Franco Corelli was one of the greatest and liveliest heroic tenor
s of the twentieth century. Born in 1921 (probably), he debuted in 1951, and was especially associated with the Metropolitan Opera
in New York from 1961 until his retirement in 1976. He has died at the age of 82.
Strikingly handsome and athletic, he was renowned for bravura interpretations, which some critics in his New York period thought should be relegated to an earlier age. His own character seemed to match some of the heroes he sang: in a performance of Il Trovatore in Naples, a student heckled him. In full costume as Manrico, including his sword, Corelli bounded off stage, round the back, up some flights of stairs, and into the box where the hapless heckler sat. The door had been locked but Corelli burst it down with his shoulder. He was finally restrained by ushers, and returned to the stage in time to sing the opera's high point, Manrico's revenge aria Di quella pira as he sees his mother being burnt at the stake.
He was born on 8th April 1921 in Ancona, on the Marche coast; or at least that's the date usually given, his own official biography omitting it. The slight lisp he had was (apparently, according to some) a product of the local dialect. He was largely self-taught in singing, relying on advice and criticism from friends who studied at the conservatory: he disliked vocal teachers. This might explain his late debut: he won the 1951 Maggio Musicale competition in Florence, where the director of the Rome Opera heard him and invited him to sing at the Spoleto Festival. It was at Spoleto that he debuted, as Don Jose in Carmen, on 26th August. His career took off from there, and his Rome debut was in February 1953, in the Giulietta e Romeo of Riccardo Zandonai (now rather obscure: I've never heard of it or him).
His debut at La Scala, Milan, was in 1954, on the opening night of the season. He appeared opposite Maria Callas (with whom he had first sung in April 1953) in Spontini's La Vestale, now an often-heard work, but this revival of it brought it out of obscurity. His debut at La Fenice in Venice was in January the following year in La Fanciulla del West.
His Covent Garden debut was in 1957, as Cavaradossi in Tosca. A pirate recording of it preserves the sensational feat of sustaining Cavaradossi's cry of Vittoria! (when he hears of Napoleon's victory) for twelve seconds.
It was New York he was most associated with, and Corelli debuted there on 17th January 1961 as Manrico in Trovatore, opposite Leontyne Price. He didn't try to kill any hecklers there, but when the company was on tour in Philadelphia he allegedly bit his partner Birgit Nilsson in the neck when she sustained a high C longer than he did (a story he denied). He sang in every season there until 1976.
Franco Corelli retired in that year, 1976, with a performance of La Bohème at Torre del Lago in Italy, on 10 August. He was married to the singer Loretta di Lelio, whom he had met in 1957. For many years after his retirement they remained in New York, but finally went back to Italy. In 2003 Corelli developed serious heart trouble, and died in Milan on 29th October.
Very thorough biography at http://chalosse.free.fr/masterpieces/step-one/corelli-2.htm
New York Times obituary, 30th Oct. 2003
Lots of pictures at http://gallery.passion4art.com/members/orpheusandlyra/index.html
Sound clips available at http://members.tripod.com/orpheusandlyra/id20.htm