“Every Italian Tenor Is an All Around General Damn Fool” – Thomas Edison

“Every Italian Tenor Is an All Around General
Damn Fool”

Thomas Edison’s Views on Opera Singers

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During 1910–1912, Thomas Edison’s engineers conducted numerous recording sessions using eminent operatic singers in New York and abroad, and Edison reviewed the results closely. He was also fond of reviewing competing companies’ artists and records, which more often than not came in for scathing criticism.

Edison’s handwritten comments have survived and offer a glimpse of the inventor’s general hostility toward opera singers, particularly any who exhibited the dreaded “tremolo.” His musical prejudices — which extended to pop music as well — cost his company dearly, causing it to pass up future best-selling artists ranging from John McCormack (“Terrible tremolo…couldn’t stand it”) to Al Jolson (“Coney Island beer saloon singer, not for us”).

The excerpts below — from a mixture of 1910–1912 sessions, some later issued Diamond Discs, and selected Victor Red Seals — were transcribed by the late Ray Wile from Edison’s notes in the Edison National Historic Site’s archives:

 

ADELINA AGOSTINELLI (Edison mx. 430):
“Her tremolo queers this song. Hold it.”

GIOVANNI ALBANESE (Edison mx. 1067):
“Don’t care for him.”

ALDA, JACOBY, CARUSO & JOURNET (Victor 95209)
“Ridiculous noise.”

ENRICO CARUSO (Victor 95210)
“Caruso is getting big tremolo, tune N.G., all N.G. [no good].”

THOMAS CHALMERS (Edison mx. 813):
“A non-tremolo singer” [i.e., good, in Edison’s eyes].

GUIDO CICCOLINI (Edison mx. 5634):
“Ciccolini is getting so sharp that he drops every overtone and only emits fundamentals… I have about made up my mind that EVERY Italian tenor is an all around general damn fool.”

EDUARDO DE BURY (Edison mx. 469):
“Singer no good.”

GERALDINE FARRAR (Victor 96002):
“Farrar should not be permitted to sing on a phono, she will jump out [of] any record.”

EDUARDO FERRARI-FONTANA (Edison mx. 4332):
“Pretty good. The S.O.B. has got Caruso skinned.”

CHARLES HACKETT (Edison mx. 1050):
“Hackett has a very variable voice, sharp in some notes soft in others, and nasty rapid tremolo.”

ORVILLE HARROLD (Edison mx. 1283):
“One-note tenor – accepted. The next time they get any of our money before I hear the goods, it will be a cold day in Hell!”

HEINRICH HENSEL (Edison mx. 549):
“Rotten. Never use this voice.”

AGNES KIMBALL (Edison mx. 852):
“This singer has too many glaring defects of voice.”

HEINRICH KNOTE (Edison mx. 638):
“Singer good — has some tremolo but not highly conspicuous.”

MARIA LABIA (mx. 861):
“Nip & tuck between Bori & Labia.”

GIOVANNI MARTINELLI (mx. 1064):
“Good tenor has some tremolo and guttural sounds but his high beats Caruso. He is a far better singer than Caruso is now.”

JOHN McCORMACK (general comment):
“Fine voice marred by a terrible tremolo. I turned him down for I couldn’t stand it.”

LUIGI MONTESANTO (Edison trial):
“Tremolo bad, coarse, guttural, very uneven volume. Not wanted.”

GIOVANNI POLESE (Edison mx. 494):
“Not as good as Chalmers.”

GIOVANNI POLESE (Edison mx. 987):
“Some opera perverts have probably got educated to this type of voice.”

ADELE PONZANO (Edison trial):
“Voice fair but awful tremolo. Can’t use her.”

IDA ZIZOLFI (Edison trial):
“Terrible rapid tremolo. Not wanted.”