LORETTA CORELLI (1918-2013)
On Thursday, January 10, 2013, at 2 AM, Loretta Corelli, widow of our beloved hero Franco Corelli passed away in Milan. She died of respiratory problems due to a bronchitis she had contracted. The funeral ceremony was held on Saturday, January 12, at noon, in Milan. The cremation will take place in the next days. There upon her ashes will be placed in Franco’s sarcophagus in Milan.
We pay our respects to a lady that I genuinely liked, after having visited her several times over the past decade. I will see to it that her memory will eventually also get a worthy place on this website, career wise (she was a soprano in her own right), as a person and as the wife and vocal coach of Franco.
We pay our respects to Loretta’s family, to Graziano, Marco and Francesca Corelli, and all those who were close to Loretta.
We post this In Memoriam at the request of Franco's family, after they informed us of the sad occasion.
For the moment there is little more to do than close this news item with Graziano’s words to the Milanese press, which quoted the phrases of Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, as sung by Loretta in Duet with Franco:
Signor la casa e qui, | My dear Sir, we reached my house,
L’ora già di riposar, | The hour has come for us to rest.
Werther: “Ah! Perché m’han guardato, | Ah! Why did thy eyes grace mine,
gli occhi tuoi si bei, | those eyes so beautiful,
gli occhi pieni d’amor, | those eyes so full of love,
gli occhi vostri, o gentil, | those eyes of yours, so gentle,
e m’hanno innamorato? | that I lost my heart in them?”
On meeting Loretta
Adriana Lecouvreur 1952
Though more popular than Zandonai’s Giulietta e Romeo, Cilea’s masterpiece also has both its supporters and its detractors. Its defenders praise the delicate orchestration and a number of vocal highlights, while its critics maintain that the music is too repetitive and is wasted on cardboard characters. Maurizo is not considered a very difficult role from the vocal point of view, but it requires imaginative phrasing and enough sweet accents to make the sensitive character come alive. Given his recent surgery, the debut represented a victory in and of itself for Corelli, although it remained an odd, isolated performance. And yet he had plenty to be proud of: his name appeared on the bill right next to that of the most famous soprano of the 1940s, Maria Caniglia, the regular partner of the very tenor whose judgment he had feared so much when he first entered the Spoleto contest, Beniamino Gigli. Most of the few complete opera recordings that existed then had Caniglia’s name imprinted on them. And then there was Tito Gobbi, the already world-famous baritone and movie star, whom Corelli had seen on the stage of the Teatro delle Muse during the war years. Admittedly, he couldn’t begin to match their refined singing in Maurizio’s lyrical music, but the fact that Sampaoli put him out there at all proves what faith the director had in his protégé. And whatever Corelli still lacked in vocal flexibility and interpretative skills, he made up for with his good looks and a masculine vocalism that was already having an effect on audiences. Later he would mold Maurizio to perfection, but the reason this early role-debut performance proved to be the most important of his life had nothing to do with his vocalism or stage skills. Remembered Corelli: “During the rehearsals I saw a young artist, rather myopic, who, from out of the shadows, hesitantly descended the dressing room stairs; so I took her hand and accompanied her to the stage.”
The young artist whose hand he had taken was to sing the minor part of Mademoiselle Jouvenot, but her emergence from the backstage shadows made a bigger impact on Maurizio’s heart than his famous Adriana did onstage. The name of this petite redheaded madamigella was Loretta di Lelio, and, for better or worse, she was destined to be the love of his life. How fitting that his heart opened up to her in this specific opera, where his most famous melody is eternally linked to the poetic exclamation of La dolcissima effigie:
. . . sorridente
Bella tu sei come la mia bandiera
tu sei, gioconda, come la chimera
In your sweet, smiling countenance I
You are as beautiful as my banner
You are, joyful one, as a vision
In many ways that arioso summarizes their relationship for the years to come, in which the beautiful Loretta would indeed stand beside him during nearly each and every one of the battles that he fought on- and offstage throughout his career. The daughter of Ida Rosselini and the famous bass Umberto di Lelio, Loretta was everything that Franco could have dreamed of. Born Anna Laura di Lelio in Montecatini Terme, on July 27, 1918,23 she was only about three years older than he, but she had enjoyed a successful comprimaria career for over a decade, ever since her debut at the Teatro dell’Opera in 1941. Her true vocal range was that of a soprano, although she sang minor mezzo parts from time to time. Her voice was not of the highest quality, but she compensated with a pleasant stage appearance and her great sense of musical culture. Consequently, she secured numerous engagements for herself throughout Italy in such comprimaria parts as Flora in La Traviata, Ines in Il Trovatore, and Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. At the time she met Corelli, her most notable achievements were her 1947 performances in two films of Donizetti operas, as Gianetta in the renowned version of L’elisir d’amore and as Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor. In both she was surrounded by an all-star cast that included Mario Filippeschi, Italo Tajo, Tito Gobbi, and Nelly Corradi (while a very young Gina Lollobrigida can be seen in the chorus of L’elisir).
More important than that modicum of movie-star fame as a supporting artist was the fact that she had grown up in the heart of the operatic world. Her father had been a renowned bass at La Scala between 1921 and 1941, and as a child she had seen and heard at close range both composers and singers whom Franco knew only from books and recordings. She was also familiar with contract negotiations and the various tricks of the trade that mattered in building a successful career. This early education in music and the inner workings of the operatic world provided a vast reservoir of experience and knowledge from which Franco would draw as he made his way up the career ladder in an intensely competitive field.
None of this mattered yet, though, because from the moment he first touched her hand to lead her down the stairs, he was captivated. He fell in love with all that focused passion so characteristic of him, with a love that went far beyond the immediate erotic spell that she cast over him. They had much in common. He had lost his mother at a relatively early age; she had lost her father at a similarly young age. Umberto di Lelio was only fifty-two when he died in 1946, unable to witness his daughter’s major successes on the silver screen, just as Franco’s mother had missed her son’s earliest successes. Both singers had emerged from World War II and the difficult immediate postwar years unmarried, although Loretta had been engaged when she met Franco and also was rumored to have had an affair with Tito Gobbi. Here they were, two single Italian singers falling in love at ages thirty-one and thirty-four. Their personalities complemented and sustained each other’s needs, and Loretta’s engagement to a man who had nothing in common with her lifestyle as an opera singer couldn’t withstand destiny: she and Franco were clearly meant to be.25 However, the young woman from Montecatini Terme was not lightly conquered. According to Loretta, he had already spotted her during the earlier Romeo rehearsals, and in contrast to Franco’s poetic memories of their first contact at the Adriana rehearsal, Loretta was unenthusiastic: “In his first approaches he acted quite weird, and I wasn’t in the mood to talk to him.”
Fortunately for Franco, he had an ace up his sleeve when he repeated the act he had played with that other redhead, his high-school crush Norma: he asked Loretta for advice on vocal matters, which she readily provided. Their lessons quickly progressed, and they soon established a relationship. Initially they kept it secret, but once Loretta broke off her engagement to the other man, she and Franco were more open. However, they continued to conceal their relationship from his family in Ancona.
Throughout the 1950s Loretta would accompany Franco to nearly every occasion, gradually becoming all the good and bad things that have been said about her: his driving force, his stimulus, and the real reason we were able to have Franco Corelli the tenor at all, for she would literally push him onstage whenever he was too afraid to go out there. The other side of the coin was that she gradually became the woman who kept him isolated from the world because he needed to focus on his career. She had found him in a difficult moment, when the sheer impossibility of his task threatened to overwhelm him, and she provided him with an environment in which he could progress: "I immediately started working with him, coaching him, helping him, teaching him, until the point where I ended up feeding him. As for the Adriana performance, I performed my two small parts there in such a way that I could sustain his performance. He felt much more secure in this way."
Quoted from René Seghers: Franco Corelli Prince of Tenors (Amadeus Press, 2008)
Dear Loretta, Rest in Peace
René Seghers, January 11, 2013