About this Recording
8.110708 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 3 (1906-1908)

Enrico Caruso

Complete Recordings, Volume 3


The recordings on this CD date from the years 1906 to 1908, and they show the Victor Talking Machine Company beginning to make a broader range of Caruso's repertoire available to the public. It is still the works of Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer and Bizet that predominate, together with a scattering of popular songs. But where the first sessions were devoted to the choicest tenor arias (Celeste Aida, Questa o quella, E lucevan le stelle, the Flower Song and so on), now there are duets, trios, quartets, even a sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor.


Caruso's association with the Met gave ample opportunity to prepare for the recording of these ensembles. Unlike the opera star of today, who is constantly on the move from one great city to another, Caruso was resident in New York for half the year. In the natural course of events he was intimately acquainted with the differing styles and qualities of the other Met regulars. His close friend and fellow Neapolitan Antonio Scotti, who is heard on several tracks on this CD, was a frequent partner on stage. Caruso was also used to playing opposite the American soprano Geraldine Farrar, the Puccini heroine on tracks 17 and 18. Of even greater importance was the connection with Nellie Melba, who can be heard as Mimi in O soave fanciulla, track 11. Caruso's highly successful Covent Garden debut in 1902 had been as the Duke in Rigoletto, when Melba had played Gilda. In 1904-05, his second New York season, the pair began a famous partnership as Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme, though the passion generated between them on stage does not seem to have carried over into real life. In the words of Enrico Caruso, Jr.,


Father was always considerate of his fellow artists, especially the ladies. When his partner's voice did not carry as well as his, he would hold back in the duets so as not to overpower or overshadow her - unless it was Melba or Tetrazzini. He was less careful of Melba, because he resented her dislike of him as an Italian, and of Tetrazzini, because she came close to overshadowing him! But the latter was a friendly rivalry.


Whatever the differences between them, this duet with Melba is a wonderful demonstration of Caruso's art. The natural simplicity and restraint of his phrasing, the combination of sweetness and power in the voice, the perfect unanimity of expression with his partner in the soft close would be hard to surpass.


Record buyers were always happy to hear the same music performed by different singers, and changes of personnel in the opera house were swiftly incorporated into the Victor catalogue. After Melba's association with the Met ended in 1910, Caruso was to record the Boheme duet again, this time with Geraldine Farrar as Mimi. Bella figlia dell'amore, the great quartet from Rigoletto, was recorded no fewer than four times with Caruso in the role of the Duke. Two of the versions are heard on this CD; later recordings included the voices of Tetrazzini (1912) and Galli-Curci (1917). The baritone on both the early versions is Scotti, whose duet with Caruso Solenne in quest'ora (track 2) requires its own commentary. This piece has presented a puzzle to listeners over the years, many of whom have been left wondering, in the first (minor key) section, just who sings what. For those without a perfect knowledge of the opera and its libretto, a little help may be welcome. Caruso's is the voice heard most of the time. But in the second of the answering phrases near the beginning (Lo giuro, lo giuro) Scotti takes over, going up to a very tenor-like F, a tone higher than the earlier matching phrase of Caruso. The baritone briefly enters again with Una chiave, and the section ends with another brief interjection at Lo giuro, sara; here the singer is recognisably Scotti ?except that the voice which continues sounds identical, when in fact it is Caruso.


The perfect match between these two supposedly contrasting voice types reminds us that there was always a strong baritonal element in Caruso's voice. Like other great tenors of his era such as Tamagno and Zenatello, he gives the impression of a baritone who has learned to sing high. It is this perfect blend of chest and head register that explains the traditional Italian tenor's extraordinary richness of sound, trumpet-like at full power - worlds apart from his northern European counterpart, whose ease and freedom at the top of the voice usually comes at the expense of the rich, more masculine qualities lower down. On one extraordinary occasion in Philadelphia, Caruso even sang the famous bass aria Vecchia zimarra in a performance of Lo Boheme. The Colline in that production, De Segurola, had a throat infection, and by Act 4 of the opera his voice had gone completely. Caruso, who had joked earlier in the day that he would sing the aria for De Segurola on stage, did just that. 'But not as a tenor" recalled De Segurola in wonder many years later. 'As a basso cantante, with the most beautiful voice that sounded like a cello.'


Caruso's sound was a product of the bel canto tradition of singing, which emphasises above all else the sustaining of a legato line: the liquid quality and the fullness of tone are both the natural result of a free and unimpeded throat. The technique remains the same whatever the style of the music. For Caruso, the Neapolitan songs that he sang as a young man at weddings and festivals were a perfect training for becoming an opera singer, and (as we hear on tracks 3, 4 and 14) he uses exactly the same voice for the songs of Barthelemy and Tosti as he does for Puccini and Giordano. It was for a later generation, singing into the newly invented microphone, to give popular song a territory of its own: a more private and introspective world with its own distinctive forms of expression.


Hugh Griffith


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