Aureliano Pertile was born in 1885 in Montagnana near Padua. Interestingly, Giovanni Martinelli was born in the same town in the same year. Pertile’s career was mainly based at La Scala where he had the reputation as Toscanini’s favorite tenor, though the great maestro did not ask him to sing at the prima of Turandot. I’m not sure why; his voice was perfect for Calaf.
Martinelli was, of course a fixture at the Met. Pertile sang only one season in New York which during the 20s was blessed with an overabundance of great tenors. All things considered, I think Milan got the better of the deal.
His New York career was limited to 15 appearances at the Met between Dec 1, 1921 and January 26, 1922. His debut coincided with Maria Jeritza’s first Met appearance as Tosca. He got lost in the stir caused by her memorable performance. The New York critics were lukewarm about Pertile. Several thought his high notes were white. Reading his reviews make me wonder if the New Yorkers were hearing the same singer who was so highly thought of in Milan. Regardless, he never returned.
Pertile’s voice was large and to some not appealing. It was very big and had a dark baritone-like timbre. What made him a great singer was his musicality. This was a tenor who sang Donizetti and Bellini and the spinto Verdi parts as well as the dramatic Otello. Regardless of what he sang, at his zenith, he phrased beautifully and spun out a smooth and lyrical vocal line.
Listen to Pertile’s 1925 recording of the Improvviso from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. This is an aria that spinto tenors typically belt out. If they are Richard Tucker or Mario Del Monaco the effect is irresistible. But with Pertile we get all the fire and power of his great successors combined with sensitivity and emotion. This is a great reading of this showstopper.
Pertile was at his best in the big Verdi parts. He had sufficient subtlety to temper the very large sound he had easily under control. Don Alvaro in La Forza Del Destino could have been written for him. O tu che in seno agli angeli was recorded without the great recitative that precedes it. Pertile’s reading is at the top of the short list of great interpretations of Verdi’s inspired aria. An equally great Verdi aria is Quando le sere al placido. Boito was driven almost to the limits of ecstasy by it.
Pertile was equally comfortable with Puccini. His rendition of Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut is notable for the ease he has with the tune’s high tessitura. He had the perfect vocal apparatus for Dick Johnson from La Fanciulla del West, but he never recorded either of the score’s two tenor arias.
Italian tenors who wander into Wagner usually light on Lohengrin. Pertile was no exception. He recorded In fernem Land in Italian (Da Voi Lonton). It sounds better in Italian than in German as it does when it’s sung by an Italian tenor who has a firm middle range and who can manage the legato phrasing it demands.
The last example of Pertile’s singing I’ll add is the concluding duet from Andrea Chenier – Vicino a te. The rich voiced soprano is Margaret Sheridan. The Irish singer was a star at Covent Garden and La Scala at about the same time Pertile was at his peak.
After his retirement from the opera house, Pertile gave concert performances for a few years. After he completely ceased singing he taught until his death in 1952. His memory endures both through the numerous recordings he left and because of his association with Toscanini. His voice and style gives us a deep insight into what the 20th century’s most important opera conductor thought the ideal tenor was.