|About this Recording
8.110751 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 10 (1916-1917)
Complete Recordings, Volume 10
Before the disruption of World War I, the regular pattern of Caruso’s existence had been to spend the autumn and winter in New York singing in ten or a dozen operas at the Met, and then to cross the Atlantic to work in Europe through the spring and summer. Holidays, if they came at all, were generally brief affairs. Even after war had closed the European opera houses, there were other calls on Caruso’s services. The summers of both 1915 and 1917 saw him in South America, where audiences were prepared to pay more than $30 a ticket to hear him sing, in today’s money, probably at least $1000. The tenor’s fees for each performance were correspondingly enormous.
In 1916, however, Caruso chose to forgo the financial rewards and take a prolonged break from work. He was almost certainly exhausted, perhaps also concerned by worries about his health, in particular the recurrent headaches which increasingly plagued his life. It proved a rare opportunity to unwind and enjoy the pleasures of his estate at Bellosguardo, near Florence, while catching up on the lives of his two sons. Nearly seventy years later, the younger one, Enrico Jr, created an invaluable memoir of his father which includes this picture of Caruso away from the crowds:
At the beginning of this summer, Papa tried to forget all about singing. He loved to work with his hands and often did, side by side with the workmen. He also read magazines, sketched, and painted. He would draw anything: the family, the sheep, workmen, guests, clouds floating in the azure heavens. It was wonderful how he could transform the most mundane subjects into fantastic images.
Enrico Jr also makes it clear that in Caruso’s case, resting had nothing to do with inactivity:
Except during his daily baths, Father never relaxed. It was not in his nature to be idle. He always had to be occupied with something, whether it was music, friends, women, drawing, stamps, newspaper clippings, building a presepio, gardening, socialising, eating, or just reading the newspapers. He was neither restless nor overcharged with nervous energy, but simply a dynamic person, full of vitality and creative force which sought some outlet every minute of the day.
At this stage of his career, Caruso was prey to worries about his professional future. However magnificent his performance, however rapturous the audience’s reception, he suspected the critics were always waiting to seize on the first signs of any decline in his powers. In 1917, after a performance of Pagliacci in Rio de Janeiro was greeted by bad notices, Caruso complained irritably in a letter to Ada Giachetti (mother of his son Enrico) of those critics who said he was not the singer he had been fourteen years earlier: ‘What jackasses. I know that too, but the difference is that I sing better today than I did then.’
To judge from the recordings on this CD, he had every right to feel aggrieved. The voice is a much more complete instrument than that of the young Caruso, darker, certainly, but with a phenomenal richness of tone that had increased with the passing years. Direct comparison is simple. In his last European recording session, on 4th April 1904, Caruso had recorded ‘Mi par d’udir ancora’, an Italian version of the aria from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (Naxos Complete Caruso Vol. 2). The same number appears here as ‘Je crois entendre encore’ (track 9), now with original words but transposed down a semitone. Caruso had worked on the opera during his holiday, preparing for a revival at the Met in November 1916. The New York public reacted to the choice of unfamiliar repertoire by staying away in large numbers, and the opera had to be withdrawn after only three performances. Samson et Dalila, however, proved a more successful feature of that season. Caruso had first sung the part of Samson on stage the previous year, to tremendous acclaim, and he now felt ready to record one of the highlights (track 8).
It is hard to imagine that Caruso ever considered appearing in Eugene Onegin, and surely no management would ever have paid a huge fee only to have their biggest star shot dead halfway through an opera. A more sensible decision, in commercial terms, was simply to put Lensky’s showpiece aria on record (track 5). Even more attractive, from the sales angle, was the quartet from Rigoletto, ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’ (tracks 11 and 12), with its inevitable pairing, the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (tracks 13 and 14). Never mind that this was now the fourth version of this number that Victor had issued with Caruso in the rôle of the Duke (or that this was his third Lucia sextet). Just as with Tetrazzini in 1912, there was a host of fans avid for the chance to hear the great man partnering the newest vocal sensation, Amelita Galli-Curci. Only two months before this recording, Galli-Curci had scored a spectacular triumph (playing Gilda) in her Chicago début. Present on that occasion was Geraldine Farrar, one of the principal sopranos at the Met and Caruso’s regular partner in La Bohème and Carmen, who pronounced this remarkable verdict on her younger rival: ‘She is as near perfect as it is humanly possible to be’. As long as copies still exist of Galli-Curci’s 1917 recording of ‘Una voce poco fa’, it will always be hard to argue with that judgement, at least where coloratura is concerned. Surely no one else has ever sung that piece so faultlessly in tune, or executed all Rossini’s impossible roulades and arpeggios with such ridiculous ease.
Nine days before Victor’s next Caruso session took place (tracks 15–21), the United States went to war with Germany; one incidental consequence was to make sea travel to and from Europe impossible for the next two summers. Perhaps one tiny piece of consolation was provided by a new version of ‘M’apparì’. This aria from Flotow’s Martha (translated into Italian) had been on sale since 1906, and it was not Victor’s policy to re-record the tenor’s solos when a satisfactory version already existed. In more than one place, however, the tuning of the 1906 recording is less than impeccable, and the final high (and prolonged) B flat is painfully sharp. In this new, slightly slower, version (track 15) Caruso is more relaxed and his tuning rock solid, with a final B flat like the blast of a trumpet. The difference, however, for whatever reason, could only be heard in America; European and Canadian customers still had to put up with the first version.
In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.
Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.
In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.
Among Caruso’s 247 known recordings, there exist only a handful that remained unpublished by the close of the 78rpm era. This volume contains four such recordings, tracks 12, 13, 18, and 20. The most curious of these is a ten-inch white label disc containing the opening tenor solo from the Rigoletto quartet ending abruptly at the entrance of the mezzo soprano. The record bears no matrix number or date, but since the sound is so similar to the 1917 version, one assumes that it was made during the same session. Two original pressings of this mysterious recording have now come to light, and yet, there is no obvious explanation for their existence. The fact that both of these discs are autographed by Caruso may indicate that he particularly liked his singing on this take and requested Victor to make a few pressings for his personal use. But what exactly is this record? Is it a horn distance test for Caruso or is it an acoustical re-recording taken from a complete take of the quartet? After extensive listening and thought, I have not been able to reach any substantive conclusion, but who knows, a clue may yet turn up.
All items contained in this volume have been transferred from master pressings except for tracks 18 and 20, which were taken from magnetic tape dubbings made many years ago. So far as it is known, only one original pressing of each of these recordings exists, now held by the Library of Congress.
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