Italian Tenor Franco Corelli Dies at 82
ROME (AP) _ Franco Corelli, whose ringing tenor voice and matinee-idol looks made him one of the top opera stars of the 20th century, has died in Milan. He was 82.
Corelli, whose career took him from La Scala to New York’s Metropolitan Opera and other great stages in between, had been hospitalized in August following what was believed to be a stroke. La Scala’s press office said he died Wednesday at a Milan hospital.
``We have lost one of the greatest tenors of the world. One of the greatest tenors of the century,″ Carlo Bergonzi, himself one of the most stylish tenors of his time, told The Associated Press Thursday.
``He was the most serious of his profession, and he was a great interpreter who made great sacrifices for his career,″ Bergonzi said.
Born April 8, 1921, Corelli made his opera debut in 1951 at Spoleto as Don Jose in Bizet’s ``Carmen.″
He inaugurated the opera season at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala three years later with Maria Callas, singing in Spontini’s ``La Vestale.″ He made his debut at The Royal Opera in London in 1957 as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s ``Tosca,″ becoming one of the world’s finest spinto tenors.
He appeared frequently at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, for many years his favorite venue.
In all, Corelli sang 368 performances at the Met, where he made his debut on Jan. 27, 1961, as Manrico in Verdi’s ``Il Trovatore″ opposite soprano Leontyne Price, who also made her house debut that night.
His final performance with the Met was on tour in Puccini’s ``La Boheme″ on June 28, 1975.
He made his Vienna State Opera debut in 1963.
Corelli was a perfect romantic lead. A lyric tenor with great versatility, he also had a strapping and muscular build. As he developed his upper register, he took on and scored successes in all the great tenor roles, performing in Verdi’s ``Don Carlo,″ ``La Forza del Destino,″ ``Aida″ and ``Ernani,″ Puccini’s ``Turandot,″ and Giordano’s ``Andrea Chenier.″
He appeared in opera houses around the globe with such greats as Callas, with whom he had a special partnership for many years, Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson and Joan Sutherland.
He frequently sang opposite Nilsson at the Met in Puccini’s ``Turandot,″ taking the role of Calaf, the prince who melts the heart of the icy princess Turandot, the role sung by Nilsson. In their second-act duet, they delighted audiences by competing to see who could hold the climactic high note longer.
At a 1961 performance in Boston on tour with the Met, Nilsson outlasted him and Corelli became so jealous he bit her on the neck, said Nilsson’s publicist Edgar Vincent. Nilsson, famous for her sense of humor as well as her powerhouse soprano voice, notified Met general manager Rudolf Bing that she would be unable to sing in the next performance in Cleveland until she had been tested for rabies.
Barry Tucker, son of the late American tenor Richard Tucker, called Corelli ``one of the greatest tenors of all time,″ and remembered him for ``his ringing high Cs.″
``My mother used to say to my father all the time after (hearing) `Turandot:′ `This opera was written for Franco Corelli,‴ said Tucker, a longtime friend.
Corelli also had a hand in the Met debut of Placido Domingo. Corelli was scheduled to sing in Cilea’s ``Adriana Lecouvreur″ opposite Tebaldi at the Met on Sept. 28, l968.
``I had just sat down to dinner when the phone rang and Rudolf Bing’s voice inquired, `How are you feeling, Placido?‴ Domingo recalled in 1998.
``‘Oh, fine, Mr. Bing,’ was my answer.
```That’s good, because in an hour from now, you have to sing Maurizio. Franco Corelli just canceled, because he is sick.‴
The mayor of Corelli’s hometown of Ancona, Fabio Sturani, sent a message of condolence to Corelli’s family, calling Corelli one of the most ``refined″ tenors in Italian lyric opera.
As his voice aged, Corelli sang fewer operas and concentrated more on concerts. He retired in 1976, although he was present as a special guest in October 2002 at a Milan awards ceremony where he received a standing ovation.
He is survived by his wife, the singer Loretta Di Lelio.