About this Recording
8.110724 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 7 (1912-1913)

Enrico Caruso

Complete Recordings, Volume 7


Caruso's workload was always extraordinary, and the years 1909 -11 had brought a kind of retribution. Cancelled performances and a second operation for nodules on the vocal cords even led to persistent rumours that his career might be over. The spring and summer of 1911 were given over entirely to recuperating, with none of the usual European tours and performances. Returning to America for the beginning of the season in November, he felt it necessary to send a wire reassuring his employers that he was 'arcimentevolissimevolmentebene' (supersplendaciouslywell). Such was indeed the case. The 1911 -12 season saw him appear in no fewer than nine different roles, including Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West, which had received its premiere at the Met the previous year.


The tenor aria from that opera, 'Ch'ella mi creda', was an obvious candidate for recording, but the publisher Ricordi had refused permission, fearing, for reasons that must remain impenetrable to us, that it would affect sales of the vocal score. Apart from this obvious gap, very few solo numbers from Caruso's opera repertoire still remained unrecorded. The only new items on this CD are 'Ella mi fit rapita' from Rigoletto (track 16) and 'Donna non vidi mai', Des Grieux's expression of love from Puccini's Manon Lescaut (track 18). Ensembles, however, were a different matter. The fact that a piece had been recorded before was no bar to doing it again with different singers if the public had an interest in hearing them. And when it came to Tetrazzini, the interest of the public was tremendous.


Having failed - incomprehensibly - to persuade the management of the Met to take her on, Tetrazzini had gone on to sing for the Manhattan Opera company, building up an enormous following. Even after the Manhattan company had folded in 1909, she was never a regular at the Met, and the one occasion she appeared on stage with Caruso in 1912 (on 6th February, in Rigoletto) proved to be the last time they ever sang in opera together. The great quartet 'Bella figlia dell' amore' (track 5) was recorded just seven days later. Together with the other ensemble showpiece on this CD, the sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (track 3), it offers a wonderful opportunity to hear the two voices in combination. Victor was clearly fully alive to the potential appeal of bringing two great stars together in the studio. They already had these same two ensembles in their catalogue, recorded four years earlier when Marcella Sembrich was the soprano (Complete Caruso Vol. 3). Nor was the existence of the Tetrazzini versions regarded as a bar to doing them yet again five years later, when another vocal phenomenon had arrived on the American scene in the form of Amelita Galli-Curci.


Tetrazzini had first heard Caruso nearly twenty years before the recordings on this disc. After Caruso's death she recalled that his voice in those very early days had been quite unreliable, even on high Os and As. When the two came together again in 1898, playing La Boheme in St Petersburg, she had been surprised by the enormous improvement:


"I can hear that velvet voice now, and the impertinenza with which he lavishly poured forth those rich, round notes. It was the open voce napolitana; yet it had the soft caress of the voce de/la campana toscana. There was never a doubt in my mind. I placed him then and there as an extraordinary and unique tenor."


Fourteen years on from St Petersburg, it is a different story again. After countless performances of Aida and Pagliacci, the voice does not caress in the way that it did. Lyricism has to some extent been sacrificed for power and weight of tone, but the sensitivity and musicality are on a higher level altogether. In all his ensembles Caruso shows a wonderful ability to blend with his partners, most perfectly exemplified on this CD by the duet from Don Carlo with his old friend Antonio Scotti (track 13). Like the famous 'Solenne in quest'ora' recorded in 1906 (Complete Caruso Vol. 3, 8.110708), this too is a miracle of unanimity and understanding, more remarkable for the fact that it was the first and only take.


Two further examples of marvellous ensemble singing in Verdi are provided by excerpts from I Lombardi (track 1) and II Trovatore (track 14)" in the former Caruso accompanies Frances Alda (Mrs Giulio Gatti-Casazza), a relative newcomer to the Met who became a regular Mimi to his Rodolfo. The duet from Act I of La Boheme heard here (track 12), however, was made with a friend and partner of many years' standing, Geraldine Farrar, admired in New York as much for her beauty as her singing. This was not intended to compete with the near-perfect version that Caruso had recorded with Melba in 1907 (Complete Caruso Vol. 3). In fact, it was recorded for a private collectors' club and never released to the public at all.


Half the items on this CD are songs, many of them by composers of no significance (including Caruso himself, track 7). It is perhaps worth making clear that 'Crucifix' (track 2) was written not by Faure (as soon becomes obvious when we listen to it), but a French baritone called Jean-Baptiste Faure. Rossini's 'La danza' (track 6) has long been a popular number, as too was Sullivan's 'The Lost Chord' (track 8) in Caruso's time. Even today it remains probably the only one of Sullivan's many songs that is still known. There may have been a special reason why Victor chose to record it at that particular moment. Two weeks earlier, on the night of 14/15th April, 1,513 lives had been lost when the Titanic sank off Newfoundland, and a benefit night was staged at the Met on the evening of 29th April to raise money for the victims' families. On that occasion Caruso sang 'The Lost Chord', the very song which he had just recorded that afternoon. Without being over-cynical, one may fairly wonder whether someone had decided that if it was going to be associated in this way with the world's greatest maritime disaster it might not be such a bad idea to get it into the record shops as fast as possible.


Hugh Griffith


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