Enrico Caruso

The tumultuous personal life of the great tenor Enrico Caruso, as dramatic as any opera, is illuminated by a treasure trove of letters and other documents offered for sale at Christie’s.

Born in Naples in 1873, Enrico was the third of seven children. The Carusos were poor, and from the age of about 10 he apprenticed as a mechanic. A love of song soon manifested itself, though, and he began singing Neapolitan classics in bars and cafés. Caruso made his operatic debut in his home town’s Teatro Nuovo in 1895. He would steadily go on to conquer the great opera houses of the world.

He also had a personal life as colourful and dramatic as any opera he appeared in. Caruso spent lavishly on homes, clothes, hotel suites, jewellery and a string of lovers. He had two children with the singer Ada Giachetti, before starting a long-term relationship with her sister Rina and ultimately marrying the American heiress Dorothy Park Benjamin in 1918. He died three years later, from pleurisy, aged 48.

A huge archive of Caruso’s personal documents is currently being offered at Christie’s for private sale. It includes 282 letters and telegrams sent by him, and 423 sent to him, dating from across his career.

‘These letters tell a gripping story,’ says Thomas Venning, head of Books and Manuscripts at Christie’s in London. ‘They take us inside Caruso’s mind, as he grew from provincial tenor into the world’s most famous singer — as well as bringing us the point of view of those close to him, drawn along by this human whirlwind. He seems to have been on a constant emotional rollercoaster.’

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