Enrico Caruso

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Enriko Karūzo, Энрико Карузо, Enriko Karuzo
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The financial situation of the Caruso family, while never flush, was neither as dire as has been pictured. A good mechanic and a two-fisted drinker, Marcellino Caruso held a responsible job with the Meuricofire factory which made cottonseed oil and purified cream of tartar. In time he moved up to superintendent of the establishment. After Enrico there was another little boy "without the strength to live." Giovanni, the brother who survived him, was born in 1876 and, six years later, the only girl, Assunta.

There is no photograph of the child Caruso. To compensate for this you find yourself mentally pinning his face on every urchin you see. Usually it fits. Huneker says he was always a boy. In one of his rare autobiographical moments, Caruso tells of lying in bed, the covers pulled over his head, while his mother and father had a violent argument as to his future. Marcellino was for putting him to work then and there. Anna demanded he go on with school. Anna won but it was she who had to find the tuition money, five lire (one dollar) a month. Father Bronzetti, who ran a school at 33 via Postica Maddalena, had drilled his choir until it was one of the best in all the city, in demand on every religious holiday and at many private social functions in between. While we are wishing, those of us who have never heard Caruso may just as well yearn to know what he was like as the finest boy contralto in Naples.

He came to be known as "Carusiello" and "the little divo" and he began to misbehave accordingly. Once when he had sung the Mercadante Mass particularly well at Amalfi he refused to ride home inside the carriage with his teacher and the other boys. His place, he insisted, was on the box up with the coachman; and there he perched until he dropped off to sleep, came perilously near falling under the wheels, and was transferred bodily to safety below. Such outbursts didn't go down at all well with Marcellino. In his second year at the Bronzetti Institute Carusiello took first prize. As he was returning to his place, the gold medal gleaming on his little chest, the deposed champion, identified by Caruso only as Pietro, sprang from his desk and attacked him. In the ensuing fight Caruso drew his assailant's blood. Instantly the spectators' sympathy swung to Pietro. Even Father Bronzetti took it upon himself to rebuke Enrico, whereupon the little divo tore his prize from his lapel and threw it at the principal's feet. It was now Marcellino's turn to get into the act. A chunky, powerful man, he dealt a blow which his son never forgot. What followed was infinitely more painful. "Kneel down," he roared, "and kiss Father Bronzetti's feet." "I vowed I would never sing for the Institute again," Caruso wrote years later, the sting of that humiliation still on him, "and this vow was kept sacred and inviolate."

After a year, he left school and took a job in a mechanical laboratory. Instinctively neat and orderly, he excelled at mechanical drawing and was quite aware of the value of his services. He was about twelve when he went in to his boss and asked for a raise. It was refused. Forthwith he quit and went to work for a manufacturer of drinking fountains. On the feast of Corpus Christi, 1888, Anna Caruso lay seriously ill. Enrico did not want to sing but his mother insisted. With a heavy heart he trudged to the Church of San Severino. It was one of only two performances in his life he was unable to finish. In the middle of the service the weeping neighbors came to tell him his mother was gone. "Out of regard for her," he said, "I had resigned myself to pursuing my work as a mechanic's apprentice. After her death, though my heart was filled with sadness over my irreparable loss, I could see no reason for continuing this sacrifice. I left the office never to return and decided to dedi- cate all to music." Marcellino was furious at this turn of events.

Being a mechanic had been good enough for him. Why wasn't it for his son? He ordered Enrico out of the house. "Was he simply threatening me?" Many years later Caruso still did not have the answer; but he did know he could no longer remain under his father's roof. To his credit he never held this against the old man. Indeed he was extremely close to the stepmother Marcellino provided, less than six months after poor Anna had been laid to rest.

For ten years the Carusos had been living at 54 via San Cosmo e Damiano. The organist in the nearby Church of Sant' Anna alle Paludi took in the sixteen-year-old boy and gave him (these are Caruso's words) "the joy of a first engagement." What wouldn't his admirers give to hear, just once, the litany he told of singing a hundred times for two lire--forty cents--at the long Tuesday services. Every visitor to Naples remembers the public swimming places which line the Bay. At one of these, the Risorgimento Baths, Enrico did his first secular singing. In the summer of 1891, while playing the resort circuit, he met Eduardo Missiano, one of a sizable list of people who would be anonymous today had they not helped Caruso mount the ladder of fame.

To Missiano must go the credit of being Caruso's real discoverer. Never forgetting an act of kindness, Caruso, when he came into his own, saw to it that his baritone friend was engaged for small roles at the Metropolitan. Missiano's teacher, Vergine, was unimpressed by Caruso's voice; or at least he said he was. "It sounds," he remarked, "like the wind whistling through the windows." Another time he com- mented, "It is like gold at the bottom of the Tiber, hardly worth digging for." Nevertheless, he accepted him as a pupil and drew up a contract which Caruso eight years later had hell's own time getting out of: twenty-five per cent of all earnings for the first five years--and here is the joker- of actual singing.

At twenty, like every young Italian of the time, Caruso was greeted for military service. There was in the land neither war nor rumors of war, but Caruso was thrown into something akin to shock. His friends assured him he would be classified the nineteenth-century Italian equivalent of 4-F, but he passed the physical in a walk. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday, pale and trembling, he reported to the Thirteenth Artillery in Rieti. As a soldier Caruso was a hopeless misfit, and his commanding officer, a certain Major Nagliotti, was the first to know it. More important, he was as quick to recognize Caruso the singer. Here is the story in the tenor's own words: "One day, it was Easter, the battalion all dined together at a dinner given by the officers to the soldiers. Major Nagliotti presided at the head of the table. After the dessert, the soldiers, in unison, demanded that I sing the Brindisi from Cavalleria Rusticana. I sang it, was applauded and requested to give an encore. But Major Nagliotti rose and reproved everyone for insisting that I sing it again and above all rebuked me for not appreciating my gift. He said he felt obliged to assume the care of it and this he would do by jailing everyone who asked me to sing. He added that he would treat me in like manner should I accede to their demands. The rebuke restrained the enthusiasm instantly. A few days later, the respected major called me aside and besides favoring me with exemption from some of the difficult exercises he suggested that I retire from military service and substitute my brother in my place." As to just how this extraordinary transfer was accomplished Caruso is silent, but poor Giovanni, perhaps as reluctantly, certainly no more inappropriately, suddenly found himself under arms. Like any of his able-bodied young countrymen, Enrico had a military life expectancy of three years. He was out in two months, but not before Nagliotti had done him another service. The major had brought him to a rich nobleman in the town who loved music and was a good pianist. The baron was a kind man and enjoyed playing for the young recruit, painstakingly correcting his mistakes. On the piano was a score of Cavalleria Rusticana which had burst on the world in nearby Rome four years before. They went to work on it, In five days Caruso had learned the entire role of Turiddu.

"A LONG CRESCENDO" is the way a New York Times headline described Caruso's career, a summation so true and appropriate it points up the three harsh discords which crashed amid the chorus of praise. After alternately cheering and hissing, Barcelona let him finish his 1904 debut there in stony silence. Budapest whistled him in 1907. He never returned to either place. But the cruelest blow he suffered was the first, in 1901, when the audience in all the world he wanted most to please denied him, the great San Carlo Theater in Naples. Many a time as a boy he must have passed the beautiful old house and dreamed of singing there. The very fact that he had a success at La Scala under his belt worked against him in the city of his birth. He had also declined to pay his respects to the sicofanti, an incredible bunch of phonies led by a self-appointed tribunal of effete noblemen and journalists. Once he had delivered, however, the public, including his initial detractors, tried to make up to him. They did not know their man. He played out the remaining nine performances of his contract magnificently but with cold disdain. He never appeared before a Neapolitan audience again. His entry in the official history of the Teatro di San Carlo is a meager four lines:

"ENRICO CARUSO. Singing son of singing Naples. Nearly all his splendid career was spent in America where he created, among other operas, The Girl of the Golden West at the Metropolitan in New York. He sang at San Carlo in 1905 in L'Elisir d'Amore and Manon. After that he did not wish to sing in Naples..." The three dots as well as the incorrect date are the San Carlo historian's. What an epitaph for Naples' most famous son. With the less pretentious public of his home town Caruso had been a different story. His first appearance on any stage was at the Tea tro Nuovo seven years before and even in that modest framework he scored a success. Not long out of the army, he was offered the leading role in a little piece called L'Amico Francesco by Mario Morelli, a wealthy and untalented amateur. Francesco had only two performances, but at one of the intermissions the impresario of the Cimarosa Theater in Caserta wandered back with a contract for the following April. His debut was in Cavalleria Rusticana just a year after he learned it from the kindly baron in Rieti.

Business at the box office was not so good in Caserta that spring. Every morning Caruso had to ask the harassed impresario for his ten-lire cachet from the night before. Ultimately, the season was cut short and Enrico landed back in Naples with twelve cents in his pocket. "I was often hungry," Caruso once said of his youth, "but never unhappy." Cairo beckoned next; not the famous opera house for the opening of which Verdi had written Aida, but a kind of resort spot called the Ezbekieh Gardens.

After the Egyptian engagement he was tapped by the Bellini and then the Mercadante Theater in Naples. At Salerno the conductor was Vincenzo Lombardi, Caruso's only other teacher. In Vergine's class Enrico had been known as "a glass voice" because he broke so easily. Every time he attacked the B-flat in the "Flower Song" from Carmen it split wide open. Lombardi came to the rescue. A man may not add a cubit to his stature, but Caruso by sheer determination built a top to his voice. He was only twenty-five when he was catapulted into world fame by creating the tenor lead in the world premiere of Fedora, but this was the Teatro Lirico, Milan's second theater, and not La Scala. It did not matter. The news of his success went round the world. Offers poured in, from Russia and South America, from La Scala itself. Late in 1899 Caruso had agreed with Maurice Grau to come to the Metropolitan at $200 a week for twenty weeks. There was a fifteen-day grace period. It stretched on into two months during which Mr. Grau disappeared. The impresario, it turned out, was at Karlsbad nursing the gout. He could not be reached. Caruso signed to return to St. Petersburg. "I've waited long enough," he sput- tered to Grau's Italian agent. "I must have a new overcoat for the winter and some coal for my fireplace."

The next contract was for fifty performances a season at $1,000 each--five years with annual increases. Before this contract could take effect illness forced Grau's retirement. To his successor, Heinrich Conried, fell the honor of presenting Caruso for the first time in the United States. Triumphal European engagements continued--London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna--until the outbreak of the war, but after his New York debut, November 23, 1903, the Metropolitan was Caruso's artistic home. In eighteen seasons there he sang 607 times in thirty-seven different operas. Oddly enough, he did not create an immediate furor with either the press or the public. The critics complained of "his tiresome Italian affectations" and pined for Jean de Reszke. A month after he arrived, long enough for him to have caught on, there was a Traviata with Madame Sembrich, Caruso, and Scotti. The Sun next day noted the performance had been heard by "a small and apathetic audience" but did go on to say that Caruso "sang his music beautifully and succeeded in evoking warm applause which was hard to get last night."

About this time Caruso was becoming involved in something which at the start hardly anybody took seriously but which was to bring him his greatest rewards in fame as well as money. He had just participated in another world premiere, Germania, when F. W. Gaisberg of the Gramophone and Typewriter Company arrived in Milan and set up shop in the Grand Hotel, directly above the suite where Verdi had died the year before. The proposition relayed to London was for ten arias, to be done in a single afternoon, at a fee of one hundred pounds for the lot--about fifty dollars a record. London cabled back, "Fee exorbitant. Forbid you to record." Mainly because he was too embarrassed to go back to Caruso with such an answer, Gaisberg took matters in his own hands and ordered the recording session to proceed. Caruso sauntered in, tossed off his ten numbers in two hours--without blemish, Gaisberg says--and was on his way. The precious waxes were rushed to Hanover; the finished products reached London in time for release to coincide with Caruso's Covent Garden debut. They were a sensation. The Victor Talking Machine Company took over the G. and T. masters and also Caruso. His first records in this country were made less than three months after his Metropolitan debut, his last within a year of his death. During his lifetime the Victor Company paid him $1,825,000, about $130,000 more than his earnings at the Metropolitan. Since his death his estate has reaped another near $2,000,000 in royalties from his records. There are two stories as to how his final fee per performance at the Metropolitan was arrived at.

His last contract is said to have been handed him with a blank space for the figure, but it had been whispered to Caruso that the board was prepared to go as high as $4,000. "I don't think there is a singer in this world who in one performance can give more than twenty-five hundred dollars' worth of singing," Caruso is said to have replied. "If I ask for one cent more than twenty-five hundred dollars the public, one way or another, will find out and want from me that one cent more of singing which I have not got. Therefore, leave matters as they are, with only one difference; instead of giving me one first-class cabin from Italy to America and back, put down what they call today cabin de luxe." The other came to light in the obituaries of Gatti-Casazza, who ruled the Metropolitan with an iron hand for twenty-seven years. Caruso came to the general manager's office with the news that he had been offered five thousand dollars a night by Hammerstein, who was giving the Met a run for its money and finally had to be paid to leave town. "If you wish five thousand dollars we shall have to give it to you," Mr. Gatti is reported to have answered more in sorrow than in anger. "We will never let our Caruso go. Of course, we shall have to put second-rate singers in your cast. We shall hire a poor conductor and underpay him. We shall have to save on others to pay you. But we will pay you." Caruso's face reddened. "I insist," he shouted, "that you pay me only twenty-five hundred!" Such were the rewards. What about the penalties? Smothered by well-meant admiration on one side, he was beset all the days of his greatness by those who envied that greatness or who sought to take advantage of him. Reports that he had lost his voice circulated on regular schedule, but he probably suffered more from the admiration he excited than from the envy.

He could never appear in public without involuntarily inciting a riot. Souvenir hunters, hero-worshipers, cranks, and inter- viewers haunted him. I am quoting a newspaper on this last. But the battle which he had to fight alone was the hardest of all. "I never step on the stage, he once said, "without asking myself whether I will succeed in finishing the opera." In this very element of doubt--this compulsion to be everything or nothing, his merciless demands on himself, his relentless self-appraisal--lay so much of his greatness. "Work, work, and again work," was his answer when asked his rule of success.

Another time he said, "This is how I have succeeded. I never refused an engagement and I have never been without work with the exception of two months in Naples after my second engagement. . . . "I never refused to work. If one would come to me and say, 'Will you go to such and such a place for the summer and sing?' I would ask 'How much will you pay me?' The answer is 'Two thousand dollars.' But I say, 'The price for that was three thousand.' 'Never mind,' they say, 'two thousand dollars is all that can be paid this summer,' and I refuse. 'Very well,' they say, 'we get so-and-so.' Then I make quick thoughts in my head"--describing swift geometric patterns on his brow--"and I say, 'I will go.' Otherwise I lose the summer and the experience. And the experience is everything." When I am asked, as I often am, what has Caruso to say for today, I cite the above. In my time I have known at least six young tenors endowed with as much voice as Caruso had--when he started. A reviewer of Mrs. Caruso's beautiful book, written twenty-four years after his death, knowingly summed it up: "The source of his existence lay only in himself. This was true in every aspect of his life. . . . All in all he was himself the great work of art, the masterpiece."

On September 16, 1920, Caruso concluded three days of Victor recording sessions at Trinity Church in Camden, New Jersey. He recorded several discs including the Domine Deus and Crucifixus from the Petite messe solennelle by Rossini. These recordings were to be his last.

Dorothy Caruso noted that her husband's health began a distinct downward spiral in late 1920 after returning from a lengthy North American concert tour. In his biography, Enrico Caruso, Jr. points to an on-stage injury suffered by Caruso as the possible trigger of his fatal illness. A falling pillar in Samson and Delilah on December 3 had hit him on the back, over the left kidney (and not on the chest as popularly reported). A few days before a performance of Pagliacci at the Met (Pierre Key says it was December 4, the day after the Samson and Delilah injury) he suffered a chill and developed a cough and a "dull pain in his side". It appeared to be a severe episode of bronchitis. Caruso's physician, Philip Horowitz, who usually treated him for migraine headaches with a kind of primitive TENS unit, diagnosed "intercostal neuralgia" and pronounced him fit to appear on stage, although the pain continued to hinder his voice production and movements.

During a performance of L'elisir d'amore by Donizetti at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 11, 1920, he suffered a throat haemorrhage and the performance was canceled at the end of Act 1. Following this incident, a clearly unwell Caruso gave only three more performances at the Met, the final one being as Eléazar in Halévy's La Juive, on December 24, 1920. (Also appearing that night was the Australian coloratura soprano, Evelyn Scotney, who had sung with Caruso a number of times. By Christmas Day, the pain in his side was so excruciating that he was screaming. Dorothy summoned the hotel physician, who gave Caruso some morphine and codeine and called in another doctor, Evan M. Evans. Evans brought in three other doctors and Caruso finally received a correct diagnosis: purulent pleurisy and empyema.

Caruso's health deteriorated further during the new year. He experienced episodes of intense pain because of the infection and underwent seven surgical procedures to drain fluid from his chest and lungs. He returned to Naples to recuperate from the most serious of the operations, during which part of a rib had been removed. According to Dorothy Caruso, he seemed to be recovering, but allowed himself to be examined by an unhygienic local doctor and his condition worsened dramatically after that.The Bastianelli brothers, eminent medical practitioners with a clinic in Rome, recommended that his left kidney be removed. He was on his way to Rome to see them but, while staying overnight in the Vesuvio Hotel in Naples, he took an alarming turn for the worse and was given morphine to help him sleep.

Caruso died at the hotel shortly after 9:00 am local time, on August 2, 1921. He was 48. The Bastianellis attributed the likely cause of death to peritonitis arising from a burst subrenal abscess. The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, opened the Royal Basilica of the Church of San Francesco di Paola for Caruso's funeral, which was attended by thousands of people. His embalmed body was preserved in a glass sarcophagus at Del Pianto Cemetery in Naples for mourners to view. In 1929, Dorothy Caruso had his remains sealed permanently in an ornate stone tomb.

By www.henryrosner.org, wikipedia

Source: wikipedia.org

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