Antonio Paoli (April 14, 1871-August 24, 1946), born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, – singer. Paoli was known at the height of his fame as “The King of Tenors” and was the first Puerto Rican to reach international fame in the musical arts.
When Paoli was young, his parents would often take him to operas at Ponce’s Teatro la Perla. Here, on one occasion he saw a performance by Italian tenor, Pietro Baccen, and at that moment knew what he wanted to do as an adult. His parents were very supportive of his ambition and guided him on this route during his youth, enrolling him in a school of “voice” directed by Ramon Marin. In 1883, when Paoli was only 12 years old, both his parents died and he went to live with his sister, Amalia, who was living in Spain and who was herself was a singer.
In 1884, Amalia helped Paoli to obtain two scholarships from her Majesty Queen Maria Christina, Queen Regent of Spain. Paoli started his studies at the Royal Monasterio del Escocial and in 1897, went to study at the Academia de Canto La Scala in Milan, Italy. In 1899, he debuted in Gioacchino Rossini’s opera William Tell in Paris, France.
By 1900, Paoli was making appearances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London. Among his performances were the operas:
Lohengrin by Richard Wagner and
Verdi’s Il Trovatore.
He performed in many countries in the world, including:
the United States.
Paoli was awarded The Cross of St. Mauricio medal by the Czar of Russia Nicholas II and in 1907, he was also decorated by Carlos I of Braganza. He was named as “Singer of the Royal Court” by William II of Germany. Paoli was the first opera artist to record an entire opera when he recorded I Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo. He was appointed “First Tenor” by La Scala in Milan, Italy. In 1912, he sang again in the opera Lohengrin in Vienna and received a standing ovation from the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph.
In 1917, when World War I broke out in Europe, Paoli returned to Puerto Rico. He wanted to sing in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, but his competitor Enrico Caruso, who was part owner, opposed this. Paoli eventually lost his fortune (2 million dollars) in bad investments and was forced to become a professional boxer in order to earn an income.
In 1922, Paoli started giving voice lessons and together with his sister, Amalia, established a school. Paoli helped produce Othello at the Municipal Theater in San Juan. In 1934, the Puerto Rican legislature honored Paoli by renaming the Municipal Theater “The Paoli Theater” and also gave him a life-time pension.
Antonio Paoli died of cancer in San Juan, Puerto Rico on August 24, 1946 and was buried in the Puerto Rico Memorial Cementery of Isla Verde. On April 13, 2005 his remains of Paoli and those of his wife Adina Bonimi (who had died in 1978) were transferred to Ponce and buried in the National Pantheon in Ponce by the base of his statue.
The Music Conservatory for which he worked so hard to establish was finally realized shortly after his death. In San Juan’s “Centro de Bellas Artes” there is a 1,883 seat “Antonio Paoli Festival Hall”.
A book has been written about Paoli by Jesus M. Lopez and is entitled “Antonio Paoli: El Leon de Ponce” (The Lion of Ponce).