, also known simply as Silverio
(June 10, 1831 – May 30, 1889) was a singer and the leading figure of the period in flamenco history known as The Golden Age, which was marked by the creation and definition of most musical forms or palos
A palo is the name traditionally given in the flamenco environment for the different musical forms that constitute the traditional musical heritage of flamenco...
, the increasing professionalization of flamenco artists, and the shift of center from private gatherings and taverns towards commercial venues called cafés cantante
. Silverio’s voice was called “the honey from Alcarria”.
Silverio Franconetti was born in Seville. His parents were Nicolás Franconetti, Italian, and María de la Concepción Aguilar, born in Alcalá de Guadaira
Alcalá de Guadaíra is a town located approximately 10 km southeast of Seville, Spain; in recent years the expansion of Seville has meant that Alcalá has become a suburb of that city. Alcalá used to be known as Alcalá de los Panaderos because it provided most of Seville's bread...
. He spent his childhood in Morón de la Frontera
Morón de la Frontera is a Spanish town in Seville province, Andalusia, 63 km South-East of Seville. It is primarily known as being home to Morón Air Base. The most remarkable monuments are the Moorish castle ruins and the main church...
, and he learned to be a tailor. He learned the Gypsy flamenco songs by listening to Gypsies, and was encouraged to sing by Gypsy singer El Fillo.
He soon decided to quit his job as taylor and start a career as singer in Seville and then in Madrid. At 25 years of age, he moved to Montevideo
Montevideo is the largest city, the capital, and the chief port of Uruguay. The settlement was established in 1726 by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, as a strategic move amidst a Spanish-Portuguese dispute over the platine region, and as a counter to the Portuguese colony at Colonia del Sacramento...
Uruguay ,officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay,sometimes the Eastern Republic of Uruguay; ) is a country in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to some 3.5 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area...
where he made a living either as soldier or as picador
A picador is one of the pair of horsemen in a Spanish bullfight that jab the bull with a lance. They perform in the tercio de varas which is the first of the three stages in a Spanish bullfight.The picador has three main functions:...
. He went back to Spain in 1864 to resume his career as singer. He started a partnership with Manuel "El Burrero" and both opened a café cantante
(also called El Burrero
). However, their different criteria soon caused them to break apart: while el Burrero prioritized business, for Silverio artistic quality was all. Soon Silverio opened his own café, the "Café de Silverio", where he invited the most outstanding figures of flamenco of his time, also performing himself regularly. His café
gave a definite impulse to the trend of opening cafés cantante
, which in a few years became numerous in all Andalusia and also in the rest of Spain. Although he was not the creator of the café cantante
, he was the first café owner who tried to dignify these venues:
Firstly, through his own artistic personality, giving these schools a relevance they had not completely achieved [...]. Secondly, dignifying the genre in contrast with most cafés, who admitted artistic elements unrelated to flamenco, and even the flirts of the public with the women, including, quite often, the artists themselves. (Ríos Ruiz 2002)
As a singer, Silverio was deeply influenced by El Fillo, from whom he learnt most of his repertoire. However, according to traditional flamencology, he radically adapted those songs to his own style. However, it is difficult to attribute any of the existing flamenco forms to his creation. The song known as cabal de Silverio
is often thought to be a recreation of the cabal
attributed to El Fillo. In spite of the debates about possible attribution, he remains the most famous and discussed singer of his time.
His popularization of flamenco through the café cantante
was first objected by folklorist Demófilo
Antonio Machado , better known by his pseudonym Demófilo , was a writer, anthropologist, and Spanish folklorist.- Biography :...
, who wrote the first biography of Silverio in his book Colección de cantes flamencos
. According to Demófilo, the spreading of cafés cantante
would sooner or later debase the nature of the genre in spite of Silverio's intention to keep it pure:
"The cafés cantantes will soon kill the Gypsy singing style in the near future, in spite of the giant efforts of the Sevillian singer to rescue it from the obscure sphere where it lived and which it should never have left if it were to be kept pure and authentic.
When the Gypsy genre went from the tavern to the café, it received Andalusian influences, and became what everybody now calls flamenco. Silverio has created the flamenco genre, a mixture of Gypsy and Andalusian elements. (Quoted by Molina and Mairena  1979:31)
And Molina and Mairena added:
... that, as flamenco gained a wider public, the pureness of Gypsy singing would be weakened, is a fact we have to acknowledge. [...] To make singing palatable for the masses, [...] he sweetened the elementary harshness of the abrupt songs from Triana, [...], softening the tragedy of the naked Gypsy scream into brilliant dramatic melody. [...] Then, he probably started, wisely, to cultivate flourishings and ornaments to which audiences, initiated in opera and zarzuela, were sensitive. But still, in Silverio, the Gypsy echo (so near to him!) was dominant.(Quoted by Molina and Mairena  1979:58)
Later critics, though, disagree:
However, most critics think just the opposite: that precisely Silverio's task was dignifying flamenco singing by rescuing it from brothels and taverns and presenting it with dignity, respect and artistic level. (Ríos Ruiz 2002:32)
ÁLVAREZ CABALLERO, Ángel: El cante flamenco
, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, Second edition, 1998. ISBN 84-206-9682-X
MAIRENA, Antonio & MOLINA, Ricardo: Mundo y formas del cante flamenco
, Librería Al-Ándalus, Third Edition, 1979
MARTÍN SALAZAR, Jorge: Los cantes flamencos
, Diputación Provincial de Granada, Granada, 1991 ISBN 84-7807-041-9
RÍOS RUIZ, Manuel: El Gran libro del flamenco, Vol. II: Intérpretes
, Calambur, Madrid, ISBN 84-88015-99-2