Caruso returned to the recording studio in November of 1911. Two of the arias he recorded were from Leoncavallo’s La Boheme. This opera might have had a chance at modest success if Puccini’s extraordinary setting of the same story hadn’t appeared at about the same time. In Leoncavallo’s version Marcello is sung by a tenor.
Io non ho che una povera stanzetta is Marcello’s Act 2 invitation to Musetta to move in with him after she’s been evicted for not paying her rent. Testa adorata is perhaps the most well known number in the opera. It depicts Marcello’s despair after Musetta has left in in Act 3. Love can be even more evanescent in opera than in real life. Both arias show Caruso’s voice at its height. He caresses the vocal line and modulates his tone to the needs of the music. His high notes are like a torch.
By 1911 Caruso was running out of music from the standard repertoire. He increasingly turned to songs or looked for novelties. Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Gomes (1836 -1896) provided one such novelty from his opera about slavery in his native country Lo Schiavo – L’importuna insistenza; Quando nascesti tu. Caruso makes as much as possible of the aria which manages to repeat itself four times in just a few minutes.
He recorded Core ‘ngrato in 1911. The Neapolitan dialect obviously gave him no problem as he grew up speaking it. His name was Errico before it became Enrico. His interpretation is fine but it isn’t the emotional whirlwind that Giuseppe Di Stefano makes of it. In this comparison Caruso clearly comes in second.
The last act, Invano Alvaro, duet from Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino was put on two sides of a disc. The tempi are rushed so it can fit on just these two sides. The great Pasquale Amato, a fellow Neapolitan, is the baritone. Caruso’s voice is so dramatic that the piece sounds likes rehearsal for Otello. He finally got Celeste Aida right on his last recording of 1911. He didn’t bother trying to sing the climactic high note softly; he just belted it out. This version of the aria could serve as a model for all subsequent tenors. The same day he recorded Ah! fuyez, douce image from Massenet’s Manon. There’s so much voice in this reading that no tenor has yet come close.
In the first week of 1912 Caruso recorded the Act 3 trio (Qual voluttà transcorrere ) from Verdi’s I Lombardi. Francis Alda and Marcel Journet were his colleagues. Caruso interpolated two high notes near the end of the number. These notes make for a thrilling version of the piece and also allow the tenor to completely take over the trio. No other performance of this trio that I’ve heard has the excitement of this one.
Caruso rerecorded the Rigoletto quartet (Bella figlia dell’amore ) mainly because of the availability of Luisa Tetrazzini. Tetrazzini was one of the few singers Caruso considered his vocal peer. The recording horn wasn’t as kind to sopranos as tenors so we’re likely missing a lot of the magical effect she had on audiences. Caruso elects to take a very lyrical approach to the Duke’s part in this version. He sounds like the lyric tenor he was 10 years earlier rather than the heroic tenor he had become. Until the end of his career he maintained the ability to go lyric whenever he felt like it. Josephine Jacoby and Pasquale Amato are the other two singers in the quartet.
At the end of 1912 Caruso once again recorded a duet with his friend Antonio Scotti. They recorded the Act 2 (if your doing the five act version) duet from Don Carlo(s) Dio, che nell’alma infondere. Everything about how to perform Don Carlo is confused. Obviously they sang it in Italian though productions in the Italian version usually run four acts omitting the Fontainebleau scene (Act 1). Regardless, the duet is very well done even if it doesn’t reach the level of excellence that their Forza duet did.
Leoncavallo’s song Lasciate amar was recorded in the Spring of 1913. Caruso’s singing is appropriately scaled down for the piece. It’s entirely forgettable were it not for Caruso’s recording. On the same day he sang the “Cujus animan” from Rossini’s Stabat Mater. The high d-flat near its end is a mangled falsetto shout. Its best left out of this article. He was more successful with Addio alla madre from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. This was his last recording in 1913. It’s a role he never sang at the Met.
More to come.