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ClassicsOnline Home » CARUSO, Enrico: Complete Recordings, Vol. 7 (1912-1913)
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.
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