Caruso, Enrico

1874-

The greatest of living tenors was born in Naples, his parents belonging to the peasant class. It is said that he is one of a family of twenty-four children. When he was a child he sang in the streets of Naples and his mother relates, that when he was not more than seven or eight years of age, she used to stop her work to listen to him sing. He has never had any vocal instruction to speak of. When he was barely fifteen he began singing in various churches in Naples, where his voice attracted much attention. He was obliged to go to work at something to help support the family, so went into a factory and remained there for three years. He one day met a distinguished barytone singer, who was so impressed by the great range and natural beauty of Caruso's voice, that he took him to M. Vergine, a teacher of singing, who offered to teach him and take twentyfive per cent of his earnings for the first five years after he made his debut. Caruso consented to this, but after a short period of study he had some disagreements with his instructor and left, enlisting in the Italian army. His colonel became interested in him and procured him a teacher. A year and a half later a brother became his substitute and Enrico was exempted from further service, to go back to Vergine. Six months later he made his debut at the New Theatre, Naples, in L'Amico Francesco. It was a brilliant success. In 1897 he sang the role of Alfredo in La Trayiata and next appeared in La Favorita and in La Gioconda. His real debut was made at Milan, in 1898, where he appeared in La Boheme, La Navarraise and in Cilea's opera founded on Daudet's La Arlesienne. He next went to Genoa, but returned to Milan to sing at La Scala as Jean in the first Italian performance of Sappho. He created there, also, the role of Loris in Fedora. Then followed a successful season in Russia and a season in the principal cities of South America. Caruso was first heard, in America, in January, 1904, and his singing created a veritable furore in New York, Chicago and the half-dozen other cities where he appeared. He sang the role of the duke in Rigoletto, on the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, and was declared by musical critics to be the finest tenor heard in a generation. Since then he has been heard every season in this country and is one of the most popular singers and also one of the biggest drawing cards of the Conried aggregation of operatic stars. One of his vocal feats is to reach the high C in Donna e Mobile in Rigoletto without apparent effort, and musicians have declared that he has never been equaled in quality and range of voice, even by Jean De Reszke in his palmiest days. His voice is a pure tenor of the greatest sweetness and mellowness and of magnificent range. When he first began singing he was content with forty francs a month. His salary at the present time as one of the stars of the Metropolitan Opera Company is $1,200 a night. Vocally perfect, Caruso is also an actor of considerable ability and has won much praise for his impersonation of Rodolpho, in La Boheme, as the clown Canio in I'Pagliacci, as Rhadames in Aida and as Faust. He has also been heard as Edgardo in Lucia de Lammermoor, as Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, in Lohengrin, L'Africaine and La Gioconda. His first attempt to sing in any other language than Italian was when he essayed a few years ago the title role of Faust in French. Caruso is talented as a caricaturist and delights in making humorous drawings of his friends and of himself. He is married, and when not on tours occupies a country home, the Villa alle Panche, near Florence, Italy. In 1907, Signor Caruso was honored by Emperor William of Germany, who conferred upon him the Order of the Crown of Prussia, the Emperor personally remitting to the singer the insignia of the order.