Enrico Caruso - His Songs - composed FOR him and BY him. © 2023 Urania Records

CD Spotlight

Caruso 150

GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to Urania Records' new Caruso tribute album

'One of the first major singing talents to be commercially recorded ...'


Enrico Caruso was born on 25 February 1873 in Naples where he died on 2 August 1921. Thus, today is his one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. He was both a lyric and dramatic tenor; Caruso's voice extended up to high D-flat in its prime and grew in power and weight as he grew older. At times, his voice took on a dark, almost baritonal coloration. He sang a broad spectrum of roles, ranging from lyric, to spinto, to dramatic parts, in the Italian and French repertoires. He sang two Wagner operas (in Italian rhythmic translation).

He was one of the first operatic singers to appreciate fully the importance of recording. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he was engaged by the Gramophone Company to make his first group of acoustic recordings in a Milan hotel room for a fee of one hundred pounds sterling. These ten discs swiftly became best-sellers. Among other things, they helped spread twenty-nine-year-old Caruso's fame throughout the English-speaking world. One of the first major singing talents to be commercially recorded, Caruso made 247 commercially released recordings from 1902 to 1920 which made him an international popular entertainment star.

Therefore, it is only natural that his anniversaries are celebrated with records. Some fifty years ago, I recalled purchasing at the discount record shop at the M at 18 Street NW of Washington DC (where I, then lived) some of his early reissued as LPs. Although the technical quality left quite a bit to be desired, the listener could feel the extraordinary extension of his voice.

For this anniversary in 2023, Urania Records has had an excellent idea: to produce a two CD album and a booklet with songs written and composed by Caruso himself or by his closest friends and associates for him - Tizzi, Tirindelli, Bozzi, Buzzi Felciai and Mugnone, to mention only those best known. A selection of some twenty five songs from a wide catalogue of about ninety songs. The album will be for sale in record shops and platforms in a couple of weeks but 'early birds' can purchase it now from Urania Records.

Caruso's career, which lasted from 1895 to 1920, included 863 appearances with the New York Metropolitan Opera - both at the Met and on tour - before his death at the age of forty-eight. Thanks largely to his tremendously popular phonograph records, Caruso was one of the most famous entertainment personalities of his day, and his fame has continued to endure to the present. He was one of the first examples of a global media celebrity.

Beyond records, Caruso's name became familiar to millions throughout the world via newspapers, books, magazines, and the new media technology of the twentieth century: cinema. Caruso toured widely, both with the Metropolitan Opera touring company and on his own, giving hundreds of performances throughout Europe, and North and South America. Beverly Sills noted in an interview: 'I was able to do it with television and radio and media and all kinds of assists. The popularity that Caruso enjoyed without any of this technological assistance is astonishing'.

Caruso also appeared in two motion pictures. In 1918, he played a dual role in the American My Cousin - a silent film, entirely restored in July 2021 - for Paramount Pictures. This film included a sequence depicting him on stage performing the aria 'Vesti la giubba' from Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci. The following year, Caruso played a character called Cosimo in another film, The Splendid Romance.

The new album has been entrusted to the tenor Mark Milhofer, often reviewed in this magazine. Born in England, Milhofer studied voice as a choral scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. He studied further at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

Listen — Enrico Caruso: Tiempo Antico (1912)
(14096 CD1 track 6, 0:18-1:15) ℗ 2023 Urania Records :

He appeared as Giannetto in Rossini's La gazza ladra with British Youth Opera, and was then invited to study with Renata Scotto and Leyla Gencer in Italy. He made his international debut at the Teatro Regio in Parma in Rossini's La Cenerentola. He appeared in Il matrimonio segreto, Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Rossini's La scala di seta and Il Turco in Italia, and Puccini's La Rondine. He performed in twentieth century operas such as Britten's Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw and as the Madwoman in Britten's Curlew River, and as the Magician in Menotti's The Consul. He took part in the world premieres of Marcello Panni's The Banquet, Marco Tutino's Federico II and Alessandro Solbiati's Leggenda.

Milhofer appeared in leading roles at opera houses in Europe, such as Belmonte in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Landestheater Salzburg and in Rennes, Ramiro in La Cenerentola in Bern, Almaviva in Rossini's Der Barbier von Sevilla at Graz Opera. He performed the role of Ferrando in Giorgio Strehler's staging of Mozart's Così fan tutte in Beijing and Moscow. In 2017, he appeared in a production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea for the reopening of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, staged by Eva Höckmayr and conducted by Diego Fasolis. He was Arnalta, Poppea's nurse, alongside Anna Prohaska as Poppea and Max Emanuel Cencic as Nerone.

In this album, although he does not have the extension of Caruso's voice, he is particularly good in Fenesta Abbandunata, composed by Caruso himself.

Listen — Enrico Caruso: Fenesta Abbandunata (1912)
(14096 CD1 track 3, 0:01-1:01) ℗ 2023 Urania Records :

He is also good in Core N'Grato by Salvatore Cardillo.

Listen — Salvatore Cardillo: Core N'Grato (1911)
(14096 CD2 track 1, 0:31-1:21) ℗ 2023 Urania Records :

Again, too, in Habanera by Pedro Guétary.

Listen — Pedro Guétary: Clemencia (Habanera) (1916)
(14096 CD2 track 15, 1:50-2:36) ℗ 2023 Urania Records :

The pianist Marco Scolastra, also reviewed often in this magazine, accompanies him.

Copyright © 25 February 2023 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy



 << Home              Next review >>