Naturally I sang -without training - the song and arias that any Italian boy would have sung at the age. One day, while singing at an open window in the barracks, I was heard by my commanding officer, who decided I had talent which should be developed. I was taken to Milan and there, against strong protests on the part of my father, was given a scholarship in the form of a contract to study.
After six months of study my sponsors wanted to hear me and judge my progress. It was a complete fiasco. The freshness, naturalness, and spontaneity of voice which they had heard at my original audition were gone. My six months' study was a disastrous mistake and they were ready to cancel the contract and send me home. You can imagine my despair. Their opinion was that my voice was not lost nor but I was just on the wrong track.
Fortunately, Giuseppe Mandolini, a former tenor, then working as a bookkeeper for my sponsor heard me as did Tullio Serafin, the great conductor. Mandolini understood my problem and with the support of Serafin asked for three months in which he was certain he could restore my voice and put me in the right line. It will interest you to know that in 1908 before starting my lessons in Milano I was asked by the local committee of my hometown, Montagnana, to take the role of Messaggero in Aida, the opera which was given for twelve performances at what they sued to call the Autumn Festival, and I was paid three Lire per performance ( equal to $ . 60 per performance today ).
My official debut came on December 29, 1910, when I sang the title role of Verdi's Ernani at the Teatro dal Verme in Milano. I also sang Ruy Blas at the same theatre, and after a while word got around that young upstart Martinelli might not have had much experience, but he did have a strong pair of lungs. One day, the theatre manager who was also my sponsor, told me I was to sing an audition for someone. I came out on stage, looked into the darkened auditorium and saw no one. A voice asked what I would sing. As I recall, I chose Celeste AidaandCielo e mar from Gioconda. When I finished, two men came on stage, and my heart stopped. I was only at the threshold of my career but all Italy knew Arturo Toscanini and Giacomo Puccini. Puccini was then fifty-three years of age, fairly tall and thoroughly masculine in appearance and voice. He grasped my hand firmly and said. Bravo, young man, I think you will do. Then explanation was given. Puccini's Fanciulla del West which had received its world premiere six months before at the Metropolitan with Caruso, Destinn and Amato, was to receive its European premiere at the Teatro Costanzi in Roma that summer.
Caruso was not available and the part of Dick Johnson, the tenor was assigned to Amedeo Bassi. However, because Bassi had contracted to participate in the Coronation Season of George V in London another tenor was required as a replacement and I was chosen for the assignment.