Today marks the anniversary of the death of opera singer Antonio Paoli (born April 14, 1871 in Ponce, Puerto Rico–August 24, 1946 in San Juan, Puerto Rico)—the Puerto Rican tenor, known as “The King of Tenors.” He is considered to be the first Puerto Rican to reach international fame in the musical arts. Juan Llanes Santos writes that 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.”
In History of the Tenor, Sydney Rhys Barker writes that Paoli and Caruso were friends, but that their rivalry was due to the fact that Paoli was picked over Caruso for appointment to the Paris Opera, because of the former’s high physical stature and stage presence. Although Barker also claims that “Paoli quickly learned to speak French and was highly successful in Paris,” it is highly probable that he already was conversant in French because his father—Domingo Paoli Marcatentti—was from Corsica (many Corsican immigrants in Puerto Rico taught their children French—and, in some cases, Italian as well); his mother—Amalia Marcano Intriago—was from Isla Margarita, Venezuela.
More on Antonio Paoli: After spending his childhood in Ponce, Paoli moved to Spain where, with the assistance of his sister Amalia [also a singer], he obtained a Royal scholarship to take singing lessons in Italy. In 1882, he started his studies under that scholarship, at the Real Monasterio del Escorial. Later, Amalia again helped Paoli’s career by securing a second scholarship to study voice in Italy. He then went to study at the Academia de Canto La Scala in Milan, Italy in 1897, and subsequently debuted in Rossini’s opera “William Tell”, in Paris, only two years later.
After singing to standing ovation crowds in both Spain and Italy, Paoli made his grand debut in Paris, France, where he was encouraged 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.
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.
Also see http://www.casapaoli.org/