Photographic Adventures in Paradise
Listen to the “Perfect Tenor” Franco Corelli sing I LombardiL “La mia letizia infondere”
It was June 1956. My family and I had just moved from Chicago, Illinois to the Northern Italian city of Verona. We were staying 5 minutes from the Arena di Verona at the Hotel Europa . The reason for the move was my father’s assignment to the new American military fort being built in Verona. My father was a career US Army officer. The new fort was called Camp Passalacqua.
In the summertime the city of Verona would hold a series of open air operas inside the Arena which was a Roman Colosseum similar to the one in Rome but on a smaller scale. A temporary wooden stage would be constructed at one end for the performances. All the big operas were performed. Aida, Norma, Tosca, and so on. At the time there was an up and coming male tenor that was going to perform. His name was Franco Corelli. This was early in his career. He was still a young man about 35 at the time. It was the tradition that new singers would perform in Verona as they worked their way up the ladder towards fame and fortune.
I started to play the accordion when I was about 5 and took lessons up until we departed from Chicago. So I had my accordion with me and would practice for 1 hour each day. Now this was in the days before air conditioning. When it was hot you opened the very large windows in your rooms to keep cool. Since we were new comers to Italy we didn’t know much about the customs of life there. Well one afternoon I was in our hotel room with the window wide open and practicing away with my accordion. Suddenly the phone rang…….it was the front desk. They said that a very important guest had requested that I practice at a different time as he could not take his customary siesta due to the noise I was making. So of course I complied and also learned that when in Italy do not make noise between 2-4 in the afternoon.
(The picture below is of myself at my 8th grade graduation with my classmates singing “Que Sera Sera”)
Europa Hotel today is unchanged from 1956 when it was new
The next morning I was down in the lobby where they had some comfortable couches to relax on. I had my dog, Bobo, with me. He was a standard size poodle. He was very intelligent and could do many tricks. I had a pocket full of milk biscuits and was entertaining myself and others around me by having Bobo do some of his tricks. I guess that as luck would have it Franco Corelli happened by and saw the tricks my dog was performing. He sent over his assistant and she asked to speak with me. She said that Mr. Corelli would like to ask you if you could teach his new poodle puppy a couple of tricks. Anyway that is how my family and I met him. The picture below was taken in June of 1956 just outside the front door of the Europa Hotel. From left to right are myself, Bo Bo, Franco Corelli, his assistant, and his poodle.
( The dogs don’t show up very well because they are really black. Bobo’s tongue is hanging out but Franco’s dog can barely be seen.)
He was very gracious and provided my parents with tickets to his performance. For the next 3 summers while we lived in Verona he would send tickets to my parents along with flowers for my mother. I think he felt bad about complaining when he found out it was me that was practicing.
Franco Corelli went on to fame and fortune becoming one of the most important opera singers of his era. He passed away in October, 2003 at age 82. He had become known as the “Prince of Tenors”.
The following is a signed photograph he gave to my mother in 1957.
As you can see this was back in the days when posing for a photograph with a cigarette was considered sexy.
A thing that puzzles me…….notice the date under his signature? It says “1918”. According to his official website he was born in 1921 and died in October 2003. But if he wrote 1918 under his signature meaning it to be the year of his birth then he was actually 85 when he passed. I don’t know what else he could have implied by that date??? Any suggestions?
Here are a few more pictures of Franco Corelli…….
Corelli with Leontyne Price
Here he is with Bigit Nillsson
And finally on the right…..just 11 months before his death……November 2002