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The handsome and charismatic Italian tenor Franco Corelli first came to Seattle Opera in 1967 for Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” Glynn Ross had to fight over Corelli with San Francisco Opera, who wanted him for the same time period. Rehearsals began in Seattle…but no Corelli. Conductor Anton Guadagno, on hand at the rehearsal, tried a bit of reverse psychology on the stellar tenor. He phoned Corelli in San Francisco: “Everything is okay; we have a substitute.” Corelli, Ross remembers, “was on the next flight to Seattle.”

Nobody who was in the house for the opening night will forget the electric atmosphere when Corelli emerged onto the Seattle Opera House stage to a huge burst of spontaneous applause from the cognoscenti. Other audience members glanced at the program: where was the tenor, the short, well-upholstered guy? Surely this tall, handsome Greek god was someone else. Then Corelli opened his mouth and began to sing: the audience was transfixed. Nobody had heard anything so glorious in Seattle. The ovations afterward were tremendous.

Ross actually did have to “shove him on stage,” as he recalls (Corelli was highly charismatic, but also extremely nervous), but the production was “a big success.” Moreover, Ross later wrote, “the presentation of the Roméo with Corelli was a new high-water mark for Seattle in the mind of Kurt Herbert Adler in San Francisco, because we had competed for Corelli, and won.”

Click to hear Corelli sing “Ah, lève-toi soleil” from Gounod's melodic Shakespeare-inspired tragedy. Anton Guadangno conducts the orchestra of Seattle Opera.