In 1916 Caruso again recorded Je crois entendre encore from the first act of The Pearl Fishers – this time in French. This version compared to that of 1904 is a great improvement though still not up to Gigli’s standard. It’s transposed down a half tone. The final high note is full voiced rather than the poorly done falsetto of the first recording.
Caruso first sang Saint-Saëns Samson on the opening night of the 1915 season. At this point in his career his dark voice was perfect for the role. He recorded Vois ma misere, helas the following year. At the beginning of 1917 he recorded the Rigoletto quartet for the fourth time. The reason for this redundancy was the appearance Amelita Galli-Curci.
Her presence seems to have inspired Caruso to go beyond what he had done previously with this music. He sounds like Orpheus and Apollo combined. It’s hard to listen to any of the other singers. For the record, the remaining two were Flora Perini and Giuseppe De Luca.
Stanislao Gastaldon’s aria, Musica proibita, from his opera Mala Pasqua! was also recorded in 1917. Based on the same story by Giovanni Verga that Mascagni used for Cavalleria Rusticana it’s popularity as a concert piece and on recordings has made almost everyone forget it’s from an opera. If Mascagni is a one opera composer poor Gastaldon is a one aria composer. Caruso again shows his uncanny ability to go from loud to soft not only with full vocal support, but with no effort or change in vocal production save for the change in volume.
Having recorded almost everything in his repertoire he turned to Anton Rubinstein’s forgotten opera Néron. Ah! lumiere du jou is interesting enough to make one wonder what the rest of the opera is like. Caruso’s baritone like timbre is particularly well shown off in this recording. This is as good a spot as any to wonder why he never recorded either of the two tenor arias from La Fanciulla Del West. Dick Johnson was a role he created. The omission of these two pieces from his discography is as striking as it is puzzling.
Caruso first portrayed Don Alvaro in Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino an the Met’s opening night in 1918. The night was also notable for Rosa Ponselle’s first appearance at the Met or indeed at any opera house. It was also the first time the opera ever had been staged at the Met. The baritone that evening was Giuseppe De Luca. A few months before their first performance together in the opera they recorded the Sleale duet. This duet is usually cut in Italian performances of Forza. Why, I’ve never understood. It’s exciting and has a great solo high note for the tenor – Caruso aspirates it here losing a little of it’s effectiveness. Richard Tucker did it better.
Caught up in the war effort as was everyone else in the US, Caruso recorded George M Cohan’s Over there four months before the war ended. It’s Italianate English adds to its charm. In a nod to our French allies he sang the second stanza in French.
Now 45 years old and a long time two pack a day smoker he was still at his vocal peak. which is to say he was better than any other tenor.
One more to come.