Enrico Caruso - Voice of the Century
Of the two discs here, the second is in sound only and comprises 14 tracks, not necessarily offered (or acceptable) as ‘the best of Caruso’ but a good selection even so. The DVD is in two parts: a concise biography and a showing of My Cousin, the silent movie Caruso made in 1918. Some may reckon it to be a pretty terrible film; I loved it.
Caruso is cast in a dual role as world-famous tenor and impoverished sculptor. In the first role we see him appearing in Pagliacci,/I>, showing the entrance (‘Un grande spettacolo’), arioso, ending and a curtain-call: not much, perhaps, but the nearest we shall ever come to seeing Caruso on stage. It looks as though he was actually singing, not just miming, and the face is unforgettable, almost shocking in its naked emotion.
The real gift and revelation, however, is Caruso’s portrayal of the sculptor. He is more than half a comic figure, ageing, unsuccessful, good-hearted and quite capable of laying out the bad guy and getting the girl in the end; he has a kind of dignity, and some pathos, too, but is still a figure of fun. And Caruso really is this character (and no doubt the duality was a mirror of his life). He plays up to the camera in the manner of silent films but he acts naturally, face and body always alive, convincing and compelling.
The biography, too, is a pleasure to watch. It wastes no time and is good at matching the story with the image, vivid in its evocation of the times as well as of the great tenor himself. The commentators speak with authority and almost entirely without the sanctimonious generalities which this kind of exercise tends to elicit. Two remarks have found their way to my heart. Enrico Jr says he prefers the 78s to any of the re-makes, and when he plays one says to himself ‘That’s my papa’. And Plácido Domingo recalls evenings at home in his youth when the record-collecting elders would get together, producing between them perhaps 20 different versions of an aria (also on 78s), and when the inevitable comparisons were made Caruso always emerged the winner. Enough of the voice is heard throughout the film to let a newcomer understand why.