Franco Corelli
Arias and duets from Norma, Carmen, Mefistofele, Adriana Lecouvreur, Lucia di Lammermoor, La favorita, Andrea Chénier, Fedora, I pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, Lodoletta, Werther, Turandot, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La fanciulla del West, Ernani, Il trovatore, Aida, Otello, I Lombardi alla prima crociata, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, Un ballo in maschera, and La forza del destino.
Franco Corelli, tenor; Loretta de Lelio, mezzo-soprano; Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI, Arturo Basile, Fulvio Vernizzi, Alfredo Simonetto, and Umberto Cattini, cond.
Warner Fonit 5050466-3303-2-1 (2 Discs) (M) (ADD) TT: 2:24:07

Arias from Luisa Miller, La forza del destino, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Ernani, Roméo et Juliette, Le Cid, La bohème, Loreley, Un ballo in maschera and Il trovatore.
Franco Corelli, tenor. New Philharmonia Orchestra, Franco Ferraris, cond./Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eduardo Pedrazzolli, cond. EMI 5 629699 ( )F (ADD) TT: 44:49

While not intended as such, these two recent CD issues of recordings by Franco Corelli now serve as in memoriam tributes. The great Italian tenor died in Milan on October 29, 2003, at the age of 82. Both releases offer, in different ways, a useful perspective on one of the most dynamic tenors of the 20th century. The Warner Fonit two-disc set encompasses all of the operatic excerpts Corelli recorded for Cetra between the years 1955 and 1958. The EMI set, entitled “The Unknown Recordings,” marks the first release of a recital album Corelli recorded in 1967. The disc also includes a few other selections that will be discussed below.

In many ways Franco Corelli was a man of contradictions. Blessed with what was, arguably, opera’s most stunning combination of vocal opulence and matinee-idol looks, he was a remarkably charismatic presence on stage. Nevertheless Corelli suffered from nerves that afflicted him throughout his career. And while he could be as cavalier as anyone in tossing aside the composer’s directives in order to play to the gallery, he evaluated his vocal technique and each performance with a relentless perfectionism. In the end no one was more critical of Franco Corelli than Corelli himself.

Corelli’s Cetra recordings are among the most viscerally exciting tenor discs. The voice rings out with incredible beauty and power throughout its entire range, all the way up to some of the most brilliant and thrilling top notes you’ll ever hear. The passion that Corelli brings to each and every excerpt is admirable as well, as is his attempt to give the musical line a sense of pulse, and forward momentum. There is also evidence of the dynamic shading that Corelli would use to even greater effect in later years. There's no doubt Corelli would have long enjoyed a major career had he continued to sing exactly the way he did on these Cetra discs. But again, Corelli was always someone who looked to improve his voice and craft. In several interviews (including one I conducted with him about ten years ago), Corelli acknowledged his dissatisfaction with the quick, pronounced (albeit intensely focused) vibrato apparent in the Cetra recordings. Corelli worked relentlessly, and ultimately successfully, to eliminate this flickering vibrato. Additionally it is obvious that Corelli sought to improve his legato, replacing intrusive aspirates with a more pure binding of notes and phrases.
The fruits of Corelli’s labor are apparent in his performances and recordings from the 1960s, including those featured on the new EMI disc. It is again a sign of Corelli’s relentless perfectionism that for years,this EMI recital did not receive the tenor’s approval for release. But as the end of his life drew near he felt an intense desire for his entire recorded legacy to be released. And so, “The Unknown Recordings” are finally available to the public.
I feel that Franco Corelli attained his greatest synthesis of technique, style, and interpretation during the mid-60s. “The Unknown Recordings,” made in February of 1967, come toward the end of that golden period. In retrospect,it is perhaps easy to see why Corelli resisted final approval of this recital. There are minor imperfections, such as some incorrect pitch toward the close of the recitative in the Romeo et Juliette aria. And I’m sure Corelli would have liked another go at his muscular and awkward rendition of the cadenza in “La donna è mobile.” But the rest of the disc offers spinto tenor singing that outstrips anything heard on the opera stage in the last few decades.

The arias from the 1967 recital are presented in complete form, with the exception of “Che gelida manina,” which begins with the section that begins “In povertà mia lieta.” Corelli’s gorgeous singing from this mid-point on clearly makes this a case of the glass being half full. It’s also nice finally to have studio recordings of arias Corelli performed beautifully in recital, such as the excerpts from Macbeth and Le Cid. The final two tracks are recordings Corelli made in 1964, singing over orchestral tracks originally made for another tenor in 1958. Corelli sings Riccardo’s last-act aria from Un ballo in maschera with a beautiful line and an appropriate sense of impending tragedy. The disc closes with “Di quella pira,” taken at a too-hasty clip, but with ringing high Cs, nonetheless.

The Cetra recordings are mono, the EMI, stereo. The sound for the most part is excellent on both, one exception being the Cetra Lucia Tomb Scene, which suffers from some distortion. I’ve listened to each of these releases several times, and with the utmost pleasure. Thanks to Warner Fonit and EMI for welcome souvenirs of a unique and great operatic talent.

K.M. (December 2003)