Antonio Rocca

He is said to have been born in Torino 1876, and was a confectioner before starting to sing. I don't know whether his debut took place in Italy; however, he spent almost his entire career in France, and that French career started in the South in 1906: he sang secondary roles at the opera theater in Nice, and gave a concert in Marseille.

1907 brought about his Paris debut, at the Lyrique International, where he was one of the first three singers to be engaged for the new troupe, together with Fjodor Shaljapin and Félia Litvinne. His next Paris debut was at the Gaîté-Lyrique in early 1908. Subsequently, he was at the Opéra-Comique, and very successful there. At the Exposition d'Electricité in Marseille in June 1908, he participated in a highly unusual hybrid concert: part of the singers (himself, Berthe Auguez de Montalant, Pierre d'Assy) sang in the concert hall, a lot of others (Caruso, Shaljapin, Korsoff, Verlet, Tetrazzini, Beyle) were presented via a special gramophone with pneumatic amplification (a so-called auxeto-gramophone), and at the end, some arias that Rocca and Auguez de Montalant had previously sung and that had been recorded during the concert, were played once again on the auxeto-gramophone.

In November 1908, he participated in the inauguration gala concert of the new theater in Oran (Algeria). He stayed in Oran for the whole winter season. In December, he had enormous success as Gérald, and went on to sing Werther, Rodolfo, Wilhelm Meister, Faust, Cavaradossi, Massenet's des Grieux, Don José, Vincent, Turiddu.

Typically, Rocca got fantastic reviews wherever he sang; but as a member of the theater of Montpellier in fall 1909, he didn't please, and on one occasion, after a few spectators had hissed, Rocca fell into a rage and started a dire confrontation with the audience; I don't know what exactly happened, but it was the talk of the town for weeks. Certainly motivated by that scandal, Rocca cancelled his contract and left.

In fall 1910, he sang at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milano, where he premiered La favola di Helga by Francesco Santoliquido on 23 November, with Giorgina Caprile and Francesco Cigada; after that, he spent the Carnival season 1911 at the theater in Cremona.

Next, I find him in Tosca in Bayonne on 21 January 1913 ("premier ténor de la Scala de Milan" – from as far away as Bayonne, the difference between La Scala and the Dal Verme was obviously negligible), followed by Canio in Pagliacci (or Paillasse, by Léon Cavalho, as per "Le Monde Artiste"). 20 May 1913, an aria concert in Troyes, a triumph for Rocca, earning him a rave review in a local newspaper. Autumn 1913, Rocca becomes a member of the Toulon opera and a permanent guest for the season in Nice. His Faust in Toulon in December was criticized for vocal fatigue, ascribed to his frequent travels to Nice.

Rocca spent the 1915/16 season at the opera theater of Algiers. Next, a Tosca production at the Casino de la Plage in Marseille from 28 May 1916 onwards; Rocca was once more announced as "de la Scala de Milan". In 1916, as well, he appeared also at the Opéra de Marseille, with great success.

In 1917 and 1918, he sang at the Opéra Municipal in Algiers (for instance Werther and Duca in January and Don José in April 1917, or Toinet in Le chemineau from 14 April 1918). Early in his Algiers tenure, during the first week of February 1917, he had another "unpleasant incident" that reminds of the Montpellier scandal a few years earlier. I don't know what exactly happened, but he wanted to cancel his contract, and could only be dissuaded from doing so by the management "coming his way" and appointing a new First Conductor.

On 4 September 1917, he was in Bordeaux, where he sang Cavaradossi at the Théâtre Français, in Italian, conducted by Leoncavallo and allegedly staged by the troupe of La Scala (if true, this was a belated justification for having so often been billed as "M. Rocca de la Scala de Milan"). In June 1918, he sang in Oran.

For the Easter season 1920, he was the lead tenor at the Casino Municipal in Biarritz ("probable repertory", as per the announcements: Carmen, Faust, Bohème, Tosca, Pagliacci, Favorite, Traviata).

In 1921, he sang (and recorded) in the USA, where he was first in Washington D.C., appearing at the National Theater, and then a member of the Chicago Opera in autumn.

Next, there is a not quite negligible gap in Rocca's biography, of no less than eleven years... He resurfaces in 1932: in September, he joined the troupe of the theater of Cherbourg (under a new management); for instance, he sang Duca there in October, and Faust in November, which latter was an utter failure. That same November 1932 in Saint-Étienne, he appeared in a new play with incidental music, "Les briseurs d'ailes", and that's the last reference to him that I can find.

Trying to sum it up, it's somewhat surprising that after his spectacularly promising beginnings, he made a nice but certainly medium-sized career, in no way up to the prominence of his first years (and recordings!), nor to the absolutely electrified enthusiasm with which most audiences and critics met him. I guess he was difficult to work with, irascible, unreliable. See his Montpellier and Algiers scandals, but also the way he treated "his" theater in Toulon by singing in Nice at least as often as there.

Rocca is a striking example (perhaps the most striking of all) of a singer who sang a foreign language way better than his own: Rocca was a clearly below-average tenor in Italian, but one of the truly great when singing French; an absolutely amazing French, by the way. (This reminds me of Natalie Dessay, who was only a shadow of her German-singing self when tackling a role in her native French.)

- L'Afrique du Nord Illustrée, 7 November 1908
- Annales africaines, 19 December 1908
- Cherbourg Éclair, 25 October 1932
- The Chicago Tribune and Daily News, 12 September 1921
- Comoedia, 11 June 1908; 30 November 1910
- L'Écho d'Alger, 18 December 1915; 9 and 19 January 1917; 9 February 1917; 14 April 1917
- Evening Star, 19 February 1921
- La Gazette de Biarritz, 19 January 1913; 19 March 1920
- La Gironde, 17 August 1917
- L'Intransigeant, 12 December 1907; 8 September 1932
- Le Matin, 21 May 1907
- Mémorial de la Loire et de la Haute-Loire, 25 November 1932
- Le Mémorial des Pyrénées, 23 January 1913
- Le Monde Artiste, 15 February 1913
- Nîmes-Journal, 25 September 1909
- Les Nouvelles, 29 January 1917; 14 and 23 April 1918
- Ouest-Éclair, 12 November 1932
- Le Petit Marseillais, 27 May 1916
- Le Petit Méridional, 29 October 1909
- Le Petit Oranais, 4 June 1918
- Le Petit Provençal, 30 August 1906
- Le Temps, 22 May 1907
- La Tribune de l'Aube, 22 May 1913
- La Vie Montpelliéraine, 13 March 1909; 12 December 1909; 24 July 1910; 5 October 1913; 14 December 1913
- Washington Herald, 19 February 1921
- Washington Times, 20 February 1921

Antonio Rocca sings Faust: Mais ce Dieu ... À moi les plaisirs, with Pierre d'Assy
In RA format

Antonio Rocca sings Faust: Laisse-moi contempler, with Lucette Korsoff

Anton Bieber has provided the recording and the label scans: thank you!

Antonio Rocca sings L'Africaine: Ô paradis
In RA format

Antonio Rocca sings Il trovatore: Di quella pira (Critona label)
In RA format

I wish to thank Richard J Venezia for the recording.

Antonio Rocca sings Rigoletto: La donna è mobile

Anton Bieber has provided the recording and the label scan: thank you!

(most probably complete for the French, most probably incomplete for the American recordings)
Gramophone, Paris, March 1908 5582h Africaine (Meyerbeer): Pays merveilleux 3-32798 5583h unknown title unpubl 5584h unknown title unpubl 5585h unknown title unpubl 5586h unknown title unpubl 5633h Lakmé (Delibes): Ah viens dans cette paix profonde 3-32799 5634h Rigoletto (Verdi): Comme la plume au vent 3-32800 5635h Favorite (Donizetti): Ange si pur 3-32801 Gramophone, Paris, April 1908 5753h Lakmé (Delibes): Dans la forêt près de nous (w. Vallandri) 34207, P281 5754h unknown title (w. Vallandri) unpubl 597i Lakmé (Delibes): C'est le dieu de la jeunesse (w. Vallandri) 034020, W228 Gramophone, Paris, May 1908 5930h Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): Vive le vin unpubl 5930½h d:o 3-32837 5931h Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): O Lola 3-32847 5973h Manon (Massenet): Ah fuyez, douce image unpubl 5973½h d:o 3-32829, Vic 5775 5974h Tosca (Puccini): O de beautés égales 3-32830 5975h Werther (Massenet): Fantaisie aux divins mensonges 3-32831, Vic 5771, 16573 Gramophone, Paris, June 1908 6014h Faust (Gounod): Laisse-moi contempler (w. Korsoff) 34201, P280 6015h Faust (Gounod): Ô nuit d'amour (w. Korsoff) unpubl 6015½h d:o 34202, P280 612i Faust (Gounod): Oui, c'est toi je t'aime (w. Korsoff) 034022 Gramophone, Paris, about August 1908 6255h Favorite (Donizetti): Un ange, une femme inconnue 3-32862 6256h Tosca (Puccini): Le ciel luisait d'etoiles 3-32854 6257h Carmen (Bizet): Dragon de l'Alcala 3-32855 832i Faust (Gounod): Mais ce Dieu (w. d'Assy) 034024, W229 833i Faust (Gounod): À moi les plaisirs (w. d'Assy) 034025, W229 836i Faust (Gounod): Salut, demeure 032083 837i Joseph (Méhul): Champs paternels 032084 Gramophone, Paris, October 1908 6497h Faust (Gounod): Anges purs (w. Auguez de Montalant & d'Assy) 34208 6497½h d:o 34208x, P363 6498h Lakmé (Delibes): D'où viens-tu (w. Korsoff) 34209 6506h Rigoletto (Verdi): Qu'une belle 3-32878 860i Faust (Gounod): Divine pureté (w. Korsoff & d'Assy) 034027 861i unknown title unpubl 862i Carmen (Bizet): La fleur 032090 Gramophone, Paris, 14 April 1909 14568u Mireille (Gounod): Anges du paradis unpubl Gramophone, Paris, 3 June 1909 01050v Guillaume Tell (Rossini): Asile héréditaire unpubl 01050½v Guillaume Tell (Rossini): Asile héréditaire unpubl 01051v Mireille (Gounod): Anges du paradis (w. chorus) 032163 Gramophone, Paris, 7 June 1909 01065v Roméo et Juliette (Gounod): Dieu qui fit l'homme à son image 034075, W333 (w. Bakkers & Journet) Gramophone, Paris, 9 June 1909 01074v Faust (Gounod): Choeur des soldats (w Bakkers) unpubl 01075v d:o unpubl 01076v Mireille (Gounod): Le val d'enfer (w Bakkers) unpubl 01077v La Favorite (Donizetti): Vois mes pleurs (w Auguez de Montalant)unpubl 14928u Faust (Gounod): Trio final (w Auguez de Montalant & d'Assy) unpubl Edison cylinders, Paris, 1912 or 1913 44660 test recording: Arpeggios unpubl 44911 Martha (Flotow): M'apparì 44911 44920 La Gioconda (Ponchielli): Cielo e mar 44920 Gramophone, Paris, 20 May 1914 18800u Tosca (Puccini): O de beautés égales unpubl 18801u Tosca (Puccini): Le ciel luisait d'étoiles unpubl Bell, USA about 1921 Pagliacci (Leoncavallo): Vesti la giubba S-107-A Fanciulla del West (Puccini): Ch'ella mi creda S-107-B Critona, New York about 1921 Fanciulla del West (Puccini): Ch'ella mi creda 1027 Trovatore (Verdi): Di quella pira Arto, USA 1922 Rigoletto (Verdi): La donna è mobile 3083 Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): Brindisi 3086

I wish to thank Christian Torrent for the discography and the picture.
Additions to the discography from Gesellschaft für historische Tonträger, Wien

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