“Opera Fanatic in the News, Part II” Update
by Stefan Zucker
Mairi MacLean published a mammoth article about Opera Fanatic in The Edmonton Journal:
It arrived one morning in the mail, a glossy magazine from New York.
The launch of a new classical music magazine, I thought, as I glanced at Dame Joan Sutherland, who beamed placidly out at me from the front cover.
Then, in an incredibly snappy double take worthy of Groucho Marx, I was sucked into the lurid vortex of the magazine’s headlines. They were tantalizing and unusual, I had to admit. You would too, if you’d been there.
“Nude Centerfold!” blared one in red. “Tebaldi Trashes Sutherland, Sills and Cossotto,” hissed another. And at the bottom, incredibly, “For the First Time: Photos of Castrati.”
No stuffy, tiny-type esoterica of Gramophone or Early Music Quarterly here. But rather, as Monty Python and his friends would say, something completely different.
It was my introduction to Opera Fanatic, a delightful and awesomely nutty magazine which has been described as a mix of Opera News, The National Enquirer and Rolling Stone.
I devoured the Sutherland issue, ordered two back issues and devoured them too. And I can report that for lovers of charming and eccentric curiosities, Opera Fanatic is a real find, an off-beat cross between scholarly tome and lurid supermarket tabloid, filled with rare and unconventional treasures.
Bizarre and bitchy, trashy and informative, OF features stories ranging from right-wing oddball Lyndon LaRouche’s weird campaign to standardize concert pitch to a profile of Metropolitan Opera soprano Aprile Millo, hyped as: “JFK: Millo’s Secret Dad?”
These share space with more conventional, almost academic pieces on vocal technique and great singers of the past. And the magazine’s photo captions are often hilarious and gossipy....
But much of the magazine’s space is devoted to its readers, who, judging from their feedback in the form of letters and critical comments, are a colorful, disparate lot, united only through the bond of opera fanaticism.
It’s not surprising.
The founder, editor, principal writer and mastermind behind Opera Fanatic is likely the most fanatical of them all. He’s Stefan Zucker, holder of the Guinness Book of World Records title of “The World’s Highest Tenor.”
“Guinness reports it as the A above High C, but I have actually sung B-flat in performance,” reports Zucker, a pleasantly articulate and soft-edged voice on the phone from his New York apartment, Opera Fanatic's headquarters.
A wearer of several professional hats, including singer, writer, broadcaster, producer and subject of the LP recording “Stefan Zucker: the World’s Highest Tenor,” Zucker explains that he began Opera Fanatic for several burning reasons.
A freelance music critic who contributed to major magazines and newspapers, Zucker found he wanted freedom to produce articles which dealt with “taboo subjects.” Then, when he began to host an opera program—also called “Opera Fanatic”—on New York’s Columbia University radio station, he quickly discovered he wasn’t the only opera fanatic on the planet.
“I understood that for some, opera is life’s principal joy,” says Zucker, whose radio show reaches some 56,000 fanatics in six states on the U.S. east coast. “They’re vastly knowledgeable and some have disc collections of 30,000 or 40,000 recordings. They know more than the critics,” he continues.
Not only were those fanatics tough to stump when it came to the “Name the Voice” contests that Zucker regularly devises for his radio show (“No singer was too obscure for some of these people!”), but he also found that “They had a good deal to say about opera and its lore, and they needed a forum for multifarious views and debate. No other publication was meaty enough for them.”
Thus Opera Fanatic, the magazine, was born. And now Zucker has fanatics up to his ears. “One lady called me five times today already; she’s a complete pest,” he confesses.
Opera fanatics can be found across North America, from tiniest hamlet to largest metropolis. More than 5,000 subscribe to OF, with single-copy sales estimated at just under 5,000.
“Our readership includes far-flung fanatics who have no access to many of the things those in major cities take for granted. And many fanatics feel isolated, feel that people misunderstand their love of opera. Perhaps their neighbors don't like opera,” Zucker says.
Whether from Vancouver, North Dakota, New York City or the Isle of Man, OF readers are a vocal crew. Letters rage with passion for the art form, and the armchair critics obviously relish having a platform for sharing their fervently held opinions.
And they adore and gush about the gossipy tone of the mag. “It was a matter of survival,” Zucker explains of OF’s scandal sheet approach, “With the radio show I can get listeners to tune in for exposés and revelations, and they'll stay put for archival recordings.”
It’s the same with the magazine. Entice them with the juicy lowdown on Plácido, and they might end up reading about forgotten composer Saverio Mercadante....
Zucker laments that taste is shaped by “casting and repertoire decisions” made by too few administrators, that opera is “becoming more homogenized.”
“We live in the age of Barbie Doll opera—singers who move well and look good but express little,” he suggests. What gets lost in the process is the singer who doesn't fit snugly into the system.
“We no longer accommodate the crazy singer, the petulant diva—they’re selected out,” declares Zucker, who is of the opinion that “Some of the most interesting performers are more than a little bit crazy—I’ve seen more interesting, flamboyant, volatile singers in church basements!”...
I asked Zucker why opera stimulates such fanatical responses. You don’t find jazz fans coming to fisticuffs over who’s a better guitarist, Joe Pass or Herb Ellis, for example.
“Catharsis,” is Zucker’s terse reply.
“Most people remain indifferent to or bored by opera unless it has made them weep or given them spinal chills,” he says. “Once that’s happened, one goes back for more. And many will endure hundreds of mediocre performances in the hope of re-experiencing that catharsis.”
Indeed, according to Zucker, those frustrated by their search for cathartic thrill can become “decadent” in their tastes. “This can lead them to give vent to witticisms, or it can lead to booing,” he cautions.
As for booing, it’s a fine operatic tradition, and one which will be the subject of an article (called “Booing: True Confessions”), scheduled to appear in the next issue of Opera Fanatic.
As well, there’ll be a long-awaited story on the late, great Maria Callas, and her notorious tape worm. “She is said to have swallowed one to lose weight....” Zucker trails off, mysteriously.
Those interested in purchasing Opera Fanatic should write to Zucker, care of Bel Canto Society. The magazine appears sporadically, but is well worth the wait. Enjoy! If you don’t enjoy, write—Zucker happily prints letters which blast and condemn the magazine.
(And in case you’re curious, the castrati article mentioned above, teasingly entitled “Did the Castrati Have Balls?” reveals the question marks surrounding the thousands of castrated males who dominated European singing centuries ago. Did they have libido, yes or no? And for you voyeurs, the centerfold in question proved to be an ancient photo of long-dead baritone Victor Maurel—immortal creator of Iago and Falstaff—whose private parts, sorry to say, remain discreetly covered, courtesy of an attractive fig leaf.)
Patrick Franklin published a substantial article on the magazine in the Monterey Herald:
One of the undisputed side benefits of this job is the occasional treasure that floats up in an ocean of mail. Well, “treasure” may not be the proper term for what washed in a few weeks ago, but it certainly merits the title of the most interesting publication I've seen in a long time.
Imagine, if you will, a combination of Opera News and National Enquirer, livened with a sprinkle of Rolling Stone. If you can do so, you’ve undoubtedly seen what I'm talking about for yourself.
It’s a publication called Opera Fanatic and, believe me, it lives up to its name. This is a magazine for people who really believe in opera, the real devotees who can hurl insults (and maybe a fist or two) at anyone who suggests that their idols have larynxes of clay.
The magazine plays to those hardy and highly vocal fans in the top gallery, and its very cover gives indication that you’re not about to leaf through another polite summation of what’s going on in the white-tie-and-tail set. “Nude Centerfold,” cries a banner across the corner; and sure enough, there’s an ancient print of baritone Victor Maurel, whose modest fig leaf barely escapes the staples....
More typically, one of the “teaser” lines promises “Tebaldi Trashes Sutherland, Sills and Cossotto.” Now that’s what opera fans want to hear, I suspect: a diva getting down and dirty about her rivals. Of course, there’s more. “Bonisolli: a Tenor’s Tantrum” offers another juicy story....
Zucker writes a decent piece on the forgotten composer Mercadante, as well as a surprising article on the oddball backing of right-winger Lyndon LaRouche by several operatic superstars. [In 1989, Tebaldi and Barbieri ran unsuccessfully for the European Parliament on the slate of LaRouche’s Patriots for Italy party; in November 1988, Cappuccilli's endorsement of LaRouche was shown nationally on a LaRouche-for-President TV commercial; hundreds of singers back a bill LaRouche has had introduced in the Italian Senate to lower the tuning pitch.] ...Zucker has supplied the only mention of the [LaRouche bill] I've seen in print, and very admirably goes on to discuss the history of tuning standards throughout the world....
A good deal of space is devoted to readers’ letters, surveys, transcripts of radio shows, and a few reviews. Whatever value the views expressed may have is very much open to debate; but the presence of real passion is impossible to question.... (“Boos, Hisses and Bravos”)
Robert Everett-Green published a massive article on the magazine and me in the Toronto Globe and Mail:
Zucker’s magazine, Opera Fanatic, is a strange hybrid of the scholarly journal and the supermarket tabloid. In its pages can be found sober, well researched articles, as well as lurid exposés....
The latest issue of Opera Fanatic contains an article that neatly straddles the scholarly and the sensational. [Everett-Green went on to summarize Opera Fanatic’s articles on LaRouche, many opera superstars and the tuning pitch.]
But the most interesting thing about any issue of Opera Fanatic may be the way the magazine acts as a kind of Democracy Wall for a feverish operatic subculture. At least half the magazine consists of letters from readers, who let fly with critiques of singers that are often more sharply worded than the most hostile newspaper review.
Typically, these fans view the opera world in terms of the blessed and the damned, judged according to the standard set by some favorite singer (usually dead or retired). They know of no more sacred duty than to defend their idols, and to vilify all false gods. They have little or nothing to say about conductors or stage directors, except when those have been judged to have been in the way of a singer—or to have slept with one. For Zucker’s readers, opera is nothing but singing and the adoration of singing....(“Magazine Fans the Flames of Opera-Lovers’ Passions”)
Barbara Zuck (no relation) published a lengthy article about Opera Fanatic in The Columbus Dispatch:
One has to admire Zucker’s guts. He lives in a city dominated by the Met’s influence, the influence of its board and the influence of Met Artistic Director James Levine. Not only has Zucker dared to investigate and criticize aspects of the Met’s practices and its roster of stars, he has dared to make people wince.
In the most recent issue of Opera Fanatic, Zucker ran the results of a poll of listeners to his radio show. Titled “The Met’s Approval Rating,” the poll gave the Met only a 32.58 percent endorsement.
Other stories have taken well-aimed shots at opera’s greats: [Zuck cited the Tucker, Domingo, Bonisolli, Tebaldi, Millo and LaRouche revelations, giving particulars].
Like it or not, approve of it or not, Opera Fanatic does make fascinating reading. And viewing....
There can be no question that Zucker has brought a different approach to covering opera and its personalities. Where else can you get dirt like this on such a high-minded subject?
“Opera Fanatic is hilarious,” declared Wes Blomster in the Boulder Sunday Camera, adding “It might be the Mad Magazine of opera....Readers fill several pages with outpourings of the heart about singers, about the Met and about the magazine itself.” Blomster quoted from listener letters (“Corelli sang like a pizza with everything on it”), but also said, “issue three contains meaty comment on the current effort to lower standard pitch....” He concluded, “The magazine is a fine source of information about rare videos,...” (“New Magazine Combines Wit and Wisdom”) In a Daily Camera survey of operas on videotape, Blomster wrote, “Opera Fanatic, that delightful new journal that lets everything in the world of opera hang out, also operates a mail order service. Their catalog specializes in video releases of many fine old German musical films starring Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and Erna Berger—to say nothing of a Salome with Leonie Rysanek in the title role.” (“Classical Music Video Selection Wide-Ranging”)
In the conclusion of an interview of Pavarotti in The Pittsburgh Press, Carl Apone wrote:
These days, there is a new, slick magazine on the market called Opera Fanatic, which features lots of gossip. In the most recent edition, a centerfold features singer Victor Maurel—nude except for a fig leaf. Mention of it amused Pavarotti.
“I do not see Pavarotti appearing there in the centerfold,” he said with a chuckle. “I give audiences the best I can with my voice, but not my body.” (“He’s 85 Pounds Lighter, but Not Centerfold Material Yet”)
Carreras vs. Domingo vs. Pavarotti
Jeannie Williams wrote in her column in USA Today:
Domingo may be working hard, but he’s slipping in one poll. Opera Fanatic, a New York magazine/radio program, has had tenor fans calling for their favorites, and so far Pavarotti is in the lead, with José Carreras second and Domingo third. In a similar poll seven years ago, Domingo led and Pavarotti trailed.
Publishing on Pavarotti in the Montreal Gazette, Arthur Kaptainis noted, “Stefan Zucker says most callers to his radio show are more than satisfied with the current version of the primo tenore. There is even a hard statistical case for awarding Pavarotti that controversial title,” Kaptainis stated, giving details about our polls. (“The PAV is Back”)
In La Follia di New York, Cathy Wall devoted two pages to reporting the results of our polls. Our earlier polls were reported by Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News, by Michael Redmond in the Newark Star-Ledger, by Iris Bass in Sightlines, by Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times and, by me, in New York magazine and The New York Times Magazine. Detailed results for a number of polls are in Opera Fanatic.
“Opera Fanatic” on the Air
Jo Maeder published a weekend radio survey in The New York Times: “More than 100 radio stations zap their signals into the New York metropolitan area....Here are a few of my favorite weekend radio shows”; she cited only one classical progam—“Opera Fanatic”:
Once you hear Stefan Zucker’s singular speaking voice, you will never forget it. Mr. Zucker is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s highest tenor. Aside from his unusual voice, he knows the opera world inside and out and can really dole out the diva dish. Between his expert narrative and the ethereal quality of the music, the show has a dreamy quality, in a David Lynch way. (“It’s Radio: Don’t Stop, Don’t Look, Just Lean Back and Listen”)
Albert Cohen wrote in the Asbury Park Press:
The radio programs, with an intensely loyal group of listeners, are another Zucker delight. They are a blend of interviews and rare recordings. The most interesting feature to me is when Zucker and guest analyze several performances of the same aria or scene....
Try listening. If you have any affection for opera, you will be amused, educated and fascinated. But beware: fanaticism is contagious. (“’Opera Fanatic’ Hits High Note in Album”)
Tim Page wrote in Newsday:
On Stefan Zucker’s Saturday-night radio program on WKCR-FM, listeners call in from five states [really six] to express their dissatisfaction with the current condition of singing. Established sopranos are regularly excoriated as “filth,” “sluts,” and “pigs.”...Opera Fanatic magazine...consists mainly of [Zucker’s] own extreme but knowledgable reviews of recent performances and lively investigative reporting of a maniacal bent....It’s The National Enquirer for operamanes. (“Opera Mania: Opera Obsessives—You Can Hear Them in a Crowd—Have a Passion for Opera That's Profound. And Subjective. Their Credo: If Something’s Contemporary, Popular or American, It’s No Good.”)
Bill Zakariasen stated in the New York Daily News, “WKCR’s programs can be most stimulating, particularly the lengthy Saturday night stint (running from 10:30 to 2) hosted by the delightfully eccentric Stefan Zucker (‘The World’s Highest Tenor’). Zucker’s guests often include noted stars of the Metropolitan Opera.” (“The Taste of High-Brow”)
Sara Freeman wrote in Gramophone:
“Opera Fanatic” is a bi-weekly combination of all kinds of wonderful things. It’s always in-depth but always fun. Sometimes Zucker plays an opera or listener reviews of current performers or maybe “name the voice,” where he plays recordings and opera mavens call in and try to identify the singer. Actually anybody can call in anytime to talk about anything as long as music is playing. (This is a one man operation, and Zucker has to do everything. I remember the time he had to put a record on quick so he could go answer the door.) Zucker carefully transcribes the callers’ comments and reads them on the air.
The best part of Zucker’s show, however, is the interviews. The interviewees are often critics or singers, but they are always knowlegeable. Zucker has interviewed Franco Corelli (about ten times), Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi, Franz Mazura, Louis Quilico and Francisco Araiza (twice), among many others. The interviews range from serious discussions of technique to hilarious anecdotes. They are like un-put-downable books; you can’t stop listening. Zucker, a singer himself, is a supreme musicologist—though not a stuffy one—who really knows the field and the right questions to ask.
Very little music is played on some of the nights he has interviews. During one of the Araiza interviews, there was no music at all. Can you imagine conducting a three and a half hour interview and sustaining total interest? Zucker can do just that.
Another two interviews that I cherish were with Schuyler Chapin, a year apart. Chapin is former General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera and at various points in his career an executive with Columbia Artistst, Columbia Records and Columbia University (strange coincidence there). He’s a Guy-Who-Knows-Everybody-Who’s-Anybody in the music world....
Franco Corelli’s interview and reception at Florence Gould Hall were wonderful. I was there as well as at a similar Corelli-Zucker affair the previous summer. Zucker is so important to opera lovers in the New York region and I would strongly suggest that anybody visiting the area tune in to the show. Years from now, I believe, it will be one of the primary sources for the opera history of our time. (“Stefan Zucker”)
Under the photo caption “José Carreras, lover got tired of the waiting game,” Nancy Stedman recounted in the Daily News:
Spanish tenor José Carreras, whose romantic antics make network soaps look subtle by comparison, has been ditched by long-time lover Jutta Jaeger, an Austrian blue blood. “Carreras kept her waiting too often and too long,” Jaeger’s mother explained to a source. Though broken-hearted, Carreras still intends to divorce his wife. He got a legal separation last June.
Carreras met Jaeger in 1984 when the singer, now 46, was flying into Vienna, according to Stefan Zucker, who has a radio show called “Opera Fanatic” Saturdays on WKCR-FM and also edits a magazine with the same name. Jaeger, now around 30, was a stewardess on the flight. Their affair caused the breakup of Carreras’ 13-year relationship with Italian soprano Katia Ricciarelli, who was then the mistress of the general manager of the famous opera house La Scala. The tryst also furthered tensions between the tenor and his wife, Mercedes Perez, whom he married in 1971.
Jaeger’s family pressured her to break up with the married man. So Carreras promised he would divorce his wife and marry Jaeger. But Carreras was diagnosed with leukemia in 1985. After undergoing aggressive treatment, including a successful bone marrow transplant, he recovered. His wife and two teenaged children stood by him throughout the ordeal. For a year, Carreras stayed faithful to his long-suffering wife.
Then he began performing. While traveling, he came across Jaeger and was smitten all over again. After a 1990 performance in Vienna he told the press that he was in love with her.
Shortly afterward, Carreras filed for a separation from his wife. But things didn't proceed quickly enough. Impatient, Jaeger found a new beau more her age—30 years old. Carreras could not be reached for comment. (“José, Can You See Any New Lover?”)
Under the photo caption, “Tenors Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras in Concert—radio show spilled beans on one of this famous trio,” Arthur Kaptainis challenged readers of the Montreal Gazette to a guessing game:
Last Saturday’s installment of “Opera Fanatic,” a mercilessly erudite special interest radio show on WKCR in New York, began as many do, with recordings by singers of the recent and distant past, some cherished, some entirely forgotten. German repertoire was to be the emphasis.
For some, this might have been enough. For others, host Stefan Zucker provided a zestier incentive—revelations regarding the personal life of a tenor of high standing. Make that very high standing. Stay tuned.
Of course, the name was mentioned explicitly. Zucker, a tenor and student of the lyric art who publishes a magazine under the title Opera Fanatic, has never shied away from specificity, as arts reporters in more upstanding publications inevitably do.
But Zucker tends to be heeded, even by critics who regard him, with some justification, as the Geraldo of opera.
His notorious cover story on Aprile Millo was once mentioned scornfully in a profile of the American soprano in The New York Times Magazine. The allegations, however, were left unchallenged.
Zucker’s tenor story, in a bowdlerized nutshell, is this: the tenor marries an unassuming young woman from his home town in 1971. Children follow. Early the following year, as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème, he extends his amorous feelings for Mimì to the Italian soprano playing the role. They become lovers and live together whenever the tenor is in Italy, which is often enough.
Fast forward to 1984. The tenor likes the looks of a 23-year-old Austrian stewardess and pursues her with success, dumping the soprano, who proceeds to marry an Italian celebrity.
The stewardess falls by the wayside as the tenor responds to a sudden personal dilemma by returning to hearth and homestead. For the first time he is photographed with his children.
But as his domestic need diminishes, so does his domestic impulse. He dumps his wife and takes up again with the stewardess. Her parents, Austrians of breeding, object to the match and demand that the tenor make a firm commitment to divorce and remarry.
He does so, but with what formality is unclear. He admits, obliquely, to the situation in a European interview. There are reports that he was separated June 9.
There has been nary a whisper of this in North American newspapers. If the tenor had been Sinatra, one can only imagine the uproar. But the classical press plays its scandals close to the vest, either because of genuine contempt for gossip or because of the possibility of retaliation. Many are the backs scratched in the music world, and many are the itches.
And many, of course, the rumors. Some, concerning AIDS, for example, turn out to be groundless, as the supposed victim lives a full biblical span with no apparent weight loss. Others are so often repeated by so many knowledgeable folk that they enter the collective memory of connoisseurs and are alluded to in conversation with complete nonchalance.
In the end, even daily newspapers were willing to refer to, though not dwell on, the sexual orientation of Leonard Bernstein.
The dilemma for the journalist is considerable. To break the story is to break the code of silence, lose friends, but perhaps gain readers. To ignore it is to play a game that has outlived its usefulness.
Zucker, perhaps disingenuously, claims a practical motive for his lurid trail-blazing.
“The challenge for me is to present esoteric material—old records—and yet have a big audience, so the show does well enough at fundraising time to stay clear of the axe. My solution: mixing archival recordings with [listener call-in features and] behind-the-scenes revelations.
“Presenting these revelations enables me to bring forgotten singers and forgotten styles of singing to a broad public. I do essentially the same thing with my magazine. But there is another aspect.
“I know from past experience that when tabloids get a hold of these stories they are apt to distort them. I felt I ought to present a careful and detailed account so listeners could evaluate what they read.”
It is only a matter of time before broadsheet critics apply the same logic and reach the same conclusion. (“Geraldo of Opera Reporting Forces Classical Press to Look in Mirror”)
For full particulars about the Carreras story, plus the next chapter, see the forthcoming issue of Opera Fanatic magazine.
Encore (the magazine of BMG classical music service) reported:
Franco Corelli, known as “golden thighs” to opera audiences, was one of the world’s leading tenors from his La Scala debut in 1954 until his unofficial retirement from the stage in 1976. His matinee-idol looks coupled with his thrilling high notes earned him cult status during his singing career. A recent survey by the magazine Opera Fanatic [the radio program, really] named Corelli Favorite Tenor of the Century, out-polling even Björling (second), Caruso (third), and Domingo (nineteenth, tied with Jacques Urlus).
Jeannie Williams wrote in USA Today:
Look out Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti: Italian tenor Franco “Golden Thighs” Corelli, the Mel Gibson of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, may be back. Corelli, who left opera in 1976, made a rare weekend appearance on a New York radio show, “Opera Fanatic.” He said he quit too soon, he wants to sing Verdi's Otello and do recitals. His reappearance would sell out Carnegie Hall in hours....” (“Starwatch”)
Michael Redmond treated the same story in the Newark Star-Ledger:
Last week’s big buzz had to do with a live radio interview given by Franco Corelli to the irrepressible Stefan Zucker, host of “Opera Fanatic.”
During the interview, Corelli indicated a clear interest in returning to the stage to perform and record the title role of Verdi’s Otello, the brightest jewel in the Italian tenorial crown.
Corelli never sang this role during the years that he was the most brilliant and exciting tenor alive....
Well, this was news,...It is also a matter of public record (i.e., listeners heard Corelli say it), as well as a matter of on-tape record.
By early this week, Corelli was waffling about the whole thing, saying that he had been mistranslated. The interview had been conducted both in Italian, which Zucker then translated, and in English. A difficulty with Corelli's explanation is that he had said it in English. Hmmm.
So why all the fuss? Simply because a return by Franco Corelli to sing Otello, or “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for that matter, would surely become a candidate for “hottest operatic ticket of the 90s”....
I had had the privilege of overhearing Corelli sing while he was teaching in Newark. The tenor sounded fantastico, high notes and all....(“Corelli Comeback: Yes or No?”)
Audrey Farolino wrote in Page Six of the New York Post:
Will he or won’t he? That’s what opera fans are wondering about Franco Corelli, considered the world's best and sexiest tenor during his heyday from the 1950s through the 70s. Corelli worked music lovers into a fever pitch earlier this month when he suggested on WKCR’s “Opera Fanatic” program that he would still like to perform in Verdi's Otello, something he never did during his career. Since then, “the phone here has been going wild,” says Stefan Zucker, the show's host....(“Corelli: Coming Back?”)
On one of the programs Corelli described his diet, which Jeannie Williams then reported in USA Today: “Sixties superstar tenor Franco Corelli says he’s eating nothing but bananas and yogurt daily, plus water and coffee—and it works.”
Jeannie Williams also published about the Corelli shows in New York magazine:
An event of “Garbo talks!” proportions is unfolding in a cluttered little radio studio at Columbia University.
As Warren Beatty once baffled Barbara Walters, and Marlon Brando fired hardballs at Connie Chung, so another media odd-coupling has set New York opera fanatics to frothing and sobbing. Stefan Zucker, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s highest tenor,” has bagged for his twice-monthly WKCR (89.9 FM) show the reclusive Franco Corelli, Italian dramatic-tenor god of the Metropolitan Opera’s golden 60s.
Corelli quit the stage in 1976, leaving vivid memories of glorious high Cs, movie-star good looks, and stratospheric duels with sopranos. Those are the days mourned by the cognoscenti, many of whom stick with Zucker’s Saturday-night program, “Opera Fanatic,” from its 10:30 PM start to the bleary-eyed end at 2:00 or often 2:30 AM.
After retiring, the still-elegant Corelli hunkered down, teaching young singers and dividing his time among his Carnegie Hall-vicinity apartment, Milan, and Rome.
Enter the knowledgeably eccentric Zuck-er, whose audience thrives on debating the merits of booing and the diversities of divas. For years, he begged Corelli to appear; now the tenor, in his mid-sixties, has done four guest spots. He and pal Jerome Hines, the famed bass, stuck it out for five hours of call-ins during the first appearance, in February. And the tenor has been revealed as “an intelligent, analytical, shrewd man,” says Zucker, “giving the lie to the idea he was a stud with a fabulous larynx but no brains.” Corelli’s English is better than he thinks, though he sometimes reverts to Italian, with Zucker translating. His feisty little red-haired wife, Loretta, sits silently in the studio, restraining Zucker from asking personal questions (one female caller wanted to know what it was like to lie in Corelli's arms).
Corelli has dropped bombshells on the show. He said that he quit too soon, and admitted he would like to record again—perhaps Verdi’s Otello—and to do con-certs. Offers flooded in from promoters; fans sneaked past the Columbia security to see the great Corelli again.... (“The Phantom of the Opera Returns”)
Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News also made mention of the Corelli shows and the prospect of a comeback.
Listeners having voted Corelli Favor-ite Tenor of the Century, I booked a date at a concert hall for him to be interviewed by the audience and me and be presented with an award. Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga in Opera News, Bill Zakariasen in the New York Daily News, Iris Bass in Sightlines, Jeannie Williams in USA Today and Tim Page in Newsday all noted the event in advance, while Albert Cohen in the Asbury Park Press described the audience’s reaction: Zucker arranged for a fascinating evening when he brought Corelli to the stage of Merkin Hall in New York City for an evening of talk. Part of the fun was the capacity audience. Talk about fanatics! Whenever someone recognizable entered, the applause would erupt. Jerome Hines, the Scotch Plains basso, was greeted warmly.
Pandemonium took over when Corelli appeared. Everyone was standing, whistling and shouting “Bravo.”
The fans really went crazy when he was given his “Tenor of the Century” plaque during this unusual evening. (“Fans Go Wild over ‘Tenor of Century’”)
The Honorable David N. Dinkins, Mayor of the City of New York, proclaimed January 7, 1992 “Franco Corelli Day.” On that occasion I interviewed Corelli in Gould Hall, taking a microphone into the auditorium à la Phil Donahue so that the public could speak with him as well. After intermission mayoral representative Dr. George Seuffert presented Corelli with the proclamation, which among many things cited his “thoughtful expertise and delightful sense of humor” in interviews.
Joseph Li Vecchi wrote about the event in Gramophone:
When Corelli walked out on stage at Florence Gould Hall the audience reacted as if Caesar had just returned from the conquests in Gaul....Corelli was interviewed by Stefan Zucker and he answered questions from the audience. We were also treated to a number of his recordings....Corelli fans are devoted to the great tenor and one lady even drove in from Cleveland for a chance to meet him. [Another came from Raleigh, another from Miami.] After the interview there was a reception....
Li Vecchi then described Corelli's vocalism, citing high notes and diminuendos, and maintained:
There is no voice before the public today with Corelli’s combination of power, range and color....
Bel Canto Society will publish the Corelli interviews shortly, most likely in a book.
Arthur Kaptainis declared in the Montreal Gazette, “Opera Fanatic packs more courageous and outrageous subjectivity into one issue than some journals hazard in a lifetime.... About half the magazine consists of astonishingly violent back-and-forth salvos on the virtues and vices of this or that diva or leading man....” Kaptainis added that the question, “JFK—Millo’s Secret Dad?” will “take some time to reach the panelists of Texaco Opera Quiz.” He went on to discuss the article’s revelations, terming them “not uninteresting.” But he continued, “The alternatively gossipy and erudite articles ultimately seem secondary to the white-hot letters column.” Kaptainis quoted copiously from the letters and listener reviews. He obviously loved the magazine.
The New York Times Magazine ran an effusive article about Millo by one Lisa Schwarzbaum that mentioned that Opera Fanatic told her family’s saga with “surprising viciousness.” Not so. I told the story by quoting court records, restricting my own writing to reportage about interstitial events. Are facts vicious?
In a lengthy article about the magazine, Michael Redmond, music editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, championed Millo’s singing: “Just how high will this star rise in the operatic firmament?... the sky’s the limit.” He stated, “Above and beyond the sometimes embarrassing facts of family history, Opera Fanatic has raised the issues of what, if anything, an artist owes to the public in the way of biographical disclosure, and what, if anything, the press should do when questions are raised about an artist’s veracity in on-the-record interviews.” Redmond felt the magazine delves deep. (“Soprano’s Family Ties Stir Furor Among Opera Fans”)
In an article about Millo in The Washington Post, Joe McLellan noted that Opera Fanatic “lavishly docu-mented” her family’s “problems.” (“Aprile Millo, the Bashful Strategist”)
The New York Post printed a partially accurate account of the Millogate story and described us as an “opera fanzine.” The nerve! The story ran as the lead on Page Six, reserved for juicy scandals. (“Tangled Plot of Met Star’s Parents”)
Including a full-page photo of me, a Condé Nast glossy from Britain, Tatler, referred to Opera Fanatic as “the magazine that prints the angst behind the arias” and declared, “Zucker’s journalistic nose twitches in pursuit of stories from the wildest shores of operatic scandals.” Calling the radio show “a forum for loony opera-buffs,” Robert Turnbull touched on our coverage of Caballé’s tummy ache, Cotrubas’ walkout, Domingo’s love life and the LaRouche-opera connection and gave an inaccurate account of the Millogate story and of a radio interview of Virginia Zeani. (“Singing on the Brain: Opera-maniacs”)
Richard S. Ginell, in the Los Angeles Daily News, began, “Opera nuts who aren’t content with the sleaze that is sometimes depicted on stage can take heart: A new publication is serving their needs.” He limned the Millogate story and said of “The Listening Public Reviews,” “These catty listeners aren’t shy, either,” quoting an extended exchange about Te Kanawa. Ginell remarked, “I savor Opera Fanatic.” (“New Opera Magazine Dishes Up the Dirt for Fans”)
LaRouche and the Tuning Pitch
In an article in The Washington Post on the LaRouche-sponsored bill to lower the tuning pitch, Joe McLellan wrote, “Zucker has taken a firm lead in opposing the legislation” and went on to quote Opera Fanatic at length, calling ours “an exhaustive study of pitch and LaRouche.” (“Lyndon LaRouche’s Pitch Battle”)
Bernard Holland wrote an article in The New York Times about the tuning pitch, based on the LaRouche position (“Singers Join in a Lament about Rising Pitch”). The Times published my reply, mentioning this magazine (“Illegal Pitch?”). I contended that “[Holland’s] claim that [Verdi] legis-lated a tuning pitch is pure invention.” I also maintained that “during most of Verdi’s life, tuning pitches were higher than today’s—as high as A 457. The mean tuning pitch was in the neighborhood of A 450, which led the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome to recommend it as the standard.”
I published an article on LaRouche and the tuning pitch in the Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider, mentioning Opera Fanatic. Discussing the involvement of Pavarotti, Suther-land, Fischer-Dieskau, Caballé, Do-mingo, Horne, Freni, Kraus, Tebaldi, Di Stefano, Nilsson, Bergonzi, Bum-bry, Milnes, Ameling, Mitchell, Cossotto, Verrett, Bechi, Bacquier, Cappuccilli, Sayão, Lorengar, Schreier, Kabaivanska, Cruz-Romo, R. Rai-mondi, Ludwig, Moll, E. Moser, L. Quilico, Rothenberger, Robbins-Landon, Kubelik, Chailly, Bonynge, Gavazzeni and hundreds of others in the opera world with LaRouche, I contended:
Most of the performers have no idea of the real history of the tuning pitch. They believe that until recently it was a half-tone down. However, 440 cps, in general use since early in this century, is lower than the mean tuning pitches in the 19th century, when the tuning pitch ranged as high as A 457—more than a quarter-step above 440. The performers believe A 432 to be a half-step below 440; in actuality it is less than a third of a half-step below. Tuning pitches in the mid-440s, used by some European orchestras, are not wildly higher than 440—contrary to what some of the performers suppose. A 445, for example, is only about one fifth of a half-step higher. Never in history have more people tuned to the same pitch than today....
The LaRouche bill in no way veils its threat to artistic freedom. According to Article 2 of the bill, state-subsidized organizations must adopt A 432. According to Article 5, “The utilization of instruments of reference”—tuning forks and tone generators—“not conforming to A 432 is punishable by the confiscation of the non-standard object and with a fine for each specimen of $73-$730.” The LaRouche literature makes no bones about this, and the petition's celebrity signers are all presumably aware of it. (“Lyndon LaRouche and the Golden Mean”)
Francis Church focused on LaRouche and pitch in The Richmond News Leader, quoting Opera Fanatic exten-sively. He declared:
Zucker doesn’t merely raise his voice in protest. He supports his arguments with facts....He feels LaRouche is using the issue to get more credibility and respectability....
Church concluded with my saying, “If LaRouche has his way, pitch police might well tramp down the aisles of La Scala to arrest dissenters tuning to A 440.” (“Shall Lyndon LaRouche Call the Tuning Pitch?”)
In consequence of Opera Fanatic’s criticism of LaRouche’s bill regarding the tuning pitch, he and I were interviewed by Lars Hoel on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” Speaking from jail, LaRouche tried to justify his stand on pitch, which I attacked, as in Issue 3. Hoel observed that I “poked holes in the historical and scientific rationales behind LaRouche’s position.” During the course of the broadcast, one of the signatories of LaRouche’s pitch petition, soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, avowed:
There’s nothing in the world that I can do to push my voice any louder, through E and F in the bottom of the voice; I will always have that. And when the pitch is slightly higher, it makes that even more difficult. I’ve sung Beethoven recitals with fortepiano, and things like “Ah, perfido!” are very, very tough on the voice—but when it was put in the proper pitch, I was in heaven! The piece just fit my voice perfectly.”
On the same broadcast, Tim Page of Newsday stated:
If the LaRouchians and Stefan Zucker want to fight about it, I think that's fine. But I don’t think the music world is up in arms. I remember the first time I ever encountered the LaRouchies: They were outside Alice Tully Hall, and they had some petition to ban Vivaldi from the concert halls. They didn’t think he had the “fundamental emotion”—whatever that means. They also recently disrupted a Chicago Symphony performance of “Brangle,” a work by Jacob Druckman, and passed out pamphlets saying “Leonard Slatkin Serves Satan” (Slatkin was the conductor there). This is not normal behavior.
Hoel noted, “Music critic Tim Page thinks all this energy haggling over pitch might be put to a better use, such as including more 20th-century music in the standard concert repertoire.”
Because of the program’s format, I didn’t get a chance to reply. Bryn-Julson apparently doesn’t know that when “Ah, perfido!” was composed, in 1796, the tuning pitch was 422-424 cycles per second. LaRouche’s bill specifies that tuning pitches varying from 432 by more than 0.5 hertz are illegal. Were the Italian Senate to enact the bill, in accordance with one of its provisions, she would be fined as much as $730 for using a tuning pitch as low as 424. 432 is too high for most music written prior to 1810 and too low for nearly everything later. (See Issue 3, pp. 39-52.) What Page fails to realize is that, on account of his pitch bill, LaRouche is being taken seriously: The Newark Star-Ledger, The New Yorker and the New York Post all more or less supported it on the grounds that since Pavarotti et al. wanted it, it had to be good. For the same reason, the Euro-pean press has been very favorable to LaRouche. What could make him more credible than having his bill debated in the Italian Senate? On the subject of modern music, should LaRouche come to power he would prohibit the performance of music by Wagner and anyone since.
Opera Fanatic’s coverage of the LaRouche-celebrity-singer connection occasioned three articles in the New York Post, one by Sharon Churcher (“Stars Favor One LaRouche Pitch”) and two by Clare McHugh (“LaRouche Backers Hit Sour Note” and “Lyndon’s Latest Pitch”). McHugh reported complaints by non-celebrity signatories of LaRouche's pitch petition that they were being bombarded by the LaRouchites with propaganda and were being hit up for donations.
One of Domingo’s Mistresses
Richard Johnson wrote in Page Six of The New York Post:
An Italian TV producer is furious that she has been identified as the off and on girlfriend of opera star Plácido Domingo for the past 20 years. The current issue of Opera Fanatic magazine says Giovanna Montgomery has been Domingo’s mistress.
“Her emanations make her sexually magnetic,” says the caption on a photograph of the attractive brunette. “When she enters a room, men suck in their tummies.”
The magazine’s editor, Stefan Zucker, revealed the alleged romance in his review of Domingos autobiography, Plácido Domingo, My First Forty Years (Knopf), which is dedicated to the tenor’s wife, Marta.
The book, according to Zucker, does deal with extracurricular sex in that it “recalls some youthful visits to Mexican whorehouses.” But there is no mention at all of Giovanna Montgomery, “who’s been having an affair with Domingo off and on since they met in Verona in ‘69.”
When reached in Rome by PAGE SIX’s Pat Wadsley, Giovanna denied any relationship with Domingo. “It’s ridiculous. Who’s seen me with him?” she screamed. “Where have they seen me? It’s a bunch of lies.”
Giovanna’s ex-husband Patrick Mont-gomery, who was divorced from her 10 years ago, conceded that she had known Domingo for a long time and said the three of them have had dinner together: “But they weren’t having an affair during our marriage.”
Nevertheless, some opera buffs say the romance is for real. “Plácido was probably the first man in Giovanna’s life,” said Nancy Davis, a former concert violinist and confidant of Giovanna’s. “He went after her when she was 17 years old. Giovanna has always been obsessed with musicians and singers.”
And Bob Connolly, a photographer who’s documented the opera scene over the years, said: “I’ve seen Giovanna and Plácido together on countless occasions. Once they had a wild argument in front of me. And always, there is passion in his eyes.”
Domingo’s spokeswoman Mildred Grant was shocked: “Of course women try to approach him. We laugh about it all the time. But his wife is always by his side. I've been with him four years, and in all this time I’ve never heard this woman’s name.”
But Zucker, who once interviewed Giovanna on WKCR radio, seems to know a lot about the woman. He tells how Luciano Pavarotti, the other great tenor of this era, tried to make music with her. “She wouldn’t come across for Pavarotti,” said Zucker, “even after he cooked spaghetti for her.” (“Things Aren’t Placid for Domingo”)
The Domingo-Montgomery story was also picked up by WNET-TV, the London newspaper Today and the Italian newsweekly Panorama.
Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New York Times:
On the WKCR program “Opera Fanatic,” Rudolph W. Giuliani reminisced the other day about the first Metropolitan Opera broadcast he ever heard: La Gioconda....He faulted the Mayor for not taking enough interest in the arts. (“Mayoral Foes Roam the Dial for Votes”)
Richard Johnson wrote in The New York Post:
In a recent interview on WKCR-FM’s “Opera Fanatic,” Rudy Giuliani, himself an aficionado, told show host Stefan Zucker that his interest in opera gave him “a sense of beauty and maybe even a sense of humanity.” Rudy, who picks Luciano Pavarotti as his favorite tenor, slams the decline of the Metropolitan Opera and says the arts will suffer even more without him in City Hall. Said Rudy, “I don’t think that [David] Dinkins’ vision of New York is broad enough to encompass the arts as an industry, as something that really relates to the number of jobs and the amount of commerce” in town. (“Opera Buff”)
Jeannie Williams, under the headline “High Notes: Rudy Pagliacci,” wrote in New York magazine:
Want to know how Rudy Giuliani really eked out his mayoral victory? He skillfully negotiated for the votes of both the Callas and Tebaldi factions—two groups whose allegiance runs far deeper than any political party.
Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi were famed rival opera sopranos (the former is dead, the latter among us) whose fans still debate hotly. Just before the election, Giuliani heaped knowing praise on both singers while giving the definitive nod to neither.
This all took place on Stefan Zucker’s “Opera Fanatic” program (WKCR-FM, Saturdays at 10:30 P.M.). Among the other tidbits Giuliani offered that night:
The first opera records he bought, at 13, were Verdi’s Rigoletto and Handel’s Julius Caesar. Then he got hooked by the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday radio broadcasts.
Tenors are his favorites, especially Italians. Giuliani fondly recalls attending the 1961 Met debut of Franco Corelli (and Leontyne Price) in Il Trovatore. Most exciting tenor today: Luciano Pavarotti.
His favorite contemporary soprano: Kiri Te Kanawa, especially in Mozart operas. But, like so many fans, Giuliani has found nobody to replace Callas, Tebaldi, and Milanov in the Italian repertory.
“My family didn’t have a great deal of money,” Giuliani recalled, “but getting interested in opera gave me a sense of beauty—and maybe even a sense of humanity.”
Quick: Someone send Rudy an opera about the homeless.
Phoebe Hoban wrote in The New York Observer, “When it comes to the opera, Rudolph Giuliani is nothing if not a politician. On Jan. 22, he told reporters [sic.] that his two favorite sopranos were archrivals Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi—a scandalous equivo-cation to opera buffs, who know you simply can't like both.” (“Buttoned-Down Chapin Faces Culture Gulf”)
Don O’Briant (with Bo Sturling) wrote in The Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution: “New York’s new mayor dived into the Great Diva Debate—and, like a good politician, landed dead center. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, interviewed Saturday on the “Opera Fanatic” show on WKCR-FM, disputed host Stefan Zucker’s assertion that an opera fan cannot like both Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. ‘It’s very easy to like both,’ Giuliani said. ‘Callas’s voice wasn’t beautiful but she was an unmatched dramatic actress, the mayor explained, while Tebaldi had a voice that was ‘lyrical, lovely, luscious.’ Giuliani was similarly judicious in not picking between tenors Jussi Bjoerling and Franco Corelli. (“Center Stage: Peach Buzz: Talk of Our Town,”)
Edward Rothstein wrote in The New York Times:
On Saturday night, Rudolph W. Giuliani entered a realm that can easily match the New York City streets in animosity and extravagance. It is a realm where most politicians are reluctant to tread, where fistfights have broken out and lifelong friendships broken up, a realm of high passion and low opinions—the realm of the opera fan.
The Mayor was interviewed on “Opera Fanatic,” a radio program on WKCR-FM. He was prepared to take tough positions, answering questions on pressing issues: How good is the Metropolitan Opera? Who was a better tenor, Jussi Bjoerling or Franco Corelli in his prime? Should there be booing in the opera house? And what about young Andrew Giuliani—does he have a future in opera?
This is not the first time Mr. Giuliani has ventured into the world of vocal registers and devoted claques. His host, Stefan Zucker, who bills himself as “the world’s highest tenor” (the Guinness Book of World Records gave him that title after he held an A above high C for 3.8 seconds in a Town Hall recital), began the interview by recalling that the Mayor’s first appearance on his show in October “almost cost him the election.”
At that time, the candidate, whose résumé included the leadership of his high-school opera club, asserted that his two favorite sopranos of the century were Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. The judgment caused a scandal among “Fanatic” listeners. “Everyone knows,” Mr. Zucker declared, “you can’t be a fan of both.” Mr. Zucker was finally convinced of the candidate’s integrity when he expressed dissatisfaction with the Metropolitan Opera.
This time, speaking for a half-hour on the telephone, Mr. Giuliani was ready to defend his positions while tempting listeners with the prospect of a mayor who might take an active interest in the arts.
He called for “preserving New York City’s role as cultural capital” of the United States and the world. He argued for the economic importance of the arts to New York. He declined to enforce his tastes on any institution because of his belief in the “free marketplace.” He sought to dispel any impression that he might advocate cutting back on city money given to small arts organizations in favor of more established “tourist attractions.” And he acknowledged that yes, Andrew “has a flair for drama” and might “take naturally to the operatic stage.” (“Giuliani and the Eternal Diva Debate: Can a True Opera Fan Admire Both Callas and Tebaldi? Absolutely, the Mayor Says”)
Corelli vs. Bjoerling
But back to the scandal, which Mr. Giuliani handled with the skill of one used to political battle. Despite the rivalry between fans of Callas and Tebaldi, he argued, “It’s very easy to like both.” Callas, after all, had an extraordinary instrument and was an unparalleled dramatic actress; her voice was not beautiful, but her performances could be superb. Tebaldi did not have as great an instrument, but her voice was “lyrical, lovely, luscious.”
When he was pressed to give a verdict in the case of Corelli vs. Bjoerling, Mr. Giuliani was equally judicious. Mr. Corelli was a master of the heroic tenor roles, he said, noting that he had been present at Mr. Corelli's 1961 Metropolitan Opera debut in Verdi's Trovatore and called it “one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had.”
“Bjoerling had different strengths,” the Mayor said, evident in more lyrical roles because he had such an “unusual quality to his voice.”
What About the Met?
As for the Met, Mr. Giuliani felt that the orchestra had improved, that there were some “daring productions,” but that sometimes there were disappointing casts. The size of the house, he said, requires “both a gigantic voice and a beautiful voice—a rare combination.
“Have you ever booed?” Mr. Zucker asked the Mayor.
“No, I never have,” he replied, though he thought there were times when it might be appropriate, just to keep up standards.
“Have you ever wept?”
“Sure,” Mr. Giuliani said, mentioning Marcello’s murmur of “Coraggio!” (“Courage!”) to Rodolfo in Puccini’s Bohème.
“Have you ever fallen asleep at the opera?”
“Sure,” admitted the Mayor again, “several times during the ‘Ring’ operas.” The Mayor promised to return to Mr. Zucker’s show to compare recordings of Verdi’s Otello and converse with Mr. Corelli. And though he may find that he is too busy, he hoped he would get to the opera “quite a bit” during the spring. One listener was already offering him a pair of seats.
The article went out over the Associated Press wire service and was picked up, in whole or in part, by a number of newspapers. Those that have come to our attention are The Republican-American (Waterbury, CT), The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Consti-tution and The New York Observer.
The Fulton Sun, in Fulton, MO, a town of 11,000, began its coverage of the subject with, “New York’s new mayor dived into the Great Diva Debate—and, like a good politician, landed dead center.”—“People in the News: NY Mayor Discreet When Rating Opera Singers”
Since The Fulton Sun published on the subject, we assume that many more papers than we know about did likewise.
Frank Rich published an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times critical of Giuliani’s readiness to have New York City divest itself of radio station WNYC. Concluding, he said, “Any mayor who says he can’t decide whether he prefers Callas or Tebaldi needs all the help he can get before deciding the fate of public radio in New York.”
Liz Trotta wrote in The Washington Times:
In what was expected to be an oasis in this field of fire [the New York mayoral race between Dinkins and Giuliani], Mr. Giuliani was interviewed recently on “Opera Fanatic,” a program on the Columbia University radio station. He recounted how as a teen-ager he learned about culture and civilization through his love of opera. “I don’t think the mayor has a personal interest or even an understanding of the economic base the arts provide,” he said.
“Are you saying that Mayor Dinkins has no culture?” asked the host.
“Absolutely not,” snapped Mr. Giuliani, who then went on to name his favorite tenors. (“Issues Are Black and White in New York Mayoral Contest,”)
William H. Honan wrote about the Corelli story in The New York Times:
His fans were electrified by a report that Mr. Corelli...had hinted in an interview on “Opera Fanatic” on WKCR-FM in New York that he had quit too soon and wished to make a comeback in the title role of Verdi’s Otello. He immediately received a blizzard of offers from opera companies around the country, but he accepted none, insisting that he had been misquoted. (“The Stuff of Musical Myth Turns Up in the Flesh”)
“...Nor is there much on Corelli’s recent emergence from self-imposed seclusion. For more than a year now he has been an important guest on a New York radio channel, where he interestingly discusses, for hours on end, the vocal technique of famous tenors like Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Pertile and....Corelli. Vintage Corelli it often is. Corelli, still nervous, speaks in a heavily accented but vocally rich English. Loretta sits at his side, grunting when she doesn’t like the question, sometimes audibly murmuring ‘non parlare.’ (Jan Neckers, The Record Collector, from a review of Franco Corelli: Un uomo, una voce by Mariana Boagno
Ann E. Feldman, wrote in Sightlines:
I know for a fact that Edward Rothstein, chief music critic for The New York Times, was not at the Corelli Master Class sponsored by the Bel Canto Society on Monday night, May 2. (He was instead at some Marilyn Horne or Hermann Prey thing, I can’t quite remember which.) Given that I think someone should cover this event, I happily fall into the breach. The reason I know Mr. Rothstein was not present is that I met him for the first time while paying a condolence call on the Tuesday evening following, at the home of a couple to whom I had once expressed the opinion that I did not agree with Mr. Rothstein’s criticisms and that he did not appear to have a true grasp of the Italian repertory. These two people are old fiends of ours and have two lively, precocious, and somewhat mischievous daughters, the elder of whom chose to greet Mr. Rothstein at the door with “You can’t talk to Andy Feldman, she doesn’t like you.” (There goes my career!) Actually, I may not always agree with him, but, upon meeting him, I did like him.
Anyone who has never attended one of Stefan Zucker’s (the moving force behind the Bel Canto Society) “Corelli” events has no idea of the fun they are missing. Abbott and Costello could learn from these two, and the audience itself is worth the price of admission, given that it is composed almost entirely of lovingly hysterical Corelli groupies.
For those of you who have never attended a master class, the format is basically this: a young singer enters, is introduced, and sings an aria, after which the Maestro comments on various aspects of the voice and technique. The singer then repeats various parts of the aria as prompted by the Teacher, who meanwhile demonstrates how he or she feels it should be done. It is actually a very interesting and instructive process, both for the audience and the student, and frequently you notice the improvement right then and there as the young singer attempts to follow the veteran's promptings. As far as Mr. Corelli is concerned, we had witnessed him in this role once previously, at an evening sponsored by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation a year or so ago, and in our opinion he has a great deal to offer.
The latest event took place at Florence Gould Hall. Up front as usual sat Loretta Corelli, Franco’s still very attractive spouse, and the legendary soprano Licia Albanese. The stage of the hall was set up with a small dais upon which three chairs were lined up, at stage right, floral arrangements to its right and rear. In the center was the piano, and at stage left was a lectern with a microphone, which as it turned out no one ever used. After somewhat of a delay, Mr. Zucker was wheeled out in a wheelchair, pushed by Mr. Corelli and the accompanist with Stefan himself giving assistance by sort of rowing with a pair of crutches. For those of you who are not regular listeners to the “Opera Fanatic” show on Columbia University's WKCR-FM on Saturday nights at 10:30 PM, Stefan has been in a wheelchair since falling ten feet through an open trapdoor in a health food store a couple of months ago, and it is only recently that he has been able to get around even in the chair. Mr. Corelli was greeted with the usual standing ovation and cheers from the sold-out house, followed by the usual sound system glitches (mike feedback, not being able to hear anybody onstage) that we “regulars” have come to expect on such evenings.
Things finally got more or less straightened out, and our first singer of the evening, a young Mexican tenor, made his appearance to sing Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana. (In fairness to the participants, I have chosen not to mention names, with one exception, so I can be freer in my remarks.) Our primo tenore bore a strong resemblance to José Carreras, and the voice, also, was similar in timbre, if a trifle bleaty. The legato was decent, the phrasing somewhat idiosyncratic, and the upper register more like a falsetto than a head tone, but still there was something there worth hearing. Mr. Corelli began his comments by saying that the young man had “a really beautiful voice.” I am afraid that I missed a good part of what he said after that because all of a sudden I was distracted by Stefan, in obvious discomfort, attempting to uncurl himself out of his wheelchair with the aid of crutches (the New Testament text of Jesus curing the paralytic and Lon Chaney, Sr. in “The Miracle” both flashed before my eyes). Well, Mr. Z was not “taking up his pallet” and walking, but simply getting himself into a upright position in order to be able to hold a wireless microphone for Mr. Corelli so that we might hear him better. Why someone else could not have been recruited for this task is beyond me. The odd thing is that anytime Franco would begin to sing a few bars in order to demonstrate how a phrase should be sung, the microphone was quickly withdrawn. One senses some prior arrangement had been reached concerning this. As usual, however, I digress. Back to the subject at hand. The Maestro pointed out the need for more legato, rounder tones in certain areas, and requested that other parts be taken more softly. He suggested that the interpolated B-flat not be taken, saying that only Gigli did it in Italy, and that he, Franco, preferred the ending the way Cilea had written it! (He’s right. Everybody tries the B-flat now, often with crude results, just to show off a high note frequently not worth showing off.) In the end, after the gentleman had left the stage, Corelli also commented on how the color of the voice reminded him of Carreras.
Our next tenor (four out of five of the evening’s participants were tenors) was a very handsome fellow who chose as his aria “Che gelida manina.” For some reason Stefan and Maestro Corelli were both hanging on to the microphone in a chummy fashion at this point so I may not have heard correctly, but I could swear that Stefan, in introducing Tenor Two, said that he had recently sung SEVENTY performances of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in Sweden. If so it is a wonder that his vocal cords weren’t in vapor lock. In any event, although he was very cute (in spite of his oddly oversized shirt collar and his scuffed cowboy boots), he sang stiffly, with indifferent pronunciation, no inflection (all those Hoffmanns?), and off pitch. He did nail his high C and pulled off a nice piano on “vi piaccia dir.” Mr. Corelli was kind, saying that “it was not so easy to do this right away,” telling Tenor Two to begin more sweetly, with more legato and with care for what he was saying. He demonstrated by crooning the phrase “e i bei sogni miei” and I melted into a puddle...such memories! Tenor Two tried again, and was somewhat better, though one was still jarred by such things as “yew SA tee” (“usati”), “pa ROLL lay,” and “sin YORE ay.” Still, there is a voice there, and one must make allowances for the circumstances which could have given anyone a case of nerves and have affected performance.
Stefan took the opportunity during the space between Tenor Two and the next performer to comment on the “dreamy” quality of Mr. Corelli’s own “Che gelida manina,” to which he replied that Puccini’s music “goes inside” for him. He added that he would have done more Bohèmes at the Met, but that they needed him for heavier roles.
Our next singer was a pleasant surprise (there was no printed program so we had no idea who or what was coming next): neither tenor nor novice, but a baritone and consummate professional, Theodore Lam-brinos. Mr. Lambrinos was one of the principal singers in the US premiere of Verdi’s Jérusalem at Carnegie Hall this past season. He is covering the Met’s Boccanegras next season. On the present occasion, he sang the Prologue from Pagliacci, while the Maestro beamed his approval. After, Mr. Corelli praised the voice: its size, color, legato, and easy high notes. He did suggest again more “roundness” and a discussion centering on the passaggio of baritone voices ensued. Mr. Lambrinos repeated a large part of the Prologue with the approval of the enthusiastic audience, after which Mr. Corelli, commenting on the difficulty of the aria, said, “he does it easy and he laughs...he’s happy!” (recalling to mind this tenor's own legendary stage nerves). The two artists then shook hands warmly.
Meanwhile, the pianist had trotted off to tell Tenor Three that he was next (we had a feeling that someone had not shown up). After a few more minutes of interesting repartee between Stefan and Franco, he arrived. Originally from China, he related a story of how, when he was growing up back in the days of Chairman Mao, his oldest brother had borrowed a tape of opera featuring, as chance would have it, Franco Corelli. (At that time, even opera was disapproved of as a symbol of decadent Western civilization.) When our young singer had heard it, his reaction was, “A god is singing here!” Tenor Three’s selection for this evening was “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller. This is a voice we are going to hear from: a big easy sound produced with the aid of a long breath line and a nice ring. His face is wide across the mask, perfect for resonance. Apparently he has already begun to be noticed, having won a major competition recently. Roles performed include Calaf and Don José. He studies with a 90-year-old Italian singer born in Rome.
Maestro Corelli praised the beauty of the voice, the legato, the “heart.” He commented on the squillo and the brilliance. He suggested a different ending to the cadenza (again preferring the one written), and wanted the “quando le sere” more mezza voce. There was one incident that will give you a better idea of the nature of the crowd in attendance. Tenor Three was having trouble with the sequence of notes in the phrase “amo te sol dicea” and Maestro Corelli kept trying to correct him without success. Finally, the entire audience hummed in unison!
Intermission followed, and then a second Chinese tenor, very tall, with dimples, also with an excellent, somewhat lighter voice and very good technique. He sang “Addio fiorito asil” from the third act of Butterfly. Mr. Corelli suggested broadening the tempo, which made it sound even better when the young man repeated the aria.
Mr. Lambrinos appeared again, giving us “Il balen” from Il trovatore, and this in turn was followed by a brief question-and-answer session which touched on such subjects as Mr. Corelli’s sense that vocal technique began to decline after 1963, and on his personal favorites among operatic greats (Gino Bechi for his charisma and command in spite of a faulty technique which caused his voice to begin failing at a fairly early age; Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Masini). When Mr. Corelli was asked his advice for young singers, a member of the audience answered first, saying “Study plumbing.” The evening ended with an autograph session, for which we did not remain. On the sidewalk outside Florence Gould Hall, a tenor who had been sitting behind us in the audience was serenading Licia Albanese with a section of the duet from Butterfly, and for a brief moment she joined in. When out-of-towners ask us how we can stand living in New York, these are the things we remember. (“Maestro Corelli Does a Master Class”)
Speranza declared, “Stefan Zucker is a bel canto singer and radio host of ‘Opera Fanatic.’ His program airs each Saturday at 10:30 PM on WKCR (FM) in NY. He too is a great lover of la cultura italiana. Notable are his wonderful interviews with the great tenor Franco Corelli.”