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 yesterday (Oct. 29) 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, said today. “He was the most serious of his profession, and he was a great interpreter who made great sacrifices for his career.”
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.
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.
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.
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