Corelli’s Favorite Corelli

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Aïda, Carmen, Trovatore, Cavalleria, Turandot, Requiem (Verdi), “Granada” (same as on Videos #32 and #88), Gioconda. 38m. Color.

PAL VHS


“This is the singing for which I want to be remembered.”–Franco Corelli

One of Corelli’s trademarks was diminuendos on high notes. At the end of “Celeste Aïda” he approaches the B-flat with a tiny scoop from the F below. “I did that to keep my throat open,” he said. On the B-flat itself he surpasses himself, attacking full voice then making a very gradual, protracted diminuendo without changing to a fundamentally different quality of tone.

Corelli performed his debut role, José, more than any other and sometimes said it was his favorite. (On other occasions he cited Rodolfo and Chénier.) In “La fleur” he gives us the lyrical side of the character, beginning the aria softly but letting the final B-flat peal forth, in accordance not with the score but Italian tradition.

In “Ah! sì, ben mio” he sings with excellent continuity of dynamics. His voice gleams on the B-flat although, like nearly everyone else, he omits the two trills. In “Di quella pira” he gives more than one spinal chill. His high Cs ring out and he holds the second one a long time. (He doesn’t transpose here but once explained to me, “I always did in complete performances, to feel more at ease.”)

Corelli was born for Turiddu. In “Addio alla madre” his voice is especially brilliant, full of core, punch–and fervor. I don’t think of Corelli as a plaintive singer, yet at the end he’s quite affecting.

At the beginning of “Nessun dorma,” he finds an almost bass-like quality for the low Ds and is blazing in the climax. He wears a colorful red costume, quite unlike the one he wore at the Met.

“This ‘Ingemisco’ is one of the two best things I ever did. (The other is my recording of ‘Ombra mai fu’),” said Corelli. His voice has lots of squillo (ring or ping) and yet is sweet, lovely in the quiet sections, fresh-sounding, flowing, youthful. He does a lot of soft singing. You wouldn’t think from this selection that he used a lowered-larynx technique, where such qualities tend to be sacrificed on the altar of power. The B-flats are very brilliant; he’s quite thrilling on the last one and yet full-bodied on the middle-voice E-flat immediately following it.

When he was voted Favorite Tenor of the Century,* he remarked that he was lucky the world had begun to forget Gigli. Corelli feels, though, that his singing of this piece can bear comparison with anyone else’s.

“Granada,” to me, is vulgar, but Corelli sounds terrific in it and interpolates a ringing C at the end.

He sings “Cielo e mar” heavily, darkening the Italian vowel “a,” so that “altar ” sounds like “altawr.” His tone quality is fatter. Unlike everyone else who comes to mind, he forgoes the breath before the first B-flat (at “al bacio”).–Stefan Zucker

*Corelli is Favorite Tenor of the Century in “Opera Fanatic” poll

Listeners to “Opera Fanatic” on WKCR-FM recently voted for Favorite Tenor of the Century. With 47 singers receiving a grand total of 600 votes, the results were:

First place: Corelli, with 185 votes or 30.8% of the vote; second: Björling 177 (29.5%); third: Caruso 69 (11.5%); fourth: Gigli 50 (8.3%); fifth: Vickers 17 (2.8%); sixth: McCormack 14 (2.3%); seventh: Carreras and Melchior 7 (1.2%) each; ninth: Bergonzi, Del Monaco and Zucker (host of “Opera Fanatic”) 5 (0.8%) each; twelfth: Kraus and Pavarotti 4 (0.6%) each; fourteenth: Di Stefano, Gedda, Lanza, Tauber and Tucker 3 (0.5%) each; nineteenth: Domingo, Lauri Volpi, Rosvaenge, Schmidt, Shicoff, Slezak and Urlus, 2 (0.3%) each; twenty-sixth: Bonci, Consiglio, De Lucia, De Muro, Fleta, Koslovsky, Leech, Lemeshev, Mann, Merli, Pears, Peerce, H. Price, Ralf, Schipa, Schreier, Simoneau, Tamagno, Tagliavini, Thill, Wittrisch and Wunderlich 1 vote (0.2%) each.

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