Thursday, May 04, 2006

Memories of Franco Corelli 1921-2003 and Jerome Hines 1921-2003 part 1

Jerry Hines and Franco Corelli...when they were younger...... They were both great guys who I was lucky enough to call friends

Having a dinner at Jerry Hines with the dogs...... Left to right................ Franco Corelli,, Mrs. Corelli and dog,, me,, Jerry Hines and his dog Lulu......

I was introduced to Franco Corelli by the operatic basso Jerome Hines who had been a good friend and singing teacher for me.
I always wanted to be a performer I guess and was lucky to have worked as a singer for nearly 10 years. So I was also lucky to have a such good company around me.
I met Corelli at Hines's home in Scotch Plains... and as I entered the house Jerry Hines brought me in and I met Mrs. Corelli, who always had a dog in her hands..and then Franco.
He was seated in a chair and he rose to greet me stepping forward saying in somewhat broken English..."Jack, it is a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard so much about you and your work with Thomas Edison...and if you have passion in what you do, you will be successful."

We settled down to small talk and soon Jerry, Franco and I were enjoying a good conversation on many topics. Mrs Corelli was a bit more distant and not as open. She would spend a lot of time putting bows in her poor dogs hair!

This all started in 1998 when we first met and I was under the impression that I would never meet them again. So I had come prepared with a book and CD's to get them signed....How embarrassing....But I was sure this was a one shot deal.

Little did I know that we would many times be dinner companions ...all of us getting together at Jerry's house for dinner and often listening to music and listening to Jerry and Franco tell stories of their lives and operatic triumphs and disasters. We had a lot of fun!
They were old men remembering what they had done and we all enjoyed each others company. I learned an awful lot from them both.

Jerry Hines was 6'6" in height and a big man with a big voice. Even at this point in his life he could still do a hell of a job at singing. He used to joke with me and say "Look at me I have the voice of a teenager and the body of an old fart" Jerry still holds the record at the Metropolitan opera house for the longest career there. He was there for 41 straight years!

He was the first American to sing Boris in Russia. In fact he was singing it in Russia at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev was there and after the performance embraced Jerry and offered a toast..saying "let there be peace between our countries" Jerry returned home with the Chairmans message of peace and became a special ambassador of peace. He always joked about it..When ever they wanted to do a documentary about the Cuban Missile Crisis they would interview him and never use it...he said "It didn't make Kennedy look good enough...and made it look like someone else had done something besides Kennedy" Well Jerry knew the truth about it but never complained but laughed about it saying how overblown history has made it, and how fortunate it was that Khrushchev was pushing for peace.

He used to sing for me quite often when he was in the mood, playing the piano along as he sang.

When the Corelli's were there we would sit around the dinner table and sing together...which was treat for me.

One time in 1999 Robert Merrill came over to see Jerry, and I went and picked up the Corelli's at their apartment on 57th Street in NYC. So we all got together and were talking about singing and Caruso.
We had no phonograph there to play some of the old records on so I suggested that we all go to the museum where I work and have a concert.....and that is what we did. It was only about 10 minutes away. So we set up chairs and a outside horn gramophone. ...and Caruso entertained us...or should I say he performed for a panel of judges. The three of them Hines, Corelli, and Merrill were making comments and giving the thumbs up or down on the recordings!! It was a hoot!!!! Corelli would often say "he is cheating!" and other times say "He has a beautiful sad sound".

Robert Merrill said he started listening to Caruso when he was a boy. His mother borrowed a victrola from a rich uncle and his father bought new Caruso's each week. He said "when all the guys were out playing stickball, I was upstairs listening to Caruso. I always closed the windows when I would do that so they would not hear and I told them I was sick, But I was learning from Caruso how to sing".

Corelli told me after we listened to a number of Caruso's that his favorite Caruso recording was "A la luna" which Caruso recorded with Emilio De Gogorza in 1918. We played the recording and Corelli sang along..It was a fascinating experience to hear the voices of perhaps the greatest tenors in history in the same room...

We played the trio from E'Lombardi which had on it the voices of Journet, Alda, and Caruso....everyone joined in...But the last part of the recording everone just stopped and listened.
Jerry Hines said that this recording is like a master class. Corelli agreed and said that Caruso is at top form in that recording. So that ended our concert and master class ...we went back to Jerry's house and had dinner and took everyone home to New York.

One night at one of the dinners Jerry Hines told a story that made everyone laugh it concerned Corelli and him. He started and I will try to write it as close as I recall

" When I finally got my chance to go sing in La Scala I was so excited. Of Course Franco was there and he was six foot 3 and very handsome. He heard about this basso who was coming over who was not only handsome but six foot six! Well he was all worried about being over shadowed by me. So he had his dressmaker make insets into his shoes that would make him six foot eight! Now what he did not know was that his dressmaker was a friend of my wifes and he told her what was a foot with Corelli. So I had shoes made that added six inches to my height. Oh you should have seen us, on the first dress rehearsal..Out came Franco towering all over at six feet eight inches and very proud of himself. Then I came out towering at seven feet! You should have seen his face. Ever since that day he always says to me no heels!!"

Corelli told a story of how when he first started to sing he was told he was a baritone. So he studied as a baritone for a while but soon it was released that he was indeed a tenor. He worked in his early days as a stevedore. He worked at loading ships. He told me he used to love to listen to old opera recordings in Italy. He said his uncle had a farm and here he would listen to the great voices of the past. He looked at records from my collection and asked "are these original? Cause they look too uncles records looked old." I told him they were original and well cared for.

I have lots of stories of Jerry Hines and Franco Corelli that I will share in part 2


Alan D. Strange said...

I just heard the April 7, 1962 Tosca that Corelli sang with Leontyne Price and Cornell MacNeil live at the Metropolitan Opera. Magnificent! I love the Parma recording of that and, of course, the one with Birgit Nilsson. He is unequalled as Cavaradossi.

Thanks for these marvelous reminiscences. One can never have too many.

Plácido Zacarias said...

thanks for sharing these amazing episodes!

Anonymous said...

I also thank you for sharing about these wonderful artists life outside the theather.

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