|About this Recording
8.110720 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 5 (1908-1910)
During the winter of 1907-08 Caruso had reigned supreme at the Metropolitan Opera. There were plenty of people who deplored this state of affairs, and the critic of the New York World wrote almost in despair. 'The season at the Metropolitan may be briefly summed up in one word – Caruso; for without this single artist I hardly see what would become of the season at all.' Almost single-handedly the tenor carried the Met through a period when its future seemed to hang in the balance. The rival Manhattan company was putting on more varied and adventurous programmes, and its founder, the charismatic Oscar Hammerstein, knew how to attract the finest singers –Melba, Mary Garden, Zenatello, Renaud, Ancona, in addition to Tetrazzini, whose sensational talent had somehow failed to impress the Met's manager, Heinrich Conried. Hammerstein even had hopes of tempting Caruso to join his company, at one point offering him $5,000 a performance, more than twice what he was making at the Met.
Hammerstein's finances, however, were soon strained to breaking point by his decision to open a new opera house in Philadelphia: shortly afterwards the Manhattan company was forced to close and the Met paid Hammerstein a huge sum in return for agreeing to renounce all operatic ventures on the east coast of the United States for the next ten years. In the meantime, Conried had retired from the Met and his successor as managing director was Giulio Gatti-Casazza, who brought with him from La Scala a new chief conductor in the shape of Arturo Toscanini. Suddenly the character of the Met was transformed. During his second season, in 1909-10, Toscanini was conducting Tristan, Die Meistersinger, Otello and Gluck's Orfeo, Mahler was introducing American audiences to The Queen of Spades, while Wagner's Ring cycle was presented under the baton of Alfred Hertz. This was not just another Caruso season – yet still no one else could sell seats like the great tenor. Toscanini can hardly have been pleased to learn, on the Met's visit to Paris in 1910, that it had been decided that no one could get a ticket for Caruso's performances unless they also bought a seat for Otello or Falstaff.
An old twelve-inch 78 record contained at the most four and a half minutes of music a side, and the project of issuing a complete opera in such a medium might seem a hopeless one, but even in the earliest years of recording there was a demand from the public which the companies did their best to meet. In 1903 the Italian branch of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company released a 'composite' version of Verdi's Ernani on forty sides, using records by a variety of artists – a common practice during the acoustic years. The Green Zonophone Aida of 1907 (heavily cut) on 23 sides had two different sopranos in the title role. In the same year G&T's German subsidiary Deutsche Grammophon recorded Die Fledermaus, while in Milan the name of Leoncavallo was attached to a complete Pagliacci (actually conducted by Sabajno). This last was the first example of a whole opera recorded with a uniform cast throughout.
The earliest complete operas, issued on the cheaper black label, could generally only manage at the most one 'big name' singer. An all-star cast would be limited to recording selections on the more expensive red label. Tracks 1-9 on this CD show Victor attempting something of a compromise: not a complete opera by any means, but substantial extracts from Gounod's Faust, including extended scenes from the opera, with Caruso as the star attraction in a cast of artists from the Met (With hindsight, we may regret that Victor did not show a little more enterprise and make a proper job of the whole opera.) With the addition of the aria 'Salut, demeure chaste et pure', which had been recorded in 1906 (Complete Caruso Volume 2, 8.110704), Caruso was featured on ten sides. Geraldine Farrar, who appears on seven of these in the role of Marguerite, was a close friend and regular partner on stage. In 1908 the two had recorded the last part of the love duet in Madam Butterfly (see Complete Caruso Volume 3, 8.110708), and it is perhaps surprising that no attempt was ever made to complete this perennially popular number by adding the first section, given that two other extracts from the opera (tracks 12 and 13) were recorded in the session of 14 March 1910.
'Cielo e mar' (track 14), recorded at the same session, gives an interesting opportunity to mark the changes in Caruso's voice over the years. He had recorded it twice before, both times with piano rather than orchestral accompaniment, and going back to the Milan version from 1902 (Complete Caruso Volume 1, 8.110703) one is struck by how much the voice has filled out and darkened. Another point of comparison is provided by the Siciliana from Cavalleria Rusticana (track 18), the fourth version that Caruso had committed to disc but the first to include the harp accompaniment. Caruso was in such stupendous vocal form on these two days that we have cause to be grateful for all the items produced on 28 and 29 December 1910. At last (track 15) there is something from Pagliacci that is not just another shot at 'Vesti la giubba', giving us a little more insight into one of Caruso's most popular roles, We have a rare hint (track 16) of how he might have sounded in Otello, an opera which was never part of his stage repertoire, and there is the delicious experience (track 17) of Caruso recording a song in English for the first time – or if not exactly English, at least something that from time to time bears an unmistakable resemblance to our own language.
Some of the finest moments on this CD are provided by the duets from Il Trovatore (tracks 19 and 20), Styles change, and Louise Homer's delivery is unlike anything we would expect to hear today; but the blend of the two voices is exquisite, more evidence of what a wonderful ensemble artist Caruso always was. It is the Faust scenes, however, that are the prize jewel. We are liable to forget that, like any other singer, Caruso was paid to sing whole operas and not simply the juicy climaxes, and here is a rare, perhaps unique, picture of him operating as just one of several characters in the drama, adaptable and sensitive to those around him. Pre-eminent in terms of popularity he may have been, but it was never in his nature to be anything other than scrupulously attentive to his musical partners.
GOUNOD: Faust, Act I: Ô merveille!|
GOUNOD: Faust, Act III: Seigneur Dieu, que vois-je? (Garden Scene, part 1)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act III: Eh! quoi! toujours seule? (Garden Scene, part 2)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act III: Il se fait tard (Garden Scene, part 3)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act III: Eternelle? Ô nuit d'amour (Garden Scene, part 4)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act IV: Que voluez-vous, messieurs?
GOUNOD: Faust, Act V: Mon cœur est pénétré d'épouvante (Prison Scene, part 1)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act V: Attends! Voici la rue (Prison Scene, part 2)
GOUNOD: Faust, Act V: Alerte! Ou vous êtes perdus! (Prison Scene, part 3)
FRANCHETTI: Germania, Act I: Studenti! Udite!
FRANCHETTI: Germania: No, non chiuder gli occhi vaghi
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly, Act I: Amore o grillo
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly, Act III: Non ve l'avevo detto?
PONCHIELLI: La Gioconda, Act II: Cielo e mar!
LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci, Act II: No! Pagliaccio non son
VERDI: Otello, Act II: Ora e per sempre addio
GEEHL: For You Alone
MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana, Siciliana: O Lola
VERDI: Il trovatore, Act II: Mal reggendo
VERDI: Il trovatore, Act IV: Se m'ami ancor; Ai nostri monti
VERDI: Aida, Act IV: Già i sacerdoti adunansi
VERDI: Aida, Act IV: Misero appien mi festi
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