Enrico Caruso (b. Errico Caruso) was born on February 25, 1873, in Naples, Italy. He was the third of seven children to a poor alcoholic father. He received little primary education and briefly studied music with conductor Vicenzo Lombardini. His early income was from singing serenades.
Caruso made his operatic debut on March 15, 1895 at a back street theatre in Naples. After a two-year stint on the South Italian circuit he auditioned for Giacomo Puccini in the summer of 1897. Puccini was looking for a leading tenor for a performance of ‘La Boheme’ in Livorno. Puccini was so impressed with the range and tone of the young Caruso’s voice, that he reportedly mumbled in awe, “Who sent you to me? God himself?” After an unfriendly reception of his performance in Naples, Caruso vowed to never sing in Naples again, and he never did.
His first major role creations were in operas ‘Il Voto’, composed by Umberto Giordano, on November 10, 1897, and ‘L’Arlesiana’ by Francesco Cilea on November 27, 1897, at the Teatro Lirico di Milano. Next season Caruso started with a role creation in ‘Fedora’, composed by Umberto Giordano, performed on the same stage on November 17, 1898. His first recording contract was signed in 1902, in London, with the Gramophone and Typewriter Company for ten arias at the rate of 10 pounds per take. In May, 1902, Caruso debuted at the Covent Garden Opera in ‘Rigoletto’ by Giuseppe Verdi. With the help of the banker Pasquale Simonelli, he went to New York. There Caruso made his Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1903. He performed for the Met the next eighteen seasons, making 607 appearances in 37 different operatic productions.
Caruso was the first recording star in history, who sold more than a million records with his 1902 recording of ‘Vesti le gubba’ from ‘Pagliacci’ (Clowns) by ‘Leoncavallo’. His voice had a combination of the full baritone-like character with the smooth and brilliant tenor qualities. His range was broadened into baritone at the expense of the higher tenor notes, Caruso never sang the high C, and often transposed in order to avoid it. He was a master of interpretation, having a rare gift of portamento and legato, and a superior command of phrasing. His legendary 1904 Victor recording of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, by Gaetano Donizetti is used in many film soundtracks.
He contracted pneumonia and developed a complication in the form of pleural inflammation (plerisy), followed by abscesses in his lungs. After a series of unsuccessful surgeries Enrico Caruso died on August 2, 1921, in Naples, Italy. He was laid to rest in Naples, Italy.