Monday, October 09, 2006
Enrico Caruso King of the operatic tenors...some history and some stories on this remarkable man. PART 1
Enrico Caruso was known to many as the "Great Caruso" who held court at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC for nearly 18 years. He was the first what you may call super star in the publics eye and was the first major singer in history to have not only an international career as a singer but also a recording artist. He was as beloved in South America as he was in Italy..mainly due to his remarkable recordings. He was a most talented man in many venues, he was largely uneducated, but self taught. He was was very much an artistic genius..not only was he a gifted singer, he was a wonderful artist...doing caricatures and even sculpting figures.He was also a gifted machanic. He wrote songs and acted in movies (these were pretty bad by the way) but....when it came to singing few have ever rivaled him.
He was born Errico Caruso (he later changed it to Enrico) on February 25, 1873 in Naples, Italy. He came from a large family which music was not a part of..His father was a mechanic and his mother was a dear soul who pushed her son Errico to study the voice as he has a most lovely Alto voice and would sing in churches for small fees or for free. His mother died when he was a boy and it occurred while he was singing...... His relationship with his father was not very warm..his father wanted his Errico to be a mechanic which was not what he liked. Soon he grew tired of that and tried to sing...he was not at first very successful...But with hard work he finally got his voice in reasonable shape...One of the problems he faced was he did not have a good top to his voice (his voice would often crack on high notes) So with a lot of training and practice he developed a pretty good top and started a career. He tried first in poor little operas and was one time hissed off the stage cause he got drunk on some good Italian wine..but the fellow who replaced him was hissed off cause he was just awful...and the crowd called again for the "little drunkard" In his youth Caruso was as slim as an anchovy as Francis Robinson once said.
His performed in Naples once on the operatic stage and was hissed of the stage...and he promised never to sing there again...and he never did to quote Caruso "I will never sing again in Naples, I will just come to have some nice spaghetti".
Caruso as he aged a little grew into an amazing singer and by 1900 his success was assured. In 1902 he did something that no major operatic singer had ever done on a professional basis..He made a commercial recording! In fact, he made 10. The recordings were made by the Gramophone and typewriter Company at were recorded in the Hotel Milan in a make shift studio in one of the rooms of the hotel. Interestingly the recordings were made in the room above the room in which Verdi the composer died the year before. They were, considering where they were made wonderful recordings...and have been considered by audio historians as perhaps the first truly successful recordings made for the general public. To put it in other words they were amazingly successful! The manager of the Metropolitan Opera House engaged Caruso by listening to his recording! The first time a person was ever hired that way!
Once Caruso came to America he was on the road to immortality His voice matured and darkened and he was soon the talk of the town. He was the star of every opening night at the Met from 1904 to 1920, save for 1906 when he deferred to Geraldine Farrar.
Caruso in his prime was around 5' 9" tall, and weighed in at 175-185. he was graced with very strong and powerful lungs, near perfect teeth and had a amazingly large mouth. it was said he could put a large egg in his mouth and you would not know it. One person once described him as a walking air compressor. He had a great sense of fun and the public loved all of his antics....He was a great clown!
He smoked 2 packs of Egyptian cigarettes a day, always in a holder. He had a morning ritual in which he would inhale lots of steam and cough up all the dark nicotine colored flem in his throat till it was clear. Amazingly the smoking did not seem to affect his voice at all. Perhaps the only thing smoking did was to give his voice an even darker quality..As you listen to his singing you hear a gradual darkening that becomes quite noticeable in the last years of his life.
He was married late in life at the age of 45 to Dorothy Park Benjamin and they had a daughter named Gloria in 1919 Gloria Caruso married a man named Murray and now Caruso's descendants are named Murray! He also had 2 children out of wedlock. One of them was named Enrico Caruso Jr. who lived till the later 1980's I still have his phone number written down some where..as I called him once just to say hello and introduce myself.
Franco Corelli taked often of Caruso. He and I talked a lot about other singers and he said to me what he liked about Caruso's voice....He said "that Caruso had a beautiful sad sound to his voice.....very lovely emotion...lovely quality to his voice" By the way Corelli told me that his favorite soprano was one he never sang with....her name was Luisa Tetrazinni!!! 1871-1940.
Caruso has even been put on new CD's with a modern symphony orchestra. These recordings released by RCA in 2000, 2003, and 2004 feature a computer repaired voice of Caruso singing with the Veinna Radio Symphony Orchesta. It is interesting to hear some of the recordings. Many sound very poor, but there are a few that are really scary...It seems that Caruso was with them....The one I found best was the folk song "A Vucchella" ...It sounded like he had made the recording with the orchestra.
Enrico Caruso is as much a part of our history as he is of our present. There are few singers who can carry that role.
End of part 1