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Caruso, Enrico (actually, Errico)

sang opera teatro naples

great Italian tenor; b. Naples, Feb. 25, 1873; d. there, Aug. 2, 1921. While attending the Scuola sociale e serale in Naples, he received some training in oratorio and choral singing. By the age of 11, he was serving as principal soloist in its choir. He also received lessons from Amelia Tibaldi Nicola. In 1891 he began vocal training with Guglielmo Vergine, who remained a mentor until 1895. In 1894 he was engaged to sing in Mignon at the Teatro Mercadante in Naples, but at the piano rehearsal he proved a dismal failure at sight-reading and was dismissed. Caruso finally made his operatic debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in Mario Morelli’s L’Amico Francesco on March 15, 1895. He then sang Turiddu and Faust in Caserta, and subsequently Faust, the Duke of Mantua, and Alfredo at the Teatro Bellini in Naples. After successful appearances in Cairo as Edgardo, Enzo Grimaldo, and Puccini’s Des Grieux, he returned to Naples to sing Bellini’s Tebaldo at the Teatro Mercadente. While engaged in Salerno (1896–97), he received vocal coaching from the conductor Vincenzo Lombardi. On May 29, 1897, he scored a fine success as Enzo Grimaldo at the opening of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. He then won accolades as Rodolfo at the Teatro Goldoni in Livorno on Aug. 14, 1897. During the 1897–98 season, he sang at the Teatro Lirico in Naples with increasing success. The decisive turning point in his career came at that theater on Nov. 17, 1898, when he created the role of Loris in Giordano’s Fedora . On Jan. 27, 1899, he made his first appearance in St. Petersburg as Alfredo, where he sang until 1900. He sang Loris at his debut in Buenos Aires on May 14, 1899, and continued to appear there until 1901, returning again in 1915 and 1917. On March 6, 1900, he made his first appearance in Moscow at a concert at the Bolshoi Theater, and then made his stage debut there as Radames on March 11. Caruso first sang at La Scala in Milan on Dec. 26, 1900, as Rodolfo. After appearing in the premiere of Mascagni’s Le Maschere there on Jan. 17, 1901, he scored an enormous success there as Nemorino on Feb. 17. On March 11, 1902, he sang in the premiere of Franchetti’s Germania there. His La Scala success prompted the Gramophone & Typewriter Co. of England to make a series of recordings of him in Milan in 1902–03. Caruso’s fame was greatly enhanced through these and other recordings, especially those made with the Victor Talking Machine Co. of the U.S. between 1904 and 1920. On May 14, 1902, he made a notable British debut as the Duke of Mantua at Covent Garden in London. He appeared there again from 1904 to 1907, and in 1913–14. On Nov. 6, 1902, he sang in the premiere of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. Caruso made an auspicious U.S. debut as the Duke of Mantua at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Nov. 23, 1903. For the rest of his career, he remained a stellar artist on its roster, appearing not only with the company in N.Y. but widely on tour. In his 18 seasons with the company, he sang 39 roles in 862 performances.

In addition to the Italian repertoire, Caruso won great success in such French roles as Massenet’s Des Grieux, Saint-Saëns’s Samson, Bizet’s Don José, and Meyerbeer’s Raoul. He also created the role of Ramerrez in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West on Dec. 10, 1910. Caruso chose his famous portrayal of the Duke of Mantua for his debut appearances at the Dresden Court Opera (May 8, 1904), the Vienna Court Opera (Oct. 6, 1906), and the Berlin Royal Opera (Oct. 23, 1907). His success in Vienna led Emperor Franz Joseph I to make him an Austrian Kammersànger in 1906, and he returned there to sing in 1907 and again from 1911 to 1913. He also continued to appear at the Berlin Royal Opera until 1909. In 1910 Kaiser Wilhelm II made him a German Kammersànger. From 1911 to 1913 he again sang at the Berlin Royal Opera. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Caruso concentrated his career mainly on the Metropolitan Opera, where he had become an idolized figure. He also made various appearances as a concert artist. On Dec. 11, 1920, while singing Nemorino at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, he was stricken with a throat hemorrhage. He managed to sing through the first act, but the remainder of the performance had to be cancelled. Although in great physical distress, he insisted on meeting his contractual obligation to sing Eléazar at the Metropolitan on Christmas Eve, 1920. This was his last public appearance. A severe pleurisy necessitated several debilitating surgeries. On May 28, 1921, he set sail to his beloved Italy, where he died eight weeks later.

Caruso was richly blessed with a voice of extraordinary beauty and refinement, with unsurpassed breath control and impeccable intonation. Following surgery to remove a node from his vocal cords in 1909, his voice took on the darker characteristics of the baritone range. Caruso’s earnings were astounding in his day. During his highest paid season at the Metropolitan (1907–08), he received $140, 000. His concert fees were most lucrative, and eventually reached $15, 000 per appearance. His recordings likewise became a gold mine. For his last contract with the Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1919, he was guaranteed an annual payment of $100,000 per year, in addition to royalties. In spite of his great wealth, however, he never lost his common touch and gave generously to various causes. And as much as he loved to sing, he loved life even more. Unfortunately, his private life was wracked by numerous ill-fated love affairs, several of which led to unsavory court proceedings and widespread press coverage and gossip. In 1897 he became intimate with the soprano (Vittoria Matilde) Ada Giachetti (b. Florence, Dec. 1, 1874; d. Rio de Janeiro, Oct. 16, 1946), the wife of the wealthy manufacturer Gino Botti. Their liaison produced two sons, the younger of whom, Enrico (Roberto Giovanni) Caruso Jr. (b. Castello, near Florence, Sept. 7, 1904; d. Jacksonville, Fla., April 9, 1987), had a brief career as a tenor and actor. Caruso was also attracted to Ada’s younger sister, the soprano Rina Giachetti, with whom he became intimate in 1906. It was also in 1906 that he was accused of making improper advances to a woman at N.Y/s Central Park Zoo, which became known as the “monkey-house incident” Although Caruso pleaded not guilty and had a corroborating eye-witness, he was found guilty as charged and fined $10. He lost on appeal and paid the fine in 1907. In 1908 Ada deserted him for the family chauffeur. The bitter conflict which ensued between them culminated in a rancorous court battle in Milan in 1912. Caruso found solace in Rina, then in Dorothy Park Benjamin, whom he married in N.Y. on Aug. 20, 1918. Caruso’s colorful life was the subject of the fictionalized film biography, The Great Caruso (1951), starring Mario Lanza. On Feb. 27, 1987, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor, with appropriate ceremonies at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y., attended by his son, Enrico Caruso Jr.

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