April 09, 2013


Among the tenors who came to prominence in the 1950s, Franco Corelli stands out as one of the most impressive: his film-star good looks, imposing stage presence and powerful, generous voice of clarion tone thrilled audiences in a wide range of Italian and French heroic roles.

Born in Ancona, Italy, on 8th April 1921, Corelli had little formal musical training. He was already 23 when he first thought to take up singing, and he learned much of his craft by studying recordings of older tenors, especially Enrico Caruso, on whom he modelled his vocal style. In January 1951 he was accepted by the Centro Lirico Sperimentale, an organisation in Spoleto that trained aspiring young opera singers; this led to his operatic début as Don José in Carmen at the Teatro Nuovo, Spoleto, on 26th August 1951. The performance was an enormous success, but no further offers were forthcoming until the management of the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome reluctantly agreed to present him as Romeo in Zandonai’s Giulietta e Romeo. This was well received and led to further engagements in Rome and elsewhere. Corelli’s career blossomed over the next few years and he was eventually invited to appear at La Scala, Milan, where he made his début opposite Maria Callas in Spontini’s La Vestale at the opening night of the season in December 1954. His fame spread quickly, and soon audiences everywhere were enraptured with his glorious voice and compelling performances in operas such as Aida, Andrea Chénier, Carmen, La forza del destino, Norma, Tosca, Il Trovatore and Turandot. He continued to appear regularly at La Scala, and partnered Maria Callas there again in Fedora (1956), Il Pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960).

On 27th January 1961, in a performance of Il Trovatore celebrating the 60th anniversary of the death of Giuseppe Verdi, Franco Corelli and Leontyne Price made their joint débuts at the Metropolitan in New York. The occasion was an unprecedented triumph for both singers and made the front page of most of the New York newspapers. Corelli sang again at the Met a few months later in Turandot opposite Birgit Nilsson and became such a favourite with audiences there that he returned every season until 1974.

Throughout the 1960s he recorded most of his principal stage roles for EMI Classics, and his art is also preserved in a number of live recordings and videos and his discography includes an impressive collection. He bade farewell to the operatic stage in August 1976 as Rodolfo in La Bohème at the open-air theatre in Puccini’s hometown of Torre del Lago, and lived in quiet retirement, mainly in New York, until his death in Milan on 29th October 2003.