I think one does not have to have heard him live to appreciate Caruso as a
great singer, the greatest of tenors in the twentieth century.
First, the issue of "his real sound" and aging recordings: how well Caruso's
voice took to the gramophone compared to his compatriots is obvious. If you
need a lesson, listen to recordings of Scotti or listen to Battistini's
great recording of O Sommo Carlo. The tenor who sings with him is a relative
unknown, and though he sings acceptably, the voice hardly fills the
recording with sound. The issue of how Caruso sounded recorded is a separate
one from how great a singer he was, though of course it in part explains his
fame. Someone already thought of this experiment (recording modern singers
with the acoustic machine) and apparently during one of the Met Quiz Shows
the roundtable was asked to identify and criticize an old soprano recording.
They were very harsh, but the singer was identified as Birgit Nielson,
recorded acoustically for the show!
Now, the issue of Caruso as a singer. One might refer to essays by WJ
Henderson, who heard De Reszke and all the greats, for testimony to Caruso's
skills. But I think we can hear it for ourselves. I completely agree about
Inspirez-moi Race Divine, definitely one of his greatest records. I would
also listen to his 1904 recordings, particularly Una Furtiva Lagrima. There
is no tenor today, and there has been none since Caruso's passing, who had
comparable skills of breath control or even fioratura. And so far as
artistry, forget it.
If you cannot hear his greatness in the records, I would suggest that your
tastes do not include bel canto. And bel canto really is not modern, it is a
sort of dead art. It is very much to my taste. Unfortunately, modern
singers, particularly modern male singers, are incapable of performing in
this manner. I think the music we usually listen to in opera is best suited
to it, not the verismo technique (which is really the absence of technique).
The beauty of singers like Caruso, is that he could sing in both the old
manner and the new one, from choice, where as the modern singers do only
what they can, which is very little.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For help on commands, files, pictures, etc., visit the homepage: