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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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THE COMPLETE CARUSO
Recorded 1902-1920
RCA RED SEAL /BMG CLASSICS 82876-60396-2 [12 CDs: 71.58 + 70.07 + 69.08 + 69.00 + 72.44 + 71.12 + 71.44,71.55 + 72.26,72.37 + 67.08 + 73.10]


ANONYMOUS (Folk Song) Vieni sul mar
Adolphe-Charles ADAM (1803 – 1856) Cantique de Noel
Fermin Maria ALVAREZ (?-1898) A Granada; La Partida
Anton y MICHELENA A la luz de la luna
Colombino ARONA (b. 1885) La Campana di San Giusto
Richard BARTHELEMY Trise ritorno

Richard BARTHELEMY and Enrico CARUSO Adorables tourments (Valse Lente)
James Carroll BARTLETT (1850 – 1929) A Dream
Vincenzo BILLI (1869 – 1938) Campane a sera

Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875) Agnus Dei; La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Carmen); Parle-moi de ma mère (Carmen); Au Fond du temple saint (Les Pecheurs de Perles); Je crois entendre (Les Pecheurs de Perles); De mon amie, fleur endormie (Les Pecheurs de Perles)
Arrigo BOITO (1842 – 1918) Dai campi, dai prati (Mefistofele); Giunto sul passo estremo (Mefistofele).
C. A. BRACCO (fl. 1885) Serenata
Arturo BUZZI-PECCIA (1856 – 1943) Lolita
Salvatore CARDILLO (1874 – 1947) Core ’ngrato
Enrico CARUSO (1873 – 1921) Dreams of Long Ago; Tiempo antico;

Ruperto CHAPI (1851 – 1909) Flores Purisimas (El Milagro de la Virgen)
Vincenzo Legrenzio CIAMPI (1719 – 1762) Nina

Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950) No, piu nobile (Adriana Lecouvreur)
M. S. CIOCIANO Cielo turchino
George M. COHAN (1878 – 1942) Over There
Mario P. COSTA Sei morta ne la vita mia
Guglielmo COTTRAU Fenesta che lucive
Teodoro COTTRAU (1827 – 1879) L’addio a Napoli; Santa Lucia
Guy D’HARDELOT (Mrs. W.I. Rhodes) (1838 – 1936) Because
Vincenzo de CRESCENZO (b. 1875) Guardanno a luna; Premiere caresse; Tarantella sincera; Uocchie celeste;
Ernesto de CURTIS (1875 – 1937) Canta pe’me; Senza nisciuno; Tu ca nun chiagne;
Luigi DENZA (1846 – 1922) Non t’amo piu; Si vous l’aviez compris;
Eduardo di CAPUA (1865 – 1917) O sole mio
Stefano DONAUDY (1879 – 1925) Vaghissima sembianza

Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Com’e gentil (Don Pasquale); Deserto in terra (Don Sebastiano); Angelo casto e bel (Il Duca d’Alba); Una furtiva lagrima (L’Elisir d’Amore); Venti Scudi! (L’Elisir d’Amore); Spirito genril, ne’sogni miei (La Favorita); Chi mi frena in tal momento? (Sextet) (Lucia di Lamermoor)
Jean-Baptiste FAURÉ (1830 – 1914) Crucifix; Les rameaux; Sancta Maria;

Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 – 1883) Ma’appari tutt’amor (Marta); Presto, presto andiam (Marta); Solo profugo reietto (Marta); Dormi Pur - Goodnight Quartet (Marta)
Alberto FRANCHETTI (1860 – 1942) Ah, vieni qui (Germania); Studenti! Udite! (Germania);
César FRANCK (1822 – 1890) La procession
Salvatore FUCITO (1875 – 1929) Scordame; Sultanto a te;
Clarence G. GARTNER Love is Mine; Trusting Eyes
Stanislao GASTALDON (1861 – 1939) Musica proibita
Henry Ernest GEEHL (1881 – 1961) For you Alone
Giuseppe GIOE (1890 – 1957) L’m’arricordo ’e Napule

Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948) Come un bel di di maggio (Andrea Chenier); Improvviso (Andrea Chenier); Amor ti vieta (Feodora);
Benjamin GODARD (1849 – 1895) Chanson de Juin

Karl GOLDMARK (1830 – 1915) Magiche Note (Die Königin von Saba)
Carlos GOMES (1836 – 1896) Sento una forza indomita (Il Guarany); Quando nascesti tu (O Escravo); Mia piccirella (Salvator Rosa)
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893) Eh! quoi! toujours seule? (Faust); Eternelle! O nuit d’amour (Faust); Alerte! ou vous êtes perdues (Faust); A moi les plaisirs (Faust); Salut demeure chaste et pure (Faust); Seigneur Dieu; que vois-je (Faust); Inspirez mois, race divine (La Reine de Saba);
Jules GRANIER Hosanna

J.F. Fromental HALÉVY (1799 – 1862) Rachel, quand du Seigneur (La Juive)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759) Ombra mai fu (Serse)
Percy B. KAHN Ave Marie

Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919) No! Pagliaccio non son (I Pagliacci); Vesti la giubba (I Pagliacci); Io no ho che una povera stanzetta (La Boheme); Testa adorata (La Boheme); Lasciati amar; Les Deus serenades; Mattinata
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632 – 1687) Bois epais (Amadis de Gaule)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945) Brindisi (Cavalleria rusticana); Addio alla madre (Cavalleria rusticana); Siciliana (Cavalleria rusticana); Serenata (Iris);
A MASCHERONI Eternamente

Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912) Elégie; O Souverain, O Juge, O Père (Le Cid); Chiudo gli occhi (Manon); Ah, fuyez, douce image (Manon); On l’appelle Manon (Manon)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 – 1864) Bianca al par di neve (Les Huguenots); Qui sotto il ciel (Les Huguenots); Deh ch’io ritorni (L’Africaine); O Paradiso (L’Africaine)
Louis Abraham NIEDERMEYER (1802 – 1861) Pieta Signore
Emanuele NUTILE Mamma mi ache vo sape
Geoffrey O’HARA (1882 – 1967) Your Eyes have told me what I did not know
Alessio OLIVIERI Inno di Garibaldi
Gaetano Enrico PENNINO Pecche
Antonio PINI-CORSI (1859 – 1918) Tu non mi vuoi piu ben
Robert PLANQUETTE (1848 – 1903) Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse

Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886) Cielo e mar (La Gioconda)
Guillermo POSADAS Noche Feliz

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) Addio, Dolce sveliare all mattina (La Boheme); Che gelida manina (La Boheme); O Mimi, tu piu non torni (La Boheme); O soave fanciulla (La Boheme); Vecchi zimarra, senti (La Boheme); Amore or grillo no saprei (Madama Butterfly); Addio fiorito asil (Madama Butterfly); O quanti occi fisi (Madama Butterfly); Donna non vidi mai (Manon Lescaut); E lucevan le stele (Tosca); Recondita armonia (Tosca);
V. RICCIARDI Amor mio
Sir Landon RONALD (1873 – 1938) Serenade espagnole

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) La danza (Les soirees musicales); Crucifixus (La Petite Messe Solennelle); Domine Deus (La Petite Messe Solennelle); Cujus animam (Stabat Mater)
Augusto ROTLOI (1847 – 1904) Mia sposa sara la mia bandiera

Anton RUBINSTEIN (1828 – 1894) Oh! Lumiere du jour (Neron)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921) Je viens celebrer la victoire (Samson et Dalila); Vois ma misere (Samson et Dalila)
Matteo SALVI Angelo casto e bel
A. SECCHI Love me not
Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842 – 1900) The Lost Chord
Josef Zygmunt SZULC (1875 – 1956) Hantise d’amour

Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893) Pour mi ce jour est tout mystere (Evgeny Onegin); Pimpinella; Pourquoi; Serenade de Don Juan
Sir Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846 – 1912) A Vucchella; Addio; Ideala; L’Alba separa dalla luce l’ombra; La mia canzone; Luna d’estate; Parted; Pour un baiser
Rocco TRIMARCHI (1861 – 1936) Un bacio ancora
Vincenzo VALENTE Manella mia

Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Celeste Aida (Aida); Aide a me togliesti (Aida); La fatal pietra (Aida); O Terra addio (Aida); Dio, che nell’alma infondere (Don Carlo); Qual volutta trascorrere (I Lombardi); Ah si, ben mio (Il Trovatore); Di quella pira (Il Trovatore); Mal reggendo all’aspro assalto (Il Trovatore); Miserere (Il Trovatore) Ai nostril monti (Il Trovatore); O tu che in seno agl’angeli (La forza del destino); Le minaccie, I fieri accenti (La Forza del Destino); Sleale! il segreto fu dunque violato? (La Forza del Destino); Solenne in quest’ora (La Forza del Destino); Brindisi (La Traviata); Ah la paterna mano (Macbeth); Ingemisco (Messa da Requiem); Ora e per sempre addio (Otello); Si, pel ciel (Otello); Quartet (Rigoletto); Parmi veder le lagrime (Rigoletto); La donna e mobile (Rigoletto); Questa o quella (Rigoletto); La rivedra nell’estasi (Un ballo in maschera); E’scherzo od e follia (Un ballo in maschera); Di tu se fedel (Un ballo in maschera); Ma se m’e forza perderti (Un ballo in maschera);
Redento ZARDO Luna Fedel
ENRICO CARUSO (tenor)

Bessie Abott (soprano)
Francesca Alda (soprano)
Amelita Galli-Curci (soprano)
Emmy Destinn (soprano)
Geraldine Farrar (soprano)
Johanna Gadski (soprano)
Alma Gluck (soprano)
Frieda Hempel (soprano)
Dame Nellie Melba (soprano)
Marcella Sembrich (soprano)
Luisa Tetrazzini (soprano)
Louise Homer (mezzo-soprano)
Gina Ciaparelli-Viafora (mezzo-soprano)
Maria Duchene (mezzo-soprano)
Minnie Egener (mezzo-soprano)
Josephine Jacoby (mezzo-soprano)
Gabrielle Lejeune-Gilibert (mezzo-soprano)
Flora Perini (mezzo-soprano)
Ernestine Schumann-Heink
Gina Severina (mezzo-soprano)
Angelo Bada (tenor)
Pasquale Amato (baritone)
Mario Ancona (baritone)
Francesco Daddi (baritone)
Emilio de Gorgoza (baritone)
Giuseppe de Luca (baritone)
Titta Ruffo (baritone)
Antonio Scotti (baritone)
Marcel Journet (bass)
Leon Rothier (bass)
Andres de Segurola (bass)
Vincenzo Belleza (piano)
Francesco Cilea (piano)
Salvatore Cottone (piano)
Umberto Giordano (piano)
Percy B. Kahn (piano)
Ruggero Leoncavallo (piano)
Gaetano Scognamiglio (piano)
Mischa Elman (violin)
Francis J. Lapitino (harp)
A. Regis-Rossini (harp)
Bianculli (mandolin)
Rosario Bourdon (cello, celesta)
? Adams (oboe)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Metropolitan Orchestra
Josef Pasternack (conductor)
Walter B. Rogers (conductor)
Gaetano Scognamiglio (conductor)
Giulio Setti (conductor)
Recorded 1902-1920
RCA RED SEAL /BMG CLASSICS 82876-60396-2 [12 CDs: 71.58 + 70.07 + 69.08 + 69.00 + 72.44 + 71.12 + 71.44,71.55 + 72.26,72.37 + 67.08 + 73.10]

First a few statistics: this set comprises 12 CDs, 14 hours 12 minutes of recorded music, 239 items with music by 81 different composers ranging from Lully and Handel to Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, taking in a great deal of music by Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni. The interesting omissions from this list are notably Mozart and Beethoven. The most recorded composer is Verdi (29 different items from ten operas and the Requiem). The most recorded aria is ‘Celeste Aida’, which Caruso recorded seven times.

It is important, too, to remember that all of these were recorded without the benefit of a microphone; Caruso never made an electrical recording, all were acoustic.

RCA have repackaged their Caruso re-masterings, putting each CD into a cardboard slipcase and including them all, plus a booklet, in a (relatively) slim cardboard box. The booklet is pared to the bone, just CD listings, a composer/aria/opera index, a short article on Caruso’s career and a chronology. But here we hit a slight problem: though the discs are organised chronologically there is no date/time information for individual tracks. This means that I can only refer to individual items by their disc and track number in this set. This might prove annoying for those knowledgeable about Caruso’s recorded output. For this I apologise but refer you to BMG-RCA.

Nor do RCA list dates of birth/death for any of the composers (those on this review are the results of our own research). This is a particular loss, as one of the fascinating things about this set is the large amount of music by contemporary composers that Caruso recorded. Granted much of this is in the popular ballad vein, but a balanced view of his repertoire can only really be achieved if we can have a clearer idea of the composers that he recorded.

The recordings are important because Enrico Caruso was the first opera singer to have his career defined by the gramophone recording. Unlike many later singers, in Caruso’s case his relationship with the gramophone record was a two way one – the gramophone companies needed him almost more than he needed them. Caruso would have been a super-star tenor even without the benefit of his recordings. But those recordings helped make his career reach a level almost unheard of previously. The fledgling gramophone industry needed Caruso to help transform their scientific novelty into a genuinely musical mass medium. It was Fred Gaisberg’s genius to recognise that Caruso’s voice was perfect for the medium. Thanks to Gaisberg we have a substantial number of recordings of Caruso captured in his prime.

Disc 1 - April 1902 to April 1903

This disc includes the twenty items which Caruso recorded in the Milan hotel. What strikes one first, on encountering these arias with their rather clangy piano accompaniment, is the immediacy of the voice. Despite the limited acoustic technology, Caruso’s voice still has a remarkable vitality and directness and a robustness of tone. Even today you feel you are directly in the presence of the singer, not just hearing something through a veil as can happen with some early singers. The early recording technology seems to have captured Caruso well, rather better than some of his soprano contemporaries. Imagine putting this disc on in 1902 and hearing someone, who you could never hope to hear live, singing directly to you.

But of course the recording process means that not every item is perfect; these are live recordings par excellence. The first ‘Celeste Aida’ (Verdi: ‘Aida’) has an indifferent final top note, the second one has no final phrase at all. But there are compensations. Despite his sometimes rather baritonal timbre, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (Donizetti: ‘L’Elisir d’amore’) has a surprising flexibility. ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (Puccini: ‘Tosca’) feels definitive, even if Caruso does indulge in an outrageous sob. Some of these items are interesting historical documents, Francesco Cilea plays the accompaniment for ‘No, piu nobile’ from his ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’, Giordano plays for ‘Amor ti vieta’ from his ‘Fedora’ and Leoncavallo plays for his song ‘Mattinata’. (In fact the Cilea item is actually a duet, Caruso never recorded the tenor arias from the opera).

On the first two discs we are hearing the singer directly with no conductor to intervene. The result can be highly histrionic with sobs, long held top notes and rather too many aspirates.

Disc 2 - October 1903 to February 1906.

From track 4 of this disc ‘Questa o quella’ (Verdi: ‘Rigoletto’), the recordings seem to improve, the piano accompaniment starts almost to sound like a piano. And ‘Questa o quella’ seems subtler than it did on disc 1. Self-indulgence shows in the stunning sounding, but very slow version ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (Donizetti: ‘L’elisir d’amore’). Lightness and flexibility are on display in ‘Mi par d’udir ancora’ (Bizet: ‘Les Pecheurs de perles’) and in ‘Cielo e mar’ (Ponchielli: ‘La Gioconda’) Caruso displays a stunning sense of line.

On track 20 we encounter an orchestra of sorts for the first time. This is of great benefit in ‘Che gelida manina’ (Puccini: ‘La Boheme’). And on track 22, Caruso ventures outside his native shores, singing ‘Salut demeure chaste et pure’ (Gounod: ‘Faust’) in its original French and giving us some beautifully shaded high notes.

Disc 3 (February 1906 – March 1908)

This disc introduces us to some of Caruso’s fellow singers with rather varied results. The Quartet from ‘Rigoletto’ with Bessie Abbott and Louise Homer is pretty forgettable and ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ (Puccini: ‘La Boheme’) with Nellie Melba is very disappointing with the two singers rather ill-balanced. But ‘Addio, dolce svegliare alla mattina’ (Puccini: ‘La Boheme’) with Marcella Sembrich, Gina Severina, and Antonio Scotti is like a snapshot from a real opera; entirely lacking the stiffness which troubles some of these recordings, you can get beyond the recording’s limitations. These ensemble recordings often suffer from strange balances, probably due to the rather limited nature of the acoustic process. But over and above this, the technique does not seem to have been kind to the women’s voices; time and again I was struck how much more vividly the men’s voices come over.

Also noticeable on this disc is the way that Caruso’s voice develops a new firmness; this is very noticeable in the two recordings of ‘Deserto in terra’ (Donizetti: ‘Don Sebastiano’).

Disc 4 (March 1908 to January 1910)

This opens with a vividly sung pair of items from Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Questa o quella’ and ‘La donna e mobile’. But the duet from ‘Il Trovatore’, ‘Ai nostri monti’, which is sung with mezzo-soprano Louise Homer, is rather dim and sounds very careful. This disc sees the repertoire of arias continuing to expand; besides another ‘Celeste Aida’ (Verdi: ‘Aida’) there are two further items from the opera with Johanna Gadski (soprano), ‘O terra addio’ and ‘La fala pietra’. Again they come over as rather careful, but both singers exhibit fine control in the quiet passages. A novelty for us today is an aria from Goldmark’s ‘Die Königin von Saba’, sung in Italian translation; at the end Caruso inserts two remarkable high falsetto notes, something he rarely seems to do on disc. There are two versions of the Miserere from Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’, both recorded with soprano Frances Alda, but one includes the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Alda’s soprano voice is well caught by the recording, particularly her lower register and the resulting duets are more vivid dramatically than some of the earlier duets on this disc.

Disc 5 (January 1910 to December 1910)

This disc opens with six tracks from Gounod’s ‘Faust’ sung by Geraldine Farrar (soprano), Gabrielle Lejeune-Gilibert (mezzo-soprano), Marcel Journet (bass), Antonio Scotti (baritone), conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Here we have just over thirty minutes of excerpts from the opera, with a group of singers who managed to project the drama even within the limits of the recording technology. Whatever the limitations of the performances, they give us a magical window into what ‘Faust’ at the Met might have been like.

Caruso sang in the premiere of Franchetti’s ‘Germania’ in 1902, so it is not surprising that he returned to the opera in his recordings. Here we have another version of ‘Studenti! Udite’ along with another aria from the opera; I wish I could be more enthusiastic. But Puccini’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ is another thing entirely. In two items from the opera, with Antonio Scotti (baritone), Caruso gives us an impassioned Pinkerton. But his tone is starting to sound a little mature for the role, so it is no surprise that he recorded ‘Ora e per sempre addio’ (Verdi: ‘Otello’). ‘Otello’ was a role that he was constantly considering doing; here we have just a pale reflection of what might have been. The disc concludes with a wonderfully dramatic ‘No! Pagliaccio non son’ (Leoncavallo: ‘I Pagliacci’) and a slightly disappointing pair of items from ‘Il Trovatore’, notable mainly for Louise Homer’s mezzo-soprano again.

Disc 6 (December 1910 to January 1912)

Homer re-appears on the opening item of this disc, ‘Aida a me togliesti’ (Verdi: ‘Aida’). Here again one notes that Caruso’s voice seems to be getting darker. His version of ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ (Donizetti: ‘L’Elisir D’amore’) is notable for how much lightness and grace he can bring to a voice which has strengthened and darkened since he first recorded the piece. This dark, dramatic power is noticeable in the duet, ‘Le minaccie, I fieri accenti’ (Verdi: ‘La Forza del Destino’) recorded with baritone Pasquale Amato.

Two items of musicological interest on the disc are a pair of arias from Leoncavallo’s ‘La Boheme’, an opera which has been all but eclipsed by Puccini’s version. Another novelty is an aria from ‘O Esclavo’ by Gomes, the Brazilian composer who has undergone a small revival recently thanks to Placido Domingo.

Caruso’s final version of ‘Celeste Aida’ (Verdi: ‘Aida’) is notable for the new power which he brings to the aria, but the ending is louder and rather less subtle than on some of the earlier versions. In ‘Ah, fuyez, douce image’ (Massenet: ‘Manon’) I was rather surprised that he had recorded the aria at this stage in his development and not earlier when his voice was lighter. Still, though Caruso does not give the melodic line the Gallic elegance it needs, he replaces it with a remarkable verismo commitment.

Disc 7 (January 1912 to February 1913)

There are a significant number of lighter items here, either serious music requiring a lighter technique or music from the lighter repertoire. These range from the two charming ensemble’s from Flotow’s ‘Marta’ recorded with Frances Alda (soprano), Josephine Jacoby (mezzo-soprano) and Marcel Journet (bass) and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pimpinella’ to real parlour music such as Sullivan’s ‘The Lost Chord’ (sung in pretty decent English) and d’Hardelot’s ‘Because’ (sung in French).

The disc features Caruso’s second version of the sextet from Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, this time with Tetrazzini. Unfortunately this suffers because of the limited recording technology of the day. The men’s voices come over as very immediate, but Tetrazzini sounds as if she is in a different room. Balance is better in the Quartet from Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ with Luisa Tetrazzini (soprano), Josephine Jacoby (mezzo-soprano) and Pasquale Amato (baritone). It is a tad careful at times, but is certainly stylish and well balanced. Whereas in ‘On l’appelle Manon’ (Massenet: ‘Manon’) Caruso and Geraldine Farrar (soprano) have quite differing approaches: he is quite thrilling whereas Farrar is rather stylish. I was not fond of Farrar’s rather white-toned voice in ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ (Puccini: ‘La Boheme’), but the result is charming if lacking in freedom.

With the duet ‘Dio che nell’alma infondere’ (Verdi: ‘Don Carlos’), recorded with Antonio Scotti, we are securely back in the correct style. This is a wonderful track and displays the richer, darker tones that have developed in Caruso’s voice. This new depth is apparent in ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’ (Verdi: ‘Rigoletto’), but Caruso still manages to retain his admirable flexibility.

Disc 8 (February 1913 to April 1914)

The items on this disc continue to explore hitherto unrecorded repertoire, though this means that again there are a significant number of parlour ballads and songs. In these one can appreciate Caruso’s artistry and watch his vocal development, even if the material is not always something to which you would choose to listen.

The more familiar items include a rather laboured ‘Cujus animam’ (Rossini: ‘Stabat Mater’) and a fine ‘Donna no vidi mai’ (Puccini: ‘Manon Lescaut’). More unfamiliar repertoire is charted with a robust ‘Serenade de Don Juan’ (Tchaikovsky) and Landon Ronald’s charming ‘Sérénade Espagnole’. A highlight is Caruso’s second recorded excerpt from Verdi’s ‘Otello’; the duet ‘Si, pel ciel’, recorded with Tita Ruffo. The two knock sparks off each other and create a remarkable four minute drama.

The disc concludes with two ensembles from Verdi’s ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’, ‘La rivedra nell’estasi’ and ‘E scherzo ed e follia’, recorded with Frieda Hempel (soprano), Maria Duchene (mezzo-soprano), Andres de Seguora (bass), Leon Rothier (bass). Here the record producers have managed to capture the wonderful sense of ensemble generated by the cast.

Disc 9 (April 1914 to February 1916)

The disc opens with two items sung in Spanish, including an aria from Chapi’s zarzuela ‘El Milagro de la Virgen’.

In the Brindisi from ‘La Traviata’, soprano Alma Gluck is vividly captured by the recording and for once the soprano line successfully balances Caruso’s tenor. This was his first and only recording of an excerpt from the opera and his contribution is notable for the continued flexibility of his voice.

These later discs all display a similar mix of items, with Caruso generally extending his repertoire, mixing popular songs, Neapolitan songs with arias and ensembles from familiar operas with the occasional unfamiliar opera. The number of popular and Neapolitan songs on the discs often made me question the general appeal of such a complete edition as this. But then I would surprised by an item; indeed some of the lighter items on this disc, such as Tosti’s ‘La mia canzone’ receive beautifully sung performances, with Caruso displaying his fine vocal technique.

Unfortunately, in the more familiar ‘Ingemisco’ from Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ he sounds a little laboured and rather lacking in fire, but ‘Parle moi de ma mère’ (Bizet: ‘Carmen’) receives a touching reading with Frances Alda (soprano).

Amongst the operatic novelties on this disc are a fine version of ‘O Souverain, O Juge, O père; (Massenet: ‘Le Cid’) and ‘Inspirez moi, race divine’ (Gounod: ‘La Reine de Saba’). This latter is rather hackneyed but in Caruso’s committed performance comes over as immense fun.

Disc 10 (February 1916 to April 1917)

We start with two more familiar novelties. First a lovely rendition of ‘Ah, la paterna mano’ (Verdi: ‘Macbeth’) and then a baritone aria, Colline’s farewell to his overcoat from Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’. Here Caruso displays a creditable baritone technique.

A version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pourquoi’, which captures the song’s haunting melancholy, is followed by Lensky’s aria (in French) from ‘Eugene Onegin’. Caruso starts it at a remarkably swift tempo; the result is shapely and expressive without ever quite capturing the essence of the aria.

Caruso is on more familiar territory with ‘Come un bel di maggio’ (Giordano: ‘Andrea Chenier’) which receives a beautifully melancholic performance. Another new role is Samson in Saint-Saëns eponymous opera, an assumption which indicates the more dramatic roles that Caruso was starting to perform. In ‘Voi ma misere, hélas’ (Saint-Saëns: ‘Samson et Dalila’) Caruso brings out the noble and tragic qualities without every quite sounding sufficiently heroic. In ‘De mon amie, fleur endormie’ (Bizet: ‘Les pecheurs de perles’) Caruso displays an admirably good sense of line in an aria which would nowadays be sung by a lighter voice. This illustrates one of the fascinating aspects of these later CDs: singers in the early part of the 20th century were able to mix roles in a way which is less common today; apparently retaining an admirable flexibility of technique when the voices darkened and deepened.

In the final version of the quartet from ‘Rigoletto’, recorded with Amelita Galli-Curci (soprano), Flora Perini (mezzo-soprano) and Giuseppe de Luca (baritone), Caruso’s opening solo comes over as rather effortful. But the Sextet from Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ with Galli-Curci, Minne Egener (mezzo-soprano), Angelo Bada (tenor), Giuseppe de Luca (baritone) and Marcel Journet (bass) is the most satisfying version yet, even if it does have a few rough edges.

Disc 11 (April 1917 – February 1919)

The 1st World Ward now makes some impact; besides a lively version of Cohan’s ‘Over There’, sung in heavily accented English, there is Olivieri’s bombastic ‘Inno di Garibaldi’ and Planquette’s ‘Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse’.

But there are also some other more interesting novelties; ‘O lumière du jour’ from Rubinstein’s ‘Neron’ is a sighting of an opera which has nowadays entirely fallen from sight. ‘Sleale! il segreto fu dunque violato?’ (Verdi: ‘La Forza del Destino’) finds Caruso and Giuseppe de Luca in highly dramatic form. A further excerpt from ‘Samson et Dalila’, ‘Je viens célébrer la victoire’ has Caruso’s noble Samson partnered by the fine Dalila of Louise Homer.

The final item on the disc is a return to lighter Donizetti, ‘Venti Scudi’ from ‘L’elisir d’amore’, where Caruso duets with Giuseppe de Luca. The baritone is inclined to be untidy and the result is an impressive achievement if a trifle more robust than it would have been earlier in Caruso’s career.

Disc 12 (September 1919 to September 1920)

This final disc contains few mainstream items, an indicator perhaps that Caruso was running out of arias that he wanted to record. But the disc does include some fascinating rarities along with a single valuable testament.

The rarities include some more Gomes, ‘Mia piccirella’ (Gomes: ‘Salvator Rosa’), ‘Ombra mai fu’ (Handel: ‘Serse’), ‘Bois epais’ (Lully: ‘Amadis de Gaule’) and ‘Deh, chi’io ritorni’ (Meyerbeer: ‘L’Africaine’). The two baroque items are performed in a manner which would be thought stylistically appropriate at the time. The Lully aria is sung with some care but sounds too careful. The Handel aria Caruso seems to imbue with a sort of Italian operatic swagger. But the notable item on this disc is ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’ (Halévy: ‘La Juive’) a powerful performance which is a notable witness to Caruso’s final new role. The disc is completed by two items from Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solonelle’, ‘Domine Deus’ and ‘Crucifixus’; Caruso performs them powerfully, but in a manner which seems to overlook the pieces’ charm and irony.

In Conclusion

Caruso’s recorded legacy does chart the gradual development of his voice, but its coverage of his repertoire is distinctly patchy. We have nothing of his early triumph in Bellini’s ‘Il Pirata’, the opera he used to help develop his bel canto style, nor do we have anything from his early triumph in Cilea’s ‘Arlesiana’. Nor, thanks to Ricordi, do we have anything relating to the premiere of Puccini’s ‘La Fanciulla del West’ at the Met. Not surprisingly, we have no hint of his short brush with Wagner (a ‘Lohengrin’ in South America). But we have, thankfully, records of the other more dramatic roles (Samson, Eleazar in ‘La Juive’) which he was starting to take on, though unfortunately we have no record of his singing in the title role in Meyerbeer’s ‘La Prophète’.

Besides the items by well known operatic composers, each of the discs also contains songs and arias by composers now forgotten; the most notable of these is perhaps Tosti who wrote a number of ballads for the English court. They are often sung with great affection, but I did find that their faded charms palled after a while. But before we get too sniffy about them, it is worth bearing in mind that many of these were the popular music of their day; in fact it is remarkable how much music by living composers Caruso recorded. We must also add to this the rather special place that Neapolitan song played in his repertoire; born in Naples to a poor family, these were the songs of his youth so it was only natural that he would want to record them. Just think how different the lighter repertoire for an Italian tenor might be if Caruso had been born a Venetian!

In the end, I am not sure that I would be tempted to invest in a complete Caruso edition; for me many of the tracks are not essential listening and I would probably be content with potted highlights on 2 or 3 CDs. And even these would be something to dip into, rather then listen to continuously.

If I was going to go for a complete Caruso edition then cost would come into it. Naxos’s recent edition, in Ward Marston’s excellent transfers, seems to come in at around £20 to £25 cheaper than the RCA set, which seems excellent value. (On the web-sites that I consulted the Naxos box came in at £44 or £50 and the RCA box at £72 or £70). The issue of the transfers from 78rpm records might also sway people towards the Naxos box. After all, Marston’s transfers for Naxos were done more recently than those on the RCA set and they are Marston’s second go; he had previously done the transfers for Pearl. I found that the Naxos versions of the arias had an immediacy and clarity that was sometimes lacking in the RCA disc; the orchestra also seemed to come over a little better. But to me the difference is not huge, though opinions will always differ.

I must confess that I would be quite tempted by just 2 or 3 of the Naxos discs bought singly. What I would really like, though, would be a Caruso download site where we could select our own tracks and have them burned onto CD for us; how about that anyone?


Robert Hugill



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