Born: December 11, 1886; Naples, Italy
Died: November 29, 1941; New York, NY
While no star conductor, Gennaro Papi proved himself useful in a number of venues stretching from Eastern to Western Europe, and later, across the Atlantic. Serving first as chorus master and assistant conductor in several houses, Papi eventually rose to the rank of principal conductor after the departure of Toscanini from the Metropolitan Opera. Despite a lack of temperament, his competence provided stability and mostly good preparation for theRead more singers in his charge. Exhibiting his talent at an early age, Papi was enrolled at the conservatory in his native Naples to study theory, piano, organ, and violin. A pupil of Camillo de Nardis, he was recommended for the post of chorus master at San Severo di Puglia and assumed that post in 1906. Following that assignment, he served as an assistant conductor in Milan, Warsaw, Turin, Odessa, and finally, in London. After having given a Milanese performance of La traviata in 1910, he became assistant to Cleofonte Campanini at Covent Garden the following year. Appointed assistant to Toscanini for a tour of Argentina in 1912, he then was given the same position at the Metropolitan Opera in 1913, remaining the maestro's assistant until Toscanini's departure in 1915 over artistic differences with general manager Gatti-Casazza. Papi's house conducting debut took place on November 16, 1916, with a performance of Manon Lescaut. With that night, a Metropolitan podium career began that would continue until Papi's death immediately prior to a November 29, 1941, performance he was scheduled to conduct. During his more than 600 performances in New York, the conductor earned more gratitude from management than praise from critics. He was deemed by W.J. Henderson a conductor "who is held in high esteem in official circles," but not elsewhere. His Boris was considered a long descent from those of Toscanini and Polacco and a critic once derided his work by calling it "Italian." Against these comments, and another that described his conducting as "supine," was considerable enthusiasm for his direction of Guglielmo Tell during the 1922 - 1923 season. But again, adverse comments were written as Papi's Metropolitan career entered its second phase in the 1930s, in particular for his leading a Le coq d'or described as sober business. Meanwhile, Papi had established himself in Chicago, first with the Ravinia Festival and later, with the Chicago Opera. At Ravinia Park, on Greater Chicago's North Shore, opera was a key offering from beginnings in 1913 and 1914 through the "golden period" stretching from 1919 through 1951. Many of the world's finest singers were presented there and Papi was frequently the conductor in the years 1916 to 1931. Papi joined the Chicago Opera for the 1933 - 1934 season, leading the opening-night Tosca on December 26. In quick succession, he conducted Madama Butterfly, La bohème, Aida, Rigoletto, Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci, and Turandot in two weeks' time. The company, now in the Civic Opera House, had just gotten around to mounting Puccini's Turandot, and at the point at which Puccini's music ended, the conductor paused while a commentator explained that the remainder had been completed by Franco Alfano. Other operas led by Papi that season included Il trovatore, La Gioconda, Martha, Andrea Chénier, Tosca, La traviata, and La forza del destino, by far representing the majority of works presented that season. Papi conducted through Chicago's 1935 season, but left thereafter in a dispute with management and finished his career in New York. Read less
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