The Great Caruso

No question that Enrico Caruso was great. Among discriminating critics of an earlier generation, who had heard notable singers of the nineteenth century--from Giovanni Rubini to Italo Campanini--the verdict was nearly unanimous: Caruso’s voice was richer, his musicianship more thorough. Phonograph records, ranging from the tinny acoustical to the dry electrical records of the artist’s era, amply demonstrate today that Caruso surpassed his contemporaries, Alessandro Bonci and Giovanni Martinelli. His successors, Beniamino Gigli, Jussi Bjorling, and lesser contemporary claimants, have always been compared against the high standards of Caruso’s art. Michael Scott points out that the tenor not only set these standards, he also changed the popular taste in operatic singing from the high-vibrato style of his time to an open-voiced bel canto technique that, at its best, requires sonority, great breath control, and flexibility. How Caruso impressed his listeners can best be judged when, in 1895, as a yet-uncelebrated singer of twenty-four years of age, he sang for Giacomo Puccini. The composer exclaimed, “Who sent you? God?” In meticulous detail, Scott reviews Caruso’s career, citing the musical reviews from wherever the artist traveled, from his beginnings in a Naples slum to his presence in elegant opera houses throughout most of the Western world. During this time, opera critics tended to judge not only the technical qualities of an artist’s performance but...

(The entire section is 424 words.)