Antonio Paoli (1871-1946) was a Puerto Rican tenor; he was the first opera singer from the island to achieve international renown. The son of a Venezuelan  mother and Corsican father, orphaned at 12, he moved to Spain with his sister where he began vocal studies. He continued these studies in Italy and made his formal debut in Paris. His best years as a performer were 1900 to 1014. World war I stopped his career. For a short time he worked as a boxer. He did resume his singing career after the war, but his best years were behind him. He returned to his native Puerto Rico where he taught singing for the last 20 years of his life.

He never sang at the Met. Some have blamed this absence on Caruso, but the Met had a surplus of fine tenors besides Caruso and there just wasn’t room for him. He had a very large voice and sang many of the most demanding Italian operas, especially Otello which he is said to have performed 575 times. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this number. His vocal production was similar to that of Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Giovanni Martinelli – which is to say, that his sound is not firmly in the ‘mask’ and is somewhat throaty. He is capable of great power and impressive high notes. Esultate ann Ora per sempre addio were recorded on the same disc. His strong middle range is displayed as is his tendency of overly cover some of his high notes. The first high C is Di quella pira is bright even if Paoli does hold it long for as long a bathroom break before he lets go of the note.

Camille Saint-Saens wrote his opera Déjanire for the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo where it was first performed in 1911. Hercules, the tenor, sings Viens, o toidont le clair visage. Paoli’s recording of the aria is the only one I know of, as this opera has descended to oblivion.

Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable is performed more than the Saint-Saens, but that’s not saying much. Many tenors have recorded the Siciliana from Act 1. Sung in Italian, it’s a spirited rendition that shows Paoli’s dynamic range.

Paoli give a sensitive reading of Ah si, ben mio from Trovatore, though he leaves out the trills and rewrites the aria’s last line. The tenor is appropriately heroic in Celeste Aida.

Two selections from Rossini’s William Tell, both sung in Italian. Ah! Mathilde, io t`amo from Act 1, the baritone is Francesco Cigada, and Troncar suoi from Act2 – again with Cigada and Aristodemo Sillich, bass.

Paoli sings an interesting version of the Improvviso for Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. But, as he sometimes does, he ‘swallows’ the climactic high note. His tone is much brighter and his singing very nuanced in Bianca al par di neve from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (in Italian, obviously)

Paoli was clearly a major talent, though not quite up to the top level at major houses like the Met. Unfortunately he seems to be largely forgotten outside of his native Puerto Rico where his fame persists.