Day 87 of Colourisation Project – August 2
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Idolized by millions throughout the world, Enrico Caruso died this day, August 2 in 1921. Universally acclaimed as the world’s greatest operatic tenor of his time, Caruso’s career was cut short by an early death in 1921 but throughout the early part of the 20th century he managed to sing in all the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.
His was the classical rags to riches story. Born in 1873 into a poor Neapolitan family, and with no formal music training until the age of 18, he went on to become one of the most celebrated and highest paid of his contemporaries. His rich and powerful tenor voice, both lyrical and sensuous, captivated audiences everywhere.
In 1897 he auditioned for Giacomo Puccini’s ‘La Boheme‘ in Livorno. Puccini was so in awe of the range and tone of young Caruso’s voice, that he reportedly mumbled, “Who sent you to me? God himself?”
“By Heaven! If this Neapolitan continues to sing like this, he will make the whole world talk about him,” declared the famous Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini in 1898.
However after an unfriendly reception in Naples where he was booed by a section of the audience because he failed to pay a claque (a group of followers hired to applaud at a performance), Caruso vowed never to sing in Naples again. He was true to his word stating later that he would return ‘only to eat spaghetti.’
His debut at La Scala, Milan in the production of ‘La Bohéme‘ came in 1900. In 1902 he sang with Nellie Melba at Monte Carlo and then again at London’s Covent Garden. Rome, Lisbon, and South America soon followed.
Rigoletto was the opera with which he made his American debut in 1903 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He remained the Opera House’s leading tenor for the next 16 years during which time he had a total of 607 performances in 37 different operas.
Caruso was one of the first musicians to document his voice on gramophone recordings, and the first star to sell more a million copies with his 1907 recording of ‘Vesti la giubba‘ from ‘Pagliacci‘ by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Caruso also participated in the first U.S. public radio broadcast and between 1902 to 1920 made more than 290 recordings. Beguiled by his voice the public bought whatever he chose to record. His best selling records were actually Neapolitan folk songs and ‘Italian airs’.
Another city that Caruso vowed never to return to was San Francisco. Caruso found himself in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, the day of the city’s worst earthquake. He vowed never to return to that city, ‘where disorders like that are permitted’ and he never did. The earthquake sparked a series of fires that destroyed most of the city, and which destroyed all the sets and costumes that the Met had brought on tour
After falling ill Caruso died in his home town of Naples in 1921 at the age of 48. Naples came to a standstill as his death made headlines around the world. Flags were flown at half-mast and signs with “Lutto Per Caruso” (Mourning for Caruso) were displayed in the closed shop windows. His body was embalmed and put on display in a glass sarcophagus for mourners to view. His remains were later interred in a mausoleum at the cemetery of Santa Maria del Pianto in Naples in 1929 and now more than 90 years after his death, it remains one of the most visited shrines in the world today.
Caruso left an indelible mark upon on the opera world when he died and is still considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time. In death his estate has received more than 2 billion dollars in royalties. He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording and in 1987 he was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
As I finish writing this I am reminded of the lyrics of the beautifully tender ballad about the redemptive power of music, The Night I Heard Caruso Sing by Ben Watts from Everything But The Girl.
‘…Then someone sat me down last night and I heard Caruso sing / He’s almost as good as Presley / and if I only do one thing, I’ll sing songs to my father, I’ll sing….’
Caruso was the Presley of his time.
“A big chest, a big mouth, 90 percent memory, 10 percent intelligence, lots of hard work, and something in the heart.” Enrico Caruso on his success.