Music: Perennial Tenor

In 1913, when the late Enrico Caruso was in his prime and gut-busting Tenor Leo Slezak had just sung his Manhattan farewell, a stocky, brush-headed Italian named Giovanni Martinelli strutted the Metropolitan Opera proscenium for the first time, as Rodolfo in La Boheme. In an era dominated by the golden-voiced Caruso his debut was no sensation. Some critics, in fact, found his singing no great sensation.

Years passed and at the Metropolitan Tenor Martinelli continued to take second place to some more bravoed figure. When the great Caruso resigned in 1920, died the...