Photograph of Enrico Caruso in 1915 (Photo: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons)

This February 25 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henry Carusoone of the most admired tenors in history and one of the first to preserve his voice for posterity thanks to phonograph records.

Caruso before being Caruso

He was born in Naples in 1873. Just fourteen months before the world premiere of the opera Aida of Verdiof which Radamés will be embodied years later.

Some of the roles that would later propel him to fame (Mauricio in Adriana Lecouvreurloris in Feltmario in Tosca Pinkerton in Lady Butterflyamong others) had not even been written yet.

He grew up in a low income family. From the age of ten, he combined work as a mechanic with occasional performances as a street singer. It was in 1891 that he truly began his training by the hand of the master William the Virgin. The first time Virgin understood that it was not too optimistic: It’s a voice and nothing (“It’s a voice and nothing”), he said. But the persistence of Caruso it would work soon.

He made his official debut in 1894 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in Friend Francois of Mario Morelli.

It may interest you: Javier Camarena: “Opera was born as a spectacle for the people, we must not forget that”

Four years later he began one of the most promising chapters of his career with the world premieres in which he performed at the Teatro Lírico in Milan in works such as L’Arlesienne (1897), Felt (1898) y Adriana Lecouvreur (1902).

Enrico Caruso described as Duke in Rigoletto (Photo: Aimé Dupont - Wikimedia Commons)
Enrico Caruso described as Duke in Rigoletto (Photo: Aimé Dupont – Wikimedia Commons)

Also in 1902, he made his debut at Covent Garden in London with Rigoletto. This title also accompanies him in his successful first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York the following year, thus initiating a very active relationship thanks to which he will dominate all the seasons until 1920.

Rigoletto It was also his letter of introduction to Spain and his only appearance on stages in the country.

The failure in Barcelona

April 20 and 23, 1904 Caruso participated in two productions of Rigoletto at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, ​​never to perform there again.

The first was uneventful, although a day later the Barcelona Diary underline:

“Mr. Caruso had to repeat in the act first the ballad and in the third and for three times The woman is mobile: with this, we can consider that the famous tenor had a great success last night and, however, it was not like that. Mr. Caruso, who has, as is very common among artists, his good days and his bad days, was not in one of the first, and his great faculties, which were manifested beyond doubt, did not have could be appreciated in all their purity, and they were sometimes tarnished by the insecurity of the intonation, which is one of the things that our public finds it most difficult to hide and that they did not want to let go without protesting, in particular in the duet of the second act, where the artist was the most decomposed”.

The second and last function does not seem to have had a better reception. He also had the precedent of Angelo Massiniwho has achieved such success in his interpretations of Rigoletto at the end of the 19th century who, on various occasions, sang four, five and even six encores of “La donna è mobile”.

Opera’s first #MeToo

Not everything was easy for the tenor. November 17, 1906 The New York Times mentioned on the cover Carusobut this time not in a musical review or announcing his upcoming performances, but in nothing less than a chronicle of events.

The tenor had been arrested the day before for “overstepping and enraging a woman who happened to be near him” at the Central Park Zoo’s monkey house. According to the newspapers the following day, Caruso he insisted on his complete innocence and claimed that the police must have made a mistake. His friend Henry Conrieddirector of the Met, posted $500 bond to release him from jail.

Cover of The Washington Times newspaper from November 17, 1906, with information about Caruso's arrest (Photo: Library of Congress, United States)
Cover of The Washington Times newspaper from November 17, 1906, with information about Caruso’s arrest (Photo: Library of Congress, United States)

The Caruso case has reached every corner of New York. The press dubbed it “the monkey scandal”, and it was used by racist sectors of American society to blame the Italian population. According to the historian David Suisman in a magazine article Believera former New York police chief told the newspaper that the “arrest was an outrage” and that the “conviction was not based on any evidence”.

When the trial began on November 22, the prosecution leveled broader charges against Caruso, accusing him of having harassed not one but several women. The arresting officer testified that Caruso abused not only her, but also five other women in four separate incidents at the monkey house. Caruso was sentenced to pay the maximum fine at the time: $10, which today would be around $275.

carus at home

The singularity of the voice of Caruso He arrived on stage at the perfect time: when the transition from romantic tenor to veristic tenor was taking place, which required almost unwavering voices.

Announcement from Victor Records: Enrico Caruso sings the tune
Announcement from Victor Records: Enrico Caruso sings the aria “Largo” from Händel’s opera “Xerxes” (Photo; Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

But it also coincides with the beginnings of phonography, where the voice of Caruso not only did it fit, but it was “the answer to a sound engineer’s dream”. That’s how he defined her Fred Gaisbergmusic producer for the UK company Gramophone who, attracted by the Neapolitan’s fame, offered him in 1902 to record ten tunes. These would be followed by many more.

Con Caruso the recording industry has created a mass market. Listeners no longer needed to go to an opera house to enjoy his voice, but now had him at home, being able to listen to him again and again.

“I am no longer a man, I am a machine that produces money. A device that produces dividends. They force me to live in a glass box, not because they like me. Caruso is not that a throat I sold to managers like Faust sold its soul to Mephistopheles.”

After the tenor’s death in 1921, at only 48 years old, his commercial phenomenon took on an unprecedented dimension. Now absent from the stage, Caruso’s voice has been immortalized on recordings, increasing his appeal.

The “Caruso phenomenon” was just beginning and marked the dividing line between two eras: that of ephemeral music and that of recorded music. No one had the tenor’s projection or influence in the recording industry in the early 20th century.

An early announcement called his recordings “one of the most natural and faithful portrayals of Caruso ever made”. Another, published after the tenor’s death, noted: “You are listening to the real Caruso.”

* Doctorate in Musicology from the University of La Rioja, Spain.

Originally posted on The conversation.

Continue reading

“La donna è mobile”: the story of the first hit in the history of the record industry
Javier Camarena: “Opera was born as a show for the people, we must not forget that”
Enrico Caruso will have a museum in Naples
The conversation

Categorized in:

Tagged in:

, , , , , ,