Enrico Caruso (born Errico Caruso; February 25 1873 – August 2 1921) was an Italian opera singer. As has been stated repeatedly in print by reputable critics, biographers and musicologists, he was one of the greatest and most influential tenors in history. Caruso was also one of the most significant singers in any genre in the first two decades of the 20th Century and one of the most important pioneers of recorded music. Indeed, Caruso's popular recordings and his extraordinary voice, known for its youthful beauty, mature power and unequalled richness of tone, made him perhaps the best-known operatic star of his era. Such was his influence on singing style, virtually all subsequent Italian and Spanish tenors (and many non-Mediterranean tenors, too) have been his heirs to a greater or lesser extent.
Caruso remains famous despite his predating the publicity machine that would aid later stars of opera, although it should be noted that Caruso was a client of Edward Bernays (the father of public relations) during the latter's tenure as a press agent in the USA.
While Caruso sang at many of the world's great opera houses, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London and Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, He is best known as the leading tenor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for 17 years. Maestro Arturo Toscanini, who conducted some of the operas that Caruso sang in at the Met, considered him one of the greatest artists with whom he ever worked. Caruso's technique and style combined in a unique way the finest aspects of elegant, technically-polished 19th Century tenor singing with the emotionally-charged delivery and exciting, thrusting timbre demanded by the Verismo composers of the early 20th Century.
Caruso was baptized in the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo on February 26, 1873, having been born in Naples, Italy, one day earlier. He began his career in Naples in 1894. The first major role that he created was Loris in Giordano's Fedora, at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, on November 17 1898. At that same theater, on November 6, 1902, he created the role of Maurizio in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.
In 1903, with the help of his agent, the banker Pasquale Simonelli, he went to New York City, and, on November 23 of that year, he made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera as the Duke of Mantua in a new production of Verdi's Rigoletto. The following year Caruso began his lifelong association with the Victor Talking-Machine Company; his star relationships with both the Metropolitan and Victor would last until 1920. Caruso himself commissioned Tiffany & Co. to produce a 24 carat gold medal with his profile, as a memento (PER RICORDO) for his friends of his Metropolitan performances.
In April 1906, Caruso and members of the Metropolitan Opera Company came to San Francisco to give a series of performances at the Tivoli Opera House. The night after Caruso's performance in Carmen, the tenor was awakened in the early morning in his Palace Hotel suite by a strong jolt. San Francisco had been hit by a major earthquake, which led to a series of fires that eventually destroyed most of the city. The Metropolitan lost all of the sets and costumes it had brought. Clutching an autographed photo of President Theodore Roosevelt, Caruso made an effort to get out of the city, first by boat and then by train, and vowed never to return to San Francisco; he kept his word.
On November 16, 1906, Caruso was charged with an indecent act committed in the monkey house of New York's Central Park Zoo. He was said to have pinched the bottom of a woman described as "pretty and plump", causing outrage amongst New York high society. Caruso claimed a monkey pinched the lady's bottom. Caruso was eventually found guilty before appeal, and fined 10 dollars. Later it came out that the woman was friends with the cop who arrested him and that the whole thing was a setup.
In 1917, he was elected as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity's Alpha chapter at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
In 1918 Caruso married Dorothy Park Benjamin, who was then aged 25, the daughter of an old-established New York family. They had one daughter, Gloria. Dorothy published two books about Caruso, one in 1928, the other in 1945, which includes many of his letters to her.
In September 1920, Caruso recorded several discs in Victor's Trinity Church studio, including sacred music by Rossini; these recordings were his very last. On December 11, 1920, during the performance of L'elisir d'amore by Donizetti, he suffered a hemorrhage; after act I of the opera, the audience was dismissed. Following this incident, he gave only three more performances at the Met, the last being Eléazar in Halévy's La Juive, on December 24, 1920.
Caruso died in 1921 in Naples, at age 48. The cause of death was likely peritonitis, due to the bursting of an abscess. For some years his enbalmed body was preserved in a glass sarcophagus for his fans to see. Later he was moved to an elaborate private tomb at Naples.
In 1987, Caruso was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
At the time of his death, the tenor was preparing the title role in Verdi's Otello. Though he never performed the role, he recorded two magnificent selections from the opera: Otello's aria, "Ora e per sempre addio," and the duet with Iago, "Sì, pel ciel marmoreo, giuro", where he is partnered by the magnificent baritone Titta Ruffo.
Caruso also had a repertoire of some 521 songs, ranging from classical to traditional Italian folk songs and popular songs of the day. The most often purchased song by Caruso at itunes is the Neapolitan sailor's song Santa Lucia and the universally famous song 'O Sole Mio.
His first recordings, made in 1902, were for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. He began recording exclusively for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1904. While most of his early recordings were made in typically cramped studios in New York and Camden, New Jersey, Victor began to occasionally record Caruso in the old Trinity Church in Camden, which could accommodate a larger orchestra. His final recordings were made in September 1920 and the last two selections were excerpts from the Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle. Caruso's conductors in his recordings included Walter B. Rogers and Joseph Pasternack.
RCA, which purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1929, later took some of the old discs and over-dubbed them with a modern orchestra. Several previously unreleased Caruso discs continued to appear as late as 1973. In 1950, RCA reissued some of the fuller-sounding recordings on vinyl 78 rpm discs. Then, as LPs became popular, many of the recordings were electronically enhanced for release on LP. Some of these recordings, remastered by RCA Victor to the 45 rpm format, were re-released in the early 1950s as companions to the same selections by Mario Lanza in the "Red Seal" series. Interestingly, however, the labels for the Caruso versions, although designated "Red Seal," were printed on a lighter (gold) background to distinguish them from the Lanza records. Many of both were also pressed on translucent red vinyl.
Researchers at the University of Utah utilized the first digital reprocessing techniques to reissue most of Caruso's Victor recordings, beginning in 1976. Complete sets of all of Caruso's recordings have been issued on Compact Disc by RCA, Pearl and, most recently, by Naxos, each company using different mastering techniques. RCA has also recently issued three CD albums of Caruso material with newly recorded orchestral accompaniments.
For more information about Caruso's recordings, see Enrico Caruso recordings.
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