archives) in his reply comments on Jussi Björling’s USA career in the 50s, details of his salary, which was greater than any other tenor at the Met during those years, and his unique importance as a recitalist. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that his voice was not large, it was audible because of his phrasing and rhythm.
“The book is published in hardback and printed on fine-quality paper and lavishly strewn with remarkably fine photographs, many of which I am sure will be new to readers. It makes fascinating reading to anyone interested in, or wanting to learn more about, singing as an ‘art-form’, and shows in several ways how difficult it is to be objective about a vocalist, and not let subjectivity rule. In the course of the many observations and discussions, they show, in a number of ways, both the physical and psychological pressures of being a singer (in particular a tenor). Interestingly enough in some follow-up comments to a particular paragraph, a few firmly held opinions are occasionally (obviously on reflection) amended by Zucker. While a number of these comments are contentious and state the need for further reference to the later volumes, the overall content is informative and fascinating. There is an index of various books and DVDs covering Zucker’s numerous interviews and TV programmes, and I eagerly wait for an opportunity to read volumes two and three in this series.”
REPRINTED FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A critical look at the evolution of operatic tenor singing, from the 19th century to the present.
“In opera, Zucker’s bona fides are impeccable. A singer himself, he earned distinction from the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘world’s highest tenor’ for reaching an A above high C during a performance at New York’s Town Hall in 1972. He also hosted ‘Opera Fanatic,’ the long-running program on Columbia University’s radio station, and founded Bel Canto Society, a nonprofit opera organization.
“In this book, Zucker (Origins of Modern Tenor Singing, 1997) draws from conversations he had with the late Italian tenor Franco Corelli, a close friend and frequent guest on the ‘Opera Fanatic’ program. Zucker offers their takes on popular tenors of the past, spotlighting each singer’s vocal stylings, physical techniques, strengths and weaknesses, as well as a consideration of the performance aspect. Even nonfans of opera might recognize the most famous tenors referenced—Enrico Caruso, Richard Tucker, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, etc.—though the book by no means offers in-depth biographies. In some instances, Corelli acknowledges the tenors who influenced him, such as Beniamino Gigli: ‘His voice was exceptionally beautiful, warm like a lighted lamp, with a facile and inimitable emission…I remember a concert in which he gave twelve encores.’ Zucker also offers frank, critical views on several singers, including legendary Caruso: ‘Compared with his predecessors…Caruso had less musical nuance, variety of dynamics and rubato; in short he had less musical imagination. He also had less control over dynamics. These were the prices he paid for his directness of address.’ With formidable passion and knowledge from their own experiences as singers and lovers of the genre, Corelli and Zucker pick up on notes the average opera fan most likely does not. Interestingly, the book’s last portion consists of Zucker’s evaluations of several tenors’ performances as the character Radames from Verdi’s Aida, based on archival recordings, such as Corelli’s from 1956, 1962, 1967, and 1972. Sprinkled throughout are wonderful archival photographs of the tenors dressed in their stage costumes. A reader not well-versed in the technical aspects of opera singing and history might find the book a bit challenging, though die-hard opera fans and scholars will absorb it easily. Zucker and Corelli make appreciating the artistry easy, to the point where readers might seek out the actual recordings. Zucker, expert that he is, is beyond that point; of Francesco Tamagno, one of his favorite tenors, he says: ‘I can go for years without listening to his records physically yet play them inside of me, for his is singing heard in the soul.’
“Strictly for opera aficionados, a detailed, passionate analysis of what makes tenor singing and its practitioners unique.”
Virginia Johnson, Reviewing in Library Journal:
“Zucker is well known in the world of opera, having lectured, taught, and published on the topic. He was the host of Columbia University–based station WKCR’s radio show ‘Opera Fanatic’ and is an American tenor himself—the Guinness Book of World Records lists him as ‘The World’s Highest Tenor.’ He is uniquely positioned to interview Franco Corelli on his radio show (11 times in four years), as Corelli actually watched over a younger Zucker, while his mother, the soprano Rosina Wolf, rehearsed. Zucker describes this book as one that ‘focuses in part on how singing changed as a result of the innovations of certain tenors.’
“A compilation and combination of essays, and historical fact, this book is not a history of opera, an instructional manual on singing, or a biography, but a mix of all three. All of the arts are, of course, a product and a reflection of their period and culture, and it’s fascinating to see how the style of singing has also changed.
“VERDICT A thought-provoking read. Sure to be a hit with opera fans, as well as students and teachers of voice and classical composition.”
Nino Pantano, Reviewing in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The Italian Tribune and The Italian Voice:
“Book on Tenors Covers the Ins and Outs of Opera Singing, with Love
“Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing by Stefan Zucker is a birthday gift to myself. Like the Energizer battery, it keeps on going. The photographs and illustrations are truly magnificent. Like a Bible student I turn to this book over and over again to gain both knowledge and inspiration from the great and varied tenors covered in it.
“I heard many of the great tenors—Beniamino Gigli and Tito Schipa at their remarkable farewells, Mario Del Monaco, Corelli himself and Carlo Bergonzi in their primes, and I had a handshake with Giovanni Martinelli, Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker and Ferruccio Tagliavini. Each had a strong vocal identity. Giuseppe Di Stefano and Jose Carreras too soon became vocal flotsam and jetsam, but earlier had undeniably gorgeous qualities to their voices. Luciano Pavarotti at times had a magic that cannot be explained in words, but his voice wasn’t as beautiful or expressive as Gigli’s.
“Zucker gives pithy phrases on the vocal gifts and flaws of these artists and much more than a dollop of fresh insights about what used to move the masses versus what currently moves them. The chapters on the arrival of Del Monaco with his golden voice of steel and grit and Corelli with his voice of power, pathos and cherished diminuendos are remarkable.
“Although I disagree with Zucker’s comments on Enrico Caruso’s ruining the art of singing by his use of power, as opposed to the flourishes and fast vibrato of the past, I would say that the immortal Caruso often sang softly with inspired beauty and heavenly legato. Just listen to his 1916 recording of ‘O Souverain, O Juge, O Pere!’
“Among other tenors discussed are Fernando De Lucia, Francesco Merli, Galliano Masini, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Aureliano Pertile, Francesco Tamagno, Jean de Reszke, Italo Campanini, Giovanni Battista Rubini and Gilbert-Louis Duprez. Zucker truly gives us the evolution of singing right down to the big-bang theory of how it all began. Today’s robust and expansive singing, I believe, surely began with Enrico Caruso.
“Zucker uses his beguiling literary charm to infuse the text with his sense of operatic tenorial truth. His comment that Swedish tenor Jussi Björling bores him after 15 minutes can be a source of irritation to Björling’s many admirers. If some of Zucker’s asides give one a headache, his mighty attributes of love and knowledge will also prove to be the Aleve you seek! I heard Björling in La Bohème and Tosca. He had a Nordic sound to his voice, which was of small to medium size, with a very melancholy inflection that he obtained with little sobbing. Corelli’s powerful and thrilling voice had the generosity and warmth of the Mediterranean, while Björling’s reflected the veneer of a beautiful but distant fjord. Met Opera archivist Robert Tuggle writes of his recollections of Björling in a brief chapter.
“I highly recommend this excellent book, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, and eagerly look forward to volumes two and three, forthcoming from Bel Canto Society.”
Debra Greschner, Reviewing in Journal of Singing:
“At first glance, this title raises a question: is it an assertion that Franco Corelli led a revolution in singing? As the reader delves into the book, however, it becomes clear that the volume is a discussion between Corelli and the author, Stefan Zucker, about the changes in the perception and production of the operatic tenor voice. Zucker describes it as neither biography nor a book of anecdotes, but rather an explanation of ‘tenor singing from 1820 to Domingo.’ Much of the material is drawn from transcripts of radio conversations between Zucker and Corelli, but the volume also includes essays and responses by other opera luminaries.
“The volume begins with a discussion about the influence of Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli. Zucker’s comparison of the technique of the renowned tenors is laced with details about their professional as well as personal lives. Both singers had the ring in the voice that Italians call squillo. ‘Tones without squillo cannot pierce or punch,’ states Zucker, and while voices without this quality may please, he writes, they cannot thrill. While Del Monaco and Corelli both had squillo in their sound, Del Monaco achieved it by lowering his larynx, a method that limited dynamic range. Zucker asserts that Corelli also adopted this technique, but did not use it exclusively.
“No discussion of tenors would be complete without the inclusion of the rivalry between Gilbert-Louis Duprez (1806-1896) and Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839). The former adopted the voix sombrée ou couvert (dark or covered voice) that was used by the Italian tenor Domenico Donzelli (1790-1873). When Nourrit saw that Parisian audiences thrilled to this sound, he traveled to Italy to learn the technique. Zucker points out that Nourrit learned a difficult lesson: the use of this covered sound limited agility and nuance. The author describes it as the tradeoff between ‘singing with a massive darkened tone and singing with nuance.’
“Just as the tastes of audiences have changed in regard to the quality of tenors’ high tones, the attitude toward vibrato has evolved as well. Zucker devotes a section to the fluctuating opinions about this vocal quality, tracing the use of fast vibrato to Giovanni Battista Rubini beginning around 1814.
“The bulk of the book is devoted to descriptions of the vocal qualities of notable tenors. Twenty singers, from Donzelli to José Carreras, are featured, and eleven are the subject of discussion between Zucker and Corelli. Many of the interviews contained in this volume are drawn from the radio program Opera Fanatic, which was hosted by Zucker. He had a long-time connection with Corelli, and many of their conversations are shared in this book. The interviews encompass frank discussions of vocal technique, both in general terms, and in relation to specific singers. For instance, in one interview, Corelli tells Zucker, ‘Domingo is not enough of a dramatic tenor to be really suitable for Lohengrin or Otello. I never have found him exciting.’ There are also discourses on the demands of certain composers, such as Corelli’s assertion that Mascagni is dangerous because too much of the music is in the passaggio.
“Zucker displays a sense of fair play; because he proffers an ‘unfavorable appraisal’ of Lauri-Volpi, a defense of the tenor by author Gian Paolo Nardoianni is included in an appendix. There are two other appendices—both essays by guest authors—and a comparison of the recordings of thirteen different tenors singing the role of Radamès. Supplementary materials include track listings for interviews with Corelli, and a listing of other titles from Bel Canto Society.
“In the prefatory material, Zucker states that Bel Canto Society is the only publisher willing to print large scale opera books on high quality paper. This volume is an excellent example of this attribute. The pages are heavy and glossy, and the volume contains 170 black and white photographs that are excellent reproductions, making it worthy of display on a coffee table. Moreover, the purchase price is eminently reasonable. Opera buffs—and indeed anyone interested in the tenor voice—will find the volume interesting, and will welcome the second and third volumes in the set, which are forthcoming.”
Brian Manternach, Reviewing in Classical Singer: Tenor Talk: Historical Tenors Analyzed by One of Their Towering Representatives
“Author Stefan Zucker developed a relationship with operatic superstar Franco Corelli in the 1990s during his 11 appearances on the Opera Fanatic program, which Zucker hosted on WKCR-FM out of Columbia University in New York. Their conversations covered a range of topics including the art and technique of singing and the interpretation of operatic roles as well as thoughts on various tenors throughout history. Through these conversations, Zucker gained an insight into the perspectives that fed Corelli’s choices as both a vocal technician and as an artist.
“These viewpoints have now been archived in a three-volume set of books published by Bel Canto Society of Key Colony Beach, Florida. The first volume available is Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years.
“Many chapters include word-for-word transcriptions of the conversations between Zucker and Corelli relating anecdotes, explanations, and opinions. Other chapters are more formal essays by Zucker exploring all things tenor and other pertinent topics.
“The book chronicles the contributions significant tenors made to the art of operatic singing, dating back to Domenico Donzelli (1790-1873), Gilbert-Louis Duprez (1806-1896), and Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839). Chapters like ‘Schipa: Unaffected by Caruso’ explore the great influence (or lack thereof) singers had on each other. Additional chapters, like ‘Nuance versus Massive Darkened Tone’ and ‘Gigli’s Two Kinds of Chiaroscuro: Chiaroscuro of Dynamics and Chiaroscuro of Timbre,’ delve into the specifics of the tenor sound.
“As expected, special emphasis is given to Corelli’s contemporaries, including chapters titled ‘Del Monaco: Corelli’s Chief Role Model and Rival’ and ‘Polar Opposites: Corelli and Di Stefano.’ Each of ‘The Three Tenors’ (Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras) is discussed, and even modern tenors like Joseph Calleja and Juan Diego Flórez receive at least a mention. [I discuss them in detail in vol. 3.—SZ]
“Besides historical perspectives, there is considerable examination of the mechanics involved in producing the tenor voice. Zucker frequently refers to the ‘lowered-larynx technique’ used by some tenors to achieve a more dramatic sound. He investigates the degree of ‘head voice’ certain singers employ in comparison to their colleagues and devotes a chapter to ‘The Fluctuating Fortunes of Vibrato.’ Still further discussion considers ‘cover’ in the passaggio—specifically, at what point in the voice tenors utilized cover and how that impacted their tone color and dynamic variation. [I also discuss that a number of tenors didn’t cover at all, Tamagno among them, and the significance of that.—SZ]
“Given that one of the roles for which Corelli was most famous was Radamès in Verdi’s Aida, Zucker provides an analysis of four different Corelli performances of the role (two studio recordings and two live recordings) spanning from 1956 to 1972. For additional comparison, he provides similar analysis of Radamès recordings from Aureliano Pertile, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Richard Tucker, Mario Del Monaco, Jussi Björling, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Carlo Bergonzi, Jon Vickers, Domingo, and Pavarotti occurring between 1928 and 1985.
“Opinions are abundant in the discussions. In one excerpted conversation, both Corelli and Zucker give ‘an unfavorable appraisal’ of tenor Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. Therefore, in the interest of fairness, Zucker invited Dr. Gian Paolo Nardoianni—who had known Lauri-Volpi—to provide an alternate perspective in an appendix. Similarly, when Björling is given ‘short shrift’ because ‘neither of us was that interested in him,’ Zucker asked author Robert Tuggle, director of the Metropolitan Opera Archives, to share his own perspective in an appendix as well.
“Zucker calls the first volume in the Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing series a ‘think’ book that studies how singing changed due to the innovations of select tenors throughout history. This story is aided by high-quality lithographs and photographs of the tenors, many provided by the Metropolitan Opera Archives.
“The book is published by Bel Canto Society, an organization that seeks to keep unique, hard-to-find operatic recordings and printed materials available to the public. Acknowledging the declining market for books about opera, Zucker explains in the acknowledgments that—besides years of his life—he also contributed abundant amounts of his own money to publish the first Corelli volume. In order to publish the second two volumes of the series, he makes a plea for contributions asking readers to make tax-deductible donations to Bel Canto Society.”
Tenor Brian Manternach teaches voice at the University of Utah in the Musical Theatre Program. He holds degrees in vocal performance from Saint John’s University in Minnesota (BA), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MM), and the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (DM).
Karen Upton, Founder of the Facebook Group Franco Corelli, the King of Tenors, Reviews Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 1:
“Stefan Zucker’s latest book, the first volume of three, is a tour de force, a combination of operatic scholarship and interpretation modulated by great intelligence and sensitivity to that most fragile of arts, operatic tenor singing. It is ambitious in scope, surveying great tenors of the past two centuries, their individuality, styles and techniques, and the metamorphosis of the tradition as it has been practised and handed on.
“Zucker is uniquely qualified to undertake this task, due to his years of enduring friendship with Franco Corelli and the long conversations on singing that both engaged in, in private and for radio broadcast. One might say that the relationship began at a very early age; astonishingly, in 1951, Corelli acted as babysitter to the young Stefan!
“Years later they re-established contact, forging a deep and lasting friendship and professional collaboration. Zucker interviewed Corelli eleven times on the “Opera Fanatic” radio programme. The pair also appeared several times together in the theatre, to the delight of audiences fortunate enough to be present.
“Some of these Corelli-Zucker dialogues are reproduced in the book. Corelli effectively becomes a character, brought alive again through his nuanced and sharp commentary on his own art and that of his major rivals, predecessors and more contemporary successors. This articulacy enhances the Corelli legacy and is one of the many joys the book provides.
Zucker’s analyses of particular performances – there is an extended section on different recordings of Aida – are those of a sympathetic expert listener, a tenor himself, whose detailed knowledge is pressed into the service of aesthetic appreciation, whilst holding an integrity of judgement. He is fair, neither swayed by the popular acclaim some tenors attracted – I am thinking of the section on Bjorling here – nor seduced by the merits of some voices to overlook their flaws.
“Corelli himself is not excluded from criticism. Zucker is always prepared to acknowledge greatness in singers whilst at the same time alluding to flaws whether technical or the result of poor or inadequate training, or just simply the passage of time. Some poignant remarks come to mind here concerning the meteoric careers often meted out by the fates to tenors: The fresh sheen of youth seldom lasts, voices coarsen and darken. The decline of the great Corelli’s voice, in his early fifties, is summed up by the phrase that he expended the capital rather than the interest accruing on his voice. Onstage, perhaps the result of his notorious nerves, Corelli entered his roles flat out, with a passion and tension that even in recordings communicate an excitement that is almost unique. It is these asides in the writing, coming with penetrative judgement, that add notes of charm to the weight of the book, giving it its distinctive voice.
“It is an eclectic work in structure: there are essays, dialogues with Corelli and a hybrid of both, as the author explains in his preface. Corelli is the starting point, the centre around which the work holds, a fitting one, for as Zucker convincingly writes: ‘I am not aware of an opera singer since so steeped in recordings and traditions (at least in those from Caruso onward).’
“With Caruso emerged a twentieth-century approach to opera: volume and directness. As we enter into Zucker’s book we explore the tradition, from the nineteenth century through the twentieth, the contexts that ‘led Corelli to become Corelli.’ Recent contemporary giants Carreras, Domingo, and Pavarotti are also critiqued. Sadly they represent for many the acme of operatic art. A reader may approach the book from the modern age therefore and be valuably instructed, given perspective on the continuing development of tenor singing, as altered by the innovations of its greatest practitioners. One reads through the volume and then revisits what is essentially a pantheon of figures, some almost superhuman in their capacity to evoke emotion and a following in the opera house as well as on disc.
“The book is also immensely instructive and fascinating to follow. The existence of YouTube here is a boon. So many and various are the references to recordings, particularly in the analyses of Radames in Aida, that such a tool is essential. Zucker’s writing is so lucidly analytic, whilst remaining empathetic, that it sends one flying to the recordings to check them out, whether to agree or disagree. Describing this first volume as a ‘think’ book Zucker succeeds admirably. The reader is not a passive recipient of information or opinion, but is called upon to participate actively, perhaps to ‘rethink’. The interview/dialogue sections of the work clearly perform this function, a lesson in stimulating engagement that harkens all the way back to Plato.
“That said I find myself in agreement with much of what Zucker says. Not all though. I’m too much of a Corelliano to be swayed much by any criticism – for despite their long friendship, Zucker is not hesitant in pointing out flaws apparent to him in certain Corelli performances. Neither does he balk at criticising Corelli’s decision to veer from the dramatic repertory to a more lyrical one later in his career; a decision Zucker considers a mistake, a view with which I am inclined to agree.
“A positive point of this book though is that Zucker argues cogently without steamrollering his views at the reader. Again all part of the cultivated engagement the book elicits. After all, as Corelli remarks, what makes a great tenor’s career is that the singer’s good points greatly outweigh his weaknesses.
“A fair treatment in the book is of Gigli, the tenor who dominated much of the first half of the twentieth century, whose debt subsequent greats like Del Monaco acknowledged, even if it was sometimes in reaction to his lyricism and the effortless floating beauty of his tone. In private life Gigli consorted with the inner circle of Nazism, right up to Hitler himself, and made an anti-Semitic pronouncement at a press conference. Stefan Zucker has another book in preparation, with Gigli as its subject: ‘Hitler’s Tenor’. Yet here in analysing the various interpretations of Radames, Zucker promulgates the view that Gigli’s 1946 studio Radames ‘is preferable to every other Radames, outstanding though Pertile, Martinelli, Tucker, Corelli and Domingo are, because he has you hanging on every note. The reasons has to do with personality and temperament as much as art….but on the whole he expresses the drama more than any other Radames.’ That, far from being over the hill, Gigli comports his singing to the role, sacrificing beauty to intensity of temperament and variety of inflection. An instance of art being separable from the mundane person.
“It is this level of nuanced comparative and balanced discussion that is one of the major and most attractive features of the book. Even a cursory dip into a few pages whets the appetite for operatic indulgence. Zucker invites us to do so through the clarity of his prose and the trenchancy of his arguments. Yet he does not wield a sledgehammer, but rather extends an offer to follow him, to follow Corelli into a deeper understanding and appreciation of this great art, through exploration of its history via that one set of opera heroes that makes up the greatest tenors.
“He does not hand down his views as some great fiat given from above. Complementing the dialogue form of parts of the book, and the dialogue implicitly engaged in with the reader, Zucker includes two appendices, on Lauri Volpi, and Bjorling, respectively by Dr. Gian Paolo Nardoianni and Robert Tuggle, where appreciations deviating from Zucker’s own are set out. In the often incestuous and narrow world of opera criticism, Zucker creates space. Love for music and great singing on its own terms, without narrow point scoring, refreshingly emerges.
“Some readers may initially feel that the technicalities of the book appear too difficult. It is a technical book, given its subject matter, the art of singing: techniques such as open and closed singing, covering, and other technical terms such as ‘passaggio’ and ‘portamento’/’portamenti’ are frequently used. But like development of knowledge in any subject, the initial apparent difficulties quickly fade, especially as the author gives lucid and careful exposition of meanings as they relate to the points he wishes to support.
“It would be impossible to gain any understanding from experts like Zucker and Corelli without entering into the terminology of their subject matter. For those not already familiar with all the technicalities under discussion, a little effort at the start pays off quickly and handsomely, not in terms of arid learning from the text – this book is anything but dry – but by example. Zucker is at pains to illuminate by reference to recorded examples. Careful attention to these will soon iron out any difficulties the hesitant reader may feel.
“In short the book is accessible to the general opera fan, as well as providing meat for the perhaps more advanced music student. And certainly the ideas that Zucker opens up are at the highest academic level. It is a mark of how good a communicator he is that he can give his work this character of seamlessness between the expert position and the general reader. It is the mark of the true educator, with a real passion and love for his subject that comes across: the book is a labour of love, drawing on the experience and thought of decades about a great artistic tradition, one which now, given modern technology, is open to exploration by many. Zucker’s book is both a starting point on the journey and a vade mecum for the way.
“I recommend the book wholeheartedly and have tried by the above remarks to say why and to give some of the flavour of the treasures that it contains. Let me draw attention to it as a physical object. It is beautifully produced on fine-quality paper and contains nearly 200 plates of the subjects of the text, most sourced from The Metropolitan Opera Archives. It is not an inexpensive book at $34.95 [temporarily reduced to $27.95], from Bel Canto Society, but given the beauty of its production and its scintillating introduction to two hundred years of singing, it is a must have for any serious lover of opera – particularly of Corelli. This volume and volumes two and three will form a cornerstone of any operatic library, as well as stimulating thought and debate for a long time to come.
“Finally, some remarks on the considerable criticism that has been aimed at Zucker, including allegations of gossip mongering and the breaking of confidences. I cannot agree with these at all. Is art – any art form – any less beautiful because it’s creator was an utter shit? No, of course it isn’t. Were that the case Wagner would have ceased to be performed long before Uncle Wolf (Wagner’s grandchildrens’ name for Adolf Hitler) parked his loathsome backside in the best box at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth. Similarly, is Gigli’s voice less beautiful because he liked, admired, and, dear God, was friends with Hitler, Goering, Goebbels et al? Of course not.
“Personally I find such vile and hateful political beliefs far more upsetting than revelations about extra-marital affairs, for instance although I grant you the cuckolded spouses probably felt differently.
“I am the founder of the Facebook Group Franco Corelli, King of Tenors and asked more than a dozen people, with particular regard to Corelli: would they be disgusted or appalled were his sexual peccadillos and other details about his fascinating life made known?
“Some, though not many it has to be owned, squirmed like Victorian maidens clambering on a chair because they’d seen a rodent waltz across the drawing room. Most however admitted they would be fascinated to read all. It’s human nature to be curious, particularly about those we admire. Equally, would it make the body of work less beautiful or appealing? Of course not.
“Were that the case I’d never be able to listen to Gigli again. In regard to the criticism of breaking of confidences, Corelli knew exactly to whom he was talking and what would be done with that information once he had gone to outshine the choir invisible. His was a fascinating life in every way. This is a fascinating book in every way.
“As President of Bel Canto Society, Stefan Zucker is a tireless promoter, archivist, opera historian and writer. He has put many, many thousands of dollars of his own money into publishing this first volume. Seriously, if you want Volumes II and III as desperately as I, then please help.
“Donations are desperately needed, and I am completely unembarrassed to ask anyone who cares about opera and particularly about the life and work of Franco Corelli to help makes this happen. Bel Canto Society is a not for profit corporation. In the US Contributions to it are tax deductible.
“Donations may be sent to:
Bel Canto Society Inc.
370 Third Street #424
Key Colony Beach, Fl. 33051
“If you can, please contribute, no matter how little.”
Ms. Upton is founder of the Facebook group Franco Corelli, King of Tenors.
Customers Review Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, vol. 1
Submitted by Moyses Szklo on Mon, 01/19/2015 – 17:45.
Stefan Zucker’s book, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 1, published by Bel Canto Society, is obligatory reading for opera fans. The pictures and lithographs alone would be worth the price of the book (which is not expensive). More important is the in-depth discussion of the great 20th century tenors, which includes such artists as Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Björling, Del Monaco and many others. Zucker’s scholarship is tremendous and even music lovers who are not conversant with the technical aspects of the musical language have a lot to learn here. In addition to Zucker’s critical comments about tenors, the book also discusses the use of vibrato and offers a comparison of eighteen tenors in the role of Radamès.
Corelli is quoted throughout the book. Zucker’s interviews with Corelli serve as a sort of leitmotif throughout most of the book. However, as great an admirer as Zucker is of this great tenor, his critical acumen about Corelli and the other tenors he discusses does not fail. That Zucker is a real scholar and open to judgment different from his is supported by the publication of an appendix in which Dr. G.P. Nardoianni offers a spirited dissenting opinion about Zucker’s critique of Lauri-Volpi.
Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing is an extraordinarily informative book that combines elegance of style and in-depth analyses in a language that is accessible to most opera lovers. Highly recommended. I am looking forward to other books in this series.
Submitted by Carol Klein on Sun, 02/01/2015 – 10:18.
Most books about opera singers list triumphs and sprinkle in some reviews and anecdotes. This one instead shows us how singing has changed in the last 200 years and which singers caused the changes.
The book helps me understand what I’m watching and listening to.
The 200 or so photos are stunning and beautifully reproduced. Not only are Rubini, Nourrit and Duprez pictured but so are Campanini, Gayarre, Stagno…
I’m going to order a copy to give as a gift.
Submitted by V Sulkowski on Wed, 01/14/2015 – 14:25.
Fascinating and compelling. My introduction to opera began on dad’s knee in the mid-1950s, and I have been an avid, if “pedestrian” fan since then. I inherited a substantial collection of vinyl opera records from my father including many very old 78 RPM discs in fine condition and enjoy them very much. My appreciation of the performances recorded on them is much enhanced by all that is shared in this book. It is one thing to know what you like and entirely another to understand why it is so appealing. Many questions are answered here. May I say: I always found Tamagno’s performances to be moving but never before understood what he was doing that produced the effect.
I would also like to note that I enjoy listening to Juan Diego Flórez, but Mr. Zucker’s comment on him verbalized what I felt—he sings beautifully but without much heart.
The fact of Mr. Zucker’s being an artist himself obviously and acutely informs all that is offered in this book (vol. 1). I found it to be very difficult to set aside. Opera lovers and especially admirers of the great tenors are certain to enhance our appreciation of the performances we have always enjoyed. I’m looking forward to Volume 2.
Submitted by Shaun Greenleaf on Wed, 01/28/2015 – 14:48.
Stefan Zucker’s encyclopedic knowledge of singing and singers yields a deeply informative and engaging overview of the most influential tenors of the 19th and 20th centuries. This alone would be invaluable, but the author’s long relationship with Franco Corelli (he broadcast many hours of fascinating interviews with the late tenor) allows him to share very specific insights into Corelli’s professional and personal opinions of many of these famous tenors’ strengths, weaknesses, and influence. Corelli’s lifelong technical study of singing, and especially of his predecessors (Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Del Monaco) provides hours of fascinating reading. For those who think of Corelli as the stereotypical empty-headed tenor, this book will come as quite a surprise. The book is beautifully produced on high quality stock, with many rare photographs. Mr. Zucker, himself a noted recitalist and founder of the non-profit Bel Canto Society, promises two more volumes. I can’t wait to read them. I’ve read this one three times.
San Francisco, CA
Submitted by Carol Vaness on Mon, 12/29/2014 – 3:11.
A great book! Lots of great information for opera singers.
Submitted by Howard Mounce on Sun, 12/28/2014 – 2:05.
Stefan Zucker has written an absorbing book for those who love the tenor voice. It is based on a series of interviews with Franco Corelli intermixed with essays that cover the history of tenor singing from the 19th Century to the present day. The history is confined very largely to the Italian tradition (Tauber is mentioned only in passing and there is no mention of Pattiera or Piccaver). But this is understandable, for the Italian tradition has been the dominant one throughout the period Zucker covers.
The book is enlivened by some controversial judgements. For example, Zucker is highly critical of Caruso. He criticizes him for his emphasis on weight or power and for a lack of variety in dynamics. Indeed he thinks that his influence has led to a coarsening of the tenor style during the last century. But one may wonder whether Caruso’s style was not right for Caruso. After all, it enabled him to combine vocal power and beauty in a way that has never been equalled by any other tenor. Zucker also thinks that Gigli’s later singing is superior to his earlier. Replaying some of Gigli’s later recordings I felt sure, once again, that his voice had hardened beneath the surface. But disagreements add to one’s enjoyment of the book. I found myself half-way through it before I could put it down. If you want a book about singing by a man who knows and loves the art, this is the one to buy.
Mr. Mounce contributed £50 toward the publication of vol. 2.
Submitted by Tomoko Arai on Sat, 02/28/2015 – 03:19.
I bought Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing by Stefan Zucker after I had finished reading Corelli’s biography by René Seghers. I’m really glad to have found this work, first because of the abundant interviews with Corelli himself. It brings an absolutely different image of this singer from the one in Seghers’s book. We can see that Corelli was not only concerned about the money a manager paid him but first of all about singing technique and opera’s tradition. We can follow the hard and serious way he studied to achieve what he became with a voice that he commented himself “was not so interesting at the beginning.” But Stefan Zucker’s book is not only interesting for Corelli fans but for all the “fanatic opera fans” who see in today’s opera only a caricature of what was.
Stefan Zucker develops a fine analysis of tenor history back to the 19th century, with Adolphe Nourrit and Gilbert-Louis Duprez. For the first time I was able to imagine what kind of voice the legendary Nourrit possessed.
It was very interesting for me to understand why I’ve never appreciated Caruso very much. Although I began to hear opera because of the Three Tenors, from the beginning I wasn’t satisfied by any of them and kept looking for more convincing interpretations. I was a long-time Del Monaco fan perhaps because his records were more readily available on the CD market. I found the mention in this book about his exhibitionism not only funny but interesting because it explains somewhat the character of his singing.
For many years I gave up going to live opera performances. Although I’ve heard Alfredo Kraus, Pavarotti, Domingo, Francisco Araiza, Roberto Alagna and Rolando Villazón, I’ve never experienced what I feel when I hear singers like Corelli, Pertile, Gigli etc. Now I prefer to read a book like this than to sit frustrated in an opera house.
Thank you so much for trying to memorialize this once-great culture. I’m looking forward to the next volumes.
Submitted by Aleksandr Yufa on Fri, 01/02/2015 – 01:10.
Thank you very much for the excellent book. I’ve been a Bel Canto Society customer for 20-plus years and have bought more than 100 video tapes, CDs and DVDs. I am looking forward to buying the next two volumes of your remarkable books.
Before reading this book my top ten tenors were: Caruso, Gigli, Pertile, Martinelli, Björling, Schmidt, Tauber, Schipa, Corelli and Di Stefano. This book helped me to rediscover the greatness of Corelli, who first combined the best qualities of different prominent singers and schools in his own unique way. Now I will also pay more respect to Tamagno and Lauri-Volpi. At the same time, I understood from the book that even some prominent singers had weaknesses (forte without nuances, pronounced vibrato, monochrome, out of pitch, etc.).
As a Jewish immigrant from Kiev, Ukraine, where more than 100,000 Jews were executed by Nazis in Babi Yar in 1941, I was shocked by the scale of Beniamino Gigli’s collaboration. I am waiting for Zucker’s book about this subject.
One small remark about Caruso’s singing “to the ground.” All photos of Caruso, Gigli, Björling and many others show them putting their heads a little back when taking high notes. The classic exemples of putting heads forward down to the chest on high notes are Carreras and Hvorostovsky.
Again, many thanks for the great job.
Submitted by Alfred Lakos on Sat, 01/24/2015 – 12:07.
It was a very interesting book for me as a music lover and opera fanatic. But since I’m not a professional singer, it would have made it easier to understand the comments if I had a CD standing by from each singer from 1800 to 1922. I could better understand the theory, the style and pros and cons behind each tenor’s singing.
I’m 78 years old, born in Budapest, Hungary, and started going to the opera at age 12. When I lived in Milan from late 1956 to 1961, I attended 34 performances at La Scala. During those times, I heard Corelli, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Callas, Simionato, Barbieri, Scotto, Cerquetti and the debut of Sutherland in Lucia di Lamermoor.
My biggest regret is that I did not hear any of the above mentioned tenors at the Met when I came to the USA in 1967. Money was an issue while raising a family with three boys.
After reading the book I have a much better understanding about the difficulties in becoming a singer and the studies they have to undertake to excel! It is more than just God-given talents! The book brought back a lot of memories from my youth!
Received by email from Ralph Cavaliere, December 31, 2014 4:41:57 PM EST.
Zucker seems to have put his heart and soul into the book. He tells the story of the art of singing and is a formidable critic, insightful and second to none. The result is engrossing, to say the least, and should be a mandatory read for all singers aspiring to greater heights. I’m sure others will cherish it—as do I.
Corelli was the matinee idol of the opera, or so opined my late sister, Aurora. I’ll take Mario! I enjoyed his voice more because of its timbre. It seemed heavier, almost baritonal. It was distinctive, and he had stage presence. He commanded attention!
As for Pavarotti, I’m not too happy with him. He sang well, even late in his career, but I think he got a little sloppy with his singing, a little vulgar.
North Massapequa, NY
Having contributed toward the publication of vol. 1, Mr. Cavaliere contributed $100 toward the publication of vol. 2.
Received by email from Vinicio Romagnoli, January 5, 2015 2:31:39 PM EST.
It’s an excellent book, interesting and stimulating, because, interviewing the tenor from Ancona [Corelli], it familiarizes you with the lives and styles of many other opera singers. The book in short should be in the libraries of opera fanatics around the world.
Submitted by idia legray on Wed, 01/07/2015 – 12:41.
Having devoured the Corelli/Zucker radio interviews, I was pleased to actually have my own copy to refer to close at hand. Certainly if one is fascinated by how tenors came to their particular ways of using their voices, this book imparts valuable information.
I am a bit perturbed at not realizing Björling’s offerings from Corelli’s point of view rather than just Zucker’s. Seems he was given too short shrift for the magnifcent talent he brought to the art.
Aside from some not-so-very-subtle enticements about what is next to come, I found this book an interesting read with some really fine photos.
Submitted by ROMBAUT Etienne on Sat, 12/27/2014 – 09:03.
This book is wonderful, with many beautiful pictures of the singers of the past. It features very interesting interviews with Corelli about the great singers of the 19th and 20th centuries, their ways of singing and about “covering” the voice. I hope that vols. II and III plus Hitler’s Tenor: Gigli will come very quickly. (I visited Gigli’s museum and tomb in Recanati.)
Submitted by Liu Chengyuan on Fri, 02/20/2015 – 04:50.
For any hard-core fan of Franco Corelli, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing by Mr. Zucker comes as a surprise. For a serious bel canto lover, not only an opera fanatic, this book offers more than expected since it covers a range of influential tenors who have glorified opera stages over previous centuries and the last century in particular. I almost read word by word to avoid missing anything throughout the large part of the book but flipped through pages on other Bel Canto Society publications, which read more like ads.
It is certainly not merely a glimpse at the glorious past of tenors, but a careful study of their artistry with interesting tidbits that offer us a look into the operatic business. Mr. Zucker has based most of his viewpoints and analyses on actual experience as a singer, which shows itself in the way he delves into meticulous exploration of singing techniques and draws on a vast amount of recordings to support his criticism; and last but not least, he interposes long Corelli interviews to add to the authority, or unfold argumentation or more importantly, arouse the appetite of the reader to savor this book.
Objective as Mr. Zucker may have striven to appear, nonetheless it is obvious that he is a big Corelli fan himself (while entitling the book Franco Corelli & …), and so is he of Del Monaco, which is demonstrated in his frequent references to their names and the number of pages devoted to them. In contrast, with Björling and Carreras he just passes by, leaving in-depth discussion to others or simply doing without it. A counterexample, the fine chapter on Lauri-Volpi (perhaps the longest chapter of this volume), has well-balanced the book if Mr. Zucker tends to be subject to his own taste in the other chapters. Considering any book, especially one that delivers concrete ideas with different voices, Mr. Zucker has certainly made his efforts to be just by inviting others to write on the singer he is personally not so much interested in (Björling), by including an article disputing his own observations (Lauri-Volpi: A Defense Against Stefan) and by allowing so many others to voice their opinions from time to time.
Well illustrated with so many admirable photos, nicely printed, together with neat artwork, this book makes a pleasant gift, but I am not sure if the names in question deem the book pleasant when his/her private life is also discussed. Still, one has to read all three volumes to enjoy or to dislike the book more. Right now? Keep reading!
Opera lover and Corelli record collector
Submitted by César Mejía on Sun, 02/15/2015 – 07:29.
It was a pleasure to read the book Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing. I’m part of a family of opera lovers, and for many years we have been followers of the most important singers, especially those who performed after WWII. The most important part of the book for me is that dedicated to the tenors of the nineteenth century and the first 50 years of the twentieth. I knew about Caruso, Gigli and some others but very little about Pertile or Martinelli, to mention just a few about whom there is excellent information in your book.
I understand your dedication to Corelli, for many the paradigm of tenors. But to judge him with absolute objectivity is difficult or impossible. For instance in my family there were really big disagreements. My grandmother was born in Salerno, close to Naples, and very influenced by its culture. For her nobody sang like Ferruccio Tagliavini, and her argument sometimes was that he reminded her of the voices of Carlo Buti and Tino Rossi, popular singers of the 30s. For other members of my family, such as my father and some of my uncles, the influence on Josep Carreras of Di Stefano (his hero), confirmed by Pavarotti and Del Monaco, considering him the most beautiful voice of the post-war period, was very great.
We have had on a Barcelona TV channel an excellent programme dedicated to opera (now only on radio because of the dictatorship of ratings), on which it always has been imposible to arrive at any agreement with respect to singers, especially tenors. I only remember agreements about records. That was the case with the best Otello (the Del Monaco recording of 1954 with Tebaldi), the best Tosca (the Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi of 1953) and the best Manon (the Domingo and Caballé of the late 70s). That is very little agreement in the course of 20 years of the programme.
For those like me, for whom the singers are a fundamental part (I know many who value many other things in the opera and only respect “correct” singers), your book and in general your labor are fantastic and the most valuable apportation to the opera I’ve seen. Thanks a lot.
Submitted by Col William Russell (ret) on Wed, 01/28/2015 – 11:16.
Here is an exemplary book on the art of singing, especially tenors. Stefan Zucker is a well-known tenor in his own right (I had the pleasure of attending one of his recitals many years ago plus he holds the record as “The World’s Highest Tenor”), so he knows his subject. This book is a treasure trove of facts, tidbits, and even some gossip with many excellent photos. It is an enjoyable read for expert and novice alike and is a must-have book for tenor fans. It will probably disappear so grab a copy while you can! Let’s hope vol. 2 is soon available.
Col. William Russell (ret.)
Col. Russell is host of the radio program “The Operaphile,” on WFOS-FM, in Chesapeake, VA, on which he reviewed the book.
Submitted by Doug Fox on Thur, 04/02/2015 – 10:29.
This is the most interesting book on operatic singing I have encountered in many a moon. The book is superb and will remain so. It is a major achievement.
Professor Fox is host of the radio program “Evening at the Opera,” on WMNR-FM, in Monroe, CT, on which he reviewed the book.
Submitted by Judge Greene on Wed, 03/11/2015 – 11:16.
An extraordinary book. Wish I’d had this while I was reviewing for the Washington Post. Everything good thing everyone else has said about it is true. Now, where do I send a check to help with the next volume?
Federal Judge J.F. Greene (ret.)
The address for contributions is:
Bel Canto Society
P.O. Box 510424
Key Colony Beach, FL 33051
Bel Canto Society is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, and contributions to it are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
Submitted by Federico Casagran on Tue, 03/31 2015 -13:10.
The book is a must for every fan of the tenor voice.
Los Angeles, CA
Submitted by William Gardner on Tue, 05/05/2015 – 12:55.
I recently purchased Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 1 and while I have no formal or other training in music I found the discussions on the history of the evolution of the tenor voice very understandable and enlightening.
I have to confess to being a life long-fan of Gigli, and I was fortunate enough to hear him live in his last two farewell concerts in Glasgow. The discussion between Corelli and Zucker as to when he was in best voice was therefore most interesting and informative.
At 80 years of age my only concern is that with vols. 2 and 3 still to come my wait for Hitler’s Tenor will not be in vain. In the meantime anyone with even a passing interest in the tenors of the first half of the 20th century should not be without a copy of Stefan’s book.
Submitted by Susan Hilmi on Sat, 03/21/2015 – 15:23.
Great book full of information not only about many tenors from the past and of course the main tenor here, franco corelli, but also the many different methods used by tenors in singing .. this book is a must for alll opera fans that want to know more about how tenors actually sing. i suggest this book be taught in music schools. hats off to stefan zucker.
Submitted by Brian Morgan on Tue, 03/10/2015 – 23:47.
Stefan Zucker’s “Franco Corelli & a Revolution in Singing,” volume I, is a fascinating traversal of the history of the Italian School of tenors. The author is a controversial figure in the world of opera, but there is no question regarding his deep knowledge and comprehension of the art form.
Mr Zucker here takes a unique approach as an author: He weaves his study of the breed with his extensive interviews with the tenor Franco Corelli, who was surprisingly insightful, even objective, on the subject. We are taken through the Nineteenth Century and its various stylistic changes, and when we reach the dawn of recording, we really gain in momentum. The author takes a fresh view of the phenomenon of Enrico Caruso, and makes us realize that his immense influence was not entirely positive. We were led from grace and musicality to the stentorian, a trend which reached its apogee in Mario Del Monaco and Corelli. Today, all voices in Italian opera are judged almost solely in terms of size and force. If a new Giuseppe Anselmi or Jussi Björling arrived on the scene today, they would be relegated to the scores of Mozart and the lightest works of the ottocento, and would certainly not be seen in “Il trovatore” or “Pagliacci” (except as Beppe).
The author’s tour through the tenor ethos is fascinating, especially when dealing with Francesco Tamagno (a particular favorite of his) and Aureliano Pertile (a particular favorite of the present reviewer), and along the way we are treated to a variety of interesting, even scintillating details about the tenors. In writing of Caruso, he remarks that “The Met’s undiscriminating audience and gigantic auditorium exercised a bad effect on Caruso.”
Later in the book, Mr Zucker reviews various recorded accounts of Radamès in “Aïda.” Here, the present reviewer’s favorite tenor, Jon Vickers, does not come off as well as one could have hoped. The author complains, in short, of the great Canadian not being Italianate [SZ: more is at issue], and, indeed, he is in no wise Italianate. His greatness lay in other aspects, especially as singing-actor. But Zucker writes that, “He has more dynamic gradations than any other tenor since Pertile or maybe even De Lucia.”
This reviewer found only one mistake: José Carreras’ famous 1977 performances of Roberto Devereux were not at Orange but Aix-en-Provence. It was also a bit frustrating to often get referred to the not-yet-published volumes II and III. Having said that, one does eagerly anticipate them. Also worth noting is Mr Zucker’s upcoming “Hitler’s Tenor: Beniamino Gigli.”
A word regarding the photographs: They are truly splendid (as is the glossy paper), well-chosen and marvelously reproduced. So many are rare, and pictures were found of certain rather homely men looking rather handsome. Certain of the Corelli and Del Monaco snap-shots are more than a bit startling, indeed! But that does bring one to the single greatest disappointment in this impressive work, since the most handsome of all tenors, Anselmi, is mentioned favorably, but, as he represents the pre-Caruso School, one would have dearly liked to have his recordings examined. Perhaps in the subsequent volumes….
New Orleans, LA
Mr. Morgan is the author of Strange Child of Chaos: Norman Treigle.
SZ: Anselmi is an exquisite tenor of the elegiac kind, evocative of Mario, whose voice, however, had far greater range and apparently greater power. But Anselmi’s records don’t shed light on his predecessors to the degree De Lucia’s do, nor do they pre-echo future singers the way Caruso’s, Del Monaco’s and Corelli’s do.
On some records Anselmi is ever so slightly but persistently flat. Although I am drawn to his sensibility I decided to make only brief mention of him since the book is not merely a compendium of chapters about famous tenors.
Tucker’s singing doesn’t illustrate a thesis, but I made an exception in including him since Corelli speaks of him, however briefly, and he is part of the frame of reference for Corelli’s repertory and period.
Submitted by Michael Rood on Sun, 04/12/2015 – 2:58.
It has been my distinct pleasure to have received a copy of your absolutely fantastic Franco Corelli & A Revolution in Singing. Never before to my knowledge has one work so vividly presented the vivid impact of the Melocchi technique on the world of opera.
It was during a coaching session with a Met assistant conductor that she quipped, “Franco has, singlehandedly, returned opera back at least fifty years.” All I could think of was, “Thank God.”
It was my privilege to hear Mr. Corelli many times both at the Met and when on tour with the Minnesota end-of-season runs. It was also my distinct pleasure to meet Franco many times in Central Park on an informal basis when he was accompanied by his beloved poodle, Romeo, I with my mini-dachshund, Herschel.
There are few times when a mere mortal has the opportunity to touch hearts with a soul so illumined as was Sr. Corelli’s.
I cannot thank you enough for the slave labor required to put together such an invaluable work.
In your debt,
Submitted by Lois Alba Wachter on Mon, 03/30/2015 – 18:09.
Stefan Zucker’s book, Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, is a veritable treasure of personal and public information about the great tenors! I’m particularly interested in the bel canto aspects of the study, since I was trained in this style in Italy while developing my opera career in Europe. One of my maestri was Alfredo Strano, a Sicilian and Bellini scholar, as well as a student in composition with Cilea.
As a former singer and now a teacher for many years, I was very interested to know all that Stefan discovered about the varying techniques that were employed. The high larynx versus the low larynx and their effects on the sounds. I personally believe that the sound of Caruso’s voice was from his Neapolitan heritage and dialect. I noted that sound in many Neapolitans with whom I sang. Particularly interesting is the concept of modifying vowels, attributed in part to Pertile (page 113).
I did hear Del Monaco many times and the most memorable performance was in Venice when Otello was performed at the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco. Gobbi was Iago and Marcella Pobbe was Desdemona. The “Esultate” from the balcony of the Palace was stentorian!!!!
Another memorable evening was in Verona when I heard Corelli for the first time! He was Jack Rance in La fanciulla del West and he looked like Robert Taylor.
I was fortunate to have lived and performed in Italy during the time of and in the company of many great Italian tenors!
When I returned to the US in the 70’s, I moved to NYC where I listened to Stefan’s radio program and was amazed at the sound of Corelli’s speaking voice, so unlike the sound when he sang. I regret that I never heard Gigli live, because his voice was so beautiful. Of course, not to be compared in size to the two giants, Del Monaco and Corelli.
BRAVO, Stefan… Carry on! So many interesting facts and details!!!
Author of Vocal Rescue
Founder of Soma International Foundation, Inc.
Submitted by Donald George on Mon., 05/18/2015 – 12:59.
Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol. 1 by Stefan Zucker is an indispensible tool that tenor voice students should have in their collections. For a mere $35 [$27.95, at Belcantosociety.org], one can have a lifelong access to the inside scoop on various tenors such as Jean de Reszke, Francesco Tamagno, Enrico Caruso, and many more.
Zucker creates a beautiful timeline of the history of tenor singing from the powerful and highly influential Domenico Donzelli (1790-1873) to modern performers. He delves deep into the lives of those discussed. Although some of his comments on their personal lives are meant to amuse, each helps shape the overall picture of that individual tenor. On page 252, Zuker compares Beniamino’s quality of his straight tone to his libido. How else would we have learned that Gigli fathered seven illegitimate children? The book commences with a 26-page detailed comparison of Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco. Their rivalry over who could produce the strongest tenor sound is like a boxing match between two heavyweight champions.
Traditions and the development of techniques are presented in both essay and in dialogue with Corelli. Mezza voce, squillo, scatto are explained not only by examining tenors who made use of them, but also by the repertoire that correlates with and guided their legacy. Corelli discusses Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, who also sang with an extremely lowered larynx. In his wisdom, Corelli informs the reader that Puritani, Turandot, and Ugonotti were examples of operas that best-suited Lauri-Volpi, a Romantic tenor, due to a focus on producing brilliant, pure high notes. Giovanni Martinelli possessed tones with scatto, which promoted accurate and sharply focused tones. After listening to his recordings of Otello, I have grown to appreciate him as a performer. His placement of the voice in the nasal cavity along with natural squillo creates a beautiful, rich, and colorful sound in “Desdemona rea!”
Disappointed is one word that exemplifies the section on Jussi Björling. Zucker spends a mere page and a half explaining the vocal flaws of arguably the greatest Swedish tenor. Although I agree with Zucker in acknowledging that Björling had a language barrier, which prevented foreign pieces to be sung with expression [SZ: more than that is at issue], he truly had a warm, sweet, and beautiful lyric voice. Listening to “Recondita Armonia,” one can hear the ease of the high A on “E a te” and the careful portamento release immediately after. I did appreciate the inclusion of the commentary on Björling of the Director of The Metropolitan Opera Archives, Robert Tuggle.
I recommend this incredible work to any tenor voice student, indeed for any vocal student or someone interested in the tenor voice. One will not only gain valuable insight on tenors through the eyes of Zucker and Corelli, but also be influenced to expand their palate of tenor performers through independent research and listening.
Aaron Smith, written for a vocal pedagogy course at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York, Potsdam, taught by Professor Donald George, author of Master Singers: Advice from the Stage
SZ: I write more about Björling than Mr. Smith and Professor George indicate. Not only does the book include the two chapters about him, respectively by Robert Tuggle and me, but it also includes the Björling section in the chapter “Eighteen Radamès Recordings Compared.”
Submitted by James Edgar Knight on Wed, 06/04/2015 – 8: 49.
Dear Mr. Zucker,
I received your book Franco Corelli: A Revolution in Singing (Volume 1) from one of my mentors and colleagues, Steven Blier, a week ago, just before I left New York City to begin my Fest engagement at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe.
I am thoroughly enjoying your book and the vast wealth of information contained within. It is not uncommon for people to tell me that I remind them of Franco when they hear me sing so I am very keen to absorb as much about him and the other tenors of that time as I can.
In the book you mention references to your writing in the other two volumes. Are they available for purchase? I would very much like to add them to my library.
With much respect and admiration,
James Edgar Knight
Submitted by Paul Rothwell on Tue, 06/09 2015 – 19:33.
Is there a release date for volume 2? I really enjoyed volume 1. Thanks Mr Zucker it was a great read, need volume 2. LOL
SZ: To be able to publish vols. 2 and 3 Bel Canto Society needs to do additional fundraising. A small number of contributors helped with funding vol. 1, but I put up the lion’s share. Unfortunately, having already donated most of my assets to Bel Canto Society, I no longer have the wherewithal to continue to subsidize it, notwithstanding my desire to publish the books.
Bel Canto Society is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation, and contributions to it are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
Also, I need to complete writing vols. 2 and 3.
Submitted by Henriette Lund on Wed, 07/11/2018 – 3:34 pm.
These books are of course mostly for people in the opera business, like myself.
It is basically a history of tenors since early 19th cent., and it is opiniated and subject to Stefan Zucker’s own ideas about voice technique. But that said, it is extremely useful and entertaining! Loads of research are behind, and who else does this?? I applaud Zucker for persevering, at least since the 80’s. I think I have most of his collection of Bel Canto tapes. It is a must for operalovers and professionals.
Submitted by Joe Li Vecchi on Mon, 05/18/2015 – 21:55.
I heartily recommend Stefan Zucker’s book Franco Corelli & a Revolution in Singing to anyone who is interested in Franco Corelli, the tenor voice or opera in general. This book would be worth the price for the pictures alone. It is a scholarly work on both vocal matters and operatic composition, in the tradition of Paul Jackson’s work on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. This book was informative, entertaining and sometimes controversial. It provides a high-level musical analysis of the tenor voice and of the operas, and the analysis of Verdi’s Aida was a fine example of that. I am sure I’ll reread it many times and keep it as a reference book in my library. Bravo Stefan Zucker!
A few weeks ago I was coming home from a concert and heard excerpts of Donizetti’s Poliuto with Franco Corelli from Stefan’s old radio station at Columbia University. They were playing the entire opera for their fundraiser. It brought back memories of the program when Stefan Zucker hosted it, and what an opera show that was! It was called “Opera Fanatic,” and it was on WKCR FM. It was on this program that he brought back Franco Corelli to the public after a long absence. Corelli fans will forever be grateful to Stefan Zucker for bringing our hero back to the public. At Bel Canto Society’s special events I had a chance to finally meet Franco Corelli, his wife Loretta, Licia Albanese, Jerome Hines and many “Opera Fanatic” fans. I can think of no one more qualified than Stefan Zucker to write about Franco Corelli.
This book traces the development of the tenor voice from the dawn of the recording era [SZ: really from 1820] to the end of the 20th century. While this book focuses on Franco Corelli, opera fans will surely find their favorite tenors in it. In my more than 50 years of following opera, Franco Corelli remains the most exciting and charismatic spinto-dramatic tenor that I have heard live. Yes, I have heard other great tenors. For example, Luciano Pavarotti possessed the most beautiful lyric voice I have heard live, while Jon Vickers was my favorite Otello and Wagnerian tenor. However, in operas like Turandot, Fanciulla del West, Aida, Trovatore and Andrea Chenier, to name a few, I found Franco Corelli unequalled. For me, Corelli comes out on top in roles that required power, emotion and top notes above B-flat. Listening to the 1960 Poliuto on WKCR again was a vivid reminder of why I have been a Corelli nut these many years. The intensity, power, freedom and security on high notes were amazing. Plus his voice was beautiful as far as dramatic voices go, and he had that bold phrasing and bitting attack on high notes. I wonder if I will ever hear his like again.
While I tend to hear things in a similar way to Stefan Zucker, there are a few places in this book where I disagree. Stefan feels that Caruso sang with less variety than his predecessors. That may be true in comparing him to De Lucia and Bonci, but when I listen to Caruso’s early recordings of “Una furtiva” from 1904 and “E lucevan le stelle” from 1906, I hear a high degree of variety, as well as a beautiful legato and sweet tones. His work, at this period of time, set the standards for the lyric tenor. However, as he got older his voice became more powerful, baritonal and less caressing, yet I still find his singing in a full dramatic-tenor mode overwhelming. I find it hard to believe the top lyric tenor became the top dramatic tenor while in his forties. Yet in Caruso’s later period, he always maintained a good legato and retained sweetness and beauty of tone. He had great power, but he never shouted. In my opinion, Caruso would have been the first tenor in any era, because no tenor fulfilled the requirements of the lyric and the dramatic tenor the way he did. It is also true that tenors that followed him tended to emulate the more muscular aspects of Caruso’s singing. This is true of Martinelli, Tucker and Domingo. All three had a beautiful legato, but none of the three color their voices the way the young Caruso did, nor did any of them have that booming full center of the voice of the older Caruso.
Franco Corelli did not follow in the Caruso mold when it came to his lyrical way of singing. While he worked hard in the second half of his career to make the voice more lyrical and sweet, his voice did not encompass the full scope of a lyric tenor. He started his career as a spinto-dramatic tenor, unlike Caruso who began as a lyric tenor. That explains why Corelli avoided operas like Rigoletto and never considered singing L’elisir d’amore, which were both Caruso staples. However, he was influenced by Caruso, as were the others, in the areas of power, expressivity and intensity. The sheer power and intensity of Corelli’s death scene in Romeo and Juliet is comparable to the way Caruso sings the aria from La Juive. In both instances the voices are driven at full throttle with the emphasis on emotion and sheer sweep of sound. Both performances are utterly believable as they convey the text. They are not just beautiful pieces of singing, since both performances have a sheer visceral impact. When Corelli referred to Caruso’s great heart in his singing, I wonder if that is what he had in mind.
Corelli did sing with more varied dynamics than any tenor of his type and even more than Caruso, say, after 1911. He surely sang with more color and variation of dynamics than either Richard Tucker, his predecessor at the Met, or Placido Domingo, his successor. Furthermore, Corelli sounded different from the spinto and dramatic tenors that came before him. Corelli varied his tone much more than Del Monaco, but also more than Masini, Merli and even the early Martinelli. For example, contrast Corelli’s studio recording of “E lucevan le stelle” from 1961 or 1966 with Martinelli’s 1914 version. We can hear this difference in color between Corelli and the Met’s earlier successor to Caruso. This additional color in Corelli’s singing allowed him to make the final step to the top of the tenor ranks. This is a big reason he was so successful as a romantic tenor.
As for the 1967 Aida, I think I enjoyed this performance a bit more than Stefan Zucker. In my view, Franco Corelli is an ideal Radames voice, and I listen to this opera more than any other Corelli recording. He just does so much with this role, where we hear his power, emotion and lyricism. His diminuendo in “Celeste Aida” is stunning, but so is his breath control. In this aria he takes one breath where other tenors take three. His singing has good legato, line, and he sings pear-shaped tones in “tu sei regina,” which are significantly better than in his 1956 version. However, his Cetra performance does capture his voice better than EMI. One thing that can be said is that the Italians know how to capture the tenor voice on records, while with EMI during early stereo, they tried to equalize his voice. Yet on EMI the first two B-flats in “Celeste Aida” are more brilliant than 10 years earlier, and the “Sacerdoti io resto a te” is just knocked out of the ballpark. This greater brilliance and better legato could be attributed to his training with Lauri Volpi. I agree with Stefan that the 1962 Met broadcast, freed from recording engineers, captures Corelli’s voice even more. [SZ: That’s not my position.] There he sounds like his EMI “Nile Scene” recording with Callas from 1964.
I disagree with Franco Corelli when he says that Radames is really a lyric tenor role. I think it requires a spinto-dramatic tenor. One needs to have lyricism for “Celeste Aida” and the “Tomb Scene” but power for Acts 2 and 3. The dramatic demands in Acts 2 and 3 are one reason that both Tucker and Pavarotti avoided this role on stage for 20 years, and are why Jussi Bjorling never sang it at the Met. Also, Jan Peerce felt that singing over the loud orchestra and chorus in Act 2 would have strained his voice. That is why he never sang it either. The exception is Bergonzi, who had a lyric voice but had the discipline not to push in act 2 or in any other place. However, most tenors are like Di Stefano, who could never hold back. Corelli had power galore in Act 2 and often sang an interpolated high C to make things even more difficult and more spectacular! These thrilling extras may not have promoted longevity, but they gave us memories that can last a lifetime.
I disagree with Stefan Zucker on Gigli’s Aida. Gigli delayed singing Aida for the same reasons listed above, and in 12 seasons at the Met he avoided it. Off course he did it later and was successful. While I consider Gigli to be Caruso’s successor, I do not feel he had an ideal Radames voice. However, I do consider Gigli to be the most beautiful lyric tenor of the 20th century. But Radames was not a 100% fit for him. Gigli is excellent in parts of Aida and I enjoy him the most in the “Tomb Scene,” where his sweetness of tone is unequalled. However, he is just not my first choice for Aida. He does not have the ringing clarion voice needed for the recitative that begins “Celeste Aida” nor the heavy demands in Acts 2 and 3.
Stefan feels was it a mistake for Corelli to have made his voice more lyric by training with Lauri Volpi. Stefan feels he would have been better off staying a more dramatic tenor, like the way he sounded in the 1956 Aida. Once again, I agree and disagree with Stefan. I think Corelli’s singing during the Lauri Volpi period from 1963 to 1972 shows a more beautiful line, sweetness and legato, as compared with his earlier singing. I find his voice more beautiful in the 1971 “O paradiso” in DVD D100, Corelli in Concert, than in the 1950s. Therefore working with Lauri Volpi was a plus. Also, Corelli’s top notes were more brilliant in the 1960s as compared with the 1950s. Compare his two studio recordings of the aria from Ernani, “Come rugiada al cespite,” the Cetra from 1956 and the EMI from 1967. In the earlier version he belts the top note on the word “affanno”, but 10 years later his voice is both freer and more brilliant. Also, his effort to imbue his voice with a lyric beauty may be the result of Lauri Volpi. Pavarotti said as much in his books and in a YouTube interview where he said that Corelli just got better and better. If Corelli followed the pure dramatic tenor route after 1956, I doubt he would have been able to handle Poliuto or Ugonotti. [SZ: He sang these parts before he studied with Lauri-Volpi.] I also doubt he would have been so successful in Romeo and Juliet, La Boheme or Turandot. He triumphed in all three operas at the Met during the 1960s.
I do feel that Corelli’s work with Lauri Volpi after the Rudolph Bing era was a problem. Here I agree with Stefan. Franco Corelli at 51 needed to move on to a handful of dramatic tenor roles the way Del Monaco did more than 10 years earlier. [SZ: This is not my position.] In his early fifties Lauri Volpi sang the same repertory that he did for most of his career. That means he could sing the higher lirico-spinto roles, and he expected Corelli to do the same. They were different tenors, since Corelli had a darker and heavier middle register. Corelli’s voice retained size and power in the center of his voice after 1972, as can be heard in his 1973 Tosca in Lisbon or his concerts during the same time with Tebaldi. Yet his facility with notes above high A was diminished. Corelli did not seem to understand where his voice was at this stage of his career and continued to fight Father Time. He refused to adjust his singing to that of an older tenor and sing roles with a lower tessitura. Look how successful Domingo was in doing just that (tranposing B-flats to As in several roles on stage). Instead, Corelli followed Lauri Volpi’s example to the end, and I believe this shortened his career. His nerves and the loss of his caretaker at the Met, Sir Rudolf Bing, surely exacerbated his vocal insecurities.
One only wonders how different his late career would have been if he had eliminated the higher lyric and spinto roles like Calaf, Romeo and Rodolfo and sung only roles with a lower tessitura like Pollione, Canio, Samson, Le Cid and Otello. I included Le Cid because he could still sing the aria very well as late as 1973, which he did in Tokyo. I was at Corelli’s 1981 comeback in Newark, NJ, and he sang only one B-flat. He did not need to go higher because it was a wonderful evening. I recall that the center of his voice sounded bigger in 1981 than it did in his last season at the Met. As someone who loved his voice, I felt cheated that that he did not make these repertory changes after 1972.
I enjoyed reading about the other tenors too, but in the spirit of brevity I will comment only on Pavarotti and Gigli. (One could write pages about the other tenors in this book.) I agree with Stefan when he says that Pavarotti “is in the vein of Bjorling.” I have always felt that Pavarotti’s voice resembled Bjorling’s more than it did Gigli’s or Di Stefano’s. Pavarotti had more brilliance of tone and greater range than Gigli but lacked this predecessor’s sweetness of tone and bewitching mezza voce. Moreover to me, both Gigli and Di Stefano have that hot Mediterranean temperament that was not always evident with Pavarotti. Luciano was more controlled and his singing style was less exuberant. His excellent vocal technique and this self control explain why he could sing “Nessun dorma” a 100 times and never miss the high B.
To me, listening to Gigli is like taking a voice lesson. It is the most natural-sounding tenor voice I have ever heard. While Di Stefano’s voice is also unsurpassed in natural beauty and has a hot temperament to boot, he lacks the vocal technique and skill of either Pavarotti or Gigli. Still I would stand in the rain for 24 hours if I could see any of these three in the theatre today. As a matter of fact, that would apply to most of the great tenors discussed in this wonderful book.
I look forward to the next volume of this series. This is the third English-language book on Franco Corelli, and it shows the importance this tenor has for so many people. Corelli never received his full due while he was performing because he was so different and he took liberties with the score. As a result his vocal achievements and artistic ability were not fully appreciated when he sang. I am glad he is getting his due today. I am also so pleased that many of todays tenors have such a high regard for Franco Corelli. They include Jonas Kaufmann, Piotr Beczala and Rolando Villazon, to name a few. Franco Corelli is recognized today as one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century. So buy this book!
Now where is volume 2?
Joe Li Vecchi
SZ: Beginning in the late 60s Corelli found himself more at ease in higher-lying roles. Vol. 3 includes a letter from him to Lauri-Volpi in which he says that Roméo had become easier for him than Don Alvaro. At the end of his career he concentrated on Roméo, Rodolfo and Calàf—three relatively high-lying parts.
In vols. 1 and 3 I discuss in detail that in the 60s and 70s Corelli switched back and forth among techniques and often combined them. Corelli’s letters to Lauri-Volpi, reprinted in vol. 3, bear this out. It is not the case that after year X Corelli used Lauri-Volpi’s technique full time. Sometimes he sang much of a performance using Lauri-Volpi’s mask placement but switched to larynx lowering for a high note. (See the chapter in vol. 3 on his different recordings of Trovatore.)
In any case in vol. 1 only the Corelli section of the chapter “Eighteen Radamès Recordings Compared” focuses on his singing (along with that of Pertile, Martinelli, Gigli, Tucker, Del Monaco, Björling, Di Stefano, Bergonzi, Vickers, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti). Elsewhere in the book Corelli analyses other tenors’ singing. One can detest Corelli as a tenor but still find his commentary of interest. The same applies to me.
We won’t have the money to pay for vol. 2 until we receive additional contributions.
Submitted by Tobias Mostel on Mon, 12/07/2015 – 12:09.
Stefan Zucker’s Franco Corelli & a Revolution in Singing gets ten stars on the five star scale. The best thing about it is Stefan’s style of no-holds-barred writing. This leaves no room for fence-sitting, a problem that other biographers or writers have to face due to issues outside the content of the books and articles they write. This means we get Stefan’s unvarnished truth, his feelings and his findings about opera and singers and virtually everything else connected with that giant edifice of irrationality. One of the great things about opera is that no two people, whether audience or critic, singer or electrician, biographer or singing teacher, agree about any of the terms used in opera, which is to say, that the transmission of opera is an oral, or shouted, tradition. I have taught opera appreciation at the Florida State University Senior Extension. I was in the boys chorus at the Old Met for two seasons, 1960-61 and 1961-62. I was on stage with some great singers, including Franco Corelli and Birgit Nilsson during the second act of Turandot. I have taught singing—the method of my teacher Thomas LoMonaco, who taught the Melocchi method, modified slightly [SZ: not so, according to Corelli; see below]. Stefan defines “cover” as”darkening the tone and modifying vowels, almost as if some were schwas (like the “uh” sounds in ‘America’)” (p. 34). Tom LoMonaco taught that the cover was the sound made by combining the falsetto with the chest above the passaggio, so that higher notes were “fortified” by the two voices (falsetto and chest). In this way any singer could get past the weak end of the one voice or the other by the combination method. I teach this, too. Because of this difference of opinion (appropriate for opera) about what the meaning of a basic term is, I hear singers using cover differently from what Stefan hears. Thus, his lists of tenors that cover are shorter than my lists. However, we agree about ping or squillo. Some have it, some don’t. We agree about history of singing, most of which I learned from Stefan because through his writing he is a great teacher.
Also I learned from the record jackets of my once-vast opera collection, now defunct, gone with the wind-up victrola, the stereo, the speakers, the pre-amps and all the other heavy paraphernalia record nuts used to have. I learned about singing, also from Franz Jolowicz at the Discophile on 8th street, where, if I needed a Tauber recording at 10 PM, I could bike there and get it. I heard Corelli in all his great roles at the Old and New Mets. Also everyone else. Many sang in Carnegie Hall, too, as well as Weill, Town Hall and various opera houses here and abroad, where I have traveled since I was 11.
I fundamentally disagree with Stefan about acting and singing. But I disagree with everybody about acting since Zero Mostel was my father, and he was called “the greatest actor in America” by some newspaper or other in the 1960s, during a time when I spent almost every night at the Old Met, upstairs with the other standees, in that now-forgotten land of fabulous acoustics and bad sight lines. My favorite place to stand was right by the proscenium arch, stage right, over the basses and cellos. I have never again heard sound like that, though I’ve tried to all over the world. In only one other place at the Old Met were the acoustics as good, in the last row of the top balcony. There, a good place to be, the sound was a phenomenon like nothing else anywhere. I heard Bernstein’s Falstaff from up there. Amazing!
I enjoyed Franco Corelli & A Revolution in Singing immensely, for the strongly worded praise or insult of lots of singers I heard live and all the singers I heard on record. I only disagree with one thing in the whole book. On page 216, in the Di Stefano section, Stefan writes:
Vocal acting is of two kinds: word emphasis and tone coloring. Acting through singing is very similar to acting through speaking, with the difference that sung acting is regimented by the music. Acting through speaking or singing involves coloring words, imbuing them with meaning, deciding which ones to de-emphasize, which to italicize. Italian singers used to speak of “valorizzare la parola”—to give value to the word… Stefan quotes Di Stefano saying,“The art of singing really consists in coloring the word with expression. To do so, you must dominate your natural instrument, the voice.” (The discussion continues with Corelli’s version of things).
My only problem with this is that some singers (Callas is one) act out of time. Other singers, like Neblett “place” the acting the same way they place a note. Unfortunately, the timing needed to place a gesture is often different than the timing and phrasing needed to place a note.
My father was in Gianni Schicchi with members of the English National Opera, Hillman, Burrowes, Tinsley, 1976, filmed by the BBC). Of course he played Gianni Schicchi. A most interesting thing about that performance is that Zero acts in such a manner that the rest of the cast seems cardboard by comparison, though all do what Stefan claims they do, by acting with their singing voices and etc. Acting is, in many ways, separate from the voice, whether in time or not. For example, my father at one point makes his hand into a non-threatening fist. (This is not indicated in the score). In doing that, he adds to the conniving character he creates for Gianni by showing the knottiness of the plot and of the character who is the full equal to the multiples of plotting going on in that opera. Compared to him, the others on stage move like badly strung puppets making their gestures and facial expressions line up with whatever the music does. Zero’s main problem in this production is that he punches into every phrase of music Broadway-style. Whoever was the coach should have told him that wasn’t appropriate to the style of opera. (Zero didn’t read music. He learned the whole thing by ear).
What Zero’s performance demonstrates is that there are times when opera does not have to be a one-dimensional whole wherein everything is in the right place, with the right sound at the right time. Opera can have a general sameness about it that gets dull in the long run. This is why the few great actor-singers are so rare; they manage to bring opera to its full potential where everything is in time and also out of time because an art work should drive the audience, literally, out of its mind; it should be cathartic in all senses, not just those of music or singing.
Of acting with the voice, my general contention is that it is a rationalization for not acting at all. While a singer can phrase and sing loud and soft and even have stage savvy, like Tebaldi or Milanov, no one can say that they were actresses in the sense that Bette Davis or Marie Dressler were. Many of the male singers I have observed in my time have mastered the art of trudging across the stage, or in an inspired moment, traipsing. This is supposed to inject into their tread some kind of seriousness of purpose and to show that they understand what the words mean, I guess. I do not recall any good examples of acting among men during my years as a standee at either Met. In fact I praise the theater designers of old who saw to it that, for class reasons, three quarters of the audience couldn’t see the stage at all and thus could be impressed by all the “vocal acting” going on while the singers were moving about like double-wide refrigerators being walked down the servant’s hall due to the movers who had forgotten to bring their hand truck. We didn’t have to see that. And we were lucky. Then the age of sightlines came in along with vocal acting and other rationalizations about what singers do on stage.
Stanislavsky, it is often forgotten, started his “method” of acting to help opera singers in the late nineteenth century. He writes tellingly of Battistini and Tamagno and what they did on stage. And we can hear on records what they did with their voices. But unfortunately for opera singers, actors stole Stanislavsky’s method and inflicted it on the Americans—a piece of the cold war that is rarely mentioned. I have to say that the best piece of acting I have ever seen either live or in a video of a live performance is Del Monaco’s Pagliacci from 1961 in Tokyo with Protti and Tucci. Del Monaco’s portrayal of a man being driven insane by jealousy is worth comparison with the Othellos that live in our heads, since we can’t see the performances of Salvini who invented that interpretation—the one generally in use now. But of Otello, Vickers, Domingo and Del Monaco (on DVD) don’t act; voice or not, they move through the score as best they can, trying like mad not to give too much offense to the audience, which I hope has an alternate picture of Othello in its head.
The size of the New Met is alarming. Everyone, including the audience, has to work very hard to be heard. The auditorium of the Old Met held 3600 spectators in 680,000 cubic feet. The New Met seats the same number in 1.2 million cubic feet. This is a problem that cannot be overcome in that auditorium. In about 1975, John Dexter, who was the head of production at the Met then, said to me, “This theater is too damn big.” I said, “Why don’t you put the Old Met inside?” “We’ve thought about it,” he said. “What about the flailing stegosaurus tails?” I asked. “A few more years and the copyright is off and they’ll come off. It’s this damn gold proscenium that kills everything here. The lights and reflections of the gold leaf wreck all attempts at anything like theater in this house. It drives me mad.” But what a great idea—to have the Old Met’s auditorium inside the larger quarters of the New Met! Aside from revitalizing the acoustics of the place, the auditorium would no longer look like a 3600 seat Tad’s Steak Joint. The only problem I can foresee is that the last row of the Old/New/Old Family Circle would have a great view of Central Park if not of the stage.
SZ: When Corelli first appeared on “Opera Fanatic,” on February 3, 1990, he mentioned that he used Melocchi’s method, based on larynx lowering. This resulted in students of Thomas LoMonaco and others who taught larynx lowering tuning in to our broadcasts, attending our theater evenings and auditioning for our master classes. They assumed Corelli was sympathetic to their techniques. However, he declared, “Singing in falsetto has no value” and maintained that Thomas LoMonaco greatly exaggerated larynx lowering. He said LoMonaco’s students had “worn voices” and was careful to distinguish his technique and Melocchi’s from LoMonaco’s. In the end he deplored that his discussion of larynx lowering had resulted in a “laringomania.”
Submitted by Elaine Mencher on August 8, 2015 at 6:15 AM.
Your book is admirable. Physically it is beautifully produced; musically it is very impressive. The critical detail is superb.
You can’t imagine what a relief it is to me to find Gigli taken seriously. He is my favourite tenor, but I find myself a fish out of water nowadays. Next comes Schipa. And what a relief to find someone who does not think Caruso’s singing unimpeachable and better than anyone else’s. Frankly, I find him brutal at times and I cringe in readiness for the ends of phrases where his voice is jerked off like a tap. It seems I’m justified in only liking some of Björling but often being left cold by him. And so on and so on.
I’m tired of people telling me a singer has “such a beautiful voice” but not understanding that it matters what the singer does with that voice, whether he/she expresses something deeply or not. And I’m tired of Pavarotti being considered the be-all and end-all of tenors. He had a saw-edged voice and little expression. He only sounds expressive at all where the context matches his voice, otherwise . . . . “The Three Tenors” business only encouraged even more vulgar public enthusiasm for what I can only call bellowing, not singing. It was a contest in volume. And to hold the last note of “Nessun dorma” so long ruined the harmony. After that it was considered that more people appreciated opera. No; they appreciated bellowing.
In the event of a reprint, may I respectfully point out a typo for correction? P. 269 “Un ballo in masher”. Should be maschera, of course. [SZ: I thank you for this; I failed to see that autocorrect had struck.] And I had much difficulty in making out the sentence on p. 272, 5th line from the bottom. I think it would help were a comma to be added after “recording” and another after “Corelli”. [SZ: The sentence in question is “Unlike Del Monaco, Tucker in the 1955 recording and to a degree Corelli his tones aren’t spread in pitch.” I don’t feel “and to a degree Corelli” needs the extra emphasis.] On p. 20 I think vol. and Vol. should be printed in full. I wasn’t looking for mistakes; just happened to notice.
You probably know about Tano Ferendinos. I recently bought a CD “Stars of English Opera” for items sung by Heddle Nash. I’d never heard of Tano Ferendinos and was absolutely astounded today to hear his voice, strongly reminiscent of Gigli and Schipa. It’s astonishingly beautiful, but how I long for him to pierce a little more deeply into the expression. Perhaps he would have got there had he continued with the singing career. I looked him up online. How heartbreaking that he had to break off in order to earn a living for his family. The UK has something to answer for if it’s true.
I’m looking forward to your new Gigli book; when will it come out? My husband used to tell me Gigli was a fascist, but I can’t help loving what he does. Now, according to you, it would seem that Gigli was even worse than we thought. When will Corelli Vols 2 and 3 come out?
Here is the email to which these customers responded:
Thank you very much for having bought Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing, vol.1.
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?