Guarrera, Frank

Guarrera, Frank
Dec. 3, 1923-Nov. 23, 2007
American opera singer


Frank Guarrera, baritone, was born in Philadelphia. "I have always loved music," he says, "but became especially interested in singing when I was twelve years old and joined a church choir." In his seventeenth year, while attending high school, he applied for a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music. He won it, becoming the youngest member to be admitted to the vocal department. At the Curtis Institute he studied with Richard Bonelli and Mme. Euphemie Giannini-Gregory. At the same time he completed his high school education at night.

His studies were interrupted in 1943 when he joined the Navy. But after two and a half years of service, he returned to the Curtis Institute to complete his music studies. While still attending the Institute, he appeared in Idomeneo at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood, and made his debut with the New York City Opera Company on October 25, 1947, as Silvio in Pagliacci. He also competed in the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air. In the preliminaries he sang Ford's monologue from Falstaff, a broadcast heard by Toscanini, who was greatly impressed. Guarrera tells the rest of the story: "Mr. Pelletier called me to the studio and asked me if I would be willing to study part of a new role, then come back in two weeks and sing for' somebody' who might use me. He gave me a role in an opera I had never heard, Boito's Nerone. Two weeks later when I came back, Mr. Pelletier said,' Now we'll take a cab over to NBC and you will sing for Toscanini.' This was the first time I had any idea who the' somebody' was. It's lucky I hadn't known it for two weeks, or I might have been too nervous. As it was, I didn't have much time to get frightened. When the Maestro heard me, he was very kind. He asked if I'd be willing to learn the rest of the role and go to Milan with him in the summer to sing at La Scala for the Boito festival at which he was conducting."

In May 1948 Guarrera received first place in the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air. A few days later he was graduated from the Curtis Institute, and just one day after this graduation he flew to Milan to appear with Toscanini. "Intensive rehearsals began at once," Guarrera recalls. "Two days later I lost my voice completely! You can imagine how terrible I felt. I was sent to the local doctor who gave me several kinds of different pills. Then, Herva Nelli, whom Toscanini was also presenting at the Festival, discovered an American doctor for me. He told me to go to bed for twenty-four hours and get some rest. This worked. I got up the next day, and came through all right. I have never seen such a brilliant affair as the opening night at La Scala. When Maestro Toscanini appeared on the podium there was thunderous applause that lasted for ten minutes."

Guarrera's success was so great that he was urged by the management to stay on and sing some more roles at La Scala. The following fall, on December 14, 1948, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Escamillo in Carmen. He has since then appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in about twenty major baritone roles, and has been acclaimed particularly for his interpretations of Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, Escamillo in Carmen, and the title role in Rigoletto. He has also been heard frequently over television. "Guarrera is outstanding," wrote Olin Downes in the New York Times in July 1953. "Superb in every way-gallant, romantic, proud of bearing, singularly successful."

In 1944 Guarrera married Adeline di Cintio, a childhood friend; they have a daughter, Valerie. Guarrera's diversions include tennis and fishing.

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