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Blast from the past: Franco Corelli sings 'E lucevan le stelle' from 'Tosca'

The debate over the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Puccini's "Tosca" shows no sign of dying down, three weeks after the opening night.

The ever-thought-provoking Parterre Box site, for example, posted yet another analysis of the much-booed staging this week, making lots of good points about both sides of the debate. (I came down on the side of those wondering why there was so much fuss over director Luc Bondy's concept, which struck me as quite valid, for the most part, and certainly interesting, as opposed to criminal. My views  earned me my own share of boos from some readers, but, hey, those of us in the tough working-class city of Baltimore are used to handling brickbats.)

You've got to say this for the Met, it sure did generate a helluva lot of chatter. And all that talk of "Tosca" has had me thinking again of the opera's music, which led me to remembering the incomparable Italian tenor Franco Corelli singing the role of Cavaradossi, which led me to his crowning interpretation of the Act 3 aria, E lucevan le stelle. No one, and I mean no one, could do what he did with this aria, especially at the passage when Cavaradossi recalls the beautiful form of his adored Tosca revealed beneath her cloak. What Corelli could do with his voice at the top of that phrase, producing a slow diminuendo on a single, seemingly endless breath, is simply beyond words.

I never saw Corelli live, but when I hear one of his performances I feel I am there, and nowhere is that experience more palpable than when I hear one of his opera house performances of "Tosca" that, fortunately, were recorded. Here's one of the best, a blast from the past taped in the 1960s in Parma, when the tenor gave a truly stunning account of E lucevan le stelle. The emotion he produces at the end of aria may be a little much for today's tastes, but the exquisite sensitivity he brings to that caressing phrase earlier (starting at 1:55 on the video), has a priceless, timeless stylistic value:

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