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The Opera Quarterly 20.3 (2004) 357-383

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Researching Caruso

The core of this article, updated, edited, and recast here to suit the medium, originates from a presentation I made at the New York Academy of Medicine in March 1992. I was sharing the event with Drs. Adrian W. Zorgniotti and Robert W. Prichard, physicians fascinated as much by Caruso the singer as by the medical uncertainties surrounding his malady and demise. The doctors divided their topic into the New York and Naples segments of his illness, and my assignment was to talk about researching Caruso. As one of Caruso's recent biographers, 1 I could speak from firsthand experience about the difficulties in tracking down sources, finding reliable information, separating facts from fiction, and identifying or debunking blatant fabrications.

Considering how elusive the details of Caruso's life have been, how difficult it is to discover and physically locate relevant material, and how much misinformation attached to the tenor is still in circulation, I welcomed the opportunity extended to me by Opera Quarterly editor E. Thomas Glasow to add my recent findings to the body of knowledge about Caruso.

As the following discussion and examples demonstrate, Caruso research is far from complete. It is not a barren undertaking to pursue new material, and with determination, ingenuity, and some luck, one can still locate many items relating to Caruso. The only thing that remains uncertain is whether heretofore unseen correspondence, photographs, and artifacts can materially change information already known. Yet it is probable and even likely that some document or even a single letter could reveal, highlight, or alter our perception of some fact or an event in his life. But that can happen only if owners allow those items to come to light.

It has been a challenge to present my material. There is no perfect format for such diverse findings, and if the following resembles more an organized grab-bag of narrative and data than a polished article I accept the criticism, not only from readers but from myself as well. Yet I am satisfied by the knowledge that this valuable, interesting, and sometimes baffling information will no longer remain buried in my own files. I trust that opera lovers, like-minded admirers of Caruso, and opera historians will [End Page 357] welcome the opportunity to become aware of new publications, new information, and sources promising to yield fresh discoveries. It enables us to learn more about this extraordinary artist and to better appreciate the performer, the private person, and the man.

The Year 2003 was the centenary of a major milestone in Enrico Caruso's career. One hundred years ago, on 23 November 1903, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the Duke of Mantua in the company's opening night Rigoletto. The true importance of the event could be placed in perspective only in retrospect. New York audiences welcomed the new tenor, but it took them some time to fully recognize and appreciate his qualities. Once he attained his artistic peak, it is no exaggeration to say that by his singing, personality, and records he changed the world of opera.

Caruso's decisive but by no means overwhelming success in his New York debut can be gauged from the extensive collection of reviews that appeared in the numerous New York dailies. A representative collection of these reports has been compiled and digitized by Robert Tuggle, director of Archives of the Metropolitan Opera. They make for instructive reading and they are certainly worth a visit to the Metropolitan's website (hopefully, these valuable files have been retained). The details include one observation not commonly known, the fact that Caruso "was singing on opening night with a cold." This may explain another reviewer's comment: "Not that he is the greatest tenor ever heard in New York—Caruso has no such violin note in his voice as the wonderful De Reszke—or, if he has, he did not display it last night, and it may be supposed that he gave his best" (New York Sun, 24 November 1903). But...


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