Franco Corelli, Giulietta Simionato

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Opera Fanatic Corelli Carmen with Simionato
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(1959). Corelli, Simionato, Freni, Guelfi; Dervaux. Sung in Italian. 20-p. booklet with Simionato interview in which she compares Björling, Di Stefano, Del Monaco and Corelli

Robert Levine, reviewing in Classics Today

"Recorded live in 1959 in Palermo and sung in Italian in a remarkably verismo-like style, this Carmen thrills over and over again--but it may not be to everyone's taste precisely for that reason. The orchestra is rag-tag and the chorus is almost worse, but none of that matters: the draw here is the four soloists. To my ears, Giulietta Simionato is a weak point. Her Carmen is obvious and blowsy, with little grace or charm, but she's exciting and she sings her heart out, and her fans will not need urging. Franco Corelli is out of this world. This is Don José as Chénier, Canio, and Cavaradossi rolled into one. His tone is bright and brilliant with a baritonal low range, and if he doesn't quite manage the pianissimo B-flat near the end of the Flower Song, at least he does (in mid-aria) take an A-flat in full voice and then draw it back into a whisper almost endlessly. He's so passionate in the final scene, yelling and bawling, that he's practically visible. It's a field day of a performance.

"The very young Mirella Freni sings Micaëla the way you'd always hoped to hear it--virginally, exquisitely. Gian Giacomo Guelfi was a go-for-broke, big-voiced baritone who snarls his way into Escamillo, and he has all the notes for the role. Pierre Dervaux is a willing co-conspirator in this anti-French performance. It may not be the Carmen of Bizet's dreams, but it's a knockout. The sound is just up to acceptable. You'll love it."

The sound has some radio-broadcast crackle, now and then.

Andrew Farach-Colton, writing in Gramophone

"This 1959 Carmen finds Corelli in the youthful prime of his relatively brief but brilliant career. His Don José makes it easy to understand how he captured the hearts of so many opera-goers: his high notes ring out with bronzed brilliance, and he seems eager to show them off, holding onto the climactic note of 'Dragon d'Alcala' for so long that even the listener feels winded. Admittedly, there is precious little vocal elegance here, but no lack of chest-thumping passion."

Corelli and Simionato in Carmen

José was the role of Corelli’s debut and the one he performed most often. Here he is in his early prime, sounding like a hungry animal in a cage, the voice brilliant and full of core and bite. Yet he also is plaintive, particularly in the final scene. Throughout it he finds an extraordinary number of vocal colors. His desperation at the end is chilling.

By this time he had expunged nearly all trace of the flicker vibrato characteristic of his tone at the beginning of his career. But his sound still had a baritonal tinge that lessened later, particularly after he undertook high roles, such as Raul in Ugonotti and Poliuto, and lyric ones, such as Rodolfo and Roméo.

Simionato (as often in real life) is haughty, knowing, tough. Freni is young, warm, girlish, her tone unrounded and undarkened, very different from 20 years later, when she changed it to that of a modern soprano. Guelfi swaggers engagingly.

Until fairly recently it was customery to present an opera in the style of the day and of the country in which the performance was given. Accordingly these singers performed Carmen the way they did Cavalleria.
--Stefan Zucker

Franco Corelli Photos