The missing links
Franco Corelli's Early Recordings on the Cetra label have been issued frequently throughout the cd era, though nearly always in the same heavily edited manner, with the duettinos from Werther and Il trovatore with his wife Loretta missing, as well as 'Amore o grillo' from Madama Butterfly and 'Ch'ella mi creda' from La fanciulla del West. This clearly indicates that Andromeda (ANR 2526) and Living Stage (LS 4035142) simply robbed the takes that were long available from the 1994 Palladio release The Young CORELLI vol. I & II (PD 4196/97). This out-of-print issue still stands as the best pick among the mentioned labels, provided you can find it. The one-cd Andromeda compilation is equally difficult to find, although one can get lucky in the second-hand cd shops, whereas the Living Stage copy of the Palladio set was the only regularly available release until the beginning of 2004.
Before commenting on the new Warner Fonit release of these former Cetra recordings, it should be mentioned that Living Stage falsely claims to have released Corelli's complete early recordings. Perhaps they should have mentioned that they copied the complete track list of the Palladio set, that had the above-mentioned omissions from the start, but then again – Palladio never claimed completeness. Palladio simply seems to have drawn from the regular LP issues of Corelli's early Cetra arias, but these issues did not include the two duettinos with his later wife Loretta di Lelio from Werther and Il trovatore, that were only released on 45RPM singles. Likewise they left out 'Ch'ella mi creda' from La fanciulla del West and 'Amore o grillo' from Madama Butterly, arias that were only released on 78RPm, 45RPM or in Corelli's 10" Cetra Recital Pucciniani. These eagerly anticipated omissions from Corelli's operatic studio repertoire are finally included on the new Warner Fonit release. This release of the heirs of the original Cetra recording company therefore stands out among the competition. In addition to their completeness Warner Fonit also distinguish themselves when it comes to the splendid remastering – a true labor of love! The serious approach of Warner Fonit is further stressed by the outstanding track list that provides one with all recording data for the separate arias. And, last but not least, the arias are given in chronological order, which makes it easy to follow the development of his voice. This is fairly important in the case of Corelli, whose voice changed substantially through these early years – in color and vibrato, but also in the art of singing with grace and polish, as can be heard in the ravishing 'Dividerci dobbiam' from Massenet's Werther.
For the love of Charlotte
This long lost duettino with Loretta di Lelio must be considered one of his very best recordings ever. Here, as early as 1957 one finds a melting Werther in love, singing with a tenderness missing from any of his other early recordings. Perhaps his fresh love for his Charlotte inspired him, as he manages to sing softer then ever before – in fact the recording reveals that the disarming Werthers of 1972 didn't just drop down out of somewhere above. Oddly enough the 'Ah, non mi ridestar' is nothing compared to this melomane duettino, being sung more in the cliché manner of the time, although with a richly endowed voice. In fact a comparison between the two Werther pieces makes one regret that recording arias was such a predictable affair then as well as today, since it is rarely considered to record Werther's death or the delicate 'Je ne sais si je veille' in separate aria recitals. Both would have been a treat in young Franco's recorded legacy, although we are richly compensated by the inclusion of two selections from Giordano's Fedora, echoes of Corelli’s lost live recording with Maria Callas: 'Amor ti vieta' and 'Mia madre... Vedi, io piango'. Those who grew up with the heroic image of the Otello which Corelli never performed are in for a surprise here, for the poetry of Loris proves to be unexpectedly suited for his vocal color. His voice may sound unusually big and heavy, roaming the sea with a whale-like quality if compared to dolphin Pippo, but then again – this is a whale in love and agony!
Perhaps the surprising conclusion from this recital is indeed that Franco Corelli was inclined to the lyric from the start: a full 23 of these arias are lyric throughout, whereas most others are to be placed in the lirico spinto repertoire which is found in the range between lyric and heroic (Turandot, Tosca, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Norma, Ernani). In fact the only truly heroic part is Otello's 'Esultate'. With this legendary memento of what was never to be we are on slippery ground – in spite of the vigor and youthful enthusiasm Corelli brings to it, the recording is among the weakest in this recital, as his voice slips slightly at the middle of the bravado portion, revealing a trace of insecurity. Nevertheless there are many favorable things that could be said about it as well, as it certainly shows that he could have become a great Otello in the years that were still ahead of him then. And one has to be grateful for Cetra's decision to include the choir preceding the 'Esultate', which lends so much more credibility to this usually chopped piece of recital meat. Still, Corelli is at his best when he can indulge in the spun legato bows of Faust in Boito's Mefistofele, as the Cetra recordings of 'Dai campi, dai prati' and 'Giunto sul passo estremo' demonstrate. Indeed, these arias set things in perspective when it comes to his DECCA recording of Gounod's Faust. The latter has always been a cherished recording in my collection, and the Boito arias make one wonder why Cetra never bothered to get him to do greater things in the field of Italian opera. His abilities were out in the open by 1957 | 58 and he is hauntingly beautiful in the now much treasured rarities of Verdi's I Lombardi and Puccini's Madama Butterfly. The latter would have been a tantalizing possibility in a studio recording as well as on stage – did any tenor ever fit the part equally well? But alas, only the two short Pinkerton arias were recorded and nothing of the act 1 love duet, whereas Werther's 'Dividerci dobbiam' clearly shows that he would have been more than up to the poetry of 'Viene la sera'.
Perhaps one can forgive EMI and DECCA once they began to work with Corelli, as they applied an understandable international repertoire strategy based on commercial laws and survival strategies, but Cetra clearly didn't have the best of managers throughout the fifties; they could have reaped diamonds in platinum settings instead of the bronze plaques they earned for three lousy Callas releases and worse, only a single complete Corelli opera release in four years. However there are some extenuating circumstances. The first one can be found in the variety of arias in this release, in addition to which Cetra must be credited for being the only recording company that successfully captured the delicate instrument of Corelli. In each and every one of these recordings he sounds fresh and vibrant, much opposed to numerous EMI/ Angel recordings (with the exception of his splendid song recitals) and this has nothing to do with aging of the voice, as is proven by his stunning live performances throughout the sixties and even as late as the early seventies.
A CAREER IN PERSPECTIVE
Next to the many rarities in his recorded legacy that can be enjoyed on these CDs, there are a fair number of arias that reflect his on-stage repertoire. These are partly mementos and partly preludes. As can be expected he polished his interpretations of Tosca, Turandot, Cavalleria Rusticana, Trovatore, Ernani, Carmen, La Forza del Destino and Andrea Chenier throughout the sixties, but many treasure the youthful ungestum that can be experienced in the early Cetra arias from these operas. They show a more straightforward vocal approach and less mannered stylistic features, and with that we miss and gain something at the same time. All in all, they are luscious souvenirs of the early Corelli voice, while at the same putting his career in perspective. And they reveal a good bit about his later career. In a Hamletian sense, this even extends itself to what was to be and what was not to be. Those who never understood why many Corellians regret that he never sang Un Ballo in maschera (he planned it but it never materialized, like Otello, Guglielmo Tell, Lohengrin and I Puritani) can find the answer in his Cetra recording of 'Ma se m'e forza perderti'. Perhaps he shouldn't have recorded it again in the unfinished 1967 recital, but in 1957 he proves a fair alternative to the equally outstanding Pippo. Corelli's Riccardo is noble, worthy and vocally immaculate, which is confirmed by his 1964 television performance of the duet 'Teco io sto' with Regine Crespin – RS .