In the early morning of August 2, exactly a century ago and after several months of suffering, Enrico Caruso died. “The king of tenors”, “The voice of the century”, “The great Caruso”, “The tenor of tenors” and how many adjectives and compliments, applied to your legend, fall short.
He was only 48 years old and had achieved glory with singing -It was an idol of crowds at a time when that concept was still unknown – but a pleurisy ended his life. In the late 1920s, he had been admitted to New York and had gone through several weeks between life and death, underwent five chest operations and transfusions.
However, in May, with his second wife Dorothy Park Benjamin and one of their daughters, decided to embark and return to his beloved Naples, his hometown. His dreams of recovery and return to the stage were there. He died at the Vesuvio hotel and one of the musicians told everyone: “Let’s go without noise, on tiptoe, because the teacher has fallen asleep”.
Enrico Caruso on August 2, 1921 at the Vesuvio Hotel in Naples. Photo: AFP
In recent times, it was Lucio Dalla who rescued some of the legends about the tenor’s end times, offering a song that he justly titled Caruso: “Here where the sea shines and the wind blows strong / on an old terrace in front of the golf course in Sorrento / a man hugs a girl, after crying / then clears his voice and starts singing again …”.
Caruso is considered one of the most remarkable tenors of all time, although its importance is much greater. About his privileged voice, his overflowing personality and his charisma, the first great music industry was built, that of recordings. It certainly made him rich, but he contributed like none other to that expansion, leaving 265 recordings, almost all for RCA, turned into a true power of musical diffusion.
His contract with the company was for almost two million dollars, a staggering number at the time. His 1902 record of I dressed the giubba, the jewel of Pagliacci, a song that he sang like nobody else, was the first album to sell a million copies in the 78 rpm era.
Two years later he played Mattinata, by Ruggero Leoncavallo himself, which is considered the first song composed exclusively for recordings.
His love for Argentina
Born February 27, 1873, in Naples, Caruso maintained a strong bond with Argentina. It came this far in its emerging times: it debuted at the end of the 19th century at the now-defunct Opera on Corrientes avenue with Fedoraby Giordano. Y returned five times, including his participation in two seasons of the Colón and tours with the company of the Theater that they took him to Rosario, Córdoba and Tucumán.
His passage through the stages was memorable, as well as his wanderings through the city that made him a unique character. An encounter with a young Carlos Gardel is even mentioned when both coincided on the ship Infanta Isabel.
From Caruso, in our country, 135 lyrical functions are computed and 18 concerts, figures that are only higher in the United States (where he sang more than 800 functions) and in his own country (almost 300).
Born on February 27, 1873, in Naples, Caruso maintained a strong bond with Argentina.
Caruso was the third among the children of the owner of a mechanical workshop. At the age of ten he was awakened by his vocation for singing, and his mother sent him to the church choir. After, he sang in squares and spas until a baritone put him on track towards professionalism: debuted in 1894 at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples with L’amico Francescoby Morelli.
From there, his career was unstoppable, especially for his arrival at the Met in 1903.
“At first he stood out for the beauty of the timbre, his musicality, his own style. And he strengthened it with his artistic maturity, his composition of characters, his absolute command of singing, his sensuality and power of communication. He triumphed with the nascent Verismo, but also with the Romantic and Verdi schools, with French opera. He became the prototype of the tenor ”, explained the critic Néstor Echevarría.
Caruso was the ideal model for the Canio of I Pagliacci, the Rodolfo of La Boheme, Des Grieux in Manon and the wonderful Verdian characters: Manrico in Il Trovatore, Radames in Aida, Don Alvaro in The force of Destiny.
Caruso was young, but already known when he first visited us. He had triumphed at La Scala in Milan and in another area as demanding as Saint Petersburg, and also as the star of the world premiere of The Arlesiana, tell to.
It was presented in Buenos Aires on May 14, 1899 and The nation commented: “Tenor Caruso made a satisfactory debut on the part of Loris, with an estimable voice and style and good stage action.” The following month, after participating in The queen of sheba, by Karoly Goldmark, in the same newspaper they prophesied: “Caruso, the tenor of the precious voice, the Great Caruso as he will be called one day.”
Caruso returned to the same scene in 1900, 1901 and 1903 but, from that year on, the Met was absorbing, the one that triggered his planetary fame. There he debuted in November 1903 and sang for eighteen consecutive seasons., represented Canio 76 times in I Pagliacci and 64 times to Radames in Aida and also premiered works such as La Fanciulla del West, by Puccini, directed by Toscanini in 1910.
A return with glory
When Caruso returned to our country, a decade later, he was already a star, his marriage to the soprano Ada Giachetti (They had two children, Rodolfo and Enrico) and it is said that –in the attempt to recover it- she followed him here, in a saga that seems to reproduce fragments of I Pagliacci.
“Buenos Aires consecrated me,” he said in 1915. Photo: AFP
When Caruso returns in 1915, Buenos Aires was already in the foreground of the lyrical world, especially, especially since the premiere of the Teatro Colón, seven years before. Monsters like Feodor Chialipin, Titta Ruffo (the idol of baritones) and Tito Schippa had sung here, to name a few.
“I am returning to fulfill a duty. Buenos Aires consecrated me. I feel immense satisfaction in offering to the beautiful city of Plata everything that I think is good, I would like to sing here as I have never sung to pay the debt of gratitude that I have contracted with this city, “he said.
It’s an incredible season, in which Caruso stars Aida and also, for the only time, he sings at the Colón with his friend and traveling companion, Tita Ruffo. “They were unforgettable evenings, between Caruso and I we bet on who sang better and who was more nervous, given the tremendous responsibility with all the seats sold long before ”, wrote Ruffo about the evenings of I Pagliacci.
In The Great Book of Columbus, Alberto Amato recalled: “When Caruso sings I Pagliacci in the Colón, It is not Canio who is crying, it is Caruso. Soprano María Roggero, at the end of the act, notices that the tenor’s hand is bleeding. What had happened? In the scene where Clown learns that he is betrayed by his beloved and swears by the Virgin to take revenge, Canino-Caruso had bitten his thumb in such anger that he had hurt himself. That is verismo. And that was Caruso ”.
Caruso felt too much fervor for Buenos Aires to cross – during those years – the seas full of combat ships in the First World War. In 1917 Caruso gave historical presentations with Manon (from both Puccini and Massenet), La Bohéme, Tosca, The Elixir of Love, again Pagliacci.
I took painting and drawing classes in the atelier of his friend Felipe Galante, two of whose daughters he was godfather of baptism. He visited his uncle Liberato Baldini, I walked through Villa Urquiza, Belgrano or Villa Pueyrredón.
“After the lyrical performances, spent long hours cloistered in his room at the Hotel Splendid, studying and copying scores of operas. He was delighted with carriage rides through the city and with the beautiful country houses of San José de Flores, with their hedges of honeysuckle and old trees. He also liked to get to the bucolic Belgrano ”, described the historian Pedro Eduardo Rivero in his book Caruso in Argentina.
Besides, Caruso’s correspondence that was auctioned a few years ago in London for $ 285,000 included, among his 700 personal documents, the letters he crossed with Vina Velazquez, a young woman from Buenos Aires, supposedly a furtive romance.
The Met and the marriage to Dorothy, with whom he had another daughter, they caught him after his last expedition to Buenos Aires. The disease, a product of smoking, quickly broke him.
On his way through Buenos Aires, he walked through Belgrano, Villa Urquiza and Villa Pueyrredón.
Titta Ruffo was one of the most hurt in the goodbye: “I locked myself in my own room, I fell down crying on the bed. I went to Naples to bring my last tribute of affection to the brother of art. I arrived at the Vesuvius Hotel, I looked at his rigid face. Crying closed my throat. I placed a flower on his chest and went out. They asked me to sing at their requiem mass, but I refused, the shock would have gotten over me”.
The end of Canio’s tragedy in I Pagliacci sentences: “La commedia e finita”. Caruso had sung and performed Leoncavallo’s work like no one else.