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Guigoni & Bossi
Manskopf Collection / Sammlung Manskopf
Courtesy of the Manskopf Collection / Sammlung Manskopf, Universitőtsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main (F08363)
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), Italian tenor
One would be tasked to think of a more popular or more publicized tenor at the turn of the 20th century than Enrico Caruso. Enrico Caruso was born on 25 February 1873, in Naples, Italy. He was the third child of seven in a family led by an alcoholic father. He had little education before studying voice with music conductor Vicenzo Lombardini. Caruso gained some early income was from singing serenades in Naples, before gaining a role on the opera stage in March, 1895.
The composer, Puccini, was in search of a tenor for his new opera, "La Boheme" in Livorno when he discovered Caruso. When the opera debuted in Naples the audience reception for it and Caruso was unfriendly, and Caruso vowed never to sing for the people of Naples again. Caruso made his operatic debut on March 15, 1895 at a back street theatre in Naples. After a two-year stint on the South Italian circuit he auditioned for Giocomo Puccini in the summer of 1897. Puccini was looking for a leading tenor for a performance of 'La Boheme' in Livorno. Puccini was so impressed with the range and tone of the young Caruso's voice, that he reportedly mumbled in awe, "Who sent you to me? God himself?" After an unfriendly reception of his performance in Naples, Caruso vowed to never sing in Naples again, and he never did.
By 1897, he was gaining major roles in operas by Giordano, Ciliaon in the city of Milano. He continued to sing Italian operas in Milano in 1898. Caruso signed a recording contract in London with the Gramophone and Typewriter Company in 1902, and appeared at Covent Garden in Verdi's "Rigoletto." Pasquale Simonelli a banker assisted in making arrangements for Caruso to make his Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1903. Caruso charmed his audiences and the press and went on to appear at the Met for the next eighteen seasons, making six hundred and seven stage appearances in thirty-seven different operas. He was frequently cast opposite singer/actress Geraldine Farrar at the Met. They became the biggest box-office combination the Metropolitan had through the 1920's. Caruso sang in four languages and was reported to be conversant in seven.
He was the first singer in history to sell more than one million records. His most popular recording was Canio's song "Vesti le gubba" from Leoncavllo opera "Pagliacci." His voice is described as one possessing brilliant tenor qualities with the full baritone-like character. He never sang the high "C" and often altered the original music to avoid it. He was considered a master at musical phrasing giving distinct clarity to words which suited his recordings perfectly.
He married Dorothy Benjamin in 1918 and they had one child, Gloria Caruso Murray. His two sons, Rodolfo and Enrico Jr., were from an earlier relationship with soprano, Ada Giachetti. Caruso often did skillful caricature sketches of fellow performers in costume a talent which he enjoyed. He was considered fun-loving with audience and friends, and was known to give away tickets which he had to pay for those he met who could not afford the admission price.
He contracted pneumonia and developed into further lung complications in 1921. He underwent a series of lung operations which proved unsuccessful and died on 2 August 1921 at his home in Naples. The funeral afforded to him was suited to royalty and he was laid to rest in a chapel at Del Pianto Cemetery, Naples.
(Kindly contributed by T. Max Hochstetler, June 2007)