A week after Cortis’s birth his father died and the family settled in the town of Denia, later moving to Valencia and then to Madrid. His elder brother Bautista also enjoyed an operatic career as a baritone and Antonio, whose actual name was Antonio Monton Córts, entered the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid in 1899, studying singing, violin and harmony. Two years later he joined the Children’s Chorus employed by the Teatro Real, afterwards playing the violin in a local orchestra. In order to seize more opportunities for his elder brother the family moved in 1909 to Barcelona where Antonio enrolled in the Municipal School of Music. He joined the chorus of the Teatro del Liceu in 1911, moving into comprimario rôles the following year.
After completing military service in 1915, during which he remained active as a singer, Cortis was engaged by the Teatro Real, Madrid as a second tenor and was soon singing rôles such as Cavaradossi/Tosca, Don José/Carmen and Turiddù/Cavalleria rusticana in Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. Having married in 1916, the following year he was engaged by the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires to sing Arlecchino/Pagliacci to Caruso’s Canio. In spite of Caruso’s invitation to join him in New York, Cortis, who had just become a father, returned to Barcelona instead.
After further appearances singing major rôles in Madrid and Barcelona and making his first recordings during 1918, Cortis and his family traveled to Milan in 1919. Contracts were signed for appearances in Naples and Bari, with his successful Italian début taking place in Naples at the end of that year as Canio. Following further performances in Salerno, Trieste and Terni, in 1920 Cortis signed a three-year contract to appear at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome. Significant rôles here included Don José, Dick Johnson/La fanciulla del West, Luigi/Il tabarro, Radamès/Aida, Dimitri/Boris Godunov, and Walther von Stolzing/Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He also sang in Naples, Turin and Milan, and made further recordings in 1923 in Berlin, before appearing in Havana as Cavaradossi.
This in turn led to an offer for Cortis to sing with the Chicago Civic Opera, with which he made his début in November 1924 as Enzo/La Gioconda. Singer and city immediately took to each other and Cortis sang in every season there until 1932, when the opera company collapsed as a result of the financial Depression and its associated bank failures. Cortis also sang at San Francisco between 1924 and 1926 and recorded for Victor in 1925 and 1927. His American rôles included included Des Grieux/Manon Lescaut, Edgardo/Lucia di Lammermoor, Manrico/Il trovatore, Radamès, the title rôle in Andrea Chénier, Canio, Cavaradossi, and Don José.
During this period Cortis remained active throughout Spain and Italy, appearing for instance as Radamès at the Verona Arena in 1927 as well as recording for HMV in Milan. His only London appearances were in 1931 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Calaf/Turandot and Hippolytus in Romani’s Fedra, singing opposite Rosa Ponselle.
In 1935, with the possibility of war looming, Cortis decided to stop singing in Italy. He settled in Valencia, making appearances in Madrid, Seville and Palma, Majorca, but the Spanish Civil War had a highly disruptive effect on his career. In 1939 he collapsed during a bombing raid on Barcelona after a performance of Carmen at the Liceu. He continued however to sing in the principal cities of Spain and Portugal between 1940 and 1950, although with the mounting cost of opera production during this decade the number of performances was often limited. He made his last operatic appearance as Cavaradossi in Zaragoza during 1951.
Cortis was considered to be one of the best of Spanish tenors, standing in a direct line between Francisco Viñas and Plácido Domingo. His voice possessed a very rich tone which, combined with his spontaneity of style, made him an ideally romantic singer. A man of a certain reserve, he did not overplay emotions, as other contemporaries were inclined to do, yet was a superlative interpreter of verismo operas by composers such as Giordano and Mascagni, whose music he performed with an apparent extraordinary ease. The critic John Steane has described his recorded interpretation of Giannetto in Giordano’s La cena delle beffe as ‘one of the most vivid pieces of vocal characterisation on record’.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist