Operatic tenor known as the “Lion of Ponce,” the “Tenor of the Kings” and the “King of the Tenors.” He was the first Puerto Rican artist to achieve international fame in the field of high-culture music, debuting in the Paris Opera Theater in 1899 in the opera Guillermo Tell by Gioacchino Rossini.
Antonio Paoli Marcano was born in Ponce on April 14, 1871. His parents were Domingo Paoli Marcantenetti, of Coriscan origin, and Amalia Marcano Intriago, the daughter of Venezuelans. He completed his primary education in his hometown. His father died when he was a child and later, when he was just twelve years old, his mother died. In 1885, his older sister, Amalia, who was a soprano who performed in operettas and recitals, moved to Spain and took with her Antonio and their other two siblings, Carlos and Rosario. In Madrid, Amalia’s talent opened doors to the royal court, where she won the favor of the young Isabel de Borbón.
Thanks to the influence of Amalia, Antonio obtained a scholarship in 1882 granted by Queen María Cristina to study at the Royal College of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. Later, he entered the Infantry School in Toledo. He opted to abandon his military career, however, to pursue his vocal musical talents.
He performed as a soloist at various functions around Spain. Again, thanks to the influence of his sister, Queen María Cristina awarded him a scholarship in 1896 to continue studying singing at La Scala Academy of Singing in Milan. His first professional performance took place in 1899 at the Grand Opera of Paris, where he performed the lead role in the opera William Tell by Gioachino Rossini. He was well received by the public and the critics.
In 1900, he signed a contract with the Convent Garden opera company in London. The same year, he married Josephine Vetiska, an Austrian, in Vienna. After completing the season in London, he returned for a short period of time to Puerto Rico, where he performed in two concerts: one at the San Juan Bautista Cathedral in Old San Juan and the other at the Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe Cathedral in Ponce.
In 1901, he embarked on a tour of the Americas in which he had the opportunity to visit Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States and Canada, among other countries. In 1904, he visited the Russian cities of Moscow, Warsaw and Saint Petersburg. In Saint Petersburg, he performed before czar Nicolás II and czarina Alejandra Fiodorovna, who decorated him with the Cross of San Mauricio. He was also honored by Carlos de Braganza in 1907.
In 1908, he recorded the operat Il Pagliaggi (The Clown) by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, the first opera that was recorded in its entirety on a record. From 1907 to 1911, he recorded some 53 operas on records, including the Arias of Othello, The Troubador, Samson and Delilah, and others.
La Scala Opera Company in Milán named him first tenor in 1910. He performed at the Imperial Theater in Vienna and sang the opera Lohengrim in 1912. That same year, Emperor William II of Germany named him Singer to the Royal Court.
When World War I broke out, he left Europe and made a series of tours to the Americas. Due to his precarious economic situation, he moved to London in 1916, where he trained as a boxer and entered professional competition. After winning five fights, he temporarily lost his voice and fractured his right arm because of blows he received. After receiving medical help, he recovered his voice.
In 1920, he married for a second time, with Adelaida Bonini, an Italian, after having become a widow a year earlier. He returned to Puerto Rico in 1922, where he performed concerts in San Juan and one in Arecibo. He later went on a tour to various countries in the Americas. In 1926, along with his sister, Amalia, he established the Paoli School of Music, which specialized in singing.
His last performance on stage took place in 1928 at the San Juan Municipal Theater, known today as the Tapia Theater. There, he performed the operas El trovador and Aída. In 1934, the government of Puerto Rico granted him a pension that helped support him until his death on August 24, 1946.
Among the most popular of his performances was Othello, one of his most famous and honored interpretations, King Lear, The African, and Rigoletto, and others. Today, the Paoli family house in Ponce is the site of the Puerto Rico Folklore Research Center. The Free School of Music in the municipality of Caguas also carries his name.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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