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Franco Corelli, Italian tenor

By August 13, 2023No Comments

If one is going to know something about opera in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, one must know something about Franco Corelli.  Corelli was born in Ancona.  Ancona is a seaport on the Adriatic.  It is part of a region that produced Beniamino Gigli, Mario Del Monaco, and Renata Tebaldi.  When you hear Corelli sing, you will probably be impressed by the sheer amount of sound and the dynamic range.  His was a voice that had a lot of pressure in it, especially when he jumped into the high registers.  During Corelli’s prime years, opera buffs and critics hotly debated the quality of his technique and artistry.  Today’s opera buffs and critics only wish that they had a Franco Corelli to battle over.

Vi resta un’ora;
un sacerdote i vostri cenni attende.

No, ma un’ultima grazia io vi richiedo.

Se posso…

Io lascio al mondo
una persona cara. Consentite
ch’io le scriva un sol motto.
(togliendo dal dito un anello)
Unico resto
di mia ricchezza è questo anel.
Se promettete di consegnarle
Il mio ultimo addio,
esso è vostro.

(tituba un poco, poi accetta e facendo cenno a
Cavaradossi di sedere alla tavola, va a sedere
sulla panca)


(si mette a scrivere, ma dopo tracciate alcune
linee è invaso dalle rimembranze)

E lucevan le stelle ed olezzava
la terra, stridea l’uscio
dell’orto, e un passo sfiorava la rena…
Entrava ella, fragrante,
mi cadea fra le braccia…
Oh, dolci baci, o languide carezze,
mentr’io fremente
le belle forme disciogliea dai veli!
Svanì per sempre il sogno mio d’amore…
L’ora è fuggita…
E muoio disperato!
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!
(Scoppia in singhiozzi).

You have one hour.
A priest awaits your call.

No… but I have a last favor to ask of you.

If I can…

One very dear person
I leave behind me. Permit me
to write her a few lines.
(taking a ring from his finger)
This ring is all that remains
of my possessions.
If you will promise to give her
my last farewell,
then it is yours.

(hesitates a little, then accepts. He motions
Cavaradossi to the chair at the table, and sits
down on the bench.)


(begins to write, but after a few lines a flood of
memories invades him)

And the stars shone and the earth was perfumed.
The gate to the garden creaked and a footstep
rustled the sand to the path…
Fragrant, she entered
and fell into my arms…
Oh, soft kisses, oh, sweet abandon,
as I trembling
unloosed her veils and disclosed her beauty.
Oh, vanished forever is that dream of love,
fled is that hour…
and desperately I die.
And never before have I loved life so much!
(He bursts into sobs)

A te, o cara, amor talora
Mi guidà furtivo e in pianto;
Or mi guida a te d’accanto
Tra la gioia e l’esultar.

Al brillar di si bell’ora,
Se rammento il mio tormento
Si raddoppia il mio contento,
Ma più caro il palpitar

To you, oh dear one, love at times
lead me furtively and in tears;
now it guides me to your side
in joy and exultation.

At the radiance of such a beautiful hour
if I renew my torment,
it redoubles my happiness,
the heart’s beating is dearer

Franco Corelli
April 8, 1921 – October 29, 2003

Corelli was a largely self-taught singer who came to music late and considered voice teachers ”dangerous people” and a ”plague to singers” (in some cases, he was right).

Corelli was a greater artist than he was often given credit for in his day. Displaying impressive curiosity and intelligence, he championed neglected operas, like Donizetti’s ”Poliuto,” as well as contemporary works like Salvatore Allegra’s 1946 ”Romulus.” He contributed significantly to the revived interest in the early-19th-century composer Gasparo Spontini by making his 1954 La Scala debut in ”La Vestale,” which also starred Callas, and by performing Spontini’s grand German opera ”Agnes von Hohenstaufen,” an obscure work, at the Maggio Musicale in Florence.

He earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who, in Mr. Corelli, finally had someone with whom she could act. To the soprano Birgit Nilsson, he was about the only tenor who could match her power in Puccini’s ”Turandot.” Ms. Nilsson enjoyed telling the story of a 1961 performance they did of ”Turandot” while on tour with the Met in Boston. Mr. Corelli was incensed that in a climactic moment of the second act Ms. Nilsson had held a high C longer than he had. So, in the third act, instead of placing a stage kiss on her cheek, he bit her in the neck. After the performance she told Rudolf Bing, the Met’s general manager, that she would not be able to continue on to Cleveland because she had been bitten by a tenor and had rabies. Though there were numerous witnesses to the event, Mr. Corelli always denied that it happened.

Franco Corelli was born on April 8, 1921, in Ancona, part of a region of Italy that produced Beniamino Gigli, Mario Del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi and several other illustrious singers. His father was a ship worker and his family had no particular background in music. Born 10 yards from the Adriatic coastline, he loved the sea and enrolled in a naval engineering program at the University of Bologna. His studies were cut short when a friend, an amateur singer impressed by Mr. Corelli’s raw vocal talent, urged him to enter a competition. Though he lost, he was sufficiently encouraged to enter the Pesaro Conservatory of Music.

The role of his Met debut on Jan. 27, 1961, was Manrico in ”Il Trovatore”; it was a historic night that was also the Met debut of Leontyne Price as Leonora. In his Times review Mr. Schonberg wrote that Mr. Corelli’s large-scaled voice was ”produced explosively” and had ”something of an exciting animal drive” about it. He cautioned that the dashing tenor’s voice was not yet an ”especially suave instrument” and that his ”art does need some refining and polishing.” Six weeks later Mr. Corelli appeared opposite Ms. Nilsson in ”Turandot,” the Met’s first production of the opera in 30 years.

Corelli became indispensable to the Met, singing 19 roles in 15 seasons for a total of 365 performances. Knowing that his handsome physique was part of his allure, Mr. Corelli readily supplied his fans with his vital statistics: 6 feet 1 inch tall; nearly 200 pounds; a chest measuring, at rest, 47 inches. With his penetrating brown eyes, Errol Flynn visage and star power, he wound up modeling evening clothes for Town and Country magazine. To keep in shape and protect his voice, he neither drank nor smoked. For relaxation he relished horseback riding, tennis, swimming and skiing. Fans loved reading about his compulsion for photography (he had 12 cameras) and his fondness for luxury cars. (At one time he owned a Jaguar, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a Lincoln Continental and a Cadillac.)

When Mr. Corelli announced his retirement in 1976 he was only 55. It seemed too soon to his fans, not to mention general managers everywhere. But, as he explained in the 1996 Opera News interview: ”I felt that my voice was a little tired, a little opaque, less brilliant than before. The singer’s life cost me a great deal. I was full of apprehension and mad at everyone. I was a bundle of nerves, I wasn’t eating or sleeping.”