I know Enrico Caruso has been dead for 90 years but he is the voice of my childhood. His was the first Italian tenor that I heard – in recordings I made from the radio – and I listened to them with true amazement made all the more so by the stories of his rise from poverty to operatic glory. So when I was a kid, I thought nothing would be more wonderful to be him and to sound like him. As you may have guessed though, that didn’t happen but I will always love the sound of his voice as it emerges from the crackling world of over a hundred years ago.
I have been shaken by a family bereavement this week when my brother died after a grueling illness and, maybe unsurprisingly, I have sought some comfort in childhood memories. Looking for some Caruso, I came across this, a modern restoration of one of his early recordings. Listening to it, the tenor aria from Puccini’s opera, Manon Lescaut, I was astounded by the engineer’s achievement in bringing out so much of the voice’s magnificence and humanity. If you ever wondered why Caruso is still regarded by many as the greatest of all Italian tenors, just listen to this. I for one feel no embarrassment in being a fan from such a young age. Here is Puccini’s music as the composer would have heard it, sung, maybe in a vocal style that has become unfashionable, but sung with a voice that is uniquely engaging, sensational in its beauty, power and range and, yes, for me at least, as comforting as snuggling up inside a warm blanket.