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Franco Corelli: The Tenor as Hero
09 Sep 2009

Franco Corelli: The Tenor as Hero

This 4-CD set gathers together solo recital material and extracts from complete opera sets that Franco Corelli recorded between 1959 and 1968, the prime of his career.

Franco Corelli: The Tenor as Hero

Franco Corelli, tenor, and other artists.

EMI Classics 2 64887 2 [4CDs]

$26.98  Click to buy

The qualities that made Corelli a star fan out in proud display — firm attack, dark-hued honey tone, aggressive leaps to a ringing top. Idiosyncrasies that prompted quibbles are in evidence as well, such as the occasional odd pronunciation that suggests his tongue couldn’t keep up with his vocal chords. Such a quality can actually prove endearing when there is so much tenorial beauty pouring out.

With each of the four discs amply filled at over 75 minutes each, the five hours of Franco Corelli vocalism EMI selected promise more variety than it can actually deliver. Corelli’s approach to the opening aria, Bellini’s “A Te, o cara” differs hardly at all from his way with “Celeste Aida” or “O sole mio.” As EMI’s set subtitle has it, this is “The Tenor as Hero” — almost unrelenting in his strength, tossing off feats of vocal athleticism without breaking a sweat. When the material fits the Corelli voice well, the results can stun. Disc two features the set’s best singing, with a ringing “Cielo e mar!”, and highlights from the ubiquitous Cav-Pag double-bill that can rattle one’s spine. Disc one has more Verdi, where Corelli’s relatively unvaried approach doesn’t always suit the particular character. Why would the Duke of Mantua want to shout out “La donna è mobile”?

Disc three opens with Corelli singing the heroic aria from Massenet’s El Cid and then continues on to his Gounod Romeo, almost frightening is his ardent declarations. At that point, with Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, the rest of the set either becomes a fulfillment of a Corelli lover’s dream, or a test of endurance. More the latter for your reviewer, unfortunately. Corelli blasts his way through a few sacred numbers and a couple dozen classics from the Italian songbook. The recordings arranged by one Raffaele Mingardo waft tastelessly over the top, with sighing choral gushings and 20th Century Fox strings. Those arrangements by Franco Ferraris are exemplary by comparison, though by comparison only. In track after track, Corelli pours it on thick, and far too many selections end with an extended high note, not always gracefully achieved.

Corellli’s fans will love every minute, surely. For others, skip the excerpts and go for the complete opera sets to hear the tenor in his glory and in context. Meanwhile, may one ask why EMI chose a cover photo that makes the handsome Corelli look like the magician David Copperfield?

Chris Mullins

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