Fernando Corena

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Fernando Corena (22 December 1916 – 26 November 1984) was a Swiss bass who had a major international opera career from the late 1940s through the early 1980s. He enjoyed a long and successful career at the Metropolitan Opera between 1954 and 1978, and was a regular presence at the Vienna State Opera between 1963 and 1981. His repertoire encompassed both dramatic and comic roles in leading and secondary parts, mainly within Italian opera. He was highly regarded for his performances of opera buffa characters and is generally considered one of the greatest basso buffos of the post-war era. He was heralded as the true successor to comic Italian bass Salvatore Baccaloni, and in 1966 Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The New York Times that he was "the outstanding buffo in action today and the greatest scene stealer in the history of opera".[ citation needed ]

A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Metropolitan Opera opera company in Manhattan, New York City

The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company based in New York City, resident at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager. As of 2018, the company's current music director is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.


Corena as Leporello Fernando Corena as Leporello.jpg
Corena as Leporello

Life and career

Fernando Corena was born in Geneva, Switzerland, to a Turkish father (the name was Korena) and an Italian mother. He studied theology at the Fribourg University, hoping to become a priest. After winning a vocal contest, he turned his attention to music. He first studied in his native Geneva, 1937-38. He was then noticed by Italian conductor Vittorio Gui, who encouraged him to complete his vocal studies in Milan, with Enrico Romani.

Geneva Place in Switzerland

Geneva is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous city of the Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Situated where the Rhône exits Lake Geneva, it is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

Vittorio Gui Italian conductor, and composer

Vittorio Gui was an Italian conductor, composer, musicologist and critic.

Milan Italian city

Milan is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome, with the city proper having a population of 1,372,810 while its metropolitan area has a population of 3,245,308. Its continuously built-up urban area has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres. The wider Milan metropolitan area, known as Greater Milan, is a polycentric metropolitan region that extends over central Lombardy and eastern Piedmont and which counts an estimated total population of 7.5 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the 54th largest in the world. Milan served as capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and the Duchy of Milan during the medieval period and early modern age.

At the beginning of World War II, he returned to Switzerland, where he performed regularly on radio broadcasts, and made a few appearances at the Zurich Opera House.

His official professional debut was in Trieste, as Varlaam in Boris Godunov , in 1947. He then appeared throughout Italy, singing the standard repertory, Sparafucile, Escamillo, Scarpia, etc. He made his first appearances at La Scala and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1948. In 1949, he took part in the creation of Goffredo Petrassi's Il cordovano at La Scala in Milan. Although he did not fully surrender the serious bass roles, he steadily moved into the buffo roles and found his career moving more swiftly upward. From 1950 to 1952, he sang annually at the Arena di Verona opera festival. In 1953 he made his first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff .

Trieste Comune in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

Trieste is a city and a seaport in northeastern Italy. It is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of Italian territory lying between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia, which lies almost immediately south and east of the city. It is also located near Croatia some further 30 kilometres (19 mi) south.

<i>Boris Godunov</i> (opera) opera by Modest Mussorgsky

Boris Godunov is an opera by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). The work was composed between 1868 and 1873 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. Its subjects are the Russian ruler Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles, and his nemesis, the False Dmitriy. The Russian-language libretto was written by the composer, and is based on the drama Boris Godunov by Aleksandr Pushkin, and, in the Revised Version of 1872, on Nikolay Karamzin's History of the Russian State.

La Scala Opera house in Milan, Italy

La Scala is an opera house in Milan, Italy. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 and was originally known as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala. The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta.

Corena's Metropolitan Opera debut took place as Leporello in Don Giovanni on February 6, 1954 with Cesare Siepi in the title role, Margaret Harshaw as Donna Anna, Cesare Valletti as Don Ottavio, Lucine Amara as Donna Elvira, Roberta Peters as Zerlina, and Max Rudolf conducting. He established himself almost immediately as a favorite singer in that house. For a quarter of a century, he all but owned the great comic and character roles such as the two Bartolos, in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia , Benoit in La bohème , Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte , Dulcamara in L'elisir d'amore , Falstaff, Mathieu in Andrea Chénier , Melitone in La forza del destino , Mustafa in L'italiana in Algeri , the sacristan in Tosca , Sulpice in La fille du régiment , and Varlaam in Boris Godunov . He also sang a small number of serious leading roles like Lescaut in Manon and the title role in Gianni Schicchi . His final and 723rd performance at the Met was in the title role of Don Pasquale on 30 December 1978 with Beverly Sills as Norina, Alfredo Kraus as Ernesto, and conductor Nicola Rescigno.

<i>Don Giovanni</i> opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It is based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer. It was premiered by the Prague Italian opera at the National Theater, now called the Estates Theatre, on 29 October 1787. Da Ponte's libretto was billed as a dramma giocoso, a common designation of its time that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action. Mozart entered the work into his catalogue as an opera buffa. Although sometimes classified as comic, it blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements.

Cesare Siepi Italian opera singer

Cesare Siepi was an Italian opera singer, generally considered to have been one of the finest basses of the post-war period. His voice was characterised by a deep, warm timbre, a full, resonant, wide-ranging lower register with relaxed vibrato, and a ringing, vibrant upper register. Although renowned as a Verdian bass, his tall, striking presence and the elegance of phrasing made him a natural for the role of Don Giovanni. He can be seen in that role on a famous 1954 film of the opera made during an edition of the Salzburg Festival under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Margaret Harshaw was an American opera singer and voice teacher who sang for 22 consecutive seasons at the Metropolitan Opera from November 1942 to March 1964. She began her career as a mezzo-soprano in the early 1930s but then began performing roles from the soprano repertoire in 1950. She sang a total of 39 roles in 25 works at the Met and was heard in 40 of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. She was also active as a guest artist with major opera houses in Europe and North and South America.

Aside from his close relationship to New York, Corena enjoyed considerable success with opera companies both in the United States and Europe. In 1955 he sang Falstaff at the Glyndebourne Festival. In 1956 he made his debut with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company singing Archibaldo in Italo Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re with Beverly Sills as Fiora, Ramón Vinay as Avito, and Frank Guarrera as Manfredo. In 1957 he sang in the world premiere of two operas by Gian Francesco Malipiero at the Teatro della Pergola, Il figliuol prodigo and Venere prigioniera . In 1959 he sang Falstaff with the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. In 1960 he made his first appearance at the Lyric Opera of Chicago singing Benoit/Alcindoro in La bohème and later that season Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro. That same year he made his debut at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden as Rossini's Bartolo. In 1961 he made his debut with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company as Rossini's Bartolo, returning there to sing Geronte di Ravoir in Puccini's Manon Lescaut (1961), and Sulpice (1967, 1973). In 1962 he made his first appearance at La Monnaie and in 1965 he made his debut with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In 1963 he joined the roster at the Vienna State Opera where he sang regularly through 1981. He sang frequently at the Salzburg Festival between 1965–1971, portraying such roles as Don Pasquale, and Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serail , among others. He also appeared at the Bavarian State Opera, De Nederlandse Opera, the Opéra National de Paris, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Teatro Colón, and the San Francisco Opera.

Philadelphia Grand Opera Company

The Philadelphia Grand Opera Company was the name of four different American opera companies active at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the twentieth century. The last and best known of the four was founded in November 1954 with the merger of the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company and the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. That company in turn merged with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company in 1975 to form the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Of the three earlier companies, only one lasted beyond one season; a company founded in 1926 which later became associated with the Curtis Institute of Music in 1929. That company closed its doors in 1932 due to financial reasons during the Great Depression.

Italo Montemezzi Italian composer

Italo Montemezzi was an Italian composer. He is best known for his opera L'amore dei tre re, once part of the standard repertoire. It is now seldom performed.

<i>Lamore dei tre re</i> opera

L'amore dei tre re is an opera in three acts by Italo Montemezzi. Its Italian-language libretto was written by playwright Sem Benelli who based it on his play of the same title.

Corena possessed a big, handsome, resonant voice that lacked sufficient flexibility to deliver accurately the complexities of Rossini's florid writing. However, his complete involvement in his characters, and sheer physical presence and acting abilities, more than made up for any vocal technical shortcomings. Opera magazine, for instance, noted in a performance in 1954 of Barber of Seville, that as Bartolo, he was "the very picture of self-satisfied middle age. The characterization was an absolutely complete one... Nothing he did was without point, nothing he did failed to contribute to the total character". Thus this was a performance of Barber which was "dominated by the Bartolo". [1]

Corena left many recordings of his best roles, notably two recordings of Mozart's Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, under Erich Kleiber and Erich Leinsdorf, Leporello in Don Giovanni, under Josef Krips and later under Erich Leinsdorf, Mustafa in L'italiana in Algeri, three recordings of Rossini's Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia under Alberto Erede, Erich Leinsdorf, and Silvio Varviso, Dulcamara in L'elisir d'amore, Don Pasquale, Fra Melitone in La forza del destino, with Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco, and a second with Adriana Guerrini, Gianni Schicchi, Benoit/Alcindoro in La bohème at least three times, etc. He also recorded the role of Rodolfo in La sonnambula , opposite Joan Sutherland in 1962. More serious roles he recorded include the King of Egypt in two recordings of Aida with Renata Tebaldi, Mathieu in Andrea Chénier, also with Tebaldi, two recordings of the Bonze in Madama Butterfly with both Anna Moffo and Renata Tebaldi, and the Gessler in Rossini's Guglielmo Tell (William Tell) with Giuseppe Taddei and Rosanna Carteri.

Fernando Corena died in Lugano, Switzerland, on 26 November 1984, four weeks short of his 68th birthday.


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  1. Opera, June 1954, p352