Naples fetes Italy's great tenor Caruso with new museum

AFP , Thursday 20 Jul 2023

A century and a half after his birth, Italian tenor and opera legend Enrico Caruso is finally being celebrated by his hometown of Naples with a new museum.

A visitor looks at a portrait of Italian tenor and opera legend Enrico Caruso at the Enrico Caruso Museum housed within the city s Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale), in Naples, on July 19, 2023 (Photo: AFP)

Long before Luciano Pavarotti, it was Caruso who represented Italian opera to the rest of the world, ushering in an era of music for the masses with his prolific recordings at the advent of the gramophone industry.

Born in 1873, the tenor and his international career are the focus of a small museum housed within the city's Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) that opened to the public on Wednesday.

"He was the greatest tenor ever known to the world," curator Laura Valente told AFP.

"Because beyond his great talent and extraordinary voice, he forged a new way of singing and expressing himself on stage, in this sense like Maria Callas," she said.

During his lifetime, Caruso gave nearly 2,000 performances and made close to 250 recordings, making him a recognised media star across the world. He toured from Saint Petersburg to Mexico City, Buenos Aires and New York.

"He was a tenor of the new century. More than anything he understood that this technology wouldn't lessen his voice, but rather bring his voice to the world. And that was his innovation," Valente said.

The multimedia exhibits of the "Museo Caruso" seek to bring to life the extraordinary talent and marketing savvy of the singer, whose voice was described as "magical", hovering between a tenor and a baritone. The collection includes old recordings, film footage, playbills and photographs.

- Admired by kings -

When the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini heard one of the young Caruso's early performances at La Scala, he predicted: "If this Neapolitan continues to sing like this, he'll make the whole world talk about him."

He was right.

After a triumphant performance of "Elisir d'Amore" in February 1901 at La Scala -- which earned him two encores -- Caruso began touring the globe, attracting droves of fans worldwide.

Admired by kings, and beloved by the people, Caruso was the first singer to sell 1 million records.

Nearly half of his performances were at New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he sang for 18 consecutive seasons from 1903.

Caruso represents a "positive image of Naples in the world," Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano told AFP at the museum's opening.

Drawing from the archives of opera houses around the world, as well as 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 presented are audio clips from recordings, his old gramophone, and watercolours he painted of the seaside.

And in something of an irony for a world-renowned opera singer, you can even view excerpts from a silent film he made.

Despite his success around the world, Caruso had a bittersweet relationship with his native city. After cool reception and a bad review following a 1901 performance at the Teatro San Carlo, the young singer vow to never again sing in Naples.

Instead, he died there in 1921, at the age of 48.

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