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Franco Corelli - Vol.1 - Bel canto and Verdi (1956-1962)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
1. Gli Ugonotti: Non lungi ... Bianca al par di neve
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
2. Norma: Meco all'altar di Venere... Me protegge
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
3. La favorita: Favorita del Re!... Spirto gentil
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
4. I Lombardi: La mia letizia infondere
5. Rigoletto: Questa o quella
6. Rigoletto: La donna e mobile
7. Il trovatore: Deserto sulla terra
8. Il trovatore: Ah si ben mio... Di quella pira
9. Ernani: Merce... Come rugiada al cespite
10. Un ballo in maschera: Forse la soglia... Ma se m'e forza perderti
11. La forza del destino: La vita e inferno... O tu che in seno
12. La forza del destino: Solenne in quest'ora
13. La forza del destino: Fratello!... Le minaccie i fieri accenti
14. Simon Boccanegra: Sento avvampar nell'anima
15. Aida: Se quel guerrier... Celeste Aida
16. Otello: Dio fulgor della bufera... Esultate!
Franco Corelli (tenor)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Franco Ferraris (1, 3); Orchestra della RAI Torino./Arturo Basile (2; 7-9; 15, 16; 11-13)/Alfredo Simonetto (4, 6,10)/Umberto Cattini (5,14)
rec. 1961/62 (1, 3); 1958 (2; 5; 14); 1957 (7-9; 14-16); 1956 (4, 6, 11-13). mono/stereo ADD

Being such a histrionic and highly-strung performer, Corelli inevitable attracted his fair share of nicknames. My own favourite is the one supposedly invented by his great coeval Giulietta Simionato who dubbed him “Coscia d’oro” (“Golden thighs”). Another name, decidedly less flattering but equally satirical and more obviously a coining by his detractors, was “Pecorelli” - a play on his name and “pecora”, the Italian for “sheep”. However, by the time of these recordings, made between 1956 and 1962, the mostly self-taught Corelli had largely conquered the flutter and incipient bleat which had hitherto sometimes obtruded into his tone. As such, this compilation of arias recorded with four different conductors can fairly be said to represent Corelli at his vocal peak. Interesting, isn’t it, that the two most voluminous star tenors of that era, Corelli and Del Monaco, modelled themselves on Caruso records and eschewed formal conservatory teaching? Indeed, the latter nearly ruined Corelli’s voice.
As a Corelli devotee, I have a fair amount of his recorded output yet I found that I had barely two or three of these arias in the recitals I already owned, so you, like me, might welcome these as new material. As a decided non-fan of Meyerbeer, I was not thrilled to see this Preiser anthology opening with an aria I positive dislike: I find “Bianca al par di neve” to be a tuneless, meandering bore although its sparse orchestration - primarily a whining, solo violin which seems to me to compete with, rather than complement, the vocal line - permits greater prominence to the tenor voice. There is no doubting the magnificence of Corelli’s climactic, held top C and concluding B flat.
Otherwise, there are vocal riches aplenty here - as long as you can tolerate Corelli’s lachrymose, grandstanding style. I, for one, luxuriate in it. His lisp is intermittently intrusive and stylistically he does some naughty things, gulping, pulling the tempi about and injecting aspirates into vowel divisions - “Deserto sulla te-he-he-herra” - but no post-war tenor ever had such spine-tingling squillo in his top notes or such a richness and heft of tone in the middle of the voice.
The sound here is never great: clean mono with the voice very forward, or narrow stereo - Preiser does not tell us, so you have to use your ears to guess. By and large, post-1956 recordings are stereo, although there are exceptions, as with the last two: the “Rigoletto” arias and track 2 which are all clearly mono. However, those “Rigoletto” arias and the three excerpts from “La forza del destino” also seem to have been poorly transferred from an LP. The latter in particular is afflicted by lots of papery swish and crackle. There is also some pre-echo on several tracks. It doesn’t really matter; you soon forget as you get drunk on the voice.
The recital opens with three bel canto arias of the type his critics said he should not sing but which Corelli made his own by the application of sheer will and hard work. He trained and schooled his big, vibrant voice to be able to manage the legato, the messa di voce and the pianissimo required. Then we hear the standard spinto Verdi tenor repertoire for which he was most famed. He is ideal as the brash Duke. His wife makes a brief appearance in a few phrases before and after “Ah si, ben mio”. In the “Forza” tracks, Corelli is aptly partnered by the big, almost crude-voiced baritone Giangiacomo Guelfi - and what a noise they make. Corelli does not quite eclipse Del Monaco as Alvaro but it’s a close-run thing. Pathos and passion are Corelli’s forte and they are here in abundance. The recital closes with a tantalising snippet from the role Corelli was born to sing but to which he never dared aspire: Otello. He sings the infamous “Esultate” with all the swagger and security you could wish to hear.  

Ralph Moore