Franco Corelli

Handsome and popular heroic tenor
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Franco Corelli, opera singer: born Ancona, Italy 8 April 1921; married 1958 Loretta di Lelio; died Milan 29 October 2003.

Italian tenors are traditionally thought to be short, fat and not very good-looking. Franco Corelli was the exception that proved this rule. Tall, slim and extremely handsome, he also had a heroic tenor voice of unrivalled strength with an ability to attack high notes that brought him tremendous popularity.

In the early years of his career in Italy he sang mainly in operas by Verdi, Puccini, Giordano and other Italian composers. Later, when he was based in New York, he took on French roles. Don José in Carmen had been a favourite since his début, but now he added Gounod's Romeo and Massenet's Werther to his repertory.

Corelli was born in Ancona in 1921 and originally intended to be a marine engineer. Changing his mind, he studied singing at the Pesaro Conservatorio and, after winning a competition in 1950 at Florence, he made his début in 1951 at Spoleto as Don José in Carmen. After a few years in the Italian provinces, he made his début at La Scala, Milan, in 1954, singing Licinio in Spontini's La Vestale with Maria Callas in the title role. He appeared with Callas again at La Scala in 1956 as Loris in Fedora and in 1958, when he sang Gualtiero in Bellini's Il pirata to her Imogene.

These operas were all very popular, but Corelli's greatest success at La Scala was in 1960, when he sang the title role of Donizetti's Poliuto, a magnificent performance by any standards.

Meanwhile Corelli had sung at the Verona Arena and also at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. This latter outdoor venue was where I first heard - and saw - the tenor, in the summer of 1957, in the title role of Giordano's Andrea Chénier. The cast included Maria Caniglia (by then over 50 but still in excellent voice) as Madeleine and Giangiacomo Guelfi (one of the loudest baritones ever) as Gérard. I adored every minute of it. Later that year Corelli made his Covent Garden début as Cavaradossi in Tosca, another favourite role, and one in which he carried complete conviction dramatically. Corelli was always believable as a painter, or as a poet (Andrea Chénier), or as a Troubadour (Manrico in Il trovatore).

It was as Manrico that Corelli made his Metropolitan Opera début in 1961. He sang there every season until 1974, receiving adulation from the audiences who flocked to hear him. Among his most popular roles were Calaf in Puccini's Turandot, in which he always caused a furore in the Riddle scene, Enzo in Ponchielli's La gioconda, Maurizio in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and the title role of Verdi's Ernani.

He sang Rodolfo in La bohème and in 1965 was reunited with Maria Callas in Tosca. In 1967 he appeared as Romeo in a new production of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. This was followed by the title role in Massenet's Werther, which became extremely popular in New York.

Corelli also sang at the Paris Opéra, the Berlin Stadtische Oper, and the Salzburg Festival. He made many recordings, including Norma in 1960, with Maria Callas in the title role. Though Pollione was obviously a role that suited him, he never sang it at the Met.

Other roles in which he was admired were Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West, Don Alvaro in La forza del destino and Radames in Aida. And of course there was also Don José, which he sang at the Verona Arena in the 1970s and at Macerata in the summer of 1974, with Grace Bumbry as Carmen.

Elizabeth Forbes