Born on Feb. 25, 1873, Enrico Caruso was arguably the most important opera singer in the entire history of the art form. Maybe only Maria Callas rivals him in putting the art form into the collective consciousness of 20th century audiences.
Caruso, who was beloved for his simple nature and brilliant voice, was a man capable of selling out any house with his mere presence. This alone made him a major part of the Metropolitan Opera’s development during its early years.
We all know the Caruso touchstones when it comes to repertoire. He was unrivaled in Verdi and Puccini opera’s, perhaps his finest moment coming when he premiered “La Fanciulla del West” at the Met in December 1910.
But he was also a champion of many rare works across different repertoire.
Flowtow’s “Marta” is rarely performed these days, its famous tenor aria the only major remnant of the work that gets occasionally dug up for a recital or orchestral concert here and there. But Caruso was a champion of the opera, performing a whopping 41 times at the Met throughout his career, albeit in Italian instead of the original German.
Meyerbeer’s operas were also a major staple of his repertoire. The composer’s work is rarely performed at any opera house around the world, but Caruso sang a combined 33 performances of “L’Africaine (three times),” “Les Huguenots (13)” and “Le Prophète (17).”
He also championed rare French operas, which include Charpentier’s “Julien” and Halevy’s “La Juive.” He performed in the US premiere for the former, the first of five performances he gave in New York while giving the latter work 15 times at the Met. While the latter work became a major vehicle for Neil Schicoff, few other major tenors have championed the work the way Caruso did.
He also gave seven performances of Gluck’s “Armide,” including its US premiere in 1910.
He was also a big proponent of rare Italian operas throughout his career. Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora” has been performed and recorded by major tenors in recent decades, but the opera is rarely ever given a look at a major opera house these days. Caruso performed it eight times at the Met.
Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” is about the only thing you will hear consistently around the world, a work that Caruso knew quite well. But he also engaged some of the composer’s rarer works, such as “Lodoletta” and “Iris,” giving nine performances of the former, including the US Premiere, and eight of the latter at the Met.
Finally he performed the works of composers we rarely ever hear about today, such as Alberto Franchetti and Italo Montemezzi. Franchetti’s “Germania” got nine performances from Caruso at the Met while Montemezzi’s “L’Amore dei Tre Re” got five. Caruso, as has become a common theme in this piece, also gave the US premiere of “Germania.”
Did we miss any of the rare roles that Caruso championed? Which is your favorite?