CORELLI (1921 - 2003) -- RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS
a lion's share of leading tenor roles, in the Italian rep especially, are either
fighters or lovers -- when they aren't both -- any artist therefore who can fuse
the two in one and the same voice is automatically rare and valuable. Possibly
some of the keenest commentary on Corelli that I've yet read is Paul Jackson's
in his second volume on the MET b'casts: he spotlights this mercurial aspect to
Corelli's singing right away. For me, that is maybe Corelli's greatest asset.
Simply contrasting his "Si, fui soldato" with his "Io non ho amato
ancor" in Andrea Chenier makes this point better than anything I could say.
this, Corelli may be unique (even though some very murky cylinders of De Reszke
suggest Corelli may not be alone in this) in the astonishing capacity to combine
the heroic and the amorous within one and the same phrase through veritably heightening
the sweetness of his tone even as he swells it. How many other dramatic tenors
*increase* the lyricism in their timbres while swelling the tone?! One thinks
of dramatic tenors like Caruso, Melchior, Lauri-Volpi, Del Monaco, Vickers, Vinay,
Urlus, Tamagno, etc. -- all of these, for the most part (however adept *some*
*of* *them* may be in combining the lyrical and heroic styles), *usually* forfeit
lyrical coloring when going for the grandest tones of all. Yes, Caruso, Melchior,
Lauri-Volpi, Vickers -- they all sing quite tenderly when they want to. But the
intrinsic coloring of their voices *usually* preclude tenderness when opening
out for the "trumpet blast" (yes, there are a few tender fortissimos
in the Caruso canon, but they are mostly from his earlier records when the voice
was not yet a full dramatic, IMO).
a few, this predominantly tender quality that Corelli sustains even at his most
clarion marks him as the greatest tenor of all, for others it ends up as a handicap,
making his singing a bit cloying. For me, I became a diehard Corelli fan during
the '60s, because I found the generous "vocal face" (to use John Steane's
phrase) exceptionally vulnerable and moving, particularly in the context of so
much intrinsic vocal power. There was genuine interpretive inwardness *in* *the*
*voice*, a feeling of a soul laid bare despite the glorious vocal armor and squillo,
stirring and intriguing one through its touching contrast of abundant vocal power
versus human susceptibility. During the '60s, no other tenor that I had yet heard
in person affected me the same way.
said, there are reasons why I might demur, many years later, at the idea of according
him the title of Greatest Tenor.
were nights when he clearly was not on top of his music.
were nights when a fidgetiness overtook what could sometimes be a marvelously
concentrated and focused interpretive approach. Overwhelming but artistically
focused spontaneity of feeling alternated with utter lack of self-control or self-discipline.
Yes, there were some nights when even Corelli's less disciplined phrases still
rang emotionally true and did not seem at all self-indulgent, but there were,
conversely, nights when self-indulgence was the dominant impression. Mind you,
even today, I prize an undisciplined emotional engagement with the character *marginally*
more than a deliberately calculated, self-preserving restraint. But the balance
of preference, for me, is a close one.
is also -- and this is putting it mildly, IMO -- his highly individual diction
to consider. Many will stoutly maintain -- and no doubt this is true -- that this
was strictly a matter of regional dialect, not something that was necessarily
under Corelli's control at all. At the same time, many find it assuming distinctly
eccentric proportions in his studio recordings, where closer miking is generally
the rule (even a very few of his "live" recordings bring this out as
can only say that this was not so noticeable in the hall, and I was never so bothered
by it, since I brought primarily what I had heard in the hall to the experience
of hearing his studio recordings at the time, where I usually latched on more
to those aspects that had already dominated in the hall, recognizing and focusing
on those aspects of his singing for which I would make an eager purchase of his
studio recordings in the first place (in those days, I was innocent of "live"
has to be recognized, though, that for future generations the diction will probably
bulk larger, for the simple reason that it bulks larger in many of the studio
recordings than it did in the hall. This is a shame and doesn't give a proportional
picture of his artistry in person. But it is a fact, nevertheless, and those of
us who heard him have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that posterity's picture
of Corelli will always be affected to a degree by an exaggerated impression of
this dialect of his.
when one recalls how assured a Melchior, a Lauri-Volpi, a Vickers, what-have-you,
still sound in their 50s, Corelli, however durable his *voice*, makes a disturbing
contrast in, IMO, his inconsistent *technical* control from about 1968 on, when
he is only 46 (turning 47 in April)! Yes, there are still some exciting evenings
after that, but they are fewer and farther between, IMO. Of course, he is one
of the finest tenors of the century all the same, and I would never regret having
seen him in his prime. It's just that a greater discipline and musicianship would
have extended his career so much longer. It's a shame.
way of shameless proselytizing, I would like to add that impeccable musicianship
need never preclude "stem-winding" emotional spontaneity: vide the musician's
musician Richard Tauber, whose emotional effect on his
audiences, amply confirmed by his heartfelt recordings, was legendary.)
say, for the sake of argument, that there would be three main factors in judging
vocalism apart from the instrument itself: abundance of tonal coloration, basic
musicianship, resiliency in the long term. These are separate and apart from matters
of interpretation, intelligence, etc.-- these are purely to do with one's physical
mastery of the instrument itself.
had an infinite array of colors and dynamic shading. For some, he actually overdid
the sheer contrasts, but I admit I was, perhaps, a "sucker"(?) and I
found it thrilling. Recently, Ed Rosen put Corelli's '66 Nessun dorma on his web
site, and it conveys a very accurate impression of what I recall in person: seamless
legato in the opening phrases, the supple reigning in of dynamics at "speranza",
the effortless opening out at the "Ma il mio mistero" lines culminating
in a "bocca lo diro" of dazzling freedom and a "Quando la luce"
utterly free of the throat. As if this isn't enough, "splendera" is
given a tender pianissimo, evoking the hushed stillness of dawn. "[F]a mia"
is given a similar pianissimo, and so on.
it comes to basic resiliency and musicianship, those factors emerge more sharply
through a retrospective of Corelli's career and some of the extant recordings
we have of him.
best years, IMO, were really seasons. Apparently, he would "retool"
his voice through diagnostic sessions with a tape recorder (sic!) every summer
or so. I remember suspecting something of this kind before I even knew for sure
he really did this. I would notice that there would be marked improvements in
his singing from time to time around the early fall or during summer appearances.
And things would start getting a little sloppy by late winter/early spring the
following year. Clearly, there were always exceptions to this, but the general
pattern seemed to hold. So for me, I've come to think of Corelli in terms of '60/61
versus '68/69 and so on, not '60 versus '69 or what-have-you.
started out with an occluded vowel production and a fast vibrato (*not* a tremolo)
in the 1950s. As his career progressed during that decade, his production grew
more open, sweeter, and much steadier. He hit his stride in the '60/61 season,
though there were occasions in the '50s when one could guess the (positive) path
his development was taking at that time (the Frazzoni Fanciulla ['56], the Cerquetti
Norma ['58], the Olivero Adriana Lecouvrer in '59, etc.).
Poliuto, opening the '60/61 Scala season, maintains this more forward, sweeter
quality to a greater extent than any earlier performance.
always thought that Corelli's achievement in the Poliuto, a role written specifically
for the practically superhuman Adolf Nourrit, is one of the more amazing things
ever put on disc. True, I could wish this production had not opted for certain
cuts (that missing "Fu macchiato" hurts). But no other Poliuto I've
heard combines the same tenderness in the last act with the dark coloring in some
of the earlier scenes, the physical ease across a big range, the variety of dynamics
throughout, the vivid "face" needed in the voice for the mercurial shifts
in Poliuto's remarkably volatile character, the easy strength and sweep in the
great confrontation in the temple that closes Act II.
his partner, Callas as Paolina, can sound pretty tentative, IMO, alongside Corelli's
brilliantly moody and assured impersonation. He defers to Callas in one respect,
and certainly not a negligible one for this opera: easy suppleness. But even here,
adept as some of Callas's singing is, too many tricky sequences such as her cabaletta,
for instance, still find her uncomfortable in other respects, making her undoubted
suppleness less the point, sad to say.
do not necessarily believe either artist to be superior to the other. But with
an historic achievement like Corelli's Poliuto to consider, arguably the most
expressive rendering available of one of the most demanding tenor roles yet written,
this seems a clear instance where Corelli overshadowed Callas rather than the
other way around. Yes, her quiet lower-lying artistry in the "Qual preghiera"
solo, for instance, is highly distinctive and a balm for the ears as well as the
soul. Would that all of Paolina's music could have been like that the whole evening!
It's frustrating to think that in later performances of this run, Leyla Gencer,
then at her peak, took over, while Corelli's growing confidence in this opera
spurred him on to a triumphant optional high D (a note nowhere in his discography,
SFAIK) at the conclusion of the Temple Scene! Yet I'm not aware of a single note
having surfaced from this later pairing.
related "What-if?", if I may: Personally, I regret Corelli's having
never sung Otello. I think he would have had no problem with it. In fact, he would
have thrived on it, IMHO.
I am one of those who feels that it's axiomatic that Poliuto is fully as heavy
as Otello (before Otello, Poliuto was a specialty of Tamagno's) -- while being
even more difficult because of its requirements for greater suppleness -- I feel
that Corelli had already "crossed the Rubicon" in doing Poliuto in 1960.
He was already 39 years old at that time. The essential nature of his voice was
pretty much set. Having survived -- in fact, triumphed, IMO -- in Poliuto, Otello
might not have been much of a stretch for him after all.
recall that Ponselle in her autobiography speaks of her having been momentarily
at sea after having mastered Norma -- in effect, "where can you go after
Norma?!" Corelli may have felt the same way about Poliuto -- "what could
trump Poliuto?!" So after doing one other big Nourrit role, Raoul in Huguenots
(or Ugonotti in Italian), Corelli branched out in more lyric repertoire instead
rather than attempt a futile(?) duplication of his Poliuto triumph with Otello
or with its equivalent. The chief remaining Nourrit role we will never hear him
in now is Arnold in Rossini's Guillaume Tell, arguably more of a complement to
the staggering Poliuto than the marginally more lyrical Raoul. In a way, I regret
the absent Arnold as much as the absent Verdi Otello.
an artistic achievement, Poliuto stands as probably the most ambitious accomplishment
of Corelli's career. But his instrument, while having reached a significant plateau
with this role, was not yet as completely free and open as it would later become.