Enrico Caruso, born on Feb. 25, 1873, might just be the most famous tenor of all time. Perhaps he might even be the most famous opera singer ever to grace the earth.
He came from humble beginnings in Naples and there is even an urban legend that his parents might have had around 21 children and 18 died in infancy. Regardless, his mother encouraged him to take on a singing career and he found work as a street singer and performed at cafes and soirees. His career would be interrupted by military service but once he had completed his term, he resumed his singing.
At age 22, he made his professional debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples, but it would be many years before he was given a true chance to breakout. In 1900, he earned a contract with La Scala and performed “La Bohème” under the baton of Toscanini. It was during this time that he broke out and started earning major opportunities around Europe. In 1901, he performed in a concert to commemorate the recent death of Verdi, appearing alongside the likes of Francesco Tamagno. In April 1902, he was engaged by Gramophone & Typewriter Company to do some acoustic recordings. The discs he made became best sellers and suddenly he was hired by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to do a string of performances.
In 1903, he made his Met debut and a few months later he started his association with Victor Talking Machine Company; he would retain a lengthy association with both companies.
From this point forward, he became a major artist around the world.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, he started to suffer from purulent pleurisy and empyema. His health deteriorated and on August 2, 1921, he died at the age of 48.
His legacy lives on to this day.
Caruso sang a wide range of repertory. His most performed role at the Met was that of Radamès in “Aida;” he performed the opera 92 times in his Met career.
Other roles that he performed quite often included Cavaradossi in “Tosca,” the Duke in “Rigoletto,” and Rodolfo in “La Bohème.” Those four roles made up over 25 percent of the 863 performances he took on between 1903 and 1920.
Read More on Caruso
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“Fitzcarraldo” is Another Film Obsessed With Caruso
Watch and Listen
Check out some of his most renowned opera recordings (12 hours-worth of recordings).