Florencio Constantino (1869-1919) was born in Bilbao in Spainâ€™s Basque region. He immigrated to Argentina in 1889 and initially made his living as a farming contractor. Constantino had always enjoyed singing and began vocal studies in the early 1890s. After a few local concerts and recitals, the tenor made his stage debut in BrÃ©tonâ€™s opera La Dolores at the Teatro SolÃs in Montevideo in 1895. During this early period Constantino also made appearances in Lucia di Lammermoor, La Gioconda and Cavalleria Rusticana. After travelling back across the Atlantic, Constantino made his European debut in 1897 as des Grieux in Manon at the Teatro Ponchielli in Cremona. For the next two seasons, the Spanish tenor paid his dues in provincial Italian theaters and spent a good deal of time in the Netherlands, as well. By the early 1900s, Constantino was an international opera star, with appearances in the principal theaters of Madrid, Naples, Rome, Lisbon, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Berlin, Nice and London. In 1906, he travelled to New Orleans and made his North American debut as Don JosÃ© in Carmen. Appearances in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal followed and Constantino quickly established himself as a leading tenor in the U.S. The busy artist was a tremendous success at Hammersteinâ€™s Manhattan Opera in New York and was particularly popular in Boston. From 1907 until 1917, he sang regularly throughout the States in a wide variety of roles such as Rodolfo in La BohÃ¨me, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur, Arturo in I Puritani, Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La Traviata, Raoul in Les Huguenots and the title roles in Faust and Lohengrin.
By the mid-teens, however, Constantino had developed a reputation as a difficult individual and an unpredictable performer. The oft repeated anecdotes include an onstage swordfight that cost Italian basso Giovanni Gravina an eye and a legal battle with a chorus girl that led to a brief prison sentence for the tenor. Most famous was the disastrous 1917 St. Louis premiere of local composer Homer Mooreâ€™s opera Louis XIV. Claims that Constantino appeared onstage drunk are false...his colleagues gave him brandy between acts in order to revive him. In fact, the blame for the workâ€™s failure does not seem to have been entirely the tenorâ€™s fault. According to contemporary reports, the work was scarcely an opera at all but more of a costumed concert piece with solos and duets strung together with no plotline. As one critic observed, â€œThe music, though sometimes melodious, proved light, thin and naÃ¯ve, without any perceptible attempt at organic structureâ€. Perhaps regarding this work with a certain degree of disdain, Constantino simply did not learn his music. Critics reported that, â€œâ€¦he scarcely enunciated a word of the text, but emitted a series of â€˜La, la, las,â€™â€. More telling was the report that Constantino, â€œâ€¦was in atrocious voice, turning every note above the staff into a feeble falsetto and making random and croaking sounds with his throat that could scarcely be heard beyond the footlightsâ€. This suggests that the tenor was truly ill rather than inebriated. Whatever the case, it marked the beginning of the end of Constantinoâ€™s U.S. career.
His glory days winding down, the tenor relocated to Los Angeles where he gave his final stage appearance as Lohengrin. During the final years of his life, the tenor gave concerts, opened a singing school and even attempted to establish a new opera company in South America. None of these endeavors were particularly successful, however. Tales of a drunken Constantino spending his final days in a Mexican flophouse after having been pulled from the gutter are grossly exaggerated. After arriving in Mexico City for a concert tour in April of 1919, Constantino had difficulty adjusting to the altitude. Despite a nervous breakdown caused by the stress of ill health and financial difficulties, the tenor pressed on, honoring some commitments, canceling others. In September, the tenorâ€™s son, Ricardo received a telegram stating in part, â€œFather very seriously illâ€. Ricardo planned to travel to Mexico and accompany his father to Spain, where the ailing man would recover his health. Sadly, time ran out. With his heart condition now in a critical state, the tenor collapsed during a concert and was taken to the nearest medical facility, which happened to be the local charity hospital. It was here that Florencio Constantino died on November 19, 1919 at the age of fifty.
Constantino made over 200 discs and cylinders for PathÃ©, G&T, OdÃ©on, Favorite, Victor, Edison and Columbia between 1903 and 1910. These recordings showcase a bright, full lyric tenor with a highly individual sense of musical artistry. Here, Constantino sings â€œTu che a Dio spiegasti lâ€™aliâ€ from Donizettiâ€™s Lucia di Lammermoor. This was recorded in Philadelphia for the Victor label on May 28, 1907.