STEFAN ZUCKER: "FRANCO CORELLI & A REVOLUTION IN SINGING VOL II" (Bel Canto Society| 2017)
Reviewing Stefan Zucker’s Franco Corelli & A revolution in Singing Vol II proved a challenge of sorts because it covers a broad range of topics, some of which have nothing in common with the title of the book. It is in part a bundle of essays on various topics ranging from the evolution of tenor singing from Duprez, David, Rubini & co up to some chapters on the influence of the decline of the castratos on opera. These are followed by various chapters on Corelli including very explicit chapters on his sex life, some unbelievably saddening chapters on Zucker’s own dealings with the Corellis in private, Franco’s relations with Del Monaco, correspondence with Lauri-Volpi and a silly attempt to launch a frontal assault on all major Corelli publications pre Zucker, including the books by Boagno, Landini and... yours truly! In fact I've been given cult status among my friends here by means of a mindblowing chapter titled 'Fanizza refutes Seghers'!
Franco Corelli & A revolution in Singing Vol II
Bel Canto Society 2017
When Zucker writes about 19th Century tenors such as Gilbert-Louis Duprez, he is knowledgeable. The way he pinpoints specifics of technique and high notes to precise notes in scores provides an interesting outlook on the creation of specific operas and the development of tenor singing from Rossini and Pacini to Bellini and Meyerbeer. When it comes to the high C from the chest he puts things in perspective from Rubini, Donzelli and Nourrit up to Duprez successor Roger. Further chapters on Giovanni David and Rubini are written in the same interesting manner. The same positive words can be said of the chapter on the dying out of castratos and what that meant for florid singing in the 19th centrury. In fact this chapter is less about castrati than about the development of opera from a singer’s based idiom to a voice type based idiom of later Verdi to Mascagni and Puccini. Most of these chapters are welcome updates of Stefan’s earlier magazine publications on these subjects. As a bonus there is an interesting and unorthodox chapter on whether the castrati had balls. I’m not going to spill the, uhmmm… milk here; for the answer you should buy the book!
The Lauri-Volpi letters
Next Zucker presents one of his radio interviews with Corelli from the 1990’s, transcribed and translated in a way that almost makes you forget how improvised these conversations really were. This must be the umptiest time that Zucker presents these interviews, which perpetually feature in his newsletters since decades. Some observations regarding roles he did not sing (Lohengrin, Tristan, Ebrea, Prophete, L’Africaine, Lo Schiavo) were reavealing at the time when I first heard them, but more than 25 years later these interviews are common knowledge to most readers of the book. Rather than having them presented so bluntly I would welcome an integral edited edition of all broadcasts, organized along themes. That would make for a nice stand alone 60-page booklet or so. Nonetheless, the fine transcription of this particular broadcast is still welcome, as are a significant number of integral letters from the Corelli-Lauri-Volpi correspondence in English language translation. These letters are the prime asset in this book for fans. They provide a fine outlook on the way Corelli looked at things. His repertoire, his performances, his dealings with the Scala and the Met, his childish joy in the failure of others, it all comes along in correspondence covering 1962-1973. Incidental tabloid titles such as ‘Callas critisizes Corelli’, ‘Lauri-Volpi attacks Corelli’s technique’ are vintage Zucker; his audience expects this from him.
Till so far the good parts. Onwards things derail into a bewildering ghost chase of Zucker’s colleagues. Apparently he never bought the latest edition of the Boagno book since he persistently fails to mention Gilberto Starone as the official new co author. Did he perhaps base his comments on the 1990’s edition? I have no idea. In various chapters on all our various bios he uses the technique of casting doubt on big things by pointing to minor things. Basically, his near complete denial of any value in either one of the biographies of [Starone]/Boagno, Landini and myself is motivated by pointing out a handful of typos and minor errors in each of them. These chapters are rife with allegations that border on stupidity: how can a man who publishes photos as murky as the ones on pages 215, 233, 264 and 273 of A revolution in Singing Vol II write that the pictures in Landini’s spectacularly printed coffee table book are flawed, because ‘the printer reproduced the whites too intensely’? This is an outrage. I have to defend [Starone]/Boagno against Zucker as well. Without Starone’s efforts in reconstructing Franco’s chronology all of us later authors would have had a far more challenging task. At the time, [Starone]/Boagno did an amazing job and it still is a fine career retrospect! Basically, Zucker promotes a few inevitable typos and minor editing issues to cardinal crimes, leading to him dubbing all these books ‘botched bios’. I didn’t bother to look for such typos and errors in A Revolution in Singing Vol II, but since my colleague Rudi van den Bulck published a painful selection of them in his OperaNostalgia review, I refer anyone interested in Zucker’s typos, wrong dates, wrong roles in photo captions and so on, to that particular review here. I am very curious to see if Stefan will dub his own exploit a ‘bothed bio’ in Volume III, now that he failed to meet his own standards. In fact, Jan Neckers, in his earlier review on OperaNostalgia pointed out an array of such minor mistakes in A Revolution of Singing Vol I, which Zucker conveniently forgets to mention in his various chapters on the botched bios of all other major Corelli authors. Painful; and predictable.
Fanizza refutes Seghers!
The chapters on Corelli’s dealings with blowjobs and all sorts of sexual techniques as once performed on Franco by poor Diana Fanizza, are probably the most explicit chapters ever published in a semi-biographical exploit on an opera singer. I felt truly sorry for Fanizza, who is propelled to the status of my antagonist in the chapter’s gripping title, ‘Fanizza refutes Seghers’. I can perfectly imagine how Stefan phoned her, won her trust by lulling her into sleep with stories on the good old days and then one day she woke up to see it printed in... Zucker style. This is also vintage Stefan. He looked up a few members of my team in the phone book, calling them out of the blue in order to lure them into making negative comments on me, but… they were on guard (smiley). One day the late and lamented Bob Tuggle called me from his Met archives office to ‘warn’ me that Zucker was asking for the Bauer-Bing letters that I had documented in my book, the fruits of weeks of live, intercontinental research there. That ‘research’ became Stefan’s Vol II chapter on the Bing-Bauer correspondence regarding Corelli–Del Monaco. Instead of thanking me for it, he ‘challenges’ me in - once again - typical Zucker style on the translation of one German word and on having quoted letters that he couldn’t find (another smiley). Likewise he pretends that the Met gave him all the info on Corelli’s canceled 1969 Manricos, which lead him correctly to conclude that Corelli wasn’t afraid of Manrico at all post 1964 (the first half of that season was canceled due to a strike, Franco had no part in the cancellations). Correct, as written in great detail in Prince of Tenors, which was published in 2008. I quote the original authors for providing information, but on a number of occasions Zucker presents my research and writings as his own, at times triumphantly claiming he discovered this all by himself. One could of course accidentally discover America or invent the wheel in 2018... I’m not sure about America post Trump and I'm not sure about the unfree world (which is by far the larger part of it), but in Europe we call this plagiarism. Elsewhere, unrecorded conversations are a prime source for over-large claims. Speculation is also rife, especially regarding his colleagues and yours truly. The things he writes about who did what and why in my book are hilarious. He never met any of these people and doesn’t have a clue as to how or what – which I already wrote in my review of Vol l. Paranoia is the word here.
A sad story
The worst is yet to come though, for it wasn’t the chapter on Franco’s healthy sex life that troubled me. On the contrary, I wish to anyone such a life! Franco Corelli is however not to be determined by his sex life but by Guerra e Pace (world premiere!), Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Vestale, Poliuto, Ugonotti, Trovatore, Aida, Turandot, Forza del Destino, Gioconda, Battaglia di Legnano, Ernani, Roméo and Werther; by the mythical lost Fedora and Pirata recordings, and perhaps in part also by what he did not sing, Otello and Arnoldo. No, what truly saddened me were the masochistic chapters where Zucker describes his own painful and humiliating dealings with the Corellis in the aftermath of the radio broadcasts and the failed master classes in the 1990s. His comments regarding how the contact between himself and Boagno ended abrubtly makes one feel as one feels when being the guest in a house with a quarreling couple. I have no reason to doubt all these private recollections. As pointed out in Prince of Tenors people offered themselves as bell boys and girls to the Corellis continuously, and the Corellis soon took that for granted. Just as they took Zucker for granted. And he felt that. This personal chapter is a pitch black film noir about three lost souls on their way to nowhere. Once again: I believe that all these things happened but one still chooses how to write them down. Zucker turns it into a sort of reckoning. Its judgement day over Franco from the pen of this (believe it or not) self declared reserve lover for Franco, who satisfied Franco’s fans when Franco wasn’t available... The way Zucker describes (not for the first time) how Franco’s vocal Indian summer came to an end in the mid 1990’s turns the great tenor into a pitiful creature, dropped on the spot, as if he had picked up a contagious disease. These lines were written by a man without a shade of honour in his character, a man without compassion. A false friend. I firmly protest against this one dimensional and injust portrayal: old Franco was much more than Zucker’s sad connection with him.
For the record: I believe that one should be allowed to write all these trivial, offensive, pornographic, obsessed and psychologically twisted Freudian things. Writing (or painting, making music) can be therapeutic and healing. If you see some market and believe in an audience, you should also be free to publish all of this. Marquis de Sade’s recent literary status as part of the artistic treasury of France proves the value of the First Amendment: no one can predict the future of literature (and moral values). It beats me though what place all these frustrations and private sexual and psychologically twisted exploits have in a book on a revolution in singing? And this is not the end of it, we are promised a Volume III (and I believe there was once even a vol IV planned)! In III yours truly has even been promised two pages to point out the merits of Prince of Tenors. I accepted under protest, since Fanizza was given seven more to ‘refute’ me lol.
Admittedly, it is vastly entertaining to be part of this soap series in print; I can’t wait to see Vol III. And for Stefan’s sake and for the sake of books at large I hope he sells enough copies to get break-even. Whatever I may think of it, his investments in this self published Bel Canto Society book alone prove that he is a man with a mission. He sincerely believes in this madness, just as he he believed and believes in his recordings of ere. Who am I to deny him the right to pursue his dreams? At the end of this Second Volume of A Revolution in Singing, I felt truly sorry for Stefan, whom I still regard as a far and perhaps unlikely friend, despite everything. I wish we could have worked together at some point. I still do. But as knowledgeable and gifted as he is, as much as he has done to preserve and promote historic opera recordings and as talented a writer as he can be, he also clearly suffers from Post Traumatic Corelli Syndrome; some parts of this book suggest that he is in need of professional help.