Definitions

operatic star

Enrico Caruso

[kuh-roo-soh; It. kah-roo-zaw]

Enrico Caruso (born Errico Caruso; February 25 1873August 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.

Life

During his singing career, Enrico Caruso made more than 260 recordings over an 18-year period and earned millions of dollars from the sale of the resulting 78 rpm discs. These discs, recorded in 1902-1920, chart the development of Caruso's voice from that of a lyric tenor, to that of a spinto tenor, to that of a fully-fledged dramatic tenor.

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.

On December 10, 1910, he starred at the Met as Dick Johnson in the world premiere of Puccini's La fanciulla del West.

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.

Honors

Caruso was portrayed by Mario Lanza in a highly fictionalized 1951 Hollywood film biography, The Great Caruso.

In 1987, Caruso was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

On February 27, 1987, the United States Postal Service issued a 22 cent postage stamp in his honor.

Other

  • Caruso was the third of seven children born to the same parents and one of only three to survive infancy. The myth of 17 or 18 dead children promulgated by biographers such as Francis Robinson and Pierre Key was proven false some years ago and may originally have been the result of a mistranscription as Caruso dictated his memoirs to Key for his official biography. When he was 18, he used fees earned by singing at an Italian resort to buy his first pair of shoes. He is pictured wearing a bedsheet, draped like a toga, in his first publicity photograph because his only shirt was in the laundry.
  • Caruso's birthplace in Naples, Via San Giovanella agli Ottocalli 7, still stands next to the church where he was baptized. His remains were interred in a mausoleum at the cemetery of Santa Maria del Pianto.
  • During a performance in Naples, early in his career, Caruso was booed by the audience because he ignored the custom of hiring a claque to cheer for him. Afterwards, he said he would never again go to Naples to sing, but "only to eat spaghetti".
  • Caruso performed in Carmen in San Francisco in front of thousands the night before the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Caruso was staying at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco when the earthquake struck. His eyewitness account can be seen here
  • At a performance of Puccini's La Bohème, the basso on stage lost his voice and Caruso reputedly began to sing his aria "Vecchia zimarra" while the basso mouthed the song. His performance was so appreciated he even went to record it but later asked for it to be destroyed. This recording was recovered and has had several incarnations on LP, including a recital disc published by Club 99 in the 1970s (CL99-60).
  • Caruso's voice extended to the Tenor C in his prime but this note never came easily to him. Therefore, in his recordings of the tenor's Act I aria of Puccini's La Bohème, the high C is replaced by high B {there is no high 'C' in the score it is a high 'B' - the 'C' is a personal interlop by a singer}
  • While in Gounod's Faust he sings the high C of Salut demeure in a stylistically appropriate head (not chest) voice. This contrasts with the performances of these arias by, say, the young Jussi Björling, and others, who had naturally high-lying tenor voices which were less robust and golden-toned than Caruso's. .
  • Since his death, numerous compilation albums of his work have been created.
  • Enrico Caruso was said to be able to shatter a crystal goblet by singing a note of just the right frequency at full voice. (Which as Dorothy Caruso said was pure nonsense).

Repertoire

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.

Recordings

Caruso was one of the first star vocalists to make numerous recordings. He and the disc phonograph did much to promote each other in the first two decades of the 20th century. His 1907 recording of Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci was the world's first gramophone record to sell a million copies ; Caruso's dramatic tenor would inspire Freddie Mercury to quote its melody in the first section of Queen's hit It's a Hard Life. Many of Caruso's recordings have remained in print since their original issue a century ago.

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.

Bibliography

  • Caruso, Dorothy, Enrico Caruso - His Life and Death with discography by Jack Caidin (Simon and Schuster, New York 1945).
  • Caruso, Enrico Jr., and Farkas Enrico Caruso My father and my family, w. Discography by William Moran and Chronology by Tom Kaufman (Amadeus, 1990).
  • Gargano, Pietro Una vita una leggenda (Editoriale Giorgio Mondadori, 1997).
  • Gargano, Pietro and Cesarini, Gianni Caruso, Vita e arte di un grande cantante (Longanesi, 1990).
  • Jackson, S. Caruso, First edition, (Stein and Day, New York 1972).
  • Key P. V. R. and Zirato B., Enrico Caruso. A Biography (Little, Brown, and Co, Boston 1922).
  • Scott, Michael The Great Caruso with Chronology by Tom Kaufman (London and New York, 1988).
  • Vaccaro, Riccardo Caruso (Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1995).
  • Wagenmann J. H. , Enrico Caruso und das Problem der Stimmbildung, (Altenburg, 1911).
  • Il Progresso italo americano, Il banchiere che portò Carusonegli USA, sezione B - supplemento illustrato della domenica, New York, 27 luglio 1986.

Media

Over There A recording of the popular American World War I song.

Footnotes

See also

External links

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