During his last performances in December 1920 at the Metropolitan Opera (MET) in New York, where he appeared in the opera “Die Jüdin” by Jacques Fromental Halévy, he had to rely on his singing partner because otherwise he would not have been able to. to breathe. It is said that he even coughed up blood while singing. Already at the end of autumn, the Italian …
During his last performances in December 1920 at the Metropolitan Opera (MET) in New York, where he appeared in the opera “Die Jüdin” by Jacques Fromental Halévy, he had to rely on his singing partner because otherwise he would not have been able to. to breathe. It is said that he even coughed up blood while singing. In late fall, Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso caught a cold and then pleurisy and did not cure it properly. The two packs of Egyptian cigarettes he smoked a day certainly didn’t help him. The collapse followed at Christmas, followed by an operation, which he barely survived. In Sorrento, he wanted to recover from the effort and had already scheduled the next summer season. But he then relapsed and died on August 2, 1921 at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio at the age of 48 from pleurisy before being able to contact the doctors he trusted in Rome.
The funeral procession from the church “San Francesco di Paola” in Naples to the cemetery “Santa Maria del Pianto” was a triumphal procession and looked like a homecoming. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets on August 19 and gave their hero their last escort. The facades were draped in black sheets and the balmy corpse lay in a glass coffin for all to see. It was not until 1930 that he was buried at the request of Caruso’s wife, Dorothy, and since then he has been hidden in his mausoleum. But the myth continues to this day.
In his youth, still anchored in bel canto, he became more and more one of the main representatives of verism at the beginning of the 20th century. Time and time again, Enrico Caruso has been called the “tenor of the century” and some believe that in his youth he had “the most splendid voice on the opera stage”. When he sang for Giacomo Puccini in 1897, he would have exclaimed with admiration: “Who sends you – God?”
Born into a poor family in Naples in 1873 as the son of a simple mechanic, little Errico sang in the boy’s choir in his childhood. He first calls himself Enrico on the advice of his teacher Guglielmo Vergine, who teaches him for free, although he is not particularly convinced of his student’s career. Nonetheless, he was artfully contractually insured 25% of the income Caruso earned in the first five years of his career.
At 19, Caruso made his debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in the opera “Amico Fritz” by Mascagni. It was a difficult start. It was only after joining a traveling group that he made his breakthrough in the lead role of “Federico” in Francesco Cilèa’s “L’Arlesiana” in Venice in 1897. An engagement in Milan followed. It is only in Naples that we did not really want to recognize his talent and that we still saw in him the boy of the streets who warns his songs under the balconies. Caruso was so upset that he never wanted to sing in his home country again and angrily swore not to “go back to eat spaghetti”.
With his engagement at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang “Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi in 1903, Caruso consolidated his international reputation. His years in New York coincided with the golden age of MET, where he gave 825 performances and shone in 42 games. This is one of the reasons for its success. More significant, however, is the fact that his career coincided with the invention of the gramophone and the improvement of recording technology. “Caruso made the gramophone – and the gramophone did it” is the saying. Thomas Alva Edison had already made the first sound recordings with his phonograph. But they left a lot to be desired. Conductor and piano virtuoso Hans von Bülow recorded a mazurka by Frédéric Chopin and passed out when he heard the reading afterwards. The gramophone, invented by Emil Berliner in 1887, represents a considerable advance; in addition, Caruso’s baritone-tinted tenor is better accentuated on shellac records than, for example, on the highs of a female voice, which is lose.
Caruso knew how to use the new technology intelligently. For the recording of ten arias in 1902 he asked for £ 100, much more than usual. When the London bosses of The Gramophone Company heard this, they immediately wired to immediately stop the expensive recording session. But the sound engineer ignored the instruction and Caruso sang one aria after another at a monkey beat until everyone was done. The recordings grossed 13,000 pounds in a very short period of time and filled the pockets of record bosses as well as the shrewd singer. The gramophone made Enrico Caruso the world’s first star on the opera stage.
Even Thomas Mann describes in his novel “Der Zauberberg” (1924) the “indescribably seductive voice, at once sweet and heroic” of Caruso, which emerges from Hans Castorp’s gramophone as Radame. Later, director Werner Herzog immortalized him in “Fitzcarraldo” (1982), although Caruso never appeared in an opera in the middle of the jungle, as the film might suggest. The myth of Caruso lives on. Not only is an asteroid named after the tenor, but also a crater on the planet Mercury. And the lozenges, which would have saved the singer from losing his voice during his guest performance in Hamburg, are still marketed today under the label “Caruso cough pastilles”.