The home rehearsals ! | "Sedute di studio"
Claire Winterholler: Editor in Charge (entire website)
Title: "Sedute di studio" (inlay CD to the latest Italian language Franco Corelli biography "Franco Corelli l'uomo, la voce, l'arte, by Giancarlo Landini.)
01 Interview Giancarlo Landini - Franco Corelli - Loretta Corelli (30 January 2001)
Below: the book cover.
CD insert in the book "Franco Corelli l'uomo, la voce, l'arte," by Giancarlo Landini (Italian language, Idea Books, 2010. Price € 55.)
"Sedute di studio" is easily the most important Franco Corelli CD issue of the last thirty years. Even though its value is limited to fans only, since general lovers of opera will find little acoustic comfort in Corelli's private home experiments and rehearsals. For the examination of Franco Corelli's art and the work behind it, it is, however, a moving testimony. It seems to confirm that he often rehearsed half a tone sharp so as to be more secure on stage, and that he modeled his interpretations on the likes of Lauri–Volpi and Caruso, by singing along with their recordings and copying their interpretations down to the last vibration.
To criticize a publication as important as this one would be silly, and yet there are two choices made, that limit its general accessibility. As much as we understand the choice to intersperse the CD with equally distributed, brief interview tracks, this is deadly for easy listening pleasure, since it means that for the rest of our lives we are forced to listen to those interview fragments, instead of being able to listen to the music proper without programming CD players, or skipping through the CD. Beyond doubt, most fans would have wished for the interview fragments to be placed together as bonus tracks at the end of the CD.
Our second reservation concerns the editing of tracks 3 to 5, "Ah! Mathilde," "O muto asil" and "Corriam! voliam!," all from Guglielmo Tell. While they are clearly the gems of the CD, we regret that Corelli's complete Arnoldo excerpts weren't published together, and in an edited version. Certainly, it is interesting to hear Franco stop and try again, but to illustrate the labor behind the performances, music that we already know would have been a more appropriate choice (for instance the Poliuto and Il trovatore rehearsal fragments). It would easily have been possible to edit the Arnoldo fragments in such a way that the music would be continuous, without interruption, in precisely the same manner that studio recordings are compiled of different takes.
Apart from those minor reservations, there is a lot to marvel about, beginning with the Guglielmo Tell excerpts. As mentioned, tracks 2, 3, and 4 cover "Ah! Mathilde," "O muto asil," and "Corriam! voliam!" These excerpts confirm what has previously been written on them in Prince of Tenors. Like most of Corelli's home rehearsal recordings, they should be listened to within a specific context. First of all, Franco rehearsed with a focus on phrasing rather than being concerned with the finished, burnished copper tones that he reserved for the stage. Moreover, his voice needed room to expand, and actually benefitted from open-air theatres and such monstrous spaces as the Arena di Verona or the Arena Sferisterio in Macerata! The dry acoustics of his modest rehearsal room at home (if they were indeed all recorded at home, and not, for instance, in the rehearsal room at La Scala), alas, didn't leave any room for vocal expansion, especially in the Arnoldo excerpts. Those who want to know what his Arnoldo sounded like, should therefore listen to the Poliuto and Il trovatore rehearsal excerpts, and then project the Arnoldo excerpts in the mind's theatre to where he took the other two roles. Apart from sounding rather thin, the Arnoldo recordings were also made at a much earlier stage than those of the other two operas, which represent him close to the performance (even past his role debut in the Manrico rehearsals).
While listening to the Arnoldo excerpts with that in mind, there are some incredible vocal achievements to be cherished, beginning with "Ah Mathilde," which starts at the second verse, with the baritone. It is sung in key and not a half tone sharp, and we hear some full voiced, vibrant high C's on "Ah Mathilde, io T'AAAAAMO!" Regrettably, the final, climactic "Ah quel vil tra–AAAA–DI–TOR!" in the da capo isn't given here, even though it exists. An odd choice, given that that climax doesn't have a high C to trouble our tenor, as did the difficult section with all the A's, B-flats and the high C in the middle, which he cut (from "Alla patria, al dover mio....... un puro amor"). His taking a short cut to the da capo section on the other hand is not made in order to avoid specific notes, as there aren't any toward the end that he would have to fear (although there are some rapid coloratura passages there).
"O muto asil," half a tone up, is interesting for the lesson in coloratura that Franco receives from his repetitor (at "Ahi quanto felice"), and for the stunning attempt at a high D-flat in "Ogni fatal" at the end. Admittedly, he is not very comfortable with this D-flat. Together with a few other occasions where he has trouble with the highest notes, he must have felt insecure with respect to the challenging number of high C's he would have had to sing night after night in the theatre during the projected May 1962 La Scala run. Even if he would have cut the number of high C's by half, at times his slightly forced tone in the extreme high range of Arnoldo, clearly points to his reasons for abandoning the role. Later in life, Corelli admitted that himself, but the 1961 interview snippet still has him merely replying that he abandoned Arnoldo because Gli ugonotti was given instead (track 18).
Judging from these excerpts, that was a wise decision. In a studio recording, however, his Arnoldo would clearly have been second only to Tamagno's, and it's a great pity that he never attempted to record at least the arias for EMI. What remains today, are these intriguing excerpts, completed with "Corriam! voliam!" The latter section is again in key, bringing us more high C's on "GuglielmO non morra!, GuglielmOOOOOOOOOO non morra" (with FC singing singing "vedro" instead of "morra").
The Poliuto excerpts (track 5 – 10) are all up a semitone, bringing us a B-natural at the end of "D'un alma troppo fervida," a high C sharp as written in "Veleno e l'aura ch'io respiro ...M'infiamma una virtude," since that aria is a b-flat aria, and the high C Corelli takes in the live performance is an interpolation already included in the rehearsal! In this rehearsal he sings it as written the first time through, and then with the interpolation when he repeats the ending. "Il suon dell'arpe angeliche," finally, brings us another high C. Dry acoustics may limit easy listening, but here, close to the performance, it is truly fascinating to hear him "at work." A great bonus here is track 22, which features Corelli vocalizing some scales, bringing us an echo of what he reputedly did in the Poliuto performances where Leyla Gencer stepped in. There, with Callas out of the way, he was egocentric enough to steal the limelight by interpolating a High D-natural! Precisely this vocalise brings us the only published high D- natural we have of Corelli, although one shouldn't get his hopes up too high: the D is very brief and barely touched upon, but... it is most certainly there.
Lovers of high notes will be stunned at the Il trovatore selections, all half a tone up, which means that "Deserto sulla terra" brings a B-natural, while "Di quella pira' ends with a stunning D-flat, with Corelli still able to deliver the final "eee" vowel at "allarmiiiiiiiiiiii". It is actually a little unnerving to hear him do that, and really unnecessary, since he never sang it in C on stage anyway (he sings it as written only in the studio recording). More amazing than this obsessive attempt at achieving the impossible are the strings of A-naturals in "Ah che la morte ognora" (on "Non ti scordar" and the repeat). He sings them instead of the written A-flats, and they sound amazingly easy.
With respect to all the rehearsal recordings, there is of course the question if they were really excecuted in an upwards transposition of half a tone? Frank Hamilton wondered if the number of rehearsals a semitone high are not due to fluctuations in different recording and playback equipment. And when listening to them with that in mind, it was difficult to decide on acoustic grounds alone. Corelli's voie does sound pitched up a bit, less natural, while transposing them half a tone down brings back the full color of the voice. We have to trust Landini and Loretta here, but anyone with a computer can do the test and chose for him or herself what sounds best.
Tuning to Lauri–Volpi!
The two Lauri-Volpi sing along recordings are fascinating, since they reveal exactly where Corelli's interpretation of Manrico came from; in performance he seems to have memorized Lauri-Volpi's "Di Quella Pira" down to the last vibration (something I already mentioned in POT with respect to his Gli ugonotti performance, which can be played as a stereo channel track to Lauri–Volpi's recording of the role).
Singing along with... Caruso!
The Caruso track brings us a mix of "A fuyez" from Massenet's Manon, and the Goodnight Quartet from Flotow's Martha, starting with the line "Dormi pur." In the latter part it is interesting to hear him imitate Caruso's portamento, while the first, though very fragmentary, bears testimony to the fact that he proposed Bing to sing the role – something which Bing and Roberto Bauer never took serious, along with an array of other proposals (Pinkerton, to name but one). Here we can hear what a splendid Des Grieux he would have made in the French version. As Lionel in Martha, he is almost as mellifluous as Gigli or Tagliavini, and this particular "sing along with" excerpt immediately took its place among my favorite Corelli recordings.
Of course, these "sing along" recordings are not polished products. He sings phrases where he feels like it, often in canon rather than in unison with the artist, precisely because he is studying their interpretation. Hence, my remark that this landmark publication is for the true devotee, rather than for those looking for just a fine Franco Corelli CD. Which especially goes for the dressing room throat scraping in "Pourquoi me reveiller," where he is merely reassuring himself that he is text proof, exaggerating phrases so as to memorize where to put the accents later on. Again, he rehearses it up a semitone, which leads to a high B-natural now, but the singing is truly 'ugly,' with exaggerated tone, and heavy glottal stops at the ends of the phrases. One could wonder, for the tenor's sake, if this recording should have been included here.
Unpublished Cetra songs
The two songs, "Bona jurnata" and "Lasseme sta," allegedly recorded for Cetra in 1958, were presumably send to Corelli for approval and never returned to the company. As finished artifacts, they are easily the best accessible tracks on the CD. At the same time, these are by far the most trivial songs among his entire recorded legacy. The arrangements are of a style that might have pleased only Walt Disney, and yet... the voice floats over that fairy tale Neapolitan ice cream parlor landscape with such an ease, that it isn't very difficult to let the ice melt down and focus on vintage Corelli gallery play.
Three brief excerpts of Landini interviewing FC (2001) are distributed over the CD (rack 1, 11, 26). Here, it is foremost interesting to hear Franco speak a few words on how his mother always wanted him to shut up, and some other personal things, which confirm what his friends and family have always maintained. The fourth excerpt, from 1961, has already been mentioned.
The remastering of the tapes was done by Simone Corelli, himself a cinema sound engineer. He did a fine job in equalizing the tape fluctuation, and found an acceptable balance between hiss, clicks & filtering, which reduced the hiss to an acceptable level, without diminishing or dimming the sound.
Bruce Badger & Rene Seghers
Added remarks by Frank Hamilton