Remembering Joe Green: The Life & Art of Giuseppe Verdi
A 1965 recording of Verdi’s opera “Il Trovatore” starring the tenor who could crank out the most insane of high C’s – Franco Corelli
“DI QUELLA PIRA”
from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Il Trovatore”
Ah! Impetuous Youth. Looking back when I was an aspiring opera singer in NYC I often wonder which planet I was from, since I either had to have been certifiably insane or a space alien to have pulled off the stuff I accomplished musically.
And speaking of insanity, we come to our next installment honoring the great Giuseppe Verdi, his over the top power drama of an opera “Il Trovatore”, in English “The Trubadore” which includes one of the most insane tenor arias ever written “Di quella Pira” or “From the Flaming Pyre”.
Returning once more to Brad’s deranged musical youth….
The most important thing to an aspiring opera singer at the very beginning of his opera career? Experience.
But how does one get experience if one is inexperienced and goes on auditions only to hear they are looking for singers with experience? You go to every audition in the known Universe and hope for the best.
This is what led me to have the brazen audacity to audition for the lead role in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. The tenor role of Manrico is notorious for its demanding stamina and challenging arias but Verdi’s character of the Trubador has one other degree of difficulty that strikes a particular fear unlike any other in the heart of every tenor who approaches the part:
A high C.
At the end of Act II, smack dab in the middle of the opera is Manrico’s aria of uber-drama and vocal fireworks, “Di quella Pira”. The aria is sung with full male chorus and as the piece crescendos to full climax, Manrico must sing, (gulp) a high C on the last note of the word “Alarmi”, which in English means “Sound the alarms!”
Sounds super. The only problem was I had never sung a high C in public but space alien here goes and auditions for the lead role anyway, assuming he’d never get the part.
One week following the disastrous audition during which, by the way, there wasn’t a C to be found.
“After much consideration, we’d like to inform you that you’ve been cast in the role of Manrico, Mr. Kronen. (knowingly whispering) We know you have the C, no worries.”
Apparently there were others on the island of Manhattan far more insane than myself at the time. I audition for a role known for one single high note that I just happen to vocally choke on but still get the part anyway and the woman says she’s not worried?
Glad I was able to worry for both of us and then some.
In the weeks leading up to the premiere performance, my worry revved into sheer obsession – all over one freaking note.
I was singing multiple performances of the lead role of Manrico in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore, concert style in a beautifully grand Episcopal Church in midtown Manhattan with full chorus, piano, and strings – No worries.
By the time the first performance came around, I was sleeping, eating, and breathing that one stupid note pretty much every waking minute of my existence. So much so, that when it came time to actually produce the blasted thing, not a single bit of sound came out of my mouth. I became so enraged that I took another huge breath and opened my mouth only to lay yet another big ole’ goose egg of non-sound a 2nd time.
I’m afraid there was no “3 times a charm” attempt because by that point I had already stormed off stage.
To High C or not to high C, that is NOT the Question
Knowing there were still 5 more performances left of the opera that I was required to still sing, rather than flagellate myself into a bloody vocal chord and too exhausted to even remotely worry like that again, I let go of the high C. I told myself it was one note amongst many and that I owed it to both myself and to Giuseppe Verdi to simply try my best and sing every note as well as I could with no worries.
Resulting in me tossing off a high C at every subsequent performance.
8 months later.
One blizzard filled Saturday night at around 2AM, I was foraging through the snow to go to my local all night deli on 2nd Avenue in the East Village. I was about to pass through the air heated, plastic entrance way of the place when a car drove up next to me, practically on the sidewalk. As every New Yorker is apt to do at moments such as these, I opened my mouth to curse the driver a blue streak and to inquire about his handicap since clearly he was blind but was interrupted by the car’s passenger window electronically sliding down. I was literally struck dumbfounded at what happened next.
A voice came out from a person I couldn’t see inside the car yelling, “HEY YOU! Did you ever sing a Trovatore?”
All I could do was nod.
“You were great! And you sang that high C as written, no one does that anymore. Keep up the good work.”
And drove off. Clearly the man didn’t attend my initial performance but a true story none the less.
I may have sang it as written but no one can sing Manrico like the singer I have chosen. The Italian tenor with the Hollywood good looks, Franco Corelli not only sang his high C as written, he also held it full voice for about a million years, and as if that wasn’t enough, cranks out a 2nd C to sing the last syllable of the word “Alarmi”.
Sound the alarms, indeed.
“Di Quella Pira” begins at 5:10 but the beginning aria of “Ah Si Ben Mio” ain’t too shabby to listen to either.
*Brad Kronen has written an astrological dating guide for every sign of the Zodiac. In honor of the great Franco Corelli, below is a link to the sign the man most associated with the heroic warrior role of Manrico was born under – the heroic warrior sign of Aries.