Antonio Paoli (Tenor) (Ponce, Puerto Rico 1871 – San Juan, Puerto Rico 1946)
He was known at the height of his fame as "The King of Tenors and The Tenor of Kings." He is considered to be the first Puerto Rican to reach international fame in the musical arts. Paoli has been recognized as "one of the most outstanding opera singers of all time," and as one who had "one of the most lyric and powerful voices...superior even to his contemporary rival, Enrico Caruso. After spending his childhood in his birth town of Ponce, Paoli moved to Spain where, with the assistance of his well-connected sister Amalia, he obtained a Royal scholarship to take singing lessons in Italy. After singing to standing ovation crowds in both Spain and Italy, Paoli made his grand debut in Paris, France, where he was enouraged to perform on the highest levels of the world stage. Before the end of the 19th century and while Paoli was still in his twenties, he went on a tour of Europe that earned him both popular acclaim, and imperial honors from princes, kings, and emperors. Between 1900 and 1914 his career sky-rocketed, with performances not only in Europe but also in the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. When World War I forced the closure of all European opera houses, Paoli made his living as a professional boxer. Unfortunately, he also lost his singing voice during this period. After the War ended, following medical advice and performing vocal exercises, Paoli regained his voice and returned to the international stage, in all the glory of days past. He performed in Europe, North and South America, and finally settled with his sister Amalia in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she had opened a singing school. Paoli spent the last 20 years of his life teaching voice and singing in San Juan, while also working for the establishment of a music conservatory in that city. He would not see this last dream come true, because he developed cancer and died at age 75. He was buried in San Juan, but his remains were later transferred to a mausoleum in his birth town of Ponce.
Paoli (birth name: Antonio Emilio Paoli y Marcano) was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was the son of Amalia Marcano Intriago, from the island of Margarita, Venezuela and of Domingo Paoli Marcatentti, from Corsica. Paoli's maternal grandfather, a rich landlord, was opposed to the relationship, therefore the young couple escaped to the Dominican Republic without getting married and later returned to Puerto Rico. The couple established themselves in the city of Yauco, but later moved into a house, given to them by Amalia's aunt, Teresa Intriago, located at one of the main arteries in the city of Ponce's urban core, Calle Mayor (Mayor Street), House #14. Ponce at the time was the financial and cultural capital of the island, thereby the ideal place for the initial cultural development of Paoli.
When Paoli was young, his parents would often take him to operas at Ponce's La Perla Theater located a block away from Paoli's residence. There, on one occasion he saw a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore by Italian tenor, Pietro Baccei, and at that moment knew what he wanted to do as an adult. His parents were very supportive of his ambition and guided him on this route during his youth, enrolling him in a school of "voice" directed by Ramon Marin. His sister Amalia was a soprano who performed at La Perla in Emilio Arrieta's opera, Marina. In 1883, when Paoli was only 12 years old, both his parents died and he went to live in Spain with his sister Amalia.
Amalia, who at that time was under the protective wing of Isabel de Borbon, Princess of Asturias, and sister of the King of Spain, Alfonso XII, was taking singing classes under Napoleon Verger. In 1884, Amalia helped Paoli to obtain two scholarships from her Majesty Queen Maria Christina, Queen Regent of Spain. Paoli started his studies at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial. Paoli entered the Toledo's Military Academy and in 1892, graduated with honors. He was assigned to the Queen's escort and named personal custodian and guard of the child King Alfonso XIII. Paoli desired to continue singing and in 1897, went to study at the Academia de Canto La Scala in Milan, Italy. On April 26, 1899, he made his debut in Gioacchino Rossini's opera William Tell in Paris, France. Paris newspapers commented on Paoli's success and stated "we should declare Paoli the Tenor of France.
Between 1900 and 1914, Paoli performed in Europe, America, Africa, and Asia. He performed in Italy, Luxembourg and in the United Kingdom, with performances in London, Scotland, Edinburgh, and Brighton, closing the year with concerts in Corsica (his father's homeland) and Turkey. In 1900, he married Josephine Vetiska, an Austrian, in Vienna. From 1901-1902, Paoli performed in the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the United States. Paoli purchased a villa in Porto Cereso, Lugano, Italy, where his son Antonio Arnaldo was born. After singing for King Alfonso XII and the Royal family in Spain, he returned to the United States and sang in various cities, among them New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Albany, Providence, Grand Rapids, New London, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Pittsburg, Syracuse and Chicago.
In 1905, Paoli performed at the Grand Theatre du Conservatoire in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Czar of Russia Nicholas II was present during one of the performances and after inviting Paoli to perform at the Royal winter palace, awarded Paoli The Cross of St. Mauricio medal and bestowed upon him the title Cammer Sanger (Chamber Singer).
On September 5, 1907, Paoli held a private recital for Pope Pius X at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. That same year he was named as a "Singer of the Royal Court" by William II of Germany. Paoli was also the first operatic artist to record an entire opera when he participated in a performance of Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo in Milan, Italy. He was selected in 1907, as the First Tenor in the main character by a team of engineers and musicians which included Leoncavallo. The recording was arranged in the following manner; the musicians were placed at the end of the recording room and the cack up singers in a semi-arc in front of the gramophone while Paoli stood alone 20 feet (6.1 m) away from the gramophone.
Paoli continued to perform around the world with performances in Greece, Palestine, Poland, Egypt, Spain and Italy, where he established his permanent residence. In 1910, the singer was signed as the First Tenor by La Scala, Milan, the most prestigious opera company in the world at the time. Paoli received a contract to inaugurate Teatro Colñn, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he sang Otello and Di quella pira. He also performed in Russia, Poland, Egypt, Hungary, Belgium, Cuba, Chile, Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, and the United States.
By 1914, just before the start of World War I, Paoli lost his voice and all of the major opera houses in Europe were shut down. Paoli moved to Spain, a neutral country in the conflict, leaving all his properties unattended in Italy. By 1915, Paoli found himself without economic means as a result of his bad investments.
In order to make a living, Paoli became a professional boxer and after a period of training in Spain, he moved to England to start his new "career." He was undefeated in his first five fights. He broke his right wrist on his sixth challenge, which ended his boxing career.
Paoli sold his properties in Italy and acquired a small country house in Spain. He stayed for a few months with his brother Carlos in the Philippines. Paoli was medically treating his vocal cords, and it was commented that his career was over, but he continued his singing exercises with his sister Amalia, who moved into his house in Spain.
In January 1917, Paoli returned to the stage and performed the opera Samson and Delilah at the Constanzi Theater in Rome. Elvira de Hidalgo, who later became the singing coach of Maria Callas, remembered that:
"No one suspected that Paoli was coming back to the stage; we all knew that he had lost his voice. People were there to see him fail; I saw some guys with tomatoes and rotten eggs, ready to throw them as soon as Paoli made his first mistake. But when he came out singing his initial aria, the public went crazy and stood up in a standing ovation. Paoli's voice sounded like one of those trumpets that you expect to hear in the day of the final judgment. His debut was tremendous. He had to repeat twice every single aria that he performed that night, because the public furiously demanded it. He performed for seven consecutive nights with the theater at its maximum capacity. I attended every single function. Every night he sang better than the night before. I always dreamed to sing with Paoli, but I don't think my voice was good or strong enough to sing with him. I think he was the greatest tenor ever.
Paoli kept busy performing in Italy, South America and the United States. He returned to Puerto Rico in 1923. At the time, Amalia Paoli was residing in San Juan (in the ward of Santurce) where she was running a singing school (Academia Paoli). Antonio conducted a few performances around the island and then departed to sing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Manhattan Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia. He had wanted to sing in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, but apparently his competitor Enrico Caruso opposed this. Some attribute this to the fact that Caruso was a shareholder of the renowned opera house. From the U.S., the tenor would visit Curaåao, Cuba, Colombia, Haiti and Ecuador.
Even with this busy agenda, Paoli's financial situation remained strained. After living in New York City for almost the entire year of 1927, Paoli decided to come back to Puerto Rico to live and work with his sister Amalia, giving voice lessons at the Academia Paoli. Paoli also helped produce Othello at the Municipal Theater in San Juan. For the next two decades Paoli's main concern would be teaching at the Paoli Academy with Amalia. In 1928, the tenor performed Verdi's Otello entirely for the last time in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was his last performance on stage. It took place at the San Juan Municipal Theater, known today as the Tapia Theater. In 1935, the government of Puerto Rico named the San Juan Municipal Theater in his honor, changing its name to Teatro Paoli. In 1929, his wife Josephine died and a year later he married Adelaida Bonini, from Rimini, Italy, and whom he affectionately called "Adina". He gave his last singing performance in 1942, while commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of his sister, Amalia Paoli. The service was conducted at the Chapel of the University of the Sacred Heart (Santurce).
Paoli died of prostate cancer in San Juan on August 24, 1946, and was buried in the Puerto Rico Memorial Cemetery in Carolina, Puerto Rico. On April 13, 2005, Paoli's remains, and those of his (second) wife Adina Bonini (who had died in May, 1978) were exhumed and transferred to Ponce's Rom¯n Baldorioty de Castro National Pantheon and buried by the base of his statue.
Chronology of some appearances
1903 Firenze Teatro Della Pergola Otello (Otello)
1903 Venezia Teatro La Fenice Trovatore (Manrico)
1903 Milano Teatro Dal Verme Trovatore (Manrico)
1903 Bologna Arena Azeglio Trovatore (Manrico)
1904 Trieste Politeama Rossetti Lohengrin (Lohengrin)
1904 Graz Stadt Otello (Otello)
1904 Lisbona Teatro San Carlos Otello (Otello)
1904 Valencia Teatro Principal Otello (Otello)
1905 Madrid Teatro Reale Otello (Otello)
1906 Santiago del Cile Teatro Municipal Lohengrin (Lohengrin)
1906 Napoli Teatro San Carlo Otello (Otello)
1906 Santiago del Cile Teatro Municipal Otello (Otello)
1906 Valparaiso Teatro Victoria Otello (Otello)
1908 Buenos Ayres Teatro Colon Otello (Otello)
1908 Ferrara Teatro Tosi Borghi Otello (Otello)
1909 Madrid Teatro Reale Otello (Otello)
1911 Madrid Teatro Reale Otello (Otello)
1912 Genova Teatro Carlo Felice Otello (Otello)
1912 Buenos Ayres Politeama Argentino Otello (Otello)
1913 Barcellona Teatro Tivoli Otello (Otello)
1917 Milano Teatro Dal Verme Otello (Otello)
1917 Torino Politeama Chiarella Otello (Otello)
1918 Milano Teatro Lirico Guglielmo Ratcliff (Guglielmo)
1918 Milano Teatro Lirico Otello (Otello)
1918 Firenze Teatro Della Pergola Otello (Otello)
1918 Lucerna Kursaal Otello (Otello)
1919 Buenos Ayres Teatro Coliseo Otello (Otello)
1919 Rio de Janeiro Teatro Municipal Otello (Otello)
1920 Lisbona Coliseo Recrejos Otello (Otello)
1920 Roma Teatro Costanzi Otello (Otello)
1920 Milano Teatro Carcano Otello (Otello)
1920 Lisbona Coliseo Recrejos Pagliacci (Canio)
1921 Torino Politeama Chiarella Otello (Otello)
1922 New York Academy of Music Otello (Otello)
1922 Philadelphia Teatro Metropolitan Otello (Otello)
1923 Havana Teatro Nacional Otello (Otello)
1926 New York Manhattan Theater Otello (Otello)
RECORDINGS FOR SALE
Il Trovatore: Di geloso amor spezzato with Francesco Cigada and Clara Johanna G&T 54340 10519b
Pagliacci: Aitalo Signore with Francesco Cigada, Gaetano Pini-Corsi and Giuseppina Huguet G&T 054157 1230c
Pagliacci: Finale with Francesco Cigada, Gaetano Pini-Corsi, Giuseppina Huguet and Ernesto Badini G&T 054158 1231c
Carmen: Mia tu sei with Francesco Cigada, Ines Salvador and Giuseppina Huguet G&T 054162 12041/2c
Pagliacci: Versa Il Filtro with Francesco Cigada, Gaetano Pini-Corsi and Giuseppina Huguet G&T 54339 10609b
Guglielmo Tell: Che finger tento with Francesco Cigada G&T 054160 1186c
Guglielmo Tell: Troncar suoi di with Francesco Cigada and Aristodemo Sillich G&T 054161 1187c
Poliuto: Al suon del'arpe with Honoria Popovici Gramophone 54407 13255b
Cid: Padre del ciel Gramophone 052297 18411/2c
Robert le Diable: Siciliana Gramophone 2-52721 13257b
Otello: Niun mi tema Gramophone 052328 313ai
Il Trovatore: Di quella pira Gramophone 052170 1182c
Rigoletto: Questa o quella Gramophone 2-52711 13232b
Rigoletto: La donna e mobile Gramophone 2-52809 1181ah
Aida: Celeste Aida Gramophone 052330 324ai
Otello: Esultate & Ora e per sempre addio Gramophone 052172 1259c
Otello: Dio mi potevi scagliar Gramophone 052173 1260c
Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba G&T 052166 1210c
Pagliacci: No pagliaccio non son G&T 052167 12111/2c
Iris: Apri la tua finestra Gramophone 2-52813 1305ah
Il Trovatore: Miserere with Clara Johanna G&T 054159 1178c
Aida: Nume custode e vindice with Andres Perello De Segurola 054262 18441/2c
Gli Ugonotti: Bianca al par Gramophone 052332 329ai
Il Trovatore: Deserto sulla terra G&T 2-52596 10540b
L'Africana: O paradiso G&T 052171 1184c
Mademiglia de Belle Isle: Si, io t'amo G&T 2-52595 10650b
Il Profeta: Re del cielo G&T 2-52598 10522b
Roberto il Diavolo: Di mia patria Gramophone 2-52712 13258b
Il Trovatore: Ah! si ben mio Gramophone 052329 317ai
Otello: Una vela...Esultate! with Vittorio De Goetzen and Giuseppe Sala Gramophone 054331 360ai
Otello: Venga la morte with Fernanda Chiesa Gramophone 054399 358ai
Otello: Tu! Indietro, fuggi…Ora e per sempre addio Gramophone 052272 1843c
Otello: Dio mi potevi scagliar Gramophone 052336 382ai
Cid: Inno Gramophone 2-52710 13215b
Samson e Dalila: Figli miei G&T 2-52597 10521b
Samsone e Dalila: Spezza i ceppi G&T 052169 1179c
Andrea Chenier: Un di all'azzuro spazio Gramophone 052271 1842c
Andrea Chenier: Si, fui soldato Gramophone 2-52783 13199b
Andrea Chenier: Come un bel di di maggio Gramophone 2-52815 1307ah
Deanire: Viens! o toi Gramophone 2-52808 1180ah
Canzone Guerresca (Giordano) Gramophone 2-52817 1309ah
Carmen: Finale with Maria Passeri G&T 054174 1257c
La Gioconda: Cielo e mar Gramophone 052337 383ai
Otello: Vieni, l'aula e deserta with Vittorio de Goetzen and Salvatore Salvati Gramophone 054330 356ai
Otello: Questa e una ragna with Vittorio de Goetzen and Salvatore Salvati Gramophone 54451 1291ah
Complete Pagliacci with Giuseppina Huguet, Ernesto Badini, Gaetano Pini-Corsi and Francesco Cigada Gramophone