From The Metropolitan Opera Archives:

Aureliano Pertile at the Met

During the summer of 1921 Giulio Gatti-Casazza, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, surveyed the first-class tenors of the world in preparation for the 1921-22 season. Among those he considered who had never sung at the Metropolitan were Fernand Ansseau, Joseph Hislop, Alfred Piccaver, and Ulysses Lappas. Joseph Mann, the Polish heroic tenor, was actually scheduled to take over many roles for the ailing Enrico Caruso, but he dropped dead during a Berlin performance of Aida that September. One whom Gatti particularly wanted was the Italian tenor Aureliano Pertile (1885-1952), whose Met engagement Gatti announced to the Met's President, Otto Kahn, from Venice on August 7, 1921. "Another tenor, who during the past seasons has had ... a whole series of simply brilliant successes is Mr. Aureliano Pertile who has sung in all the principal theatres of Italy, Spain and South America. His voice is not a golden voice, it is rather arid but firm and manly. Moreover he is a very serious artist, very musical and possessing a complete repertoire.... Mr. Pertile signed his contract the very day in which poor Caruso was in agony, although no one of us knew of it."

It was Pertile's misfortune to make his debut the evening of December 1, 1921 when Maria Jeritza unveiled her sensational Tosca for New York. In the furor over her singing "Vissi d'arte" while semi-prone, his reviews became footnotes to the soprano's. "His voice has a tendency toward whiteness, but in its fullest volume it is warmer and resonant. He sang his music, He did not shout it, but delivered it with free tones and smoothness." Pertile soon made a stronger impression of his own. In Cavalleria Rusticana he was described as "a tenor with the mentality of a baritone," and in Aida as "a man who gains with closer acquaintance. His voice, to be sure, is not a voice of great sensuous beauty or power. He uses it well, however, and brings intelligence to bear, not only on his singing but on his acting. A dignified, if not actually heroic Radames, he easily won the favor of the audience without indulging in any gesticulatory extravagances." In Louise with Farrar there was complete approval. "It was said for him that he first learned the role in Italian, under the French composer's supervision, and enacted it with success in Italy and Spain. On a week's notice, he mastered the French text recently, and a performance in Philadelphia a fortnight ago was in effect his only public rehearsal for Broadway. There need have been no apologies for an impersonation of so high merit as his last night, artistic throughout, refined in phrase, powerful at need, though the tall Italian is no spendthrift of voice. Under his conventional guise of Gallic bohemian, there was a warmth of Southern temperament, as if Julian [sic] were newly winner of a Prix de Rome."

Pertile's most successful and frequent part in New York was Dmitri, which had impact opposite the Boris of Feodor Chaliapin. "Of the many tenors who have appeared here as the false Dmitri, Mr. Pertile is the first who has given the part definite, and even strong, dramatic value. But Mr. Pertile is a rare actor among tenors. He also sang last evening to his marked advantage." When Pertile left in February he had sung his contracted fifteen performances, including two Sunday-night concerts. Though pleased with Pertile, Gatti in his anxiety over Caruso had overloaded his roster with tenors.* He waited until April to write in an unusually friendly manner. "Mio caro Pertile, Circumstances are almost always stronger than the will; so that I, who would have been very pleased to renew your contract for the coming season, find myself obliged to let you go. This is all the more difficult for me since you had a brilliant success and your artistic and personal merits earned for you the affection of the public, of colleagues and very much so that of the undersigned."

Pertile's career suffered not at all. At La Scala he became Toscanini's favorite tenor (after Caruso and long before Jan Peerce in New York), singing almost everything from Lucia and Il Trovatore to I Maestri Cantori (the Italian rendering of Die Meistersinger) under his direction; he created the title roles in the Nerones of Boito (in 1924) and Mascagni (in 1935).** In December of 1923, although Gatti had the tenors Miguel Fleta, Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and Giovanni Martinelli on his roster, with some touch of regret he must have read this message from one of his Italian agents: "As you will read in the papers La Scala has become il teatro 'PERTILE'. All the operas are sung by him, the only tenor!"


* Pertile sang all fifteen performances of his contract for a fee of $800 per performance. Among his colleagues during the 1921-22 season were Beniamino Gigli, $12,000 a month for five and a half months, sang forty-four times; Giovanni Martinelli, guaranteed $1,000 each for forty performances, sang thirty-nine; Orville Harrold, $12,000 for five and a half months season, sang thirty-nine times; Giulio Crimi, guaranteed $700 each for twenty-one performances, sang twenty; Johannes Sembach, guaranteed $750 each for nine performances, sang twenty-five; Mario Chamlee, $200 per week for twenty-three weeks, sang twenty-four performances.

** His appearance and voice, however appropriate for the Emperor Nero, were not considered glamorous enough to secure the prize tenor role of the decade at La Scala, Calaf in the 1926 world premiere of Puccini's Turandot.

"Another tenor, who during...": Gatti to Kahn, 7 Aug 1921, Met Archives
"His voice has ...." WJH, Herald, 2 Dec 1921
"a tenor with the mentality..."; Smith, American, 25 Dec 1921
"a man who gains..." American, 21 Dec 1921
"It was sad for him..." Times, 31 Dec 1921
"Of the many tenors who have appeared..." P.S. Globe, 13 Jan 1922
"Mio caro Pertile ..." Gatti to Pertile, 5 April 1922, Met Archives
"As you will read..." Luigi Broglio to Gatti, 23 Dec 1923, Met Archives

A 1921 New York portrait of Pertile by the Met's official photographer.

Photo: Herman Mishkin










Pertile in his Met debut role, Cavaradossi in Tosca.

Photo: Underwood & Underwood,
New York










A close-up of Pertile as Cavaradossi in Tosca.

Photo: Underwood & Underwood,
New York