This second volume of a history series on tenors offers extensive interviews, letters, and critiques focused on Franco Corelli.
Picking up where his first installment left off, Zucker (Franco Corelli & a Revolution in Singing: Fifty-Four Tenors Spanning 200 Years, Volume 1, 2015, etc.), once host of Columbia University’s radio show Opera Fanatic and a performer himself, applies his impressive pedigree of classical music knowledge to outline the fall of the castrati in the early 1800s. The culture of the Napoleonic era began banning castrati—male children castrated at a young age and raised to sing in more feminine ranges—from schools, and the pope lifted the prohibition against women performing onstage. During the castrati’s decline rose a new group of tenors like Gilbert-Louis Duprez, with his high C from the chest, and Giovanni Rubini, “the king of the high Fs.” These singers’ popularity and heroic characters would turn audiences and composers’ attentions to them and their successors. Among the latter was Corelli, and here Zucker shares his extraordinary access to the star, reprinting wide-ranging interviews as well as various correspondences, most notably the singer’s letters to fellow Italian tenor Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. Corelli recalls developing his voice—not just in his early years, but also across his long career—while discussing his numerous stage rivalries with the likes of Mario Del Monaco and Richard Tucker. Explicit facets of Corelli’s sex life are recounted in conversations with his mistresses and his wife, Loretta, and rumored flirtations are addressed. Despite or perhaps because of these deeply personal touches, this volume stands as an impressive resource for opera fans and scholars, with the author breaking down many of Corelli’s performances in detail, explaining vocal techniques and their origins. Those not well-educated in these concepts won’t find a teaching guide here, and readers who lack a background in music theory and stage singing will often find themselves lost. That doesn’t mean the volume is totally unapproachable, as its numerous (well over a hundred) photographs and illustrations are quite enthralling, and those interested in music history will find some useful trivia, from the technical aspects of castration to the drama between modern opera’s biggest names. Zucker also takes other Corelli biographies to task with a biting, decisive tone that only a true critic can execute so entertainingly.
The romance, passion, and competition of modern opera come alive in this sequel, aimed at aficionados.