About this Recording
8.110752 - CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 11 (1918-1919)

Enrico Caruso

Enrico Caruso

Complete Recordings, Volume 11


Before Europe disintegrated into war, 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 cross the Atlantic to work in Europe through the spring and summer. Since 1915, however, there had been no more appearances in England, France or Germany, and when Italy entered the conflict, it became increasingly difficult for Caruso to make any contact with his two sons, who were educated in England but generally spent summer holidays on the Caruso estate at Bellosguardo, near Florence. Not that it ever became hard to find lucrative work: the summers of 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.


Then, after three years observing from the sidelines, the United States entered the war – fortunately for Caruso’s peace of mind, on the same side as Italy. During 1918 he took part in a number of benefit concerts to aid the war effort, often singing patriotic and martial songs such as the Marseillaise and the Star-Spangled Banner. For one such event, at Carnegie Hall on 30th September, he joined forces with Amelita Galli-Curci, John McCormack and the seventeen-year-old Jascha Heifetz, thereby helping to raise $4 million. These special circumstances account for the militarist strain notable in some of the recorded items from this era.


On a personal level too this was hardly a normal year for Caruso. In August he surprised his friends by marrying Dorothy Park Benjamin, whose father was a specialist in patent law and a former associate editor of Scientific American. This great patriarch had refused his permission for the match, citing the great difference in age and the singer’s artistic temperament. Almost certainly the real objection was Caruso’s social position, for despite his wealth and success he was still a mere entertainer who had been born in a Naples slum. Park Benjamin made no secret of his contempt for his own daughter, and was fond of calling attention to her ignorance and unattractive appearance, but his malice seems to have been perfectly even-handed. To all five of his children he left one dollar each in his will, ‘because of their long-continued, persistent, undutiful and unfilial conduct toward myself’.


The prime casualty of this new arrangement was Rina Giachetti, Caruso’s sister-in-law and long-term lover. In legal terms she had no claim on him, but in reality she had been acting for several years not only as the guardian of his sons but also as a kind of wife during his months in Italy. Six years previously, he had even publicly announced his willingness to marry her, but he always hesitated to take the final step – possibly fearing that Rina might one day make him look ridiculous exactly as her sister Ada had done back in 1908 when she ran off with the chauffeur.


While not all of the recordings of this period can claim great musical worth, the singer himself gave no sign that his powers were in any way diminished. The Morning Telegraph of 7th January 1919, in a measured and sober review of great tenors past and present, offered the following judgement: ‘Caruso, in spite of his 45 years, is unique as a tenor. The quality of his voice is even, warm, perfect, round and rich from the lowest to the highest register. He is in a place by himself that admits of no comparison’. He was still adding new rôles to his repertoire when required, and the recording of the duet from La forza del destino (track 4) was a foretaste of his first appearance in that opera at the Met in the 1918–19 season. Here, and in a more lyrical number from Samson et Dalila (track 13), we have a fine sense of Caruso’s ability to interact with his partners; in these ensemble pieces there is a pronounced whiff of the stage, which could never be so successfully captured in the solo numbers.


The horrors of the First World War are now so fully documented that we tend to assume everyone by 1918 was sick of the fighting. Not so. Far away from the conflict, at least, there were still plenty of people whose spirits rose at the sound of marching songs or a call to arms. For English and French speakers Victor released Over There and Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse (tracks 5 and 11), while Italian patriotism found expression in two songs, Inno di Garibaldi and La Campana di San Giusto (tracks 9 and 10). In reality, Italy was gripped in the aftermath of war by poverty and social unrest. Shootings, street fights and vandalism were commonplace, and the communists were engaged in a campaign to encourage hatred of the rich, as Caruso discovered to his cost in the summer of 1919. The estate at Bellosguardo was invaded by a large contingent of the local population who removed all stocks of flour, meat, oil and wine that were judged surplus to his needs. Official papers were brandished, signed by the relevant officials. Caruso may well have been relieved to sail back to America, where he could continue to record songs redolent of an Italy ruled only by love, in which Fascism would be for ever unknown.


Four great Neapolitan numbers were recorded shortly after his arrival. Vieni sul mar and Addio a Napoli (tracks 16 and 18) were old classics, while the other two were of more recent vintage – though Paolo Tosti’s ’A Vucchella (track 15), with words by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, has since become one of the best-known and most frequently recorded of all Neapolitan songs. Tu, ca nun chiagne (track 17) was written in 1915 by Ernesto De Curtis, a contemporary of Caruso, whose fame now rests largely on the extraordinary success of another favourite encore item, Torna a Surriento.


Hugh Griffith

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