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Caruso's Last Canadian Concert Tour

In September, 1920, Montreal and Toronto audiences came out in droves to hear the tenor who had become a legend in his own time. In the series of accompanying articles, taken from September and October 1920 issues of Musical Canada, we get a glimpse of Enrico Caruso just weeks before that tragic December performance of L'Elisir d'Amore in New York City when he began spitting up blood on stage.

Listening to his records today, we can detect a gradual move downward from the light, lyrical voice of his early career to a deeper, more robust sound in his latter performances. In fact, in many of his final recordings, one can easily hear his laboured breathing, undoubtedly a result of his years of heavy cigarette smoking, an ominous portent of his developing battle with cancer.

In these articles it is interesting that there is no hint that there was anything in Caruso's concert performances here that would indicate a lessening of his vocal powers. However, in Augustus Bridle's article, "Caruso is One of the Greatest Baritones in the World", the point is made that "the Caruso of the records is not the true Caruso which comes out in his superb baritone voice."

Bridle says, "At 47, he has not lost an atom of his surprising virility and inspirational technique," and later, "When he becomes worn out as a tenor he can put in a decade as a recital baritone." Well, perhaps he did, after all, as a baritone in the Celestial Choir.

Excerpts from "Caruso Is One Of The Greatest Baritones In The World"

Astounding Caruso, the people's idol and the world's greatest baritone-tenor, came to Canada and in two evenings moved enough money from the pockets of the public to build a good-sized hotel. The two Caruso fests in Montreal and Toronto represented the biggest "gate" ever taken in Canada for anything whatever; in Montreal, $30,000; in Toronto, $18,000. The people who predicted that the public would be like themselves - go to a movie rather than pay "such prices" - were badly fooled. He has been responsible in the best of 30 years for the turn-over of multi-millions through managers, impresarios and ticket vendors.

Caruso is the kind of phenomenon that vocal teachers study to discover what vocalism really is - and is not. He burst into metropolitan opera about 20 years ago with a thrill that caught up the grand, old, never-to-be- again days of Jean de Reszke, and with a furor unsurpassed even by Melba, who arrived about the same time and whom he has lived to see almost an old woman. He was a vocal veteran when he was 40. His career has been a continuous crescendo, whose "decresc." has not yet begun. He has become as famous as a great baseball pitcher to about the same 57 varieties of people, and he has at once remained the pet of the plutocrats in the boxes and the admiration of the masters in their studios.

To crown all his conglomerate distinctions, Caruso has never sung an oratorio, and was doubtful if he ever could do a complete tenor role in an oratorio without being a worse caricature than he has ever made of himself with a pencil. But there are moments when that voix celeste melts into a mezzo voce when you could imagine him sending pathetic shudders down the spines of a multitude in "Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart."

Caruso is in many respects the world's greatest baritone. The older he gets the more certain this is. That he has for 20 years thrilled the world as its alleged greatest tenor is no contradiction. The Caruso known on the records is not the real Caruso who, had he not found himself possessed of a phenomenally high voice for a baritone, would now have been singing the Prologue to Pagliacci and Les Deux Grenadiers. Caruso can sing tenor, of course. In some respects he is the world's greatest tenor. But that part of his voice is a pure "stunt" which he can get away with magnificently even to the extent of singing all the tenor roles in the great operas in successful and in most cases absolutely unchallenged competition with men who are pure tenors and never try to be anything else. Heard in a concert programme and evening dress, with none of the glamour of opera costume and accessories, he demonstrated that in his middle voice he is a great baritone artist, but that in his top voice he is just Caruso of the records, who has his own peculiar tone colour in top notes, a gorgeous, golden quality all his own, thrilling and inspirational, not overpoweringly big, but with a great carrying power. In ballads of the middle voice he uses mainly the baritone method, because it is there that he does his best work.

His advent to Toronto was another Armistice Night at Massey Hall. At least 500 motors blared and crawled in the rain. An avalanche of people swept out of the hall into the streets. The hall was packed to the roof. Reserved rush seats - 350 - were sold for the stage. A line of "rail-birds" filled the roof garden along the stage wall. A study of these people alone was worth half the price of admission. One lady in a mauve scarf and a jockey hat perched disdainfully like the statue of a blue-stocking at the corner. Just down the line, a man in cinnamon brown tweeds made an inverted V of his legs and propped his chin on his hands. A pale young man in a dark suit leaned over with his tan boots far apart and seemed about to dive into the crowd. One man in the middle pulled off his coat and claqued in a white shirt - sans suspenders, thank heaven! - while his wife looked disgustedly nervous; a man next to her resined his hands for the next round of applause. A youth in a Tuxedo, with his hair plastered back, looked as pensive as a Psyche till he started to applaud Caruso. It was a marvelous audience. By actual count, in various sections of the house the proportion of men present was - on the stage, 2 in 5; on the ground floor, 1 in 4; in the balcony, 1 in 3; and in the top gallery, 50-50. It was a real cross-section of humanity - as democratic as a street-car - from $3 to $7. And nine-tenths of the audience were either owners or admirers of Caruso records.

His programme was well-chosen. He was booked for three great old favourites, the first of which was Che Gelida Manina from Puccini's La Boheme. The first impression was startling. He sang it as a baritone. But as Rudolfe he is not par excellence. He is not subtle enough to play the emotional nuances to the limit and much too wise to overact it in a dress suit. His old familiar tricks of the voice all began to come out here. It was the Caruso of the records. Everybody knew what was coming next; and of course the high notes could not be neglected.

Caruso never takes a top note that he does not work to its gorgeous limit of possibility. He never falters or weakens. He never distresses you for fear he may crack or go flabby. He carries into his top notes a strength that comes from the baritone in his middle register. Somewhere about E or F he executes that inimitable transition from the baritone to the tenor. It is in this part of his voice that he gets his vocal quality which some critics have called "bellowing". And it is this quality in Caruso's vocalism that makes him sometimes less than a great artist as a tenor, whatever he may be as a baritone.

In La Furtiva Lagrima from Donizetti's Elisir d'Amor, he was much more of a master than in the La Boheme number. The tragic colouring of this superb lyric aria he developed with a remarkable combination of vocalism and histrionic art. His face, never fugitive in its expression, and rather heavy as to the jaw worked into a prodigious ecstasy of lament. Here he worked in the pure baritone. It was remarkable how on the same pitch he could throw that mezzo into a nasal and at once shift into his tenor quality with the clarion call of the trumpet. In this number he achieved a triumph of tragic interpretation.

In his third number, Vesti la Giubba, from Pagliacci, he worked up to a climax. As in the first he was descriptive and dramatic, in the second a great interpreter, in the third, the pure Italian number, he was the marvelous translator. As an expositor of the unlimited ecstasy of powerful transfiguration in dramatic song, this number was the piece of the evening. In it Caruso proved again and yet more startlingly that ... Caruso as a baritone is vocally almost as great as Caruso the tenor.

Excerpts from "Caruso Talks About - Caruso", an interview by the Montreal Gazette

The great tenor was reclining in his suite at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal, with assistants, secretaries and valets in attendance on him. He was draped in golden silk pajamas, with a peacock green smoking jacket. Also he was smoking cigarettes from a long amber tube, and was thoroughly enjoying himself. It was an occasion de luxe, to catch Caruso in an off moment, and have a private expression of his views, illustrated by Caruso "in person".

"I feel very good about my concert at the Mount Royal Arena to-morrow night," said Caruso. "I went there today and it seems like a splendid place to sing in."

"You feel in good singing trim?" the representative of the Montreal Gazette asked.

"Ah, that depends on the audience," he replied. "If they smile, then I smile and sing. If they do not then perhaps they will laugh."

Asked as to his favourite role, Caruso said he had none, no matter what critics might think.

"Take a singer who has a favourite role or opera," he said. "That singer will make a great success in it. Then he will fall down in others, and soon become little known except as a one-part man. I have no favourites. I pitch my voice to suit each part I play, and forget everything else while I am singing it. That is why I have sung for seventeen years with the Metropolitan, and no one says 'It's Old Carus'. I am a new Carus' for each role."

Asked as to his preferences, Caruso leaned back, puffed luxuriously on an undeniably luxurious cigarette, and remarked that he preferred grand opera of all things, because it gave opportunity for continued dramatic intensity in conjunction with singing. Next he liked concert singing, but not so much, because it introduced so many motifs and arias into one evening, without the possibility of the opera in carrying on the idea. Lastly he likes singing into phonographs, because that was even more differentiated and lacked the inspiration that the other two gave.

"It is hard," said Caruso, "to sing into a voice recording machine. I have sung half a dozen times for one record, until I could get the right result."