(Naples) A century and a half after his birth, Italian tenor and opera legend Enrico Caruso is finally being celebrated by his hometown of Naples, which is devoting a new museum to him.
Long before Luciano Pavarotti, it was Caruso who represented Italian opera in the vast world, paving the way for music accessible to the greatest number thanks to his prolific recordings at the time of the rise of the gramophone.
Born in 1873, the tenor and his international career now have the honor of a small museum located in the Royal Palace of Naples, inaugurated on Wednesday.
“He’s the greatest tenor the world has ever known,” says curator Laura Valente. “Because beyond his great talent and extraordinary voice, he invented a new way of singing and expressing himself on stage, in this sense like Maria Callas,” she told AFP.
During his lifetime, Caruso gave nearly two thousand concerts and made nearly 250 recordings, making him a recognized media star around the world. His tours have taken him from St. Petersburg to Mexico City, from Buenos Aires to New York.
“He was a tenor of the new century. Above all, he understood that this technology would not weaken his voice, but that it would make it known to the whole world. And that is its innovation,” explains Laura Valente.
The Museo Caruso’s multimedia collection, which includes old recordings, films, posters and photographs, exalts the talent and marketing acumen of the singer, whose voice has been described as “magical”, oscillating between that of a tenor and that of a baritone.
“If this Neapolitan continues to sing like this, he will be talked about all over the world,” conductor Arturo Toscanini predicted of the young Caruso after one of the tenor’s first performances at La Scala in Milan.
He was right.
After a triumphant performance of The Elixir of Love in February 1901 at La Scala – which earned him two encores – Caruso began to tour the world, drawing crowds worldwide.
Admired by kings and loved by the people, Caruso is the first singer to sell a million records. Nearly half of his performances were at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he sang for 18 consecutive seasons beginning in 1903.
Caruso represents a “positive image of Naples in the world,” Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, who attended the museum’s inauguration, told AFP.
Drawing from the archives of opera houses around the world, the Library of Congress and other institutions, the museum presents a small selection of the singer’s costumes, including that of his most famous role, Canio the Clown in Pagliacci.
Also featured are excerpts from a silent film that Caruso made, his old gramophone, and even watercolors he painted by the sea.
Despite his global success, Caruso had a bittersweet relationship with his hometown. A cold reception and poor review following a performance at the Teatro San Carlo in 1901 caused the young singer to swear never to sing in Naples again.
He died there in 1921, at the age of 48.