Caruso’s only recording session in 1905 took place in New York on February 27th. He recorded just five numbers. He was again accompanied only by a piano. Though still singing French arias in Italian, the two French selections are the most successful. Caruso’s vocal control was getting more secure. Still he fell back on falsetto in an unexpected place – the end of the Brindisi from Cavalleria Rusticana. Part of the problem was that his high notes still were not properly placed as they would be by the following year. There is a throaty quality to some of them.
Bianca al par di neve alpina (Plus blanche que la blanche hermine), from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, is beautifully sung with the soft passages fully supported. The solo viola is missed; this unavoidable omission reduces the romance’s overall effect, nevertheless it’s the best performed of the five arias from this 1905 session.
By 1906 Caruso had his technique completely under control and was obviously comfortable in the primitive recording studios of the time. This year also marks the beginning of an “orchestral” accompaniment to his singing. The few instruments that the recording horn could pick up added a little bit for the listener and perhaps more for the singer. He also started to sing French arias in that language.
M’appari from Flowtow’s Martha show Caruso in fine form. He sustains a long line and modulates his tone to the demands of the piece. It was a best seller even for Caruso. Incidentally, there’s more to this opera than its famous tenor aria. It deserves more performances than it gets.
His first recording in French was Salut, demeure chaste et pure from Faust. The aria’s high C is taken as written even though he transposed two other high Cs at the same session down a half tone. The high note is attacked in an unusual way. It starts out almost as head tone but is swelled to almost a full voiced note.
Also new in 1906 were recordings that featured other singers. The first of these, and perhaps the most celebrated, was the duet, with his friend and fellow Neapolitan Antonio Scotti, from La Forza Del Destino Solenne in questora. This is the duet were people were said to have trouble telling the tenor part from that of the baritone so well blended are the two.
In December of 1906 Caruso recorded two songs –Triste ritorno by Richard Barthélemy and Ideale by Paolo Tosti. Both are beautifully sung; the former shows off Caruso’s baritone like lower register while the latter is sung with a wonderful line and sweetness of tone. They show the tenor at the start of his vocal maturity and mastery.
In 1907 Caruso recorded two selections from French operas. As they were typically given at that time in Italian, it was in that language that he recorded them. Caruso give O paradiso from Meyerbeer’s L’Africana a virtually perfect reading except for the final release of the aria’s last syllable. His ability to blend soft singing with a clarion tone is brilliantly displayed here. That it’s Caruso singing is instantly realized. The duet from The Pearl Fishers –Del tempio al limita – (Au fond du temple saint) with Mario Ancona is as good or better than any that followed. A second performance of Vesti la giubba was put to disc that year. It is more dramatic and powerful than that of 1902. It includes the extended orchestral postlude that concludes the aria.
Caruso’s fully rounded tone from top to bottom is unlike that of any tenor who suceeded him. When I was very young I knew a number of opera goers who had heard Caruso in performance. They all said that his recordings left out more than half of what was there in the auditorium.