Marina Boagno & Gilberto Starone
A Man, a Voice
translated by Teresa Bretegani and Samuel Chase
Baskerville Publishers, 1996
Critics were not all favourable to Franco Corelli: though some of them loved him, some others liked him less and from time to time raised more or less severe objections, while the most inflexible ones wrote harsh criticism. Whatever the opinion on Corelli’s performances, it is now clear and indisputable that he was one of the most important tenors of the 20th century and therefore the need to read up on his life and art is natural and sincere. In the past years, many biographies, more or less valuable and complete, were written. There are René Seghers’s Franco Corelli: prince of Tenors, Stefan Zucker’s Franco Corelli and a Revolution in Singing and finally the present work by Marina Boagno, which was the first to be published in 1990 and recently updated.
This biography, published for the first time in Italy by Azzali, a publishing house specialized in singers’ biographies, was subsequently translated in English by Teresa Bretegani and Samuel Chase. The title, Franco Corelli. A Man, a Voice, is the exact translation of the original one but, whatever the language, this is the first, strange thing I have to remark about this work.
When you read a title promising that you will find something about the “man” in addition to the “voice”, you will expect that the biography will be balanced between private and public life and then that you will learn anecdotes and information that, avoiding the unreliable gossips, will help you to understand the psychology of the singer, especially considering that this singer was famous not only for his talent, but also for his proverbial nervous temperament.
Instead, with a choice that contradict the title, Marina Boagno has decided to exclude any allusion to Corelli’s private life beginning from the year of his debut. After the short and nice sketch of his early years in the Adriatic city of Ancona, the only piece of information the author give us is a dry note of his wedding. From that moment on, there is no further news of Corelli “the man” and the worst is that Boagno herself affirms that this is her precise intention.
This lack, though not secondary, would have been compensated if the account of Corelli’s career was exhaustive and well articulated, so that at least “the voice” would have been preserved. Unfortunately, this does not happened and actually there are many reasons to state that Boagno’s narration of Corelli’s is one of the most disappointing and, sometimes, even annoying. Firstly, as the “biography” is actually a disordered myriad of reviews, the chronological order is not always clear and therefore is different to follow. Secondly, the few episodes to which Boagno refers are usually hastily and superficially discussed, summarizing them with the pretext that they are not important anymore (an excuse that is very often adopted when she has to give notice of famous quarrels as that at Teatro San Carlo with an excessively zealous fan of Fedora Barbieri). Thirdly, and more significantly, Boagno clearly adores Corelli, to the point that the slightest allusion that he could have been less than perfect is unbearable to her.
This is a delicate point, because it is the greatest defect of this biography. Boagno’s adoration leads her to some excesses that, excusable in a fan, are hardly acceptable on the part of someone who undertakes to write a biography. We all know that complete objectivity is unreachable, but it is not acceptable that someone pretend to impose his or her own verdict without accepting the existence of different opinions, especially in a highly subjective matter as singing. In Franco Corelli, we are witnesses of the steady, tireless effort to square the circle and, trying to defend her hero, Boagno “fixes” the reviews that are less than flattering – even those written by important and competent critics as Giorgio Gualerzi and Rodolfo Celletti – with her own, unquestionable “Truth”. Now, I do not want to say that two great names as those I have just mentioned mean that we have to follow unthinkingly their thought, but the fact that Boagno distrusts contemporary chronicles when they are not totally favourable to Corelli and that she strives to correct their “mistakes” with her superficial, partisan comments and that she tries to suggest us that they are the right and only interpretation of Corelli’s singing – well, this is totally arbitrary and does not reach its goal, as Boagno’s partiality does not benefit Corelli nor the book.
I can make a lot of examples of how irritating this kind of writing is, but I prefer to pass over and I would like to add that, despite the continuous interference of Boagno in the contemporary reviews, she reports many excerpts from newspapers that can no longer be found and from interviews she made to Corelli’s great colleagues, as Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni and Grace Bumbry, to quote just few of them, and these, brief moments of “relax” are the most valuable passages of the biography.
There is another positive note to add before the end of this post and it is that Franco Corelli. A Man, a Voice is not only a biography, but it includes beautiful iconographic material (there are one hundred and twenty photos in all) and exhaustive chronologies and discographies edited by Gilberto Starone. What is absurd and a little sad is that these parts, that are usually secondary and are therefore defined as “appendixes”, are actually the most interesting parts of a book that, despite its own contradictions and limits, get information from first-rate sources and that, with a more perspicacious and less factious biographer, could have been much more enjoyable and illuminating.