Enrico Caruso

Christie’s in London announced the auction of Caruso’s Personal Archive, comprising approximately 283 autograph letters and telegrams by Caruso and approximately 425 letters and telegrams addressed to him. The sale is scheduled for November 19 and is estimated at $250-400.000. In the lot are also financial papers, comprising approximately 185 bills, receipts, personal accounts, payment slips, pay-books, bank statements, banking correspondence, insurance documents.

The presentation text from Christie’s says: « An unknown and unpublished archive of Caruso’s rise from provincial obscurity to world fame, revealing for the first time in its full complexity the story of his relationship with the two Giachetti sisters, Ada and Rina. The present archive was inaccessible even to Enrico Caruso Jr in writing his biography of his father (Enrico Caruso, My Father and My Family. Amadeus Press, Portland, 1990).

At the heart of the archive are Caruso’s love letters to Ada Giachetti, a passionate and in places anguished correspondence, whilst also providing a remarkable degree of insight into Caruso’s life and career, including on occasion aria-by-aria accounts of key performances. The 25-year old daughter of a civil servant, Ada Giachetti, was already well established as a dramatic soprano in the regional opera houses of Italy when she and Caruso met during the summer opera season at the Teatro Goldoni in Livorno, where they sang together for the first time on 7 July 1897, as Violetta and Alfredo in La Traviata. Caruso was less well known at this point, some two years after his stage debut, and was still struggling to overcome the difficulties at the top of his vocal range which had blighted his early career. Although Ada was married, to Gino Botti, with a two-year old son, Lelio, the two began an enduring relationship that summer: Giachetti left her husband shortly before the birth of a son, Rodolfo Caruso, on 2 July 1898, and suspended her career as a singer in 1900; a second son, Enrico jr, was born on 7 September 1904. The relationship was to come to a shattering halt in the summer of 1908, when, notoriously, Ada left Caruso for the family’s chauffeur, Cesare Romati.

The correspondence in the very early stages of their relationship is especially rich both on an emotional and a technical level: in particular, a series of letters written in October-November 1897 whilst preparing for his crucial Milan debut reveal an extraordinary degree of emotional distraction at one of the critical moments of Caruso’s professional life, veering between expressions of anguish at not receiving a letter (‘I feel I am going crazy, I can’t control myself, I feel as if I’m dying, it’s been two days since I had a letter from you … God, what torture this is’) to outpourings of sexual longing (‘I need your body to be bound to mine to enjoy what is not granted to others to enjoy – for the rest of our lives’), sometimes signing off with seemingly endless sequences of amorous exclamations (‘Cuore mio! Vita mia! Anima mia! Sangue mio! Bellezza mia! Giogia mia! Ciaciarella mia! Mimmina mia!’). His Milan debut itself on 4 November is described in exhilarated detail (‘Vittoria! Vittoria! …’), but less than a week later, on the day on which he created the leading role in Giordano’s Il voto, the performance is barely mentioned, so distracted is Caruso by a misunderstanding with Ada.

Such passionate letters recur throughout the series, and there are equally letters on domestic concerns, discussing the children, and notably in a long series concerned with the refurbishment of their house at Bellosguardo in 1906; but Caruso’s letters always revolve around his career and his art – whether on tour in South America, St Petersburg, London, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and elsewhere, or during his residencies in New York – and enable one to track his growing fame, his moods, from the hard slog of rehearsal (‘I am sweating blood in rehearsals’), to rare moments of leisure, his views on different operas (notably on his early bug-bear Rigoletto which in 1900 ‘scares me to death’), the days when his great voice defies his own explanation (‘I myself cannot explain the way in which I sang. I was calm, my voice steady, a great spontaneity, and I sang as if I was speaking’, 17 August 1903), the days of stage fright (‘before each performance starts I get so nervous that I am very nearly beastly with everyone … they say that camomile works well’, London, May 1904) and the days in which the pressures of fame almost sweep him away: one letter from London in June 1906 recounts an extraordinarily hectic schedule, between a performance of Rigoletto, a dress rehearsal for Aida, a lunch, a dinner, attendance at a sporting event in the presence of the King, two hours spent replying to letters, and more.

The archive is silent for the years between Ada’s departure in 1908 and 1912, when somewhat improbably her former role as unofficial wife, chatelaine and guardian of his children was filled by her younger sister, Rina (with whom Caruso may have had a brief affair in 1906); Enrico jr even records a formal engagement party in the summer of 1912 — which must have more or less coincided with the apparent affair with Vina Velasquez, whose letters survive here. By this stage however Caruso’s career and life had gravitated to the United States, and in part because of the difficulties of wartime travel he was not to return to Italy for three years after the summer of 1916, a period during which his communications home became less and less frequent (a letter from Rina on 7 January 1918 complains that it is five months since he has written). On 20 August 1918, Caruso married the 25-year old Dorothy Park Benjamin in New York; their daughter Gloria was born in 1919. After months of illness, Caruso died in Naples on 2 August 1921, at the age of 48. »

Here are some excerpts from letters:

On his Milan debut: ‘Victory! Victory! … Victory achieved in every way, and beyond what even I could have imagined, so unsure was I of the part throughout … I was a little nervous before coming on stage because my voice felt very heavy especially in the lower range, but then … I sang my first duet stupendously … I came out again to sing my little romanza and at the end of this, which finishes with a splendid B flat, the whole theatre rose in applause, which must have lasted at least five minutes … At the end of the performance, the audience called us out at least seven times amidst unanimous applause … In short, my future is secured’. 4 November 1897

A performance of Mefistofele in Buenos Aires: ‘The audience continued for 5 minutes to ask for an encore, and I stubbornly refused: the battle was not over and we still had the finale. I was hoarse and hardly able to go on, but … when at the end of ‘Baluardo m’è il vangelo’, I took one of those C naturals, which I felt in my head really well, and I held it until I was out of strength, carrying it then like a baritone – the whole theatre rose … I fell to the ground, and … it took four people to lift me up I was so tired’. 8 June 1900

On the American taste in singing: ‘Dramatic stresses don’t have any effect in this country, because 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 that’s when everyone says “Ah! How well Caruso is singing this year! Magnificent!”’. New York, 28 January 1908

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