CARUSO by Howard Greenfeld


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Again, as in his recent biography of Puccini, Greenfeld proves to be a far better researcher than writer--and this detailed biography of super-tenor Enrico Caruso, which lacks the work-by-work momentum that gave Puccini some inherent drama, will be dullish reading even for avid opera fans. Greenfeld follows young Enrico from part-time vocal studies in 1890s Naples (where poverty forced him to work as a mechanic and sing at waterfront cafes) to first successes on the road, in Palermo and Milan. He notes the often-lukewarm receptions that greeted Caruso on opening nights, with audiences heating up later on. (In his native Naples, however, Caruso was hissed--and never returned to sing.) And Greenfeld dutifully reports on reviews, repertoire, and Caruso's hard work--as the tenor attained, unprecedented stardom in London and New York, striving ""to become a complete artist and not merely a singer with a golden voice"". . . while annoyed by the ""constant need to combat rumors concerning his health"" and a series of minor scandals. As for the private Caruso, Greenfeld merely proclaims his ""magnetic warmth"" and ""unfailing generosity,"" along with dry mentions of his slightly stormy domestic life: quasi-wedlock (two children) with an already-married woman, who later deserted him; assorted broken engagements; late-in-life marriage to an unglamorous young American woman. But, despite some interview material from Enrico Caruso, Jr., the only involving moments come at the end here--as Caruso continues to perform while close to his premature death. (The actual nature of Caruso's illnesses over the years is insufficiently explored.) And Greenfeld never discusses the music itself--or Caruso's performances of it--with the sort of sophistication and vigor that might add some much-needed texture. All the facts, a few familiar anecdotes (e.g., Caruso in the Frisco quake), and no panache whatsoever: a bland but conscientiously thorough tribute to ""the golden-voiced tenor"" who reached ""the hearts of the people.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Putnam