The “voice” of Naples: Enrico Caruso

He was a lyric tenor singer, he was very successful in America. He was the first singer to use the records for the diffusion of his interpretations; the music industry was born with him.

On May 28, 1921 Enrico Caruso leaved from New York direct to Naples to board the liner “President Wilson”, accompanied by his wife Dorothy, the daughter Gloria and his brother Giovanni. Enrico felt that this was his last trip, the last chance to return to his beloved city.

During several months he suffered a lot for a lung infection formed following an accident occurred at the Metropolitan during a recitation of “Samson and Delilah”, a column had struck him on the side probably causing a fracture in the ribs. The singer had not attached importance to the matter and had continued to perform; It had formed a pulmonary edema with relative infection. He had an operation and lung edema was eliminated, but the damage was done and he did not heal despite treatment.

He arrived in Naples on June 9, took lodgings at the Hotel Vesuvio, where he stayed for a few days, meeting the stepmother Maria Castaldi, widow of the father and his son Rodolfo. He moved to Sorrento at the Hotel Victoria in search of rest. Health seemed to improve, he was walking and bathing in the sea, surrounded by friends who visited him. In late July he was examined by two specialists, who advised him to return to Naples, where he could be better cared.

On July 31, he returned to Naples and taken accommodation to the Hotel Vesuvio where on August 1 the singer was visited by the famous doctors Cardarelli, Moscati and Niola, who did not give hopes to the great tenor. On the morning of August 2, 1921 Enrico Caruso died at the age of 48. His body was embalmed and, after a funeral in the church of St. Francesco di Paola a huge crowd participated to, the body was interred in the cemetery of S. Maria del Pianto in a chapel then that his wife had built.

Lucio Dalla, during a stay in Sorrento at the Hotel Victoria, was hosted in the same apartment occupied by Caruso before the death, Lucio felt inspired and composed the song “Caruso” in honor of the master.

Enrico Caruso born in Naples on February 25, 1873, in a house in Santi Giovanni e Paolo street nr. 7 (near the Ottocalli square). Father Marcellino Caruso was worker; mother Anna Baldini worked as a cleaning woman; They were of Piedimonte d’Alife (today Piedimonte Matese) origin, had 17 children, all born dead, before having Enrico, followed by three other brothers.

Enrico attended inferior schools, he began to make the worker in the foundry where his father worked at the age of 10. He, at the insistence of his mother, began to study by attending evening school, he excelled in drawing, so much so that he began to draw fountains which then were made by the foundry where he worked; the design passion followed him all his life; he created on paper pieces excellent and polite caricatures of the people he met, making a tribute to them. In 1888 his mother died prematurely from tuberculosis.

Growing voice begins to mature; he began to study singing with the maestri De Lutio and Schirardi. Baritone Eduardo Missiano, who had heard his sing at a funeral the “Messa” of Mercadante, introduced him to the maestro Vergine who agreed to teach singing in exchange for a 25% share of its future earnings over the next five years.

At age of 21 he was called to do his military service but, thanks to a major that was passionate about music, after a 45 days he was sent home and was replaced by his brother in the service, like the laws of the time allowed.

He was now ripe for the official debut and had a part in “L’amico di Francesco” by Domenico Morelli. He continued to perform in various theaters of Caserta and Naples. In 1897 he was hired for the summer season in Livorno where he sang the role of Alfredo in “La Traviata.” He had as colleague the soprano Ada Botti Giachetti, married with a son.

Caruso was paying guest in the house of the family Giachetti in Livorno. At first between Henry and Rina Giachetti of 17 years of age, novice singer and sister of Ada, born a sympathy. Following the success in the representations of the “Traviata” and triumph that took in the evening organized in honor of Caruso, Ada fell in love with Enrico and the two became lovers. From this relationship, which lasted eleven years, two children were born: Rodolfo (born in 1898) and Enrico jr. (born in 1904).

During your stay in Livorno Enrico Caruso visited the maestro Puccini in his house in Torre del Lago, where he performed in “Rodolfo” accompanied by the maestro himself; it seems that on this occasion the maestro told Caruso: “But who sent you, God!”.

On 18 August 1897 there was the first night in Livorno of “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini with Enrico Caruso played in the role of Rodolfo and Ada Giachetti in the role of Mimi. The representation was a resounding success, which marked the international reputation of the tenor. Ada Giachetti, after this success, decided to retire from the stage to devote herself to her new love Enrico.

In the following year Caruso had many engagements, and performed in several works in Italy and abroad: Milan, St. Petersburg, Lisbon, London, Monte Carlo and Rome. In 1899 he was Parpignol in the first performance of “La Boheme” by Puccini at Convent Garden in London. He sang again in “La Boheme” conducted by Arturo Toscanini in the opening night of La Scala in Milan in 1900.

In December 1901 he returned to his Naples to sing at the Teatro San Carlo in “Elisir d’amore”, with the soprano Regina Pinkert. As this performance was not prepared adequately to the public of San Carlo, composed of old music lovers who were divided into factions between this or that singer, Caruso was applause but with some disapproval from the partisan audience.

Caruso was displeased a lot by what the music critic Saverio Procida wrote on “Il Pungolo”, art and theater newspaper. In fact the critic recognized Caruso all his skill, but reproached him that, despite this talent, he would just sing a music of “middle Character”, instead of devoting a more challenging repertoire as allowed him his vocal ability. The tenor vowed not to sing more in Naples, even if that he made good use of this criticism, doing just what Mr. Procida had suggested.

After this experience at San Carlo, the tenor went to Milan, where he produced his initial 10 records of almost 500 recordings he did throughout of his career, for the English record company “Gramophone”, which was later renamed “La Voce del Padrone”. His album “Vesti la Giubba”, aria of “Pagliacci”, sold over a million copies.

In November of 1903 he was hired by the Metropolitan Opera House theater in New York for a series of performances, thanks to the intervention of Pasquale Simonelli, prominent businessman of the city. He was Radames in “Aida”, Cavaradossi in “Tosca”, Rodolfo in “La Boheme”. After an initial uncertainty of the critics and the public due to some hesitation for the emotion of the debut, Caruso became an idol of Americans. It was the first of a long series of collaborations with the Metropolitan and the other theaters in North and South America.

He was followed by his partner Ada Giachetti, by his children and by his brother John in this tour. In the summer of 1905, looking for a house in Italy, he liked a Villa and bought Villa Bellosguardo in Lastra a Signa, near Florence. The villa, which had a large park, became the “refuge” himself and his family, every summer he went to rest to Bellosguardo.

Metropolitan_opera_1905
Metropolitan Opera 1905 (Livingstone Author Detroit Publishing Company)

In 1906 and the following years he continued in his tour in the United States, often singing in tandem with Lina Cavalieri. In December 1906 Lina kissed with such ardor Enrico Caruso at the end of the representation of “Fedora”, that a scandal broke out in the audience and the press. Since Lina Cavalieri was dubbed by the press: “the kissing primadonna”.

On April 17, 1906 he performed in Carmen in San Francisco, the next morning at 5:07 minutes, San Francisco suffered the most destructive earthquake in the United States. Caruso and his group were asleep at the Palace Hotel, which fortunately did not fall, they saved themselves in the garden of the villa of a friend where they stayed for two days; Only on the third day they managed to get away and reach Oakland.

In November of the same year, in Central Park, where Caruso had gone for a walk, a woman next to him suddenly cried out doing hasten the policemen on duty in the park, the woman accused the singer to have bothered. Caruso was denounced for “Disorderly conduct” and had a legal proceedings. Meanwhile the lady was gone and research did not turn out any with the name as she had given to agents; despite this, Caruso was sentenced to a small fine of $ 10. The Public Prosecutor resigned soon after having taken advantage of the unfamiliarity of the singer with English, the policeman who had arrested him was accused of perjury. Later there was a suspicion that everything had been arranged by competitors to damage the Metropolitan Theatre.

In the summer of 1908 Ada Giachetti fled to Nice with the driver, leaving Enrico and two sons at Villa Bellosguardo. For the singer was a sad time, the former girlfriend sued him for mistreatment, perhaps to extract money. He had a legal proceedings in Milan, where he won the case; Ada was sentenced to one year in prison for false charges, which did not serve since she fled with her new lover in Argentina. Often Enrico sent the money because of the poor conditions in which she found herself; He died in tragic circumstances never made public.

Enrico Caruso continued his career, preferably in the United States, leaving the two children in Italy where the sister of Ada, Rina Giachetti, who had had a great success as an opera singer, performing in the most important theaters in Italy, took care two children abandoned by her sister. In this period Caruso devoted himself with particular attention to the records, producing several albums with Neapolitan songs.

In 1910 he was the subject of an extortion attempt by the “Mano nera”, criminal organization composed mostly of Italian-Americans, they were requested $ 15,000 to be delivered personally. The singer warned of the NYPD; Lieutenant Eliot Ness, who had taken the place of the famous policeman Petrosino, advised him to agree with bandits; Caruso went to the appointment with the bandits to deliver the sum, escorted by several policemen disguised in various ways. Upon delivery of the money, the two robbers who had come forward to collect the amount were arrested.

In New York, Enrico met a young girl, Dorothy Benjamin, with whom he fell deeply in love, he was officially engaged with the young, although there was a difference of 22 years of age; They married in 1918 while the singer was playing, as the protagonist, his most famous film “My Cousin”. In 1919 the two had a daughter to whom they gave the name Gloria.

Enrico_Caruso,_funeral_at_Church_San_Francisco_de_Paulo_in_Naples_1 Kadel & Hebert N.Y. 1921
Funerali di Enrico Caruso 1921 (Kadel & Herbert N.Y.)

In 1920, during a performance at the Metropolitan in “Samson and Delilah” singer was hit by a column of cardboard during the scene of the collapse of the temple. He had not attached importance to the incident that had caused him a severe contusion to his side. In a short time his condition worsened, and was operated on to remove a lung edema.

On May 28, 1921 he faced its last trip from New York bound for Naples to board the liner “President Wilson”.

(Top photo: Enrico Caruso, before 1921 – Laveccha Studio Chicago)