Jesús M. López: Antonio Paoli. El león de Ponce


by Tom Kaufman & François Nouvion

Antonio Paoli easily ranks as one of the most important tenors ever born in Latin America. He was one of the few successors to Francesco Tamagno, and carried Tamagno's mantle from his great predecessor's death until well into the 1920s, by which time John O'Sullivan had taken over. Like Tamagno, Paoli was a specialist in Otello, and like him also often sang Manrico, Radames, Arnold, Raoul, and even an occasional Poliuto.

When we first looked at the book, its impressive bibliography, and the distinguished list of musicologists who helped with it, we were both very impressed, and expected a major addition to our respective libraries, full of useful and important information.

But a closer look established the fact that this was not to be. We first checked this book independently, and had different concerns. One of us, as an example, spotted the fact that Paoli was reported to have sung at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées 10 years before it opened. The other saw that he was singing Il trovatore in Nice with Luisa Tetrazzini while she was in Russia. As these little discrepancies multiplied, we soon both realized that there were real problems with the book. Not just that there were mistakes – these are inevitable –, but it was the sheer number of these that began to bother us. Some are typographical errors, others are due to an attempt to provide too much detail – e.g. numbers of performances of a given work in a single season –, but many involve listing co-interpreters who were hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, or having him sing with four year old sopranos or in cities that we were unable to find in any atlas.

But, as will be discussed below, one of our biggest problems is the nature and sourcing of many of the published reviews.

Before looking at individual errors, an overall look at the book might be helpful. It is essentially in two parts: a long biographical section, and a formatted chronology. The biographical section actually goes into his career in greater detail than the chronology in that it not only lists performances, but often cites sources and quotes reviews. This seems to give the book a more scholarly appearance than it actually merits. But there are many problems with these reviews. For one thing, those published in non-Spanish speaking countries were all translated into Spanish, and are cited without the original version, most likely in Italian or French. Worse, many have no dates, and when these are provided, they are often not of the publication, but of the review, which may have been cabled in and then published a few days later. Then, page numbers are never provided.

And finally, there seems to be a certain amount of confusion between periodicals with similar names. Thus, we are very familiar with Rassegna Melodrammatica and Rivista Teatrale Melodrammatica (RTM), but have never come across a Rivista Melodrammatica except in this book. Is it one or the other, or something else we are not familiar with?

There also are references to two Russian newspapers, one published in Kiev (Kavkas), and the other in Moscow (Kavkaliv) which neither we, our friends in Moscow (Andrej Ryzhov) and Kiev (Boris Zindels), and the librarians in their respective libraries have ever come across. Actually, Kavkas means Caucasus, and a paper by that name was published in Tbilisi. Of all the familiar newspapers, especially from Moscow, many of which are available on inter-library loan in the U.S.A., why were the mysterious Kavkas and Kavkaliv chosen?

The net result is that it becomes very difficult to duplicate the work, and check the existence of the reviews, or the accuracy of the translations. But, with a great deal of effort, we were able to find what seemed to be the original of one of the reviews – only to learn that the Spanish version was somewhat quite (although not significantly) different from the original.

The book is copiously illustrated, but the paper is of poor quality, making the photos look much less attractive than they might have been.

It would serve no useful purpose to list every one of the errors we found, so we will only provide a sampling:

p. 66 He cites a review in a Madrid paper (of course, no date) for an Italian debut in Parma that did not happen. This was checked in the Parma books, in the Italian theatrical press, and in the city archives.

p. 67 He quotes a review (without citation) of Sigurd in Paris, suggesting that the Reyer work was a rarity, while the Wagner equivalent was repertory. That might have been the view in 1990, but in 1900 Paris Sigurd was a standard work, and Götterdämmerung had not yet been given there at the time. Where in the world could he have found such a review? (Of course, there is no citation.) This review sets the tone for the whole book.

On the same page and subsequent pages he discusses a London season, beginning August 15, 1900, stating that since it was not listed in the Rosenthal book on Covent Garden, he obtained a review in the Telegraph of London. Co-stars included the famous Portuguese bass Francisco d'Andrade (who actually was a baritone touring Germany at the time), Luisa Tetrazzini's older sister Eva, who was vacationing in Italy with her husband, and Oreste Benedetti, who also was in Italy. According to him Eva retired after that, singing no more. But Eva did sing for quite a few more years. While Rosenthal did make any number of errors (who doesn't), there is just no confirmation of Paoli's singing at Covent Garden. We must also ask the same question about the choice of the Telegraph of London that we asked before about the Moscow Kavkaliv. There is no Telegraph listed for these years in the Library of Congress's "Newspapers in Microform". Wouldn't The Times, widely available and easily checked, have been a better source?

Pages 71 to 73: a tour involving Corsica, Sardinia and Constantinople seems most unusual, as does the suggestion that both Paoli and Ershov were hired for the same season in the little town of Bastia. And he lists the fairly important primo tenore assoluto Manfredi Polverosi as the spy in Andrea Chénier.

P. 78 He lists a Trovatore in Nice with Luisa Tetrazzini. Tetrazzini was actually in Russia at the time, and there is no record of her ever singing Leonora. The trouble with this sort of misinformation is that it is also misleading for people researching Tetrazzini, or any of the other singers Paoli is reported to have sung with. There are many similar examples, both of singers already documented like Battistini, Ruffo, Tetrazzini, and of others who are now "in process", such as Hariclea Darclée.

P. 83 Paoli is supposed to have sung Guglielmo Ratcliff in Brooklyn. This piece of news is not included in the chronology. Guglielmo Ratcliff was never given in Brooklyn. It kept getting announced and postponed throughout the tour.

P. 84-85 Nobody told him that Paoli sang in Zanetto, which has no role for a tenor, even though he quotes one of us as his source for the tour.

P. 95 He gives a performance of Un ballo in maschera at the Politeama d'Azeglio in Bologna as being on September 3, 1903, and cites a review in the "Rivista Teatrale de Milano" without giving a date or page number. We are not familiar with this publication, and wonder whether it is RTM or something else.

P. 97 He cites a review for the Trieste Aida as being in the Rassegna Melodrammatica of October 15, 1903. There is such a review, but it actually is a telegram from Trieste dated 15 October in the Rassegna Melodrammatica of 22 October. The Spanish translation is quite different from the Italian original, although it is no more favorable than the Italian version. This type of situation seems to be repeated ad infinitum.

P. 224: There is a reference to a Kiev newspaper named Kavkaz (which is Russian for Caucasus) referring to the extensive tour of Russia by Paoli, Ruffo and others. As mentioned before, this publication is unknown to exist.

Pp. 264-267. There is an extensive season at the Imperial (Bolshoi) theater in Moscow in which Darclée, Boronat, Marconi, Anselmi, Battistini and Ruffo are also mentioned. Reviews from a Moscow newspaper "Kavkaliv" are cited extensively. According to López, Battistini sang in Moscow as early as April 28; but he is known to have sung in Rome as late as April 27, and to have been there during May... But, as mentioned before, Mr. Andrej Ryzhov of Moscow informs us that that this particular newspaper does not exist. And that Kavkaliv is not even a word in the Russian language. Finally, the index of singers at the Imperial Theater does not include Darclée.

p. 383: López gives us a program for Poliuto in Jesi. (A date: November 9, 1911, and the number of performances: 5 are provided on page 755.) A few strange things: The names are not lined up properly; the base line is at an angle; instead of basso López gives "Baj." – can you imagine a Spanish word in an Italian program? Parvis is a baritone; the Jesi book does not list this Poliuto, nor the preceding Ruy Blas, while the Marinuzzi book has the conductor in Madrid starting November 12. Again, we must wonder how López was able to find this performance, and the "program", while the author of the Jesi chronology (who must have spent a lot more time in Jesi than López did) was unable to do so.

p. 724 López should have checked the date of birth of Bianca Saroya to see that it was quite impossible for her to sing with Paoli in 1897. She was 4 at the time.

p. 728 The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was not built in 1899. López is ten years early. London appearances (August 1900) seem to be pure invention, and can not be confirmed either by Rosenthal's book, by Wearing's books or an examination of The Times. While we are unable to totally disprove the tour of the British provinces, there were reports in the British press in 1909 when the Castellano tours started that this was the first Italian tour of the British Isles in some 15 years. And many of the other singers who allegedly sang with Paoli were miles away with d'Andrade on vacation in Lisbon all of September, while Theodorini and Benedetti were in Italy.

P. 732 Tetrazzini was in Russia in early 1902, and seems unlikely to have taken an express train to Nice and back.

p. 739 The Modena appearance is not listed in any Modena book or in Italian theatrical journals. The sum of all appearances in Graz during June 1904 totals 43. A check with the archives of the theatre indicates it was closer to 5. By the way, when López was privately questioned about 43 performances in 30 days, his response was that it was a typographical error and that it should have read 24 (or a similar number).

p. 745 López changed the number of appearances of Paoli in Trovatore in Valparaíso (1906) from 1 to 7, even though the theater was destroyed by an earthquake after the first performance.

P. 749 López reports 14 performances of two operas with Angela De Angelis and Mattia Battistini in Athens starting Sep. 30, 1907. This can neither be confirmed nor disproved, but it would seem unusual that only two operas were given with such high numbers of perfomances for each. Usually, touring companies when they stay only a week or two give a large number of works, so as to maximize attendance. The only reference cited is a telegram from Paoli's secretary to his wife. Unfortunately, the reliability of performances substantiated only by such telegrams is not what one would desire.

p. 750 Rhea was not created by Paoli but by Garbin during April. Giachetti, who is part of the cast given by López, was in Argentina at the time.

p. 750 No appearances by Paoli at the Teatro Adriano are listed in the unpublished chronology of the theater, or the Italian theatrical press.

p. 751 There was no Trovatore in Modena with Paoli.

p. 753 Paoli may have visited Brussels, but he did not sing at the Monnaie. López lists an extended Italian tour with De Luca and Mugnone in the summer of 1910. But they were in Buenos Aires at the time as is documented in various books on the Teatro Colón and the Italian theatrical press.

p. 754 Paoli is not mentioned in the Prato book.

p. 756 There is no record of Paoli's singing Déjanire in Monte Carlo.

p. 761 Sanguinetti's Rosario chronology does not list Paoli as having sung there. Also, Dalla Rizza was in Montevideo at the time.

The above list, which, as stated previously, is only of a fraction of the errors in the book as they pertain to Paoli, make it obvious that the author did not paint a fair or accurate picture of the great tenor's career. The tenor really deserves a better job, and it seems to us that López did not do him justice by not striving for greater accuracy. Serious as this problem is, we are even more concerned by the large number of performances by other singers which are listed in this book, and which are of dubious reliability. Some such singers, such as Mattia Battistini, Celestina Boninsegna, Apollo Granforte, Titta Ruffo, Luisa Tetrazzini, and others have already been documented. But many others, including Maria Barrientos, Hariclea Darclée, Giuseppe De Luca, José Mardones, Claudia Muzio, Sofia Scalchi, Eva Tetrazzini, Elena Theodorini, and many others have not, and we are very concerned about the amount of wasted effort that researchers will have to make to confirm or deny some of the appearances indicated by López.

The salient point is that this book should not be used for researching other singers, no matter how tempting some of the appearances cited by López may seem to be. The problem is not that López is necessarily always wrong, and other sources always correct, but that it is nearly impossible to prove a negative. How can we be absolutely certain that Battistini did not sing in Athens in September 1907? Newspapers are not available, the Italian theatrical press may have simply neglected to report the season, and the telegrams referring to it from Paoli's secretary Pocholo may well be on file in the Paoli family archives. But there is so much that is provably wrong in the book that anything else that is only questionable has to be looked at with a great deal of suspicion.

To give one example pertaining to singers who have not yet been documented, if someone were working on the great bass José Mardones, they would find references to his singing Lodovico in Otello in Dakar on pages 498-499 and again on page 760. These are accompanied by a very authentic looking post card from Dakar, implying that Paoli was there. Still, such a long trip for two performances in what must have been a small theater seems unlikely, and Mardones' singing a secondary role in Otello even more so. But how is one to check it? Maybe they have Dakar papers in Paris, maybe not. But even if they did, one would have to go to Paris to consult them.

The bottom line is that this book cannot possibly be recommended, either for purchase, or even for consultation in libraries. It is a great shame, since Antonio Paoli truly deserves better. And it is certainly a handsome addition to any book shelf, which makes it very tempting.

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