1968, he will occasionally (as in a Vienna Don Carlo in Vienna, 1970) show signs
of a renewed authority, but, personally, I find these the exception rather than
the rule. It was somewhat encouraging, though, that there was a slight resurgence
of professionalism and dependability during stretches of 1972, 1973, and early
1974. It seemed he had settled to more modest technical ambitions, and he was
temporarily reconciled to lowering his sights for the sake of maintaining an easier,
more natural style. But the days of astonishment and sovereign ease were over.
voice itself was now getting just a bit dry. But it was still a good voice. We
thought he might settle into a general routine of being a respectable, reliable,
if unremarkable, trooper, no longer in the highest rank but useful for providing
a reasonably distinguished night at the opera. But whether through nervousness
or through impatience at having become so-- *technically*--ordinary, he started
fussing and distorting the line again during 1974, now without half of the technical
chops he had once had and with disastrous results. (Not that there weren't occasionally
such evenings in '72 and '73 as well. It was just more frequent by '74.) The end
came soon thereafter.
years later, in the early 1980s, he tried a comeback. There are some fairly effective
Neapolitan songs extant from this phase, but they are relatively tame, IMHO.
should you listen to?
in Turandot was probably his finest role. Fortunately, the EMI studio Turandot
from 1965 not only has Corelli in good voice; the entire recording is, IMO, the
finest Turandot available. With Nilsson's phenomenally easy Turandot and Scotto's
deeply affecting Liu from her absolute prime, this is the ideal set that every
fan should have for Puccini's final masterpiece.
course, a number of his "live" '60s Turandots, a few of which have survived,
had to be, in any case, some of the finest examples of Italian tenor singing I
had ever heard. IMHO, those Turandots, his Cheniers and his late '60s Don Carlos
may possibly have been his greatest roles.
regret that, of those three, I did not get to catch his Don Carlo until after
he had already begun his intermittent struggles of the '70s, but I'll never forget
that '66 Chenier in the theater. In fact, it is the lyricism of much of his singing
there that seems to have stayed with me more vividly than the sheer strength of
that sound. On stage (early '66 at the MET), the combination of the poet and the
fighter was complete, both vocally and dramatically. Here was a revolutionary
who was equally credible in a love scene and in a trial for his life. In fact,
the sense of living life on the edge came alive with Corelli as with nobody else
I've ever seen in this role. It was clear, through Corelli, that Giordano intended
Chenier to be presented as someone who consciously seeks to play life risking
only the highest stakes. Hokey, maybe, but desperately real all the same. (Tebaldi's
Maddalena wasn't bad either, although she was past her very best.)
is fine on the EMI recording (1963, his first peak), but, what with a slightly-past-it
Maddalena, IMO, in Stella, and Santini's stop/start conducting, the palpable electricity
of the MET b'cast of '66 only comes and goes in the EMI recording. That's what
gives the '66 b'cast its edge. I'm just glad I saw it. There may be a few isolated
phrases here and there that come off a bit more tidily in '63 than in the MET
b'cast (the '65/'66 season was very good, but not as consistent as '62/'63), but
everything in the b'cast is characterized by just that extra bit of contrast,
that keener and more startling shift of mood, vocal coloring, etc. (There is also
another "live" Tebaldi/Corelli Chenier -- from Vienna in 1960 -- but,
even though Tebaldi is in better form there, Corelli's interpretation is not yet
so keenly developed as in '63 or '66, IMO.)
role of Don Carlo and Franco Corelli just clicked. It was one of those happy cases
where an opera and an artist were a perfect match. Both the "live" '66
(the Met on tour) and the '70 (from Vienna) happen to be fascinating documents
of a performer with magnificent gifts applying them with genuine interpretive
genius. Yes, the '70 performance is not as relaxed or quite as varied as the '66,
which comes from his very peak, after all, and is a strong candidate for the finest
"live" document we have of him, IMO. But considering the somewhat unsure
performances we hear ca. '70, this Vienna performance is a pleasant surprise,
artistically. He is still in touch with the music and the role here.
I do not believe one has truly heard what Corelli is fully capable of in this
music unless one has heard the '66, or, failing that, the '70.
sum up, not only is the instrument in gleaming condition in '66, his sensitivity
and imagination have been fully sparked by this Hamlet-like figure (the nearest
Verdi ever came, IMO, to crafting such a haunting character), while in '70 we
hear him still under that same happy spell, despite a somewhat less melting tone
at certain points. An important point in favor of the '70 perf., though, is its
superior sound quality, especially in the new ORFEO transfer.
contrast, neither the early '60s nor the bulk of the '70s give us much of a hint
of the full greatness of Corelli in this role. (Ironically, the voice sounds just
slightly more rested and deeply anchored in a '72 Don Carlo than in the Vienna
'70 performance, but the singing itself doesn't seem as conscientious as in Vienna.)
other roles made a deep impression on me: his Cavaradossi (Tosca) and his Alvaro
(Forza del destino).
his Cavaradossi, there is an embarrassment of riches. His studio recording (Decca/London),
especially in Act III, is a rare case of a studio outing in which we do get a
real feeling of what it was like hearing him in the hall, and the variety of shading
this artist was capable of is finally given full play. This set (featuring Nilsson
as Tosca) was made in 1966, and, after all, the '66/'67 season was probably his
finest season. From January of 1967 comes another strong candidate for the finest
"live" document we have of Corelli: a Tosca from Parma. No, the cast
is nowhere near worthy of him, and as for any comparison with Nilsson, forget
it (even though Nilsson, IMO, was not exactly the world's ideal Tosca either,
however magnificent her voice). But one wonders whether Corelli was ever better:
his "E lucevan le stelle" from this evening is one of the selections
on the CD accompanying Marina Boagno's book on Corelli (for Baskerville Press)
and one can see why. It encapsulates his art. The quiet loneliness of this reverie
developing into the most desperate cry of anguish and loss is unerringly shaped.
Even when the sheer abundance of vocal plenty threatens to overwhelm the piece,
there is in the midst of this tumult a spellbinding decrescendo that leaves time
standing still. Finally, he can be heard in nearly as good form in 1965 opposite
Maria Callas's Tosca on the occasion of her comeback to the MET.
recall a summer Tosca in '73 (with Bumbry and Gobbi). Yes, there was more to admire
than to regret, and it was easily superior to the Tosca he had performed during
the regular season in the winter of '72/73 (with Kirsten and Gobbi the evening
I went). But, IMHO, even though that later summer '73 Tosca was somewhat superior,
I still did not find it superior, say, to most of his Toscas during the mid-'60s.
I found it good, but not tremendous, as he had been.
I did see a Forza del Destino featuring his Alvaro in splendid voice. This was
at Philadelphia in 1968. The other singers were Amara (replacing the scheduled
Leontyne Price), Merrill (the best I ever heard him) and Hines, who was already
starting some of the vocal problems he is so frank about in his book. Hines did
not start getting back on track until the early '70s. That night, it was clear
that Alvaro and Corelli were a perfect fit. The brooding melancholy, the secretiveness,
the volatility, the sense of being in exile (he is, after all, a disinherited
Prince) were all in that dark, mysterious sound with its flashes of lightning.
As with "E lucevan le stelle" for Cavaradossi, he also gave us one indelible
moment of mortality in Alvaro, shrouding the "Solenne" duet (when Alvaro
is sure he will not live through the night) in the ghostliest timbres, laid out
flat on his back, singing his patented decrescendo flawlessly at the second "vi
stringo al cor mio" without seeming to move a muscle. The sense of life ebbing
away was unforgettable. I would say his finest recorded Forza is also "live"
at Philadelphia, opposite Eileen Farrell in 1965 (on SRO). (Here, he opts for
the decrescendo in both statements.)
to other items in general, _maybe_ earlier b'casts like the December '60 Poliuto
(of unique historical value), the Battaglia di Legnano (December '61), the Gli
Ugonotti (smack dab in the middle of '62), and so forth, are well worth hearing
(I'm not saying they aren't), but for starters, I would concentrate on the '62/63,
'64/65, and '66/67 seasons.
'62/63, listen to the Scala Trovatore under Maestro Gavazzeni and the EMI Chenier.
'64/65, I would pick the Scala opening night Turandot with Nilsson and Vishnevskaya,
the Met Forza b'cast with Tucci, the Met Ernani with Leontyne Price, the SRO Forza
with Farrell at Philly, and the EMI Turandot.
'66/67, I would pick the Decca/London Tosca with Nilsson, the Ed Sullivan Chenier
duet with Tebaldi (it's out on Video), the Don Carlo with Kabaivanska (this has
been out on Melodram), the Met Turandot with Nilsson and Freni, and the Parma
like these give at least a window on the ultimate greatness of Franco Corelli.