The previously unpublished private papers of Enrico Caruso, one of the greatest singers of the last century, have come to light for the first time. Love letters with the passion of a Puccini opera are among hundreds of documents charting his rise to world fame and his troubled personal life.
Caruso is such an important figure in the history of performed music that an archive offering new insight into his life, career and vocal technique is significant. It was unavailable even to his son, Enrico Caruso Jr, as he was writing his father’s biography in 1990.
It includes long, tortured letters sent to Ada Giachetti, an opera singer who left her husband for Caruso – only to move again to the family chauffeur. He was devastated, but the archives show that, even years afterwards, he was cabling her money.
Their passionate relationship is reflected in an 1897 letter revealing that the 24-year-old was more concerned about hearing from her than preparing for his Milan debut: “I feel I am going crazy, I can’t control myself … it’s been two days since I had a letter from you … What torture this is.” Elsewhere, he told her that he’d give his life to have her near him.
Despite emotional distractions, Milan turned him into an overnight sensation: “Victory achieved! … the audience called us out at least seven times amidst unanimous applause … my future is secured.”
Caruso, born in 1873 to a poor family, became the most famous and highest-paid singer of his generation, still revered for the sensuous, lyrical quality of his voice. He was the first to sell a million copies of a sound recording.
Despite his success, the physical demands took their toll on him, letters show. He complained of “sweating blood in rehearsals” and, in 1900, wrote of utter exhaustion after one performance: ‘The audience continued for 5 minutes to ask for an encore, and I stubbornly refused … I fell to the ground, and … it took four people to lift me up, I was so tired.”
He grappled too with stage fright, confiding from London in 1904: “Before each performance starts, I get so nervous that I am very nearly beastly with everyone … they say that camomile works well.”
Energy could at least be conserved before American audiences, he discovered. In 1908, he wrote: “Dramatic stresses don’t have any effect in this country… when I use stresses or sobs they applaud rather coldly; but when I sing like an automaton they are all happy and go crazy. I have worked out that, instead of tiring myself out by giving, giving and giving more, I sing in a certain way that works for the Americans and which is an economy of effort for me, and … everyone says ‘Ah! How well Caruso is singing this year! Magnificent!’”
Anxiety about his voice emerges in a 1900 letter: “I can feel something in my chest which restricts the freedom of my voice. At times I have an easy and ringing voice, and [suddenly] it goes dark and I have to force myself to get it out.”
Shortly before his death, he gave the archive to a close friend, with whose descendants it remained. Christie’s in London estimates that it will fetch some £250,000 at auction on November 19.
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