If You Only Buy One Caruso . . .
Marc Dolan | Brooklyn, NY USA | 01/02/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"let this be it! Wonderful, generous selection of his singles for Victor, most of them solos, but a few duets, quartets, quintets, and a sextet. The accompanying booklet makes a great deal of including his first and last recordings, but by far the most important here is Caruso's 1907 recording of Vesti la giubba, the first classical recording to sell over a million copies in the United States. If you listen to it, you'll know why--it's every bit as melodramatic as the minstrel show singles with which it shared the top of the early twentieth-century charts."
A Sonic Portrait in Black and White
V | Michigan | 03/17/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Enrico Caruso (1873 - 1921) made his first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company on 2/1/1904, less than 90 days after his American debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Victor's publicists lost no time in advertising Caruso as the greatest tenor in the world, and when they ballyhooed his first orchestrally-accompanied records, made on 2/11/1906, they implied that Caruso was the greatest male singer in history. The most respected newspaper critics weren't so quick to jump on the "greatest of all time" bandwagon, but resistance crumbled significantly after 1908. Caruso's supremacy over contemporary tenors was unchallenged by the time he sang his last public performance on Christmas Eve, 1920, and he was lionized posthumously as the foremost tenor of the recording era.
It's a good guess that no living person can claim to have heard Caruso in the flesh. His reputation today rests primarily on the evidence of 270-odd acoustical recordings, which include many duplicated selections and about 40 of which weren't commercially released prior to the introduction of the long-playing record in 1948. Three cylinders cut for the Ango-Italian Commerce Company (AICC) but published under the French Pathe label were long thought to be Caruso's earliest recordings, but the timing of their provenance has been fiercely debated, advocated dates ranging from 1898 to 1903. Likewise, it was long held that Caruso's first disc recordings were six selections incised on March 15, 1902, for the International Zonophone Company, succeeded, in turn, by discs cut for the Gramophone and Typewriter (G & T) Company the following month. Scholarly opinion today inclines to the view that the G & T recordings were actually Caruso's first, followed by those made for Zonophone and AICC, not necessarily in that order. All of Caruso's records made prior to 1906 feature piano accompaniments.
The 2-CD RCA Red Seal set reviewed here presents 42 selections, of which two are piano-accompanied G & T's from 1902 and the rest are orchestrally-accompanied Victor discs covering a time-span from 2/1906 through 9/1920. The set provides a decent survey of the tenor's career as a recording artist and includes many of his most celebrated selections, several of which are considered phonographic classics by vocal historians. RCA's CD set, in this regard, serves Caruso's memory well. There is one respect, however, in which it doesn't.
Sound recordings, as well as written sources, document the fact that Caruso's voice underwent a remarkable development: the lyric tenor of his early years developed into a hefty lirico-spinto after 1905, further darkened and broadened into a true dramatic tenor by 1910, and, finally, by 1917, developed into one of the most baritonal robust tenors in recording history. Moreover, one of Caruso's most distinctive talents was his ability, from about 1906 onwards, to lighten and darken the timbre of his voice to fit the musical and dramatic requirements of highly-contrasted operatic roles. Anyone sampling RCA Victor's LP transcriptions of Caruso's post-1905 discs is struck by the chameleonic variability of his tonal coloration as selections pass from one operatic role to another. Compare the tenore leggiero of Caruso's "Spirito gentil" from Donizetti's LA FAVORITE, recorded 2/11/1906, with the robust tenor of his duet "Solenne in quest' ora" from Verdi's LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, recorded only a month later: when the FORZA duet was first issued, listeners had so much difficulty distinguishing in the opening passages between Caruso's voice and that of his baritone partner Antonio Scotti that the Victor Company was eventually obliged to print the text on the blank side of the shellac disc.
Caruso's recordings first underwent the space-age miracle of computer digitalization in 1976 with the production of RCA's LP album CRM1-1749, CARUSO, A LEGENDARY PERFORMER. Fans of previous LP transcriptions immediately noticed that RCA's engineers had blundered: they evidently mistook the tonal variety manifest in Caruso's different operatic selections as merely an artifact of the original acoustical recording process---and accordingly eliminated it under the rubric of "equalizing" the sound. One of the most important features of Caruso's original records was thereby obliterated. RCA hasn't yet expiated its sonic sin. The 2-CD Red Seal set under review shares the same deficiency as LP album CRM1-1749 in reproducing Caruso's voice without the idiosyncratic colorations that make him virtually unique among tenors.
21st Century customers appear to favor complete opera recordings over vocal recitals---and, at that, complete opera recordings originating after the introduction of the long-playing record in 1948. Such a narrow purview excludes material from the eras of acoustical and early electric recording, which limits the public's vocal memory to contemporaries and temporal successors of Maria Callas. It's no wonder, then, that the list of candidates elicited by the challenge to identify "the greatest tenor of all time" usually includes Jussi Bjoerling, Mario Lanza, Franco Corelli, and Luciano Pavarotti but not Jean De Reszke, Francesco Tamagno, Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, or, astoundingly, Enrico Caruso.
Caruso, for most 21st Century opera fans, is a name without an associated voice. Hopefully, the reviewed CD set, which isn't at all bad apart from the one limitation mentioned above, will go some way toward rectifying the situation."
A nice overview of Caruso's legacy
Steven A. Peterson | Hershey, PA (Born in Kewanee, IL) | 01/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Enrico Caruso was one of the first "media stars," with his recordings selling widely in the early twentieth century; he helped popularize the recording industry. He was one of the leading tenors of his day, and is regarded as one of the tops of the twentieth century (although he began serious singing in the late 19th century).
This CD features some of his "greatest hits," among which are his well reputed version of "Vesti la giubba" (from I Pagliacci, one of his signature operas); arias from Verdi's Rigoletto, including the bold "Questa o quella" and "La donna e mobile"; some of his most popular recordings from Puccini, including "E lucevan le stelle," "Recondita armonia," and "Che gelida manina." Nice additions to the CD are wonderful ensemble pieces, such as the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (including the voice of Luisa Tetrazzini) and the quartet from Rigoletto (with Amelita Galli-Curci).
Interesting tidbits include his first recording, from 1902, and his last, from 1920.
All in all, this is a very nice representation of his work. I'm not sure that it compares with the old LP (with him in clown outfit) that includes Rossini's nearly unsingable "La danza," among other items. But it is a terrific introduction to the art of Caruso. Anyone who has not listened to this tenor's works before would be well advised to use this as their entree to his oeuvre."