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Subject: Re: Caruso v Contemporary/Re: Pavarotti Ranking
From: Comcast Mail <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Comcast Mail <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 3 Apr 2004 00:26:57 -0500

text/plain (100 lines)

I was acquainted with two individuals who not only heard Caruso in the
theater but also worked with him and/or personally knew him.

One was my cousin, Ernestine Gautier, who was a member of the original
Boston Opera Company from 1910 to 1914.  Prior to that time, she was on tour
with Caruso in 1906 when they were caught in the San Francisco earthquake.
Ernie was in her late 80s and I was in my early 20s when I knew her.  Her
comment was that Caruso's voice was everything complementary that everyone
has ever written about it and more.  She said that it was not a question of
Caruso being the best in every aspect of singing but that each of the vocal
qualities he had were of such a high level, that  he was so fully rounded in
all aspects of singing, that no one could compare with him.  There was
Caruso and then there were all of the other opera singers.

The second individual was Gretl Urban, the daughter of the great stage
designer Joseph Urban.  I sought out Gretl in the mid-1990s and found her
resident at a nursing home in the lower part of New Jersey.  Gretl came into
contact with Caruso when her father came to the Met after the financial
collapse of the Boston Opera Company (Gretl designed many if not most of the
costumes for her father's productions, for which the Met paid  her $5.00
each for her watercolor designs).  Her description was that when you were in
the theater and Caruso appeared on stage, his voice lifted you out of your
seat, gently caressed you overall, and held you suspended there until the
end of the performance.  Gretl was also very fond of Caruso as an
individual.  When she went to the Met with her father she was in her early
teens.  Most of the staff, from Gatti on down, treated her and talked down
to her as a child.  In the alternative, Caruso instantly recognized that,
while she was young in years, as her father's close confidant she was much
more mature.  Consequently, he treated her like a young adult, never
condescending, never talking down to her.

Ernie gave me an unusual souvenir associated with Caruso.  While examining
the San Francisco ruins together (with other singers), Ernie spotted a
twisted fused piece of metal and stone that she wanted as a souvenir.
Caruso offered to get it for her, climbed over the rubble, and did so -- but
he burnt his fingers in the process.  When he initially picked it up he had
to drop it because of the heat.  Ernie told him to leave it there.  But
Caruso said that if she wanted it she would have it, and insisted on
scooping it up for her, using (and ruining) his hat as a shield to pick up
the hot object. When they met again  after an interval of some years, the
first thing that Caruso did was hold up his hand, wiggle his fingers, and
say "Remember what I did for you."

My original intent on searching out Gretl was to secure the legal rights to
her father's work as I wanted to reproduce his Boston Opera Company designs
for Charpentier's Louise and his Metropolitan Opera design for Strauss'
Elektra.  With regard to the latter, I wanted to produce the initial design
he did for the Met (the first of three or more) which the Met refused to
accept because it was too "barbaric".  To the extent that the same was
legally possible, Gretl transferred to me the rights to use any and all of
her father's designs (these materials are currently housed at Columbia).

In discussing Elektra the question of Strauss came up.  Gretl said that
Strauss had been a close friend of the family but then the relationship
cooled for a time.  The source of the distancing was Strauss' belief that he
had offended Urban by choosing another designer for one of Strauss' European
productions.  When they came into contact again, this time in New York,
Strauss started to apologize for not choosing Urban but Urban stopped him,
stating that he knew that Strauss was bound by house politics to choose the
designer that he did.  Thereafter their friendship resumed.

With the discussion of Strauss, I brought up the issue of Pauline.  Gretl's
comment was that no one could understand how such a nice man had married
such a terrible woman.  Gretl also commented that, the first time that
Strauss and Pauline came to dinner at the Urban residence in NY, "You know
what that woman had the nerve to do?  As soon as she entered the house, she
started giving orders to OUR servants!"  It was another lifetime and another
world. :)

Ray Gouin
Melrose, MA


----- Original Message -----
From: "maureen kirsten" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2004 5:58 PM
Subject: Caruso v Contemporary/Re: Pavarotti Ranking

I've always just accepted that Caruso was God, then it came to me that I'd
never heard him -- except for very old one-sided 78s and "remastered" CDs.
Has anyone on this List heard Caruso live?    Curiously, who might that be,
and has he/she a statement on file certifying the pre-eminence?

[This is beautiful-Friday-afternoon-thinking:  Is there a way to AGE the
recordings of our current favorites in order to fairly compare them with

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