CARUSO (1873 - 1921) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
ideal is to take vintage-condition originals and play them straightforwardly on
state-of-the-art equipment, and then use the finest equipment to transfer the
sound of _that_ on to the finished product. A few labels honestly seek to do that.
It's very time-intensive. Right now, Ward Marston is finishing up quite a stunning
job of precisely that kind of Caruso restoration for the NAXOS label. No attempt
is made to make these old records sound digital. Rather, the sonic essentials
that the old process captured are being reproduced with the utmost care. It does
not sound like a modern recording. But it does reproduce, with as much accuracy
as possible, as much of the sound of Caruso's voice as was honestly caught on
the old '78s -- and there is more to that than one might expect. I doubt there
is any other Caruso transfer that has been quite as direct and untampered with
in this respect.
own odyssey has traced quite a change in attitude. When I first heard some pretty
inferior Caruso transfers, I gravitated to the later records (his discography
goes from 1902 to 1920) because the voice becomes a bold, rotund sound by that
time and, at first, I found the openness and apparently deep support of the tones
far preferable. The earliest records, from the '00s, seemed a trifle bleaty, even
unsupported, by comparison.
I started hearing Marston's first CD transfers (for the PEARL label), that started
to change. I found a sweetness, a relaxed, flowing quality to the earliest records
that was exhilarating, with a welcome "unmuscled" tone that had been
sadly attenuated in the previous transfers (the only originals I had ever heard
had come from his later period, the "Deh, ch'io ritorni" and so on).
This was an eye-opener. Further listening to the new NAXOS remake (the transfers
here are all new, reflecting a lifetime of listening and rediscovery -- an art
all its own) has now made me an unequivocal admirer of Caruso's singing from 1904
- 1908, so much so that I now prefer this period to the later years, by and large!
are exceptions. The final records have an undeniably greater richness of tone
and feeling, but the easy suavity and long line of 1904-1908, and the greater
dynamic variety and suppleness heard in those earlier years, is simply staggering,
unparallelled in the later phase.
said, in 1911 and 1912, some of the earlier suavity and suppleness is coupled
with much of the richness of tone of the final phase. An argument could be made
for this being, in fact, his peak. But since there continue to be gems right up
to the end of his recorded output (even a few miracles of flexibility, like the
"Mia piccirella" and the "Ombra mai fu", with its immacculate
trill, from his last years!), I wouldn't be without the whole series.
to whether he is the greatest, well (and I'm in a bit of a minority here), his
occasional habit toward the end of his career of almost slamming into certain
notes (and remember, he was still under fifty when he died, so we're hardly talking
about someone over the hill here!) can sometimes be unsettling -- for me -- and
for that reason, I might turn to one or two other tenors _if_ I were to risk naming
any single tenor as _the_ greatest at all (a tricky exercise). At the same time,
Caruso at the end will occasionally use the somewhat more effortful style he has
developed to profound expressive effect. Almost as if he is aware of the pitfalls
involved, he is careful enough as an artist to integrate this (unavoidable?) necessity
into a credible communicative design, where -- in context -- it does not seem
like a flaw.
is genius -- and also instinct.
ultimately, the greatness of Caruso lies in the way he always seems in close touch
with his innermost being, his instinctive being, no matter what he sings. It's
as if he never allows himself to sing anything that hasn't touched him in the
closest possible way. Many a listener has perhaps felt that, and maybe that's
why so many listeners continue to fall under his spell year after year.
in my own case, while it was superior transfers that enabled me to fall under
the spell of his earliest records, it was those same wonderful transfers that
made me more aware than I had been of the slight effortfulness in his last '78s.
At one time, it somehow seemed self-evident to me that Caruso eventually became
a flawless singer over time, but now, superior transfers reveal him as having
become a flawed, though affectingly human, one instead.
CALLAS (1923 - 1977) -- HER BEST RECORDINGS IN GOOD SOUND
-- FROM COMEDY TO TRAGEDY
CORELLI (1921 - 2003) -- RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS
CARLOS -- RANDOM JOTTINGS
TENOR AND RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
ROBERT MERRILL (1917 - 2004)
NORMA -- TRADITIONS LOST AND RESTORED
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
OF OPERA IN MINIATURE
TAUBER (1891 - 1948) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
IN LA TRAVIATA
OVERVIEW OF TRISTAN ON CD
TROVATORE ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES