Enrico Caruso, the world famous tenor from Naples

Poster depicting Enrico Caruso as “Rigoletto”

Poster depicting Enrico Caruso as “Rigoletto”

 

Dear Readers,
August-Agosto has many dates with an Italian connection:
 
Caruso, the world famous tenor was born in Naples in 1873 and died there at age 48 on August 2, 1921. Enrico Caruso had just turned twenty-two when he made his professional debut in Domenico Morelli’s new opera, L’amico Francesco, in March 1895. During the engagements that followed, mostly in the provincial Italian theaters, he built a repertory at an astonishing rate. The records show that he learned 16 major roles in two years. 
 
In 1898, he sang in the world premier of Arlesiana, and upon the sudden death of Roberto Stagno, for whom Giordano composed Fedora, Caruso was chosen to take his place at the world premier, November 1899. As he later said, “After that, the contracts descended on me like a big rainstorm”. After tours of Russia (1899 and 1900) and Buenos Aires (1899, 1900, 1901), his ascendancy began to accelerate. The series of important debuts that followed included Teatro all Scala (1900), Teatro San Carlo of Naples (1901), Covent Garden (1902), Paris (1904), and Vienna (1906). In retrospective, Caruso’s most important debut was with the Metropolitan Opera, as the Duke in Rigoletto, November 1903.
 
 Poster depicting Enrico Caruso as “Rigoletto”

 Poster depicting Enrico Caruso as “Rigoletto”

 
The Met became his artistic home for the rest of his great career; he sang 628 performances in the house including galas.
     During his 18 seasons with the Met, he was featured in 17 opening nights; he performed 39 of the 64 roles in his repertoire, among them Canio (I Pagliacci), Radames (Aida), Manrico (Il Trovatore), Samson, Faust, Don Jose, Lionel, Cavaradossi, Rodolfo, the Duke of Mantua, and Riccardo. During his career he took part in ten world premieres, and he created Dick Johnson (La Fanciulla del West). Caruso became the most sought after and highest paid singer in the world. His fees at the Metropolitan eventually rose to $2,500 a performance, a fee limited rather than set by the tenor himself.
 
His cachet elsewhere was much higher ($10,000 a performance in Cuba (1920) and $15,000 in Mexico City (1919). His last Victor contract (scheduled to run until 1934) guaranteed him an annual minimum of $100,000 in royalties, and his two silent movies (My Cousin and A Splendid Romance, 1918) brought him $100,000 each Caruso made his first recording in 1902. The ten sides he recorded for Gramophone and Typewriter Company in Milan on April 19, 1902 were so successful that Caruso has been generally credited for turning the gramophone, until then regarded as a toy, into a musical instrument. He signed an exclusive contract with The Victor Talking Machine Company in 1904, and all of his subsequent records were made in York City or in Camden, New Jersey.
 
The majority of these acoustic recordings have never been out of the catalog, and despite the sonic deficiencies, his entire recorded legacy has been repeatedly reissued on long playing records and compact discs.
     Guglielmo Vergine was Caruso’s only singing teacher, but conductor Vincenzo Lombardi helped him conquer his difficulties with his high notes, and he received help from his common-law wife, Ada Giachetti, a singer who bore Caruso’s two sons.
     Caruso was a serious man in private, and a kind, gregarious, fun-loving person in company. His warm humanity endeared him to his public, his generosity was legendary. Always ready to extend a helping hand, he is said to have supported or helped over a hundred friends and relatives with monthly checks.
***
 
Tony Bennett (Antonio Dominick Benedetto) was born August 3, 1926 in Astoria, New York. The son of a New York tailor, he was a teenage trouper who became a World War II trooper, and was discovered by Bob Hope in 1949.
The nation’s top balladeer, he has been around more than five decades, surviving the big band era, nose jobs, wiggling hips, and shaggy locks. He weighs his longevity this way: “I believe in being flexible. But I haven’t seen the need to radically change my style. I’d change it in a minute if I walked into a club and saw an empty house. Luckily, the clubs I’ve played were full”. The whopping smashes he’s hammered out include “Because of You”, “ Boulevard of Broken Dreams (“That tune will always be my sentimental favorite for obvious reasons. It sold about half a million copies and established me in the business”), “I Won’t Cry Any More”, “Rags to Riches”, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Tony Bennett is still touring and thrilling a whole new generation of listeners with his music.
***
 
Christopher Columbus left Spain during the first week of August 1492. By sailing westward, on October 12, 1492 Columbus and his crews sailing on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria “discovered America”.
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