Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing
by Stefan Zucker

Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing


Del Monaco and Corelli each rejected sweet tenor singing in favor of what they considered a more virile approach. Del Monaco pioneered singing with the larynx lowered to the bottom of the throat. That gave him a powerful, brassy, thick, muscular, penetrating sound, more suited to emphatic climaxes than sweet caresses. The technique limited his ability to color, to modulate between loud and soft and to sing with agility or legato.

To avoid these pitfalls Corelli developed what he called the “floating-larynx” technique. His stated objective was to combine Del Monaco’s fortissimo, Lauri-Volpi’s high notes, Pertile’s passion, Fleta’s diminuendo and Gigli’s caress. Corelli managed to lessen the tradeoffs between singing with a darkened massive tone and singing with expression. Del Monaco and Corelli became bitter rivals. Each tried to block the other’s career. In the end Corelli emerged triumphant.

The two tenors became the model for many others and ultimately changed the world’s expectations of what tenors should sound like in Verdi and Puccini. Del Monaco and Corelli more or less relegated sweet tenor singing to the junk heap. Sung tones became throatier and older in sound, and singing became less in tune, less agile, less nuanced, less dreamy, more monochrome, more labored and more consistently forte or fortissimo.

The differences between the singing of Del Monaco and his predecessors, Gigli, in particular, parallel those between Duprez and Nourrit, in the 1830s, and Caruso on the one hand and Tamagno and De Lucia on the other, around 1900. In all cases the more forceful, less subtle style won out. The book features extensive interviews with Corelli about his career, his interpretations, Del Monaco, Lauri-Volpi, Callas’s Rome walkout and much, much more.

Corelli felt that singing conflicted with his sexual needs. Nevertheless he had affairs. His wife declared, “I was extremely jealous. I didn’t have ten fingernails, I had twenty, to scratch out the eyes of women who were after Franco. I gave up my singing career to keep an eye on him. Still, if a man is determined to cheat there’s nothing you can do about it.” The book includes an interview with a very young soprano with whom he had a five-year relationship and a statement from a Met star who was the love of his life.

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Franco Corelli Photos