AllanJames Foley (Signor Foli) - Bass. 1835-1899.

Ireland's only Internationally Famous  Bass  was born in Cahir Co. Tipperary on 7th August 1835. He studied in Naples Italy with Bisaccia and made his debut in Catania in  December 1862 in Rossini's Otello  singing the Bass role Elmiro. He also appeared in other opera Houses in Italy from 1862-1864  Turin , Modena & Milan followed by Paris in 1864 .  His  London  Debut was  at  Her Majesties Theatre  Haymarket  in 1865 in the Huguenots as St. Bris & in Zauberflote, he later sang at Drury  Lane And Covent Garden .He sang more in  than 60 operas between the three theatres. He   a  sang  in  Austria, Russia the home of  the Great Basses where he sang Mose (Rossini), he also sang in America with Mapleson's troupe in 1878/9 then later in  Australia  1892,  South Africa 1893 and again in London 1896 .He was also very successful in Oratorio & Concerts. He died in England 1n 1899.

The following is a description of  Foli the man, it is taken from a book published in 1906.

" Signor Foli  was a tall,  powerful  man with long curly hair and a deep Basso Profondo voice of extraordinary compass & power. As  regards  nationality, he was unmistakably Irish. Having, however , had operatic aspirations in days when no one could hope to enter the charmed circle without a foreign sounding name, he  promptly Italianized his own, Foley, and adopted the prefix Signor. During the off season he used to spend a good deal of time out in California, where he owned a ranch. Here he would fish, ride, shoot and lead the healthy out door life of which he was so fond. Again, it used  to be his great delight to run down to Monte Carlo and indulge in a gentle flutter at the tables. Unfortunately, upon these trips he did not always meet with complete financial success. On several occasions, indeed, he might have had considerable difficulty in returning to England, had he not taken the precaution of buying a return ticket  when he set out on the exhibition. One evening he arrived from one of these outings just in time for a concert engagement in London, and stalked into the artists' room  with the remark " Sure  Oi've lost every penny Oi have. If it wasn't for what Oi'm making to night, Oi shouldn't have any at all"
Foli had  one of those cheerful Hibernian dispositions which looked on the bright side of everything, and the contretemps did not seem to upset him in the least.
With his splendid physique he always had supreme contempt for any sign of effeminacy in his fellow men. In undergraduate days the writer went  to supper with him at the Clarendon Hotel, when he came one term to sing up  at Oxford. After  having attended to the wants of the inner man, thereby making a tremendous hole in the pickled onions  for which he had an insatiable appetite he settled down to a little food for the mind, not forgetting the soothing presence of  My Lady Nicotine. During a conversation the name of a certain violinist came up. "Don't talk to me of that spalpeen. Sure he's got a face loike a milk pudding"
Everyone who knew Foli had heard of his parrot with it's retentive memory and facility for mimicry. Visitors would sometimes be flabbergasted by a scena which the basso and his wife had carefully rehearsed with the bird. First Polly would say in a deep voice "Have you any money for me?" Then in a high screech it would reply "No, I shan't give you anymore" the answer to this would be given in a low tone " You might let me have a fiver" to which the other returned  "Not one farthing"  " But I must have some. Come on!" "No , I won't, I won't , I won't  ! " With these thrilling words the drama would be brought to an end.
The Irish -Italian was one of the few artists obliged to leave the concert platform owing to an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Incidentally one may call to mind another instance of this, when Patti was taking part in a duet with Santley at Brecon. During the piece a wasp arrived on the scene, and buzzed vigorously in front of the vocalists. Finally, after hearing the honeyed notes issuing from the Diva's throat, it determined to investigate for itself the source of so much sweetness. The efforts which the enraptured insect made to get at Madam Patti's mouth were altogether too much for her companion. After a few moments the music came to an abrupt termination, and mirth reigned supreme.
With Foli, the cause was not one of  force majure  . It was with him ,entirely due to the accompanist ,Naylor.
It was during a Provincial tour. The basso profondo was down on the programme to take part in the well known duet for tenor and bass "Love and War". One day during the railway journey a good deal of chaff passed  between the two as to the position of the accompanist. Foli asserted that they were mere figure heads at the party---nonentities who had nothing to do but sit on a piano stool throughout the concert. Finally he suggested that on future occasions  they might dispense with Naylor altogether and borrow a waxwork from Madam Tussaud instead. The other laughed good humouredly and remarked "I don't know about that. In fact I'll bet you  half  a crown I upset you in one of your numbers to-night" "Done me Bhoy" roared the basso and dismissed the matter from his mind.
Eight o'clock came and the concert commenced. Things  went smoothly for some time, that the artists really began to think there was something in the wax-work idea afterall. But it was the lull before the storm. The time came for "Love & War". The vocalists strolled on, followed at a respectful distance by Naylor who gave a wink to the other artists as he left them. The first portion was written for two voices, and no cue of approaching doom was given by the pianist. Then came a short solo for the Tenor, in which he pointed out his tender feelings of Love. Instead, however of the soft rippling music from "the man behind" there burst out a thunderous accompaniment , as though descriptive of some tremendous cannonade. The singer finished somehow, though it was as much as he could do to prevent his gravity from being upset. Then came the contrast, Foli with his enormous voice , bellowed forth the terrors of war. In response to his stirring cries of "raging battle" and "cannon rattle" there came from the piano an absurd little pastoral accompaniment in the treble, suggestive of rippling brooks and bleating lambs. Ever and anon was heard the gentle call of the "cuckoo" which had a distinct arriere pense. Foli tried in vain to keep back his chuckles during the solo, while he heard the accompaniment grow more and more ridiculous. At last to remain grave  proved beyond his powers. He was forced to abandon the unequal fight and walk off the platform roaring with laughter, while the victor remaining at his post, brought the duet to an abrupt termination with a few chords of "See the Conquering Hero Comes".
I think that this gives a nice insight into the man .
He died on 20th October 1899. New York's Freeman's Journal & Catholic Register  for 28.10.1899 wrote:-
  "FOLI the real name of Signor Foli the basso whose death in London was announced  Saturday, was Allan James Foley. He was born in Cahir Co.Tipperary, Ireland but came to the United States with his parents. The family settled in Hartford Conn., the elder Foley gaining his livelihood as a labourer. The son showed evidence of musical ability and  the possession of a remarkable voice when very young, and his voice afterwards developed into a magnificent bass. He learned the carpenter's trade but earned a little money by singing at concerts and in the Choir of St. Patrick's Church the oldest Catholic place of worship in Hartford. Afterward he sang in the Center Congregational Church  in the same  city. The young man's voice the attention of Mrs. Cheney wife of the well known silk merchant. He was a sober industrious youth and on the advise of Dr. J G Harnett who was organist of the Center Church, Mrs. Cheney provided the greater  portion of the sum necessary to send Foley to Italy.  Foli was a pupil in Naples of the elder Bisaccia father of the famous pianist. He made his debut as Signor Foli in 1862  at Catania in Italy as Elmiro in "Othello" being received with acclamation. Afterwards he sang at Turin, Modena and Milan and in 1864 he appeared at the Italiens, Paris. On June 17th 1865 Signor Foli made a successful London debut at Her  Majesty's Theatre as St. Bris in "Les Huguenots". Afterwards he played the second priest in the revival of "Zauberflote" and in the autumn of the same year as the Hermit in  "Der Freischutz" He quickly became a favourite in England. He made his greatest hit on production of "Der Fliegende Hollander" at Drury Lane on 23 July 1870. In this opera he played Daland.
He  came to this country under the management of Col. Mapleson and sang at the Academy of Music.       Signor Foli made frequent trips to this country to visit his old friends at Hartford. The last time he did so was about two years ago. Besides his prominence in Opera Signor Foli was well known as an oratorio and concert singer at all the important English festivals. He made his first appearance in oratorio on April 25 1866 in "Israel" at the National Choral Society ,but his first success in this form of art was in "The Creation" produced Feb 22 1867 at the Sacred Harmonic concert. His new parts in oratorio included Jacob in Macfarren's "Joseph" produced at the Leeds Festival in 1877 and Herod in "L'Enfance du Christ" by Berlioz produced at Manchester in 1880 and in London in February 1881. Signor Foli also sang in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vienna  and other Continental cities. In Russia he made a conspicuous success as Caspar, Moses and as Pietro in" Masaniello". His voice was a rich powerful bass of more than two octaves ranging from E below the line to F. He retained his voice until his death almost unimpaired"


The London Times Obit reads:-
  " Many people will hear with regret of the death of Signor Foli the well known bass singer. He was a great favourite with the frequenters of ballad concerts. His fine voice and genial personality made him popular both with the public and in private life. He died last night at Southport in his 65th year--"an Italian from Belfast" as is said to have once described himself-- had been in  the musical profession for more than 40 years. He lately announced his intention of retiring at the end of this season and settling down to pass his old age in the United States. He returned from an American tour only a few weeks ago, and began an English tour with Madam Albani on the 7th inst. He was then apparently in good health. Last Saturday he saw his manager, Mr Vert, and Miss Clara Butt off to America from Liverpool, and then caught a chill which has unfortunately proved fatal. Signor Foli was on the operatic stage for some time, but for many years he has devoted himself entirely to concert work  "


There is a  Biography of him called "A Neighbour's Child" which was written  by Dirny Reynolds and published privately  in 1994. While it is short on Operatic chronology it give an excellent picture of the  his families social milieu.

Curently, I am working on a chronology and have accumulated quite an amount of information - but can always do with more. He lived in Hartford Connecticut in his early years and He was mentioned regularly in The Hartford Courant but especially at the time of his death in October 1899. Anyone in Connecticut - help Please.

© Derek Walsh 1995



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