Fernando Corena, Bass (1916-1984)
Gioachino Rossini IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA
A un dottore della mia sorte
My personal opinion: Things never turn out the way than you expect. The Swiss born Fernando Corena had a lush bass voice and always wanted to be an interpreter of dramatic roles such as King Philipp in Verdi's DON CARLO or Fiesco in SIMON BOCCANEGRA. But life had other plans: Corena became one of the most sought after comedians, an "outstanding buffo in action today and the greatest scene stealer in the history of opera" (Harold C. Schonberg).
No one was more surprised about that as the singer himself: "I was considered as a real discovery, a bass who sings and makes the audience laugh!"
After several dramatic roles, Corena's success came with a Verona performance as Don Bartolo in Rossini's IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. An italian reviewer praised: "At last a Bartolo, who really sings!"
In 1953 he made his first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's FALSTAFF, and soon later Corena was highly regarded for his performances of comedic characters - a true successor to the legendary italian bass buffo Salvatore Baccaloni (1900-1969).
On February 6, 1954 Corena sang his first Leporello at the Metropolitan Opera, surrounded by a stellar cast: Cesare Siepi, Margaret Harshaw, Lucine Amara, Cesare Valletti and Roberta Peters as Zerlina. "On the basis of this one performance, Mr. Corena would seem to be a most valuable addition to the number of singing-actors at the opera house. Given little chance to rehearse in the new unit set for DON GIOVANNI, Mr. Corena moved about in it with agility and seeming ease, creating a Leporello that was human and comical, never a buffoon", wrote an unknow critic.
But no rose without thorns: Corena's success in funny parts was a 'double-edged sword'. On the one hand, he made great impression on the audience, which died laughing - on the other hand (and this you can hear on discs) his technique was not sufficient enough to do justice to the vocal needs of a role such as Osmin in DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL (1965 under Mehta with Rothenberger, Grist and Wunderlich) or the Bey Mustafá in Rossini's L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI. He has fulfilled these roles with lively humor, but not with technical virtuosity. Moreover: If you hear Corena's recordings, his vocal overacting with chuckling and squeaking wears off quickly. These are acoustic means of expression from a dusty panopticon.
Perhaps more than any other bass buffo, Corena gave profile to the role of the sacristan in Puccini's TOSCA. Between 1955 and 1978 he sang the short but remarkable part more than 120 times at the Metropolitan Opera, and he gave 'I colori' to many Cavaradossi: Campora, Di Stefano, Barioni, Peerce, Del Monaco, Tucker, Corelli, Kónya, Bergonzi, Domingo and Pavarotti (to name only the most prominent). Corena has sung the sacristan in studio productions five times: 1952 (Erede), 1957 with Milanov, Björling and Warren under Leinsdorf, 1959 with Tebaldi, Del Monaco, London under Molinari-Pradelli, 1962 with Leontyne Price, Di Stefano and Taddei under Karajan - and again under Karajan 16 years later at the age of 62 with Carreras, Raimondi and Katia Ricciarelli, "who walked over the red carpet rolled-out by Karajan, without, however, being a TOSCA", wrote Robert Werba in 'Opern auf Schallplatten'.
Corena was one of those singers, who replaced the requirements of true 'Belcanto' singing with humor, even silliness. This harms a little bit his Don Bartolo in Alberto Eredes recording of IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. He formed the difficult speech-part ("Signorina, un altra volta") at terrific speed with plastic articulation, but not with the same malleability and vocal elegance of Enzo Dara, who literally danced on the syllables.
In Leporello's 'Madamina' from Mozart's DON GIOVANNI we can hear Corena's resonant bass, but it's an interpretation without those subtleness, wherewith Giuseppe Taddei, Walter Berry or Gabriel Bacquier have enriched the character. John Steane wrote in 'The Grand Tradition': "An unsteady line and aspirated sketchy runs spoil the work of Corena."
Apparently blessed with an effective stage presence, Fernando Corena was an indispensable constant in comic supporting roles. Beyond this genre, he was surpassed much too often by other basses. Corena once said: "All you need for comedy in opera is a good voice and the courage to improvise!"
Fact is: On stage, he has raised some supporting role to a higher level. And what would opera be without the comedians in minor parts?
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