Fernando Corena’s father was Turkish and his mother Italian. He initially intended to become a priest, studying theology at Fribourg University. After winning a singing competition however he began to study music in Geneva during 1937 and 1938. He was heard by the conductor Vittorio Gui who encouraged him to continue his vocal studies with Enrico Romani in Milan; but with the outbreak of World War II Corena returned to Switzerland. Here he worked as a singer in Zürich, participating in concerts and radio broadcasts, and making a few appearances at the Zürich Opera House.
In 1947 Corena made his formal operatic stage début, in Trieste as Varlaam/Boris Godunov, and was swiftly invited to appear in Italy in the standard baritone repertoire of parts such as Escamillo/Carmen and Scarpia/Tosca. His début at La Scala, Milan and at Florence’s Maggio Musicale came in 1948, and during the following year he sang in the first performance of Petrassi’s Il Cordovano at La Scala. Between 1950 and 1952 he appeared annually at the Verona Arena.
Corena soon moved into the comic repertoire, with parts such as the title rôle in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and Fra Melitone/La forza del destino, both of which he recorded with the forces of La Scala for the American Urania label in the early 1950s. He made his début at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, at the beginning of 1954 as Leporello/Don Giovanni. Here he quickly became a house favourite, acknowledged as the successor to Salvatore Baccaloni in the comic repertoire. Corena sang twenty parts in more than 700 performances at the Met, including Bartolo/Le nozze di Figaro and Bartolo/Il barbiere di Siviglia, Don Alfonso/Così fan tutte, Dr Dulcamara/L’elisir d’amore, Falstaff, Mustafa/L’italiana in Algeri, Sulpice/La fille du régiment, Geronte/Manon Lescaut and the title rôle in Gianni Schicchi. His final appearance at the Met was as Don Pasquale, at the end of 1978.
In Europe Corena was equally active, appearing at the Glyndebourne Festival as Falstaff in 1955 (‘Surely he is Stabile’s successor’ said the Financial Times), and in the first performances of two operas by Malipiero, Il figliuol prodigo and Venere prigioniera at Florence in 1957. Throughout the1960s he was extremely busy, making débuts at Chicago (1960, the Mozart Bartolo and both Benoit and Alcindoro/La Bohème); the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1960, the Rossini Bartolo); Philadelphia (1961, the Rossini Bartolo), Vienna (1963, singing there regularly until 1981); and the Salzburg Festival (1965, singing there annually until 1971 in rôles such as Osmin/Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Don Basilio/Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Don Pasquale). He also appeared in Amsterdam, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Munich, Paris and San Francisco.
Corena enjoyed a very close relationship with Decca Records for whom he worked extensively, in some cases recording favourite rôles (such as Rossini’s Bartolo, Leporello/Don Giovanni, and the Mozart Bartolo) several times, as well as more bel canto parts such as Rodolfo/La sonnambula, recorded with Joan Sutherland in 1962, an example of his occasional forays into the bass repertoire. While his voice did not possess the ideal flexibility for the florid writing of, for instance, Rossini, Corena’s stage presence was so powerful and his acting so believable, especially when depicting personal foibles and pomposity, that he often completely dominated proceedings. For instance in 1954 Opera magazine described his Dr Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia as ‘the very picture of self-satisfied middle age. The characterization was an absolutely complete one…Nothing he did was without point, nothing he did failed to contribute to the total character.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).