B1866. FRANCO CORELLI AND A REVOLUTION IN SINGING: FIFTY-FOUR TENORS SPANNING 200 YEARS, Vol. 2 (Stefan Zucker). New York, Bel Canto Society, 2018. 352pp. Index; Bibliography; Exhaustive Chronology; Printed on top-quality paper and features 139 rare lithographs and photographs, the majority provided by the Met Archives; DJ. - 9781891456039
“Both Stefan Zucker’s first and now second book and, no doubt, when published, Volume 3, should be made compulsory reading for all music critics and reporters who review operatic performances. An understanding of the singing voice and the use of a vocabulary as used by Stefan Zucker might enable…critics to give an appraisal of the singer’s vocal timbre, and of how they technically acquitted themselves in difficult arias or concerted pieces. This is an art that has, seemingly, been lost.
Thankfully we now have in printed form more details of those highly individual and unconventional yet probing interviews that Stefan Zucker had with this singer. Stefan Zucker as an interviewer frequently walks where others might fear to tread and sometimes their directness might be likened to a political inquisition rather than an artistic one. In Corelli’s case, however, Zucker appears to have gained not only the tenor’s trust, but also access to his psyche. We can now read the singer’s surprising, very candid and considered revelations, in which he is prepared to discuss his initial concerns about the basic timbre of his voice and about himself as an artist and singer. Corelli has, seemingly, also felt obliged to admit much about the insecurities that plagued his life, studies, love and marriage, and an intimate admission of having had another great love (I leave the reader to find out who this was), together with his constant seeking for what might be considered by the reader as some sort of vocal Nirvana.
Stefan Zucker in particular questions strongly some inaccuracies published in what he calls ‘three botched’ biographies on Corelli, and one rather shadowy subject that focused on advice sought from Lauri-Volpi. The implications are that these requests were somewhat casual and sporadic and that Lauri-Volpi is certainly quoted as saying he never formally taught Corelli. However, we can now read the numerous heart-felt and warm letters dating from the early ‘60s to 1973 between Corelli and the veteran tenor, who is always addressed as Commendatore. They reveal Corelli’s gratitude covering a period of some thirteen years, when they used to speak regularly on the telephone to discuss his career progress, the roles he was currently undertaking and how he was coping or if there were alternative ways to deal with vocally difficult passages in the score. They also met many times at the home of Lauri-Volpi and his wife (the former soprano) Maria Ros to iron out certain problems, both technical and artistic. These sessions evidently led to Corelli occasionally altering his placement of tone into the ‘mask’, an effect that puts the tone in a more forward position. This was something that was not only advice given by Volpi who was, when he thought necessary, critical but therefore helpful about some of Corelli’s singing, and was of course, also something advocated by many singing teachers.
During the narrative covering the various stages of his career, his true age and that of his wife Loretta are laid bare (both losing a few years to help their public image) and also how their long and stormy relationship had much to do in affecting his choices of roles, and where and with whom he sang. Although, as might be expected, Loretta herself is quoted and showed a natural jealousy and displeasure about any of his amorous affairs, she did over the years also gain a poor reputation for being a difficult person to deal with. Nevertheless, at one point Corelli firmly stresses that she was only reacting in a manner as directly instructed by him, that no doubt at the time was in order to avoid too close a contact with some of his avid fans and likewise the ‘press’. Like many marriages there were ‘ups and downs’ both allowing artistic temperament to bear often on their relationship. After all, Loretta was prepared to give advice on his performances, having herself been a singer and, if not a star, recorded evidence certainly shows a very talented performer. It is apparent from some of the events described in the book that Corelli was at times quite cruel to her, and he certainly would not qualify as being an ideal husband: nevertheless they did stay married.
There is one chapter where Zucker warns readers that if the subject offends them, they should go to the next one. It deals with various comments from other tenors about sex, and its possible effect on a singer before a performance, and Corelli’s own comments are revealing about his early behaviour and the sexual proclivities he had indulged in before singing. There are also many glowing comments about some of his leading ladies, including Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, and Magda Olivero and what he learned from them.
On the conflicting careers of both Corelli and Del Monaco, there can be no doubt that each saw in the other a tenor who was capable of performing successfully in roles in which they overlapped. Zucker points out that both tenors at one time had altered and refined their techniques to incorporate the Melocchi teachings, where the lowering of the larynx imparted a larger and darker, if perhaps a less malleable sound, with Del Monaco admitting to originally having had a rather small and insignificant voice that was developed by the Melocchi method.
Corelli admits to initially admiring Del Monaco (whose career had blossomed a few years before his own) for his committed singing and performances while Bing, in one letter to Del Monaco expresses regret that two artists of their calibre should be so worried about the other’s successes. For the first time reams of correspondence that flowed between Roberto Bauer (Rudolph Bing’s Italian agent) and the Met management are now published in the book, and show the huge demands made by Corelli, once he had become established. Although Bing, in his biography 5000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, admits that Corelli was 'what being a great tenor star was all about' he realised his true value as a ‘crowd puller’, but in his correspondence he is very critical and shows his disappointment about some of Corelli’s behaviour as a human being. It becomes evident that it was often difficult to accommodate his demands, from either fees or from an artistic point or view. His firm refusals to accept a contract for any season that might contain performances by Del Monaco certainly show that Corelli’s intransigence on the matter seriously curtailed Del Monaco’s appearances in certain theatres. Del Monaco, too, was also capable of writing things that ‘fanned the flames’ and did not help in smoothing out their rivalry. What is very interesting is a scale of fees paid to Corelli over a period from 1961 to 1975 that rose from $1500 to $4000 (which would probably equate to something like $25,000 per performance today) plus large and growing travelling, rehearsal and tour per week expenses. Del Monaco’s fees are shown running from 1950 to 1959, and even allowing for inflation during the applicable years, they were still small by comparison.
Zucker deals with several of Corelli’s recorded performances and his illuminating analyses of how Corelli uses his voice when singing various well-known arias and concerted excerpts demonstrate a varying use of technique that shows that Corelli was continuing to seek out what was the best way for him as a singer.
The book is published in hard-back and printed on high quality paper and, like Volume 1, is lavishly illustrated with many rare photographs. I look forward to reading the final volume that promises to be even more informative about balancing Corelli’s and other top tenors’ contributions that raised them to a high place in the pantheon of great voices of the 20th Century.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2018