OP1191. DON PASQUALE, Live Performance, 11 Feb., 1956, w.Schippers Cond.Met Opera Ensemble; Cesare Valletti, Roberta Peters, Fernando Corena, Frank Guarrera, etc; LUCIA – Excerpts, Live Performance, 19 Feb., 1966, w.Varviso Cond. Roberta Peters, Sándor Kónya, Frank Guarrera, Justino Diaz, etc. (Portugal) 2-Gala 100.586. Long out-of-print, Final ever-so-slightly used copy! - 8712177042098
Valletti’s all-too-brief career at the Metropolitan Opera ran from 1953 (when the tenor was 31) through 1960. His abrupt departure came when Rudolf Bing bizarrely replaced Valletti, after a dress rehearsal [at which Valletti refused so sing full-voice] of a new production of L’ELISIR D’AMORE, with Dino Formichini, a tenor nowhere near Valletti’s equal. Bing’s decision has never been explained. Valletti kept singing until 1967, but he never returned to the Met, despite invitations.
Although knowledgeable opera lovers have always admired his singing, Valletti never achieved star status. The brevity of his Met career might be partially responsible, as might competition from other outstanding lyric tenors at the time. I think it is also fair to say that Valletti’s voice lacked the unique signature that captures one’s attention the moment the sound is heard. He did have an instrument of genuine lyrical beauty, however, along with an elegance of style that few tenors in any generation exhibit.
Valletti was one of the most prized students of the great Italian lyric tenor Tito Schipa, and it is no coincidence that two of Schipa’s most acclaimed roles, Ernesto in DON PASQUALE and the title role in WERTHER, are combined here by Immortal Performances. It doesn’t take long into DON PASQUALE before we recognize the beauty and elegance of Valletti’s singing. His breath control and exquisite shading of dynamics distinguish Ernesto’s Act I aria ‘Sogno soave e casto’. Throughout the opera Valletti gives us refined singing and a completely involved characterization. His comedic timing and inflections are very effective. Valletti is paired with one of the most skilled bassi buffi of the era in Fernando Corena, and the tenor more than holds his own.
Conversely, he is a convincing lovesick swain as well. One of the most impressive aspects of Valletti’s singing is his rhythmic precision, so that in the ensembles the genius of Donizetti’s musical inventiveness is always clear. The classic model for Ernesto on disc is Schipa’s 1932 recording. Valletti’s portrayal is the closest I’ve heard to his teacher’s skilled vocal production and innate musicality. Having these qualities in a live performance, with the frisson that this adds, is treasurable....Valletti is far more willing to hold notes, stretch phrases, and exhibit the kind of strong personality that was more common in singers of an earlier generation than today’s. Never becoming tasteless, all of it is both beautiful and engaging.
Fernando Corena in the title role is also as good as it gets. Corena was the reigning basso buffo at the Met from 1954 to 1978. He was the much-loved successor to Salvatore Baccaloni. In the later years of his career, Corena got by on his superb comedic skills and his ability in the rapid patter of the arias common to bel canto comedies, while the core of his voice thinned. But here in 1956 we get not only the extraordinary gift Corena had for characterization, but also really strong singing. Key to the success of any performance of DON PASQUALE is depicting the title character as a human being rather than caricaturing him as a buffoon. Corena manages this so well that, like Norina, we feel just a little sorry for the trick being played on Pasquale.
Roberta Peters also had a long and successful career at the Met, and she is superb as Norina. Peters did not have a great range of vocal colors at her disposal, but her voice was attractive, her technique in florid passagework excellent, and she too had real skills at comedy. She vividly interacts with the other characters and maintains the appropriate comedic spirit. She softens her tone just enough to convey that Norina feels some degree of regret at doing the needful thing, slapping Pasquale to make him rue the thought of marrying her."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March / April, 2021
“As one of the younger tenors to emerge soon after World War II, it was obvious that Valletti was an artist whose reputation would be made based on artistic and musical considerations….His musicianship and vocal colour made him an ideal interpreter of Mozart rôles, and like Schipa [his mentor], he became a renowned Werther with sensitivity and nuance being the key to his interpretation….he was considered a lyric tenor of the front rank.”
- Alan Bilgora, program notes to Pearl’s THE CETRA TENORS
“Basso buffo Fernando Corena, heralded as the true successor to comic bass Salvatore Baccaloni, began his career singing non-comic roles just as did the imposing Baccaloni. A gift for buffoonery, however, cleared the way for his concentration on comic roles and there it was that he achieved his reputation. Encouraged by Italian conductor Vittorio Gui, Corena traveled to Milan to study with Enrico Romani. After an unofficial début there, he returned to Switzerland for the duration of WWII, performing on radio broadcasts and appearing in opera at Zürich's Stadttheater. Corena's official début took place in Trieste in 1947, when he sang Varlaam in BORIS GODUNOV. Soon, he had offers from many parts of Italy and began singing such varied dramatic roles as Sparafucile (bass), Escamillo (bass baritone), and Scarpia (baritone). In 1949, he took part in the premiere of Petrassi's IL CORDOVANO at La Scala. Although he did not fully surrender the serious bass/bass baritone repertory, he steadily moved into the buffo roles and found his career moving ever more swiftly upward.
Corena's Metropolitan Opera début took place as Leporello on 6 February, 1954, and he established himself almost immediately as a favorite singer in that house. For a quarter century, he all but owned the great comic roles, creating impossible-to-forget portraits as Dulcamara, the Sacristan (TOSCA), Don Pasquale, both Bartolos, Falstaff, Melitone, Don Alfonso, Benoit, Gianni Schicchi, Sulpice, Mustafa, and Geronte. By the time he closed his Metropolitan career in 1978, he had sung 92 performances of the Sacristan alone.
Aside from his close relationship to New York, Corena enjoyed considerable success elsewhere; Chicago heard him in a variety of roles, comic and serious, beginning in 1956 when Leporello played off the Don Giovanni of Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. The Edinburgh Festival welcomed Corena's Falstaff in 1956 and Covent Garden heard him for the first time in 1960, when he sang Rossini's Bartolo. In addition to Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Verona, and Buenos Aires, Corena appeared at Salzburg as Osmin in Giorgio Strehler's production of ENTFÜHRUNG in 1965. A frequent visitor to the recording studio, Corena left numerous recordings documenting his best-known roles; many were recorded on multiple occasions (Bartolo, Leporello, Sacristan, for examples). Although Corena's physical presence was necessary for fullest appreciation, he still managed to infuse his singing with abundant personality. There has been no one comparable since his retirement.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com