My Caruso By Commandatore Aldo Mancusi & David Mercaldo, PhD
Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by The Enrico Caruso Museum of America & The Enrico Caruso Foundation All right reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Oral history transcribed by Genevieve Strycharz Photography by Anton Evangelista & Anthony Borriello Review by Genevieve Strycharz Design by Anthony Borriello Printing and binding by Blurb, Inc., San Francisco, California Printed in the United States of America www.enricocarusomuseum.com ISBN 978-1574670226
My Caruso By Commendatore Aldo Mancusi & David Mercaldo, PhD
Table of Contents 1
Stories of Caruso
I Meet Caruso
The Priestâ€™s Pocket Watch
Stories of Caruso
My Love for Caruso Grows
Caruso Brand Macaroni
Dining with Caruso
Stories of Caruso
Stories of Caruso
Baptizing Baby Dorothy
My Search for Caruso Begins
Caruso’s Gold Coin
I Meet Michael Sisca
Caruso’s Rise to Fame
Enrico Caruso Museum of America Gallery
Foreword Oral traditions have a powerful way of intriguing inquisitive minds. The fact that certain information has only been transferred by human interaction lends itself to a higher level of trust or in some cases, suspicion! That said, it is important that the reader enter these pages with a confidence that the information presented by the author meets all the requirements that would certify them as authentic, accurate and credible. While ancient word of mouth memorandum supposes the reality of events, people and places, these should, by virtue of pragmatic acts of authentication, summon a test of confidence as to their merit. One has to admit that the twentieth century had its share of, shall we say, “storytellers.” The fact that some information has had to come to terms with extant historical tools of examination and found wanting as to its legitimacy and accuracy, should not discredit the lineage of what you will read herein. Throughout this manuscript there is the transfer of information by way of tangible documentation, not limited to photograph, film and recording but numerous references that date back, not only to a time and place in Enrico Caruso’s life, but to his actual voice.
Foreword | 1
One might find this perplexing for there is no individual living today who can claim a contemporary relationship with the tenor. What we must rely on are thousands of items that testify, not only to his voice, but personality, generosity, flamboyance, relationships and all that he brought to the stage and his personal life. Yet, these leave the modern aficionado only with a sense of the past, and the untimely end to the majesty of the man. Only the actual voice of Caruso can tell his real story! So what are we really left with: recordings, photographs, a pipe, a pair of shoes, a letter? For a thousand years and more, these items, if preserved, will certainly bear testimony to his time and place but will only provide a glimpse into the intimate mind of the man. And, while these are affidavits to his existence, the real Caruso will be coveted by those who will see beyond his toys and persona, and hear his voice, not only in song, but across a dinner table, in a conversation with a friend at a railway station or a casual remark to an audience â€” from actual scenes that are presented in this book. These have been documented as well for there is an individual who bears accurate testimony to the same. His name is Aldo Mancusi. It is the hope of the author that the reader will come to realize that the voice of Caruso was given to more than song! Thus, the errand of this book is to present information, photos and other rare memorabilia pertaining to the life of Enrico Caruso. Much of what will be presented in this text has not been readily available to the general public heretofore. Equally important, along with rare and authentic mementos, are the sacred oral traditions the author has been privileged to bridge from a direct line of individuals dating back to their own actual relationships and social interaction with Caruso.
2 | Foreword
Foreword | 3
Caruso posing in street cloths
A dapper Caruso spying the camera
Enrico Caruso on the balcony of the Excelsior Vittoria Hotel
Those who have chronicled the life of Caruso in many books available to the public deserve great thanks and praise for the work they have done to protect, authenticate and educate a public far removed from the Metropolitan Opera House at the turn of the century and that of its premiere tenor personality. This book humbly joins the library of volumes that have heralded Carusoâ€™s life, with a commitment to accuracy, legitimacy and candor. But the mark of difference in this text is that its author has a direct aural link to the man. Commendatore, Aldo Mancusi, founder and curator of The Enrico Caruso Museum of America, brings to these pages his personal testimony, based on the oral tradition lineage of which he is part â€” dating back to Caruso through the written and spoken testimony of Marziale Sisca, and his son, Michael. You are about to sit in on one hundred year-old conversations with Caruso. In an age where oral traditions could accommodate erroneous and misinformation, the reader can rest assured what is contained in this document is indeed fact.
David Mercaldo, PhD
Foreword | 5
Carusoâ€™s hand-made silk ties
Introduction When I decided to write about the life of this famous operatic tenor, I thought about starting the first chapter with the words, “Once upon a time!” But as you know a few people have already used that line, and I’ve never been one to borrow a phrase. Choosing an alternative I thought to begin with, “Once upon a time in America!” But that title was already taken as a title for a movie! Then it occurred to me that I was writing about one of the most recognized voices and faces in history, and found one word that would encompass his impact on countless millions:
“Once upon a time inup thea WORLD…” “Once time in the WORLD…” While I bring to these pages a lifetime of study and broad base of information that covers the entire spectrum of his person and career, I am discovering new things about him all the time. My mind is filled with numerous bits and pieces of information about him that I felt it was time to chronicle his life in my own words. With all that I know about him, the fact remains that he would not recognize me in a crowd of two if he were entering the Metropolitan Opera House on a sunny afternoon en route to its stage for rehearsal.
Introduction | 7
But I certainly would recognize him anywhere, in any setting — and for a good reason. I have indeed spent my life and resources to preserve his memory, with the intent to keep his legacy alive. The devotion of my message comes from the heart, as my testimony to his impact on opera music begins and ends with ten words, “Caruso is the greatest tenor in the history of opera!” As founder and curator of a museum, I’ve often imagined Caruso coming at my invitation to the second story floor of my home in Brooklyn where the collection is currently housed. The sign above the front door reads —
THE ENRICO CARUSO MUSEUM OF AMERICA. The Enrico Caruso Museum of America. As the door opens, I anxiously watch as he engages the first steps climbing slowly up to the museum loft. He was a robust man and I picture him muscling each step. I’m following behind and nervously wait for him to arrive at the landing. Upon reaching it, he looks through the door, and there awaits the testimonies of his life’s work in pictures, statues, records, news clippings and all that goes with a career on the operatic stage. I think he’d be overwhelmed that so many things, from all parts of the world, and periods of his life, have been cataloged there. Like thousands before, he begins his personal tour.
Caruso’s fork and spoon used at the Knickerbocker Hotel
8 | Introduction
Of course, I would leave him to silent reflection, and wait for those all-important questions about the items I’ve collected for nearly half a century. “Aldo, where did you get this picture, and my costume?” He gives me no time to answer, and I am certain that as he continues his self-guided tour, I’d be listening to one-line comments about things he barely remembers, but has not totally forgotten. I watch as he stands in front of a picture he took many years before in Italy, the last known photograph to have been taken and still in existence. “My friend, this is the last picture ever taken of me — on the balcony in Italy at the Vesuvio Hotel in Naples! When the photographer, I think you call them Paparazzi theses days, developed that picture a few days later, I didn’t like that ugly scar on my back, and I told him to burn it! Now I see it here. It is ugly, not the way I want to be remembered.” I’m confident he is not waiting for a response from me and I continue to watch, listen and attempt to perceive his inner thoughts. I think his mind would be filled with hundreds of questions; to match the hundreds I would have for him. My imagination sees him bending his neck up and down, peering through the glass cabinets that display dozens of pictures, opera programs, caricatures and jewelry. I would respect the important stillness of these moments and imagine his facial expressions and hand gestures as he continued to examine the relics of his life. It would not be appropriate to invade his concentration, for how often is a man’s life memorialized as his has been in a gallery! He would need time to embrace his past. Yes, he would see the physical productions of his life: busts, commemorative plaques, caricatures, paintings and dozens of items that were produced after his passing. To set the mood, I would have already started the gramophone and the scratchy surface noises on the primitive record that captured an early
Introduction | 9
performance would so faintly fill the little sanctuary I have created for him. I see him methodically moving past each item, acknowledging them with his familiar smile. From my years of research I’ve learned that Caruso was the kind of man who doted over his accomplishments. By all indications he was a proud man, and had a right to be so. Because of the international news media machine of his day, he would have been considered the first worldwide, “Super Hero.” In a way, I think he knew this. It was no secret that he was proud of the station he had achieved in the opera world. He wore that pride with hundred dollar ties, lavish jewelry, and obliged the entourage that accompanied him with sumptuous dinners and private penthouse concerts. Yet, I sense the memorial I made for him in that 1,000 square foot museum would humbly bring him back, and yet equally important, up-to-date with the fans who never heard him publicly but identify his greatness through the technology of re-manufactured recordings he effortlessly produced in primitive recording studios of the past as early as 1902.
“Aldo, how did you find these things and where?” “Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto!” That has been the overwhelming inquiry of many thousands who have come to the museum, heard my lectures, and visited with me during the years since I first placed the museum sign above the front doorway. It is with great pleasure that I present this book, MY CARUSO to you. Of course, I have no exclusivity in my admiration and love for this man, as I am part of millions in adoration and respect. In some ways I am the kid who starts a fan club for a pop singer, for he was indeed that. Yet, I have always considered myself a humble guardian of his memorabilia, with only the desire to preserve each item for generations to come.
10 | Introduction
Introduction | 11
Program from Carusoâ€™s performance at Teatro Costanzi in Rome on December 2, 1899
Self caricature as Canio in Pagliacci
I must share some private moments I’ve had with Caruso over the years. Often in the evening I venture alone up to the museum proper and spend time reading a century-old program or lifting an engraved coin and wonder who held it first so many years ago. In the stillness of those moments, the overtones of his voice fill the room and for a moment I escape to front row at The Met, and in the imagination of a child, hear the genius sing Vesti La Giubba from the opera, Pagliacci:
“Ridi, Pagliaccio, “Ridi, sul tuoPagliaccio, amore infranto!” sul tuo amore infranto!” I imagine if someone were standing beside me in that room during those moments they would not be able to hear him cry out these words with all the passion and soul that were part of his performance, but this man would. I often listen to him in the memory of my mind and see him as clearly as his patrons of one hundred years ago did. So, I invite you now to come back in time — a hundred years ago and take a seat at The Met with me through the pages of this book. It’s time for Caruso to sing again!
Commendatore Aldo Mancusi Founder and Curator The Enrico Caruso Museum of America
Introduction | 13
Chapter 1 | I Meet Caruso
I Meet Caruso Once upon a time in the world there emerged a young Italian tenor who was destined to change the field of Opera forever. I would never be so presumptuous to assume that Aldo Mancusi, son of Italian immigrants, could add one thing to the great legacy of Enrico Caruso. Yet, I have been given a special privilege — I believe a calling to preserve his memory for generations to come. As already stated, many other books have been written that chronicle the person and career of Caruso, so let me state the unique agenda of this text at the onset. I present these pages as an unveiling of treasures that are only found in the Museum on 19th Street in Brooklyn, New York — those that I have personally acquired and can attest to their authenticity. During the past 40 years I have become the collector and protector of extremely rare, and one of a kind pieces of memorabilia pertaining to Caruso — some thought to be lost and others thought never to have existed. So this book, like the museum, is filled with lost and found treasures. For a man who never met Caruso, I have had the distinction of carrying forth facts that are part of an authenticated oral history of him. The chain of men and women who were
contemporaries and actually sat across the table from him at dinner or given a token of jewelry or a coin, have bridged the years for me and what is presented in this book is fact — not fiction at any level or in fallacious explanation of anything that I have collected on behalf of the museum’s inventory. Many of the items on display at the museum came directly from members of the Caruso family, including his grandson and great-grandsons and daughters. They have been authenticated to the highest degree. Perhaps it’s best that I present the story of Caruso and his museum in reverse order, and first share the events in my life that brought me to his doorstep. My relationship with Caruso begins with my father, Everisto Mancusi.
16 | I Meet Caruso
I would be kidding myself if I thought for one moment that I discovered Caruso on my own. Facts would stand in my way. It was Everisto’s love for Caruso that was imparted to me early on in my life. My father left Campania, Italy in 1920 while in his teens, and an ocean-ride away, found him in Brooklyn, NY. Like most immigrants he struggled — no, he really struggled! He met my mother not too long after settling in America, and together they carved out a life for themselves amidst the millions who also sought refuge and a future on these distant shores. Children followed, and we evolved quickly into a close-knit family. We had to be — there was no other choice but to stick together as our first dwelling probably was built for the comfort of four at the most. We were six! By most standards we were poor, yet there was room for a special guest each evening in our living room. Sometimes he took his place in our kitchen and on Sunday afternoon he met us in the dining room. It was Enrico Caruso’s voice chambered in our apartment for our listening pleasure.
I’m not sure what impact our Italian tenor guest had on the rest of my family, but his endearing voice, almost tearful at times, struck a “note,” as they say, within me. I look back on my childhood and see my family nestled in that apartment, and hear the voice of Caruso as distinct today as in those early years of growing up. Through a series of events I acquired a vast collection of recordings but more about that later. Yes, my young years were tough, yet somehow there was always enough money for a dish of pasta and something else — our unseen guest, Enrico Caruso. I was privileged to grow up with wonderful brothers and two sisters, who endured Papa’s admiration for Caruso too. Perhaps the lyrics of the operas in his native tongue brought him back to his beloved Italy where opera was a staple, even among the poor. The music surely encircled his emotions as well, with Caruso’s towering high C’s and opera’s heart-wrenching story lines. I imagine that I heard Caruso through my father’s ears and his heart.
Yes, by any standard I grew up poor. But I look back now and consider myself the richest kid on the block. Miraculously, as I look back now at our situation, there was always enough money to feed and clothe us. There we were, “existing” on next to nothing. I really didn’t even know we were poor. The staples were there, but something more important was waiting for us when we opened our eyes in the morning. It was a special kind of love that propelled us through the years and brought to us adulthood with thriving careers, and the fulfillment of Papa and Mama’s dream for his, the American Dream, success in family, business and a good reputation. As for mama and Papa, something never changed! Even when we are all married and out of the house, Caruso was still singing in their living room. I’ll never forget one occasion, after I had started to expand my collection I happened in the house in the middle of the day for a quick visit, and a dish of spaghetti and meatballs. I told my father about a rare item that I just added to the museum. I watched all of those familiar inquisitive wrinkles, which usually ended with a frown, take over his brow, and I knew I was in for a lecture. I had seen that “face” before when he had something to say that he surely had thought a great deal about. I knew he was worried about the time and money I was spending on my quest to get everything I could get my hands on to increase my Caruso collection. I didn’t get the first forkfull of macaroni in my mouth when he spoke.
Aldo, how come you spend so much money on Caruso? I thought about that question for only a few seconds. His investment of time and money rivaled mine when I thought about the price he paid to buy a Caruso record. Upon his arrival in this country he only had a few dollars in his pocket.
Pop, I have records in the museum from your collection of Caruso! Now pop, how much did each record cost you? I pay $6.00 for each record. he thoughtfully replied.
Pop, how much did you earn each week when you bought these record? Seven dollars and twenty cents. he answered as if he had picked up his weekly check minutes before.
Pop, you saved your money for months to buy one record of Caruso, no? Si!
20 | I Meet Caruso
The room grew quiet as I lifted mama’s savory meatball into my mouth and smiled inwardly. I watched that frown loosen on his brow and not another word was spoken. He never asked the question again; as I imagine after considering his own sacrifice to have Caruso in his life, he knew what he had given to me during those early years — a love of Caruso. I think he finally recognized his admiration for him had been transferred to his son. I remember that conversation with my father as though it was yesterday. I can see him quietly sitting at the table, and to this day I still believe the faint sound of music that I thought was coming from the living room was really him humming as he ate. It’s that dimension that moves beyond sight, mind and even sound. Having acquired one of the most comprehensive collections of memorabilia relating to Enrico Caruso during the last 40 years, I guess you might say,“Like father, like son!” Oh yes! There was one other time when visiting my parents triggers fond memories. I stopped by that particular day just to see how they were coming along. They knew I was
coming so I didn’t knock, but let myself in through the back door. I found my way to the parlor and there they were sitting on the couch. A record was spinning and the sound of Caruso’s voice filled the room. They were tearing as the tenor sang an aria. I didn’t say a word, and in a few seconds found myself tearing along with them. It was at moments like this I realized how wonderful to have such loving parents — parents who sacrificed their own comforts to create a humble yet memorable childhood for their kids. Yes, by any standard I grew up poor. But I look back now and consider myself the richest kid on the block — or any block for that matter. I can’t say my childhood dream was to found a museum. In fact, that was the furthest thing from my mind. In reality, I never stepped one foot into a museum until I was a young adult. My exposure to the past came in the form of books and picture postcards and stories that now I have come to know were the manuscripts of oral traditions.
Caruso standing next to a Victor Record Player
I Meet Caruso | 21
I didnâ€™t say a word, and in a few seconds found myself tearing along with them.
22 | I Meet Caruso
I was born in America but having parents who immigrated here and didn’t learn the language right off, one of my earliest memories was that of a struggling young kid who was placed in the corner of the classroom because of his inability to quickly grasp things that were being taught in a class. Growing up in New York’s public schools in those days was not easy for a pupil who hadn’t mastered the language. The classroom teaching staff was dominated by strict disciplinarians, otherwise known as teachers. They were very prejudiced against the “strangers” who were invading their country’s shores. One can only imagine the indignities I was exposed to which were always accompanied by the grimace on their face that told me, I was, “one of those kind.” Yes, there was a lot of prejudice in those classes, although I didn’t know about it at the time. Most could not see beyond my olive-colored skin and the combination of Italian and English semantics when I spoke.
Life in those early years was indeed a struggle on many counts. My family needed and accepted public assistance, but the goal of my father from the moment he held that first welfare check, was to be independent of any government help. But we needed a roof over our heads. The “roof” was a rented apartment on the third floor of an old brownstone building in a poor section of Brooklyn. Today those “town-houses,” as they are called now, are worth millions of dollars, but back then, it was a cash cow for greedy landlords who did little to preserve and maintain four walls and an antiquated heating system. Can you imagine a kid coming out of this humble environment capturing the “American Dream!” Well, this kid did!
I think Caruso was rooting for me! Nothing then would indicate that someday Iâ€™d be the founder and curator of an internationally recognized museum. Oh, by the way, my dad and mom and Caruso are still very much alive and living in spirit in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
The Priestâ€™s Pocket Watch
Father Tonelloâ€™s second pocket watch
Father Tonello was the priest for Enrico and his family in Carusoâ€™s hometown of Naples. Tonello frequently traveled with Caruso back and forth on his music-filled trips to the United States. This journey was quite the haul since boat travel was anything but speedy in those days. On one particular trip while on the boat traveling home to Italy, Caruso noticed that Father Tonello was frequently asking other passengers if they knew the time. To avoid having Father ask the question over and over, and known for his generosity, Caruso put an end to that single never-ending question. Instead of waiting until docking, Caruso went to the store on the boat and purchased, without hesitation, a gold watch for his family priest and good friend.
Stories of Caruso | 25
As one can imagine, Father Tonello was excited and appreciative of the gift he had given him. The gift in its worth spoke volumes and also the speed at which Caruso purchased the token, not even waiting until the ship had docked. Unfortunately, when Tonello arrived back at the church in Naples he found that they were in dire need of funds to purchase food for other priests and nuns. Father Tonello decided he had no choice but to sell the gold watch to feed his clergymen and women because it was, in fact, his duty to see that their basic needs were met. Soon thereafter, on a trip back to New York, Father Tonello again was asking for the time in Carusoâ€™s presence. He wondered what happened to the watch and asked Tonello about the gift. With remorse, he told Caruso the story of the hungry group of priests and nuns. The singer was understanding of the problem and, yet again, showing his generosity bought him a second pocket watch. This time, to avoid Tonello selling the gift, Caruso had the watch engraved with the words â€œNot to be soldâ€? in a Neapolitan dialect on the cover of the gold keepsake. Father Tonello graciously accepted the second gift and the watch was never sold.
Caruso with Father Tonello
26 | Stories of Caruso
Stories of Caruso | 27
Original caricature drawn by Enrico Caruso of Father Tonello
Chapter 1 | I Meet Caruso
My Love For Caruso Grows I grew up knowing a lot of men and women who had served in WWII. I understood the necessity of serving the country, especially if it called me. It did October 15, 1952. I was a young kid who was on the verge of growing up. I guess my country wanted me to grow up quickly because my orders were written in two words: “REPORT IMMEDIATELY!” My high school teacher Mr. Jones had a profound influence on me and saw that my gift was my hands. Of course, he also saw a brain that went along with it. Combining the two, he affirmed that I made an excellent mechanic and early on went to work in the auto industry repairing cars. I loved this kind of labor because it gave me the opportunity to use my talents. Now, Uncle Sam wanted to use them so off I went to Fort Dix. When I arrived at the Army base I was given test after test, sent to school, and was ultimately assigned to join the 510th Ordnance Technical Intelligence Department. With this attachment I deployed to Korea in 1952. On the day I was to leave my home I left two things that I loved very much — a little girl named Leasa and my family. I served for three years and came home to a wedding and a job. That’s what most of the guys came home to when they finished their term. I again entered the world of industry and
learned a lot. What I learned is that if I worked for someone I could make him or her rich. If I worked for myself I could make myself rich. A few years down the road, my brother and I started working for a big company in Manhattan when one day we reasoned we should start our own business. Over the next five years, hard work and honest dealing with our customers made us one of the most successful businesses in our field. That business is still growing strong after all these years with my younger brother at the helm. Leasa and I also encountered some new responsibilities — two precious daughters. Our family was now complete. Success in our business meant good salaries in the early days giving us all a comfortable lifestyle. We decided we needed to reward the foundation of our success, our parents, with a house of their own. We also rewarded ourselves. My brother bought a small boat, then a medium-sized one and then a big one. As for me, my wife and I enjoyed some nice holidays, and I enjoyed buying a Caruso item here and there. In a short time, my “inventory” amounted to several hundred items. The years passed and our business grew — so did our kids and soon they were married and on their own.
30 | My Love for Caruso Grows
With our girls off and married, the basement was cleared and shelves and cabinets installed to display the little collection. I announced to friends that I would show my “findings” with those who were interested. I have to smile when I remember how proud I was to show my “stuff,” as one friend put it. Well, they told their friends who told their friends and you guessed it! Soon we were counting visitors by the dozens and then hundreds. Today, we’re talking thousands. The basement served as the first home for Caruso’s memorabilia. When I climbed the stairs at night I remember promising myself to move Caruso out of the basement. I made that promise to him too. After all, he had lodged in some of the most elegant hotels in Europe. I did apologize to him sometimes for his humble beginning there in my basement and made a commitment to move him upstairs some day.
Our home was a two family with a tenant up on the second f loor. At night the neighbors were treated to a familiar opera with Caruso singing the lead.
The collection outgrew the basement, and I asked the tenant if she wouldn’t mind if I took over a little space and closed her into three efficient rooms. As efficient as I thought they were, Caruso occupying the front room was going to bring about another transition for the museum shortly thereafter. My evening joy was to listen to opera with Caruso’s voice filling the whole house — including the tenant in the efficient apartment!
“Aldo, I love my
apartment but this Caruso guy! I have to relocate or I’m going to wind up in a nut house!
32 | My Love for Caruso Grows
She moved, and I took full possession of all the rooms. I remember the day the apartment was all Caruso’s. I walked through the barren space, but in my mind I could see a picture hanging here, programs on display there along with some glass cabinets to house some of my prized findings. I carefully drew up a plan for expansion, which was right up my alley as that was the business I was in — designing offices for doctors, lawyers and other professionals. The daytime saw me working for a living, while the nighttime hours saw me working for Caruso. For my work during the day I got paid, and at night I was rewarded with the satisfaction that I was accomplishing the greatest feat of my life, memorializing
the life of Enrico Caruso. Yes, in spite of all the hard work I did during those first few months I found myself in an exhilarated state as now I saw the collection wonderfully displayed. I made excellent use of the little space too by raising the ceiling and designing the mini theater that seated 16. I can’t count the times I had a packed house! In that little room my visitors saw movies featuring Caruso, documentaries and eventually news and movie clips that featured the museum, and yours truly. Of course I would settle for nothing less than real theater seats and a small sound system. The seats were gathered from The Met itself!
You can only imagine my thoughts when I peered into the finished room for the first time and saw my own Mini-Met.
The collection grew and grew and today I have inventoried thousands of items — some rare, some common and others one of a kind! Those are the ones I’m most proud to own on behalf of the Italian tenor’s adoring public. There is indeed a story behind each piece that I’ve collected and it is the agenda of this book to share some of them as the pages unfold. Interestingly, the relics from his past have literally come from all over world. Oh, the stories we’d hear if we could only know the path some have taken to finally arrive in Brooklyn. I shall be faithful and share all that I know about the journey of each as some came to me by extraordinary circumstances.
My Love for Caruso Grows | 35
A catalogue of Caruso’s rare coin collection dating back to Roman times
It never ceases to amaze me that Caruso’s 25 year career, spanning 1895–1920 could yield so many mementos testifying to his countless formal and informal performances. It is even more fascinating that, aside from his records and a few pictures, most items were singular, having been produced in a time when mass-manufacturing was just coming into play with artists from all fields worldwide. I sometimes wonder what else lies out there in ancient, and perhaps even decaying structures in the cities where he appeared. I imagine that two world wars took their toll on the many items pertaining to his career and person. Having performed in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even Staten Island there must still be treasures yet to be found. I still dream of such things, and my pursuit of such has been my life’s mission. While some people count sheep on their way to slumber land, I count Caruso memorabilia. Equally important to the collection at the museum, are the stories that I have been privileged to share with my own audiences through lectures, movies and interviews over the years. I covet these, as they are vital to Caruso’s story and the documentation of his performances in the United States.
The Metropolitan Opera House became home for Caruso with 863 documented performances, and we can only guess the number of private backstage gatherings, and other recitals he obliged at penthouses over the years while in New York. Of particular interest to me are the many concerts he gave in Brooklyn because the museum was birthed there. I have to add a bit of folklore here and share a familiar tale that had Caruso in a bar, obliging his audience with a song bringing him to the verge of high C and beyond. “That’s where he lost his voice,” the legend continues. I have heard some, “beauts” as they call them over the years, although I suppose many more fables exist out there. As you might expect, most are not true. With the museum in place, I intensified my search for new items that were part of Caruso’s legacy. I would be remiss if I didn’t share the times Opera luminaries visited the museum and brought their stories with them. The love of Caruso is unparalleled in the history of opera. Of those who came and shared their stories and professional respect, I’m proud to say that many have become lifelong friends and supported the museum through the years.
36 | My Love for Caruso Grows
Finally, Some of the greatest talents in Opera have visited the museum, and Iâ€™ve watched the looks of amazement on their faces as they travel back in time and visit the Met at the turn of the century through the items that share the life of Caruso. One visitor, Licia Albanese, has brought much joy to this curator as she has continued the great operatic traditions of the renowned artists born in Italy. I have often thought that without the continuing legacy of these wonderful artists, we would have surely lost much of the history of Opera stemming from the Caruso era. While she was born just six years before the death of the great tenor, her talent stems from an appreciation of those artists who inspired her â€” namely, Enrico Caruso. As I began to write this book, she was still a patron of the museum. Unfortunately, in 2005, Iâ€™ve had to arrange for a special edition of the book to be sent to a new opera house where she will be performing from now on.
she will be on stage with Caruso himself.
Caruso Brand Macaroni
Original box of Caruso Brand Macaroni
Caruso was a man of character and made many friends throughout his career in Italy and in the United States. As all good socialites, Caruso built his root system of friends in many ways. Becoming close with his friends and rapidly expanding his network was a joy and true pastime for Caruso. As his friend group expanded word of Carusoâ€™s friendliness, and generosity, caught on like wildfire. Knowing Carusoâ€™s goodwill, some of his friends would ask favors of him and, as one would guess, he obliged whenever possible for not only did he want to make his friends happy, but he found true joy in the aspect of helping.
Stories of Caruso | 39
One of the most famously documented and successful favors was for The Atlantic Macaroni Company, a Long Island City, New York based pasta manufacturer. The owner was on the verge of bankruptcy and was thinking of ways to save his company. Lucky for him, he was a friend of Marziale Sisca and knew Sisca was friends with Caruso. Taking a leap of faith, and knowing his business was at stake, he approached Sisca to see if Caruso would help in some way. Although the owner’s pride was on the line, he thought using Caruso’s name and fame could be just the boost he needed to save his company, something he surely could not turn down.
Caruso Brand Olive Oil can
Marziale approached Caruso, knowing he was a kind and generous soul and Caruso replied, “A friend of yours is a friend of mine!” From there, the legalities were taken care of, while Caruso went ahead and wrote a letter of permission to use his famous name on the product. The owner of The Atlantic Macaroni Company was thrilled to say the very least. He knew that he was forever indebted to Enrico Caruso and was incredibly than kful. The pasta company went on to become wild ly successful, expanding its merchandise to olive oil, aged cheese, dried salami, canned tomatoes and much more.
40 | Stories of Caruso
Original box of Caruso Brand Macaroni (side)
The origina l ow ner eventua l ly sold the company, profiting handsomely and Caruso never asked for any royalties. A true friend, generous, a nd w it h a ki nd-hea r ted sou l.
Stories of Caruso | 41
Chapter 1 | I Meet Caruso
Dining With Caruso The transfer of information from one person to another usually results in misinformation and at times, nothing less comical revue. As an experiment, the first person in a long line of adults was given a piece of information detailing the events of a car accident. “A man ran a red light in his truck and hit into a car. It resulted in no major injuries, and since police never showed up they agreed not to pursue the incident with the authorities or insurance companies.” The task before each person was to pass the information on to the next person in line. Twelve detailed personal versions resulted in the following being reported to the surveyor by the last person in the line “A whole bunch of cars were at an intersection and a car went through a stop sign and smashed into some of the cars. It was a front-end collision and the witnesses said there
were some minor injuries. The insurance company didn’t report the incident to the police and the person who caused the accident drove off.” Enlightening isn’t it! Yet, today some of our most important historical events have been transferred by nothing less than the formal or casual conversations between and among individuals. In a court of law, an eyewitness account is accepted as fact but of course it must be under oath. This brings me to my “lunch with Caruso!” More than 75 years separated the timeline of my time from his, and it would be impossible to have lunched with the tenor. But someone did! That individual links me to Caruso. In fact, it is one of the most credible links our generation has to him.
44 | Dining With Caruso
Enter Marziale Sisca and his brother Alessandro, founders and editors of La Follia Di New York. Now, the word “follia” means folly, and the news contained therein possessed a satirical view of the big city. The bi-monthly Italian newspaper highlighted the events occurring within the community and brought the news in the native tongue of thousands of New Yorkers. That, in and of itself, was a triumph for the “immigrant” population coming from Italy and Sicily. But something monumental (and I use that word because it was nothing less than that) occurred because Caruso was a contributor to the periodical because from 1903 to 1921 Caruso faithfully sketched a caricature of some famous persons in the field of opera and the musical arts. And he sent it, free of charge to the brothers! One would think the accuracy of an oral tradition would most definitely be compromised over a period of nearly one hundred years, but that is not the case. Stemming from a conversation that took place over lunch decades and decades ago you can be assured of its credibility. Our story begins at an opera house, of course.
Editor, Marziale Sisca ventured one evening to The Met for a performance featuring the newly arrived artist, Enrico Caruso. A simple backstage greeting resulted in an unforgettable and important historic event. When Caruso heard Marziale speak in the dialect of his hometown, the bond of friendship was about to be sealed.
Marziale, you must have lunch with me! A few days later the two were eating at the Knickerbocker Hotel chatting as if they had known each other since childhood.
Signore, Caruso, I must have a picture of you for my paper. Having not been in the country long enough to have the press pouncing on him for a photo shoot, Caruso explained he had none to offer.
Here, I give you this. The visiting tenor took his menu, turned it over and drew a caricature of himself, and handed it to his newfound friend.
Not only are you a great tenor, but you are also artist! May I have this for the paper? Marziale asked.
Not only can you have this, but I will draw one for you each week and send it to you. No charge! Caruso promised.
He kept his promise! Each week a new picture appeared in the paper and months turned into years in keeping a promise made to his paesano, Marziale Sisca.
46 | Dining With Caruso
One has to think if that meeting didn’t take place the world would have an incomplete picture of Caruso for his caricatures tell volumes about the personalities in the field of music and beyond. Today, the museum has the original book of caricatures published in 1906 and water-colored by Caruso himself. And although books have been released containing them, the museum possesses the originals. For whatever reason, he ceased coloring them, fortunately, leaving just the last few pages in their original black and white. Interestingly, the last painted pages must have been closed abruptly because the color smeared on the opposing page. Every time I hold that book of sketches, given to me by his son Michael, I feel I am holding a treasure more precious than the most precious metal! Today, the museum offers for sale, an exact duplication of these sketches in a hardcover book.
Now let me introduce Michael Sisca here, and tell you of the second voice to relay the “Tales of Caruso.” Michael, the son of Marziale, was the second in the line of the oral relay. He actually sat with Caruso and dined with him along with his father. He told a story that has been worth retelling all the years I’ve shared the many tidbits of information about the tenor. One day, while dining with Caruso, Michael asked if he could take a spoon or fork — one that the singer used during the meal.
Spoon! Take everything on the table! I more than paid for them by eating here! The fork and spoon, inscribed, “Knickerbocker Hotel” are on display in the museum today.
Right from the onset, Michael became nothing less than a dear friend who promised to will the museum many of the treasures his father first sequestered from the masses and their “buy-sell fingers!” No one could calculate the millions of dollars that individuals and corporations made off of his voice. For example, hanging on the wall in the museum are seven of the earliest records and there is a story behind them. Some ambitious “entrepreneurs” told Caruso they’d pay him handsomely for a few recordings. Off to Italy they went, and into a little makeshift studio. Singing into a large metal cone, the blank black plastic (shellac at first then, polyvinyl chloride discs) was scored by a sharp needle that gouged the production deep into its crevices. Of course the technology is courtesy of Thomas Alva Edison and other inventors in Europe at the time. Not like the artists of today, the tenor was a “one take” man who wasted neither time or his voice to make the recordings. Again, no one could possibly know how much the ambitious producers received for the session, but we do know Caruso received $500 for the recording session. There would be dozens of sessions to follow and finally a contract with RCA Victor, that today still releases a collection of Operatic Arias made famous by him. I don’t believe Caruso has skipped a generation, unlike many of the arts of the twenties, thirties and forties, who are long forgotten now.
48 | Dining With Caruso
Honorably, It is fascinating to hear the primitive recordings from the early part of the twentieth century and hear the ambient scratches, natural â€œcavernousâ€? echo, and yet feel the intensity of those minutes now forever memorialized in acetates of all sizes and materials. The museum has collected all the albums and singles ever released on his behalf. Unlike yours truly, Michael Sisca grew up on the right side of the track. He was a privileged boy and grew to be a major contributor in the creation of the museum. He published the first caricature book in 1939 and subsequent volumes proceeded from that time until the museum released the latest edition in 2013. Other collectors coveted Michaelâ€™s vast inventory but he determined early on to give the museum access to them via donation and purchase.
he was a man of his word.
Baptizing Baby Dorothy
Baby Dorothyâ€™s first birthday dress
Villa Manfredi, a Neapolitan style restaurant on Spring Street in New York City was owned and operated by Ernesto and Micolina Alleva. They prided themselves in true Italian cooking and worked in the restaurant constantly seven days a week. Tending to the business in every way possible, from authentic recipes to accurate decor, they ensured its success and authenticity. In 1919, Enrico Caruso and his new wife, Dorothy, would frequent the establishment. It was a taste of home and Enrico and his new bride appreciated the blood, sweat and tears that the Allevas poured into their restaurant. To the Carusos the exactness of the food and atmosphere was comforting and was a piece of Naples in their backyard.
Stories of Caruso | 51
One day, Caruso noticed Micolina was pregnant and stated, “If it is a girl and you name her Dorothy, we will be Godfather and Godmother to your new baby!”. The Allevas were stunned and thrilled at this prospect knowing Caruso’s legacy and empire could potentially live through their child. As luck would have it, Micolina gave birth to a baby girl later that year and Caruso, a man never to go back on his word, baptized the little girl named Dorothy. This was a momentous occasion for the Alleva family. In May of 2011, Dorothy Alleva phoned the Enrico Caruso Museum at the age of 92. She was living in Brooklyn and retold the story of her baptism and had wonderful stories of her godparents, Enrico and Dorothy. Fond memories, and a namesake that was unlike any other, she spoke proudly of her roots and her parents’ history. To ensure validity, she confirmed her son Ralph Alleva has the certificate of her Baptism. The certificate did, in fact, prove that she was baptized on April 12, 1919 by Enrico and Dorothy Caruso. Ralph even had the dress his mother was gifted on her first birthday by Caruso’s wife.
Dorothy pictured with Caruso on a Victor Record Brochure
52 | Stories of Caruso
Stories of Caruso | 53
Dorothyâ€™s Baptismal Certificate
My Search For Caruso Begins I didn’t wake up one morning, gaze in the bathroom mirror, and announce to myself, “Aldo Mancusi, you’re going to have the most significant collection of Caruso in the World.” It just happened! Like all collections, it started with a few items and grew. Those “few items” belonged to a very nice man who was kind enough to give them to me. I knew him well! After all, he was my father. Now, you might think that when I announced I’d like to start a collection of Caruso records he would have said, “Sure, take…take!” Well, he didn’t. I remember asking him for the records in endearing tones; even offering him money. Believe me if I said, “Pop, I need a couple dollars to keep the business going,” he would have had no objection. But the Caruso collection was off-limits. Finally, technology got me the collection. I don’t mean I copied them on tape or disc. That would have been easy, but not authentic. What helped
me secure his very rare collection was the advent of video productions that captured the live opera house presentations. Even then, he was reluctant — the testimony to such was that familiar “wrinkle” on his brow I spoke of in earlier pages. I know he loved the new medium, but can’t help but think I took a part of him away when the small, but precious collection was removed from his cabinet. Pop, thank you! So my search began. I called anyone, anywhere who advertised that they had some “rare” piece of Caruso. In the early days I bought everything from anyone, anywhere, but learned in the later years they were not as rare as I thought. Caruso made millions of records but there are some extremely rare — I’ll repeat those words, “extremely rare” discs that only a few people in the world have in their possession. Aldo Mancusi, the guy from Brooklyn, is happy to report he has them.
56 | My Search for Caruso Begins
Today, the Zonophone records are safe at home in the museum. Seven records in all, at a cost of thousands of dollars each certainly strained my pocketbook but I had to have them. The dealers and collectors called and I bought and I bought and I bought. Four years hence I had collected these precious few early recordings. I also acquired photographs, but not just any photographs. Today, I can look down and see dozens of “signed” pictures, letters and other documents attesting to his personal signature. As for the Zonophone Record Company in Italy, it is long gone and only remnants of their productions remain. As for the Caruso records that came out of their studio? I’d like to imagine there are few copies stored in some Opera House vault or in the home of some Count and Countess who opened their Villa to him for the weekend. I could write volumes about my imaginary trips taken with Caruso and the whereabouts of the remnants of his past. Produced in 1903, one can only guess the journey the few thousand have taken during the century passed. I remember the first time I opened a large envelope and saw Caruso’s signature. I don’t know how long I gazed at it, but in those moments I felt I was holding a treasure, and
it belonged to me. Perhaps I felt that autograph transported me back in time, standing over a patron who was lucky enough to catch him in the lobby of the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City begging for his autograph. That continues to be the fun part of possessing things he touched. While collecting Caruso, my brother and I were collecting customers. Our business grew and I kept buying. On one occasion Enrico Caruso Jr. came to America for the United States Stamp ceremony commemorating his father’s life and work in the field of opera. If I regret a few things in life, it was that I could not attend the ceremony due to work responsibilities. I would have cherished the opportunity to shake his hand. Oh, for those moments to be given back to me. Of course, the son of Caruso had his own collection of things passed on to him from his father. At one point he did part with some of his collection through the help of a dealer. Now, the word dealer takes on a very different meaning when it comes to selling Caruso items. To begin, the word dealer is written in capital letters, DEALER! That spelling screams money, from your pocket to his.
It is so gratifying for me to know that the Caruso family does not consider me a stranger.
As the royalties from Caruso’s records began to diminish over the years, the family came to a point where they had to sell off some of their possessions, much of which was left to them by their tenor father. At one point, Caruso’s jewelry was placed in the hands of a DEALER (spelled again with capital letters). The DEALER executed the sales. The broker also executed most of the purchaser’s bank account. Today, the royalties have produced less and less income for the family. This is no secret as most of Caruso’s personal items are now in the hands of “strangers.” It is so gratifying for me to know that the Caruso family does not consider me a stranger. I am proud to say that I have endearing friendships with many members. During his seventeen years in opera, the tenor recorded over two hundred recordings that still sell today. The success of the “Victor” brand was rooted in the success and sale of Caruso’s records. In 1929 the company embraced a new name, RCA Victor, and the records continued to enchant listeners. The recordings have been released and re-released time and time again. This continues to testify to the utter magnificence of voice.
As my collection increased, the question I had to ask and answer for myself was this:
“What do you do
with hundreds of items pertaining to the person and career of the World’s Greatest Tenor? Again, the idea of opening a full-fledged museum was not even imagined — even at this point in time.
My Search for Caruso Begins | 59
I reasoned, Aldo, (I often have a chat with myself on behalf of Caruso) you have a home, it has a basement. Leasa does the wash and we don’t really entertain down there. I decided to set up the collection in the basement. I couldn’t display but a few dozen, perhaps a hundred items — give or take a few. In a couple of months the basement had been rearranged, the unnecessary furniture removed, some shelving built and display tables set up for viewing. I didn’t dare call the basement a museum, but in my heart, it was exactly that. I remember going down in the evening arranging, rearranging and circulating items on a rotating basis.
In a small way I was now a curator.
60 | My Search for Caruso Begins
The interesting part about collecting things is that every new item comes with a story as to where it was found, who owned it first, and those tales that people shared about the item they were reluctantly selling to me. Over the years, I have found a lot of passion in those who have come into possession of items that I eventually bought. With a library of books in publication, coupled with the facts about most of his remnants, I have learned to be a good listener, nodding my head in acknowledgment and holding my doubting smile from betraying my disbelief. I was in my forties at the time when my interest in Caruso sparked, and it was a chance happening in my life that brought me in direct contact with a connection to Caruso. Leasa and I planned a trip to Italy and I needed a road map for when I arrived there. So where do you go for maps of Italy’s roads? Rossi’s Everything Italian Store that’s where! Ernie Rossi, the owner greeted me! “I’m heading to Italy and the Enrico Caruso museum there!” I announced.
My Search for Caruso Begins | 61
Had I not gone in that store I don’t think I would have pursued the idea of a museum in America. He handed me a copy of La Follia Di New York (The New York Folly) and the rest is definitely history The story of the Newspaper goes hand in hand with the creative genius of Enrico Caruso. Owned by Alessandro and Marziale Sisca, the local press offered Italians and those interested in Italian news, here and abroad, a snapshot of New York life. (written in a variety of dialects to accommodate the various regions in Italy) through the eyes of Italian news reporters, namely the Sisca brothers and a few contributors. The word contributor is where Caruso comes into play. An avid lover of Opera and a desire to promote Italians, Marziale attended the Metropolitan Opera’s performances whenever he could. As for Alessandro, a Bohemian by nature, he bounced around the cultural scene in New York and aligned himself with the artsy community. A playwright, he wrote the words for a beautiful, and famous piece of opera music titled, “Core’ngrato!”
62 | My Search for Caruso Begins
It is now The oral tradition began as the men shared correspondence for many years before the trail of drawings ceased upon the death of Caruso. Who knows the secrets and personal reflections he shared with Marziale that have not been relayed to us. But the good news is that Michael, his son, took Carusoâ€™s legacy to a new generation and you can only guess whom he entrusted with the information he learned from his father. I delight in being a keeper of the legacy of one of the worldâ€™s renowned talents, carrying forth the conversations, interviews and interactions Caruso shared with his contemporaries. How fortunate that I have these treasures of oral history in my heart and mind.
my special privilege to share them with a new generation.
Carusoâ€™s Gold Coin
The Metropolitan Opera House â€” 1905
Carusoâ€™s generosity continues with a very special, custom printed, coin. The musician knew what it took to put on his performances. Countless nights of setup, breakdown and attending to every little detail to make logistics run smoothly. Of course, he was the star, but behind the scenes he realized there were people helping to make the continuous nights a roaring success. The staff members of The Metropolitan Opera House were loyal, thoughtful, and incredibly hard workers. Caruso did not want their work to go unnoticed. Of course, he had the fortune to make a lofty gift possible, the best way, he thought, to show his thankfulness.
Stories of Caruso | 65
One evening, he stopped by Tiffany & Co. He wanted to express his gratitude in a way that spoke volumes and give the Opera House staff a small token they would never forget. Being the man to always keep his word, that evening he placed an order of gold coins that were custom designed by Tiffany & Co. The coin dawned his face on the front and on the back, engraved “PER RICORDO,” meaning, “to remember”. He hoped they would remember him and his thankfulness to them. Despite his musical talent, he would not be able to put on countless shows without their help. Prior to Christmas, the custom coins arrived and Caruso gifted them to all of the workers at The Metropolitan Opera House. The staff was incredibly grateful and surprised about the generous gift, a gesture not commonly thought of by the more fortunate like Caruso.
Caruso reaching for a gift
66 | Stories of Caruso
Original Caruso Tiffany & Co. coin
Unfortunately, today the coin is a very rare item. Its scarcity is a testament to the fact that the workers needed money, and while they were incredibly grateful for the gift, the worth of the token could be cashed in to pay the necessary bills of life. The coins were often melted down and their custom engraving was lost in the f lames. A few coins, in their original state, have managed to survive and are now sought after by avid Caruso collectors.
Stories of Caruso | 67
I Meet Michael Sisca To think that this kid from Brooklyn would be the next link in keeping the legacy of Enrico Caruso alive is something that amazes me to this day. It is not by any merit of my person or career that I have been given the torch to help illumine the world to the genius of Caruso. Through a series of events it just happened. I guess it’s time for Marziale’s son, Michael Sisca, to enter my story. From Caruso himself, to his father, Marziale, Michael was the next in line to preserve the oral history. I followed that succession. It was in the early seventies when I literally entered the pages of the La Follia Di New York Newspaper, and discovered that the editorial staff included a very special and wonderful man. From our first meeting I considered Michael Sisca, contributing editor of the tabloid, both a friend and brother. For nearly twenty years we shared our love and enthusiasm for Caruso, and a sincere desire to work together to preserve and protect the integrity of the facts surrounding his life. We were privy to so much about his person and career — information that few people knew or understood. In Michael’s personal treasure chest was a lifetime collection of caricatures
and other important memorabilia. In his mind were carefully preserved pieces of Caruso as a man and talent. During those fleeting years we met regularly over coffee or dinner, and it seemed every time we met I would learn something new and vital in understanding the personality of the tenor. Today, when I tell the story of Enrico Caruso it must contain information about the relationship both Marziale and Michael had with him. This is one of the primary reasons why I found it necessary to author this book, and share what I have come to learn from their personal testimony before it escapes this generation and those to come. Opera has become a part of my life and I contend that the opera we know today, the field, the culture, the music was birthed on stage in the voice and character of the Italian tenor. Very much like Paul Whiteman did with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” in 1924 at the Aeolian Hall, Caruso took operatic scores and brought them to life in such a way that a hundred years later the interpretation and delivery of the score bears his voice print.
70 | I Meet Michael Sisca
Up until the time he emerged on the scene, the music and drama of operatic music was rigid and sometimes very distant. The Germanic influence in music was formal, lacking the passion and romance of the Italian composers. It was surely an act of God that brought Caruso to the stage along with Puccini, Verde and Mascagni, to mention a few. With their works, the passion, romance and fantasy began to earmark, not only Italian opera but all of Opera, and Caruso was the impetus. The Tenor brought more than a voice that could reach high C. Singers today proudly announce to their audience that they will hit the high C. It is the mark of their narcissism and most give you nothing more! Caruso literally brought the high C down to his audiences where it enveloped their very soul. To say the people loved him is to fall short of the devotion they had for him. I can say that without the Sisca family the world would be at a loss for so much of what he was and
is remembered for. One must keep in mind that Caruso and Puccini were close friends, and today I have in my possession letters testifying to this relationship. Those letters testify to other things as well and Iâ€™ll introduce them in succeeding chapters. And there are other things he brought to the world of Opera. Today, I believe the Metropolitan Opera House would be sliced up in arrogant New York style and be reconfigured for apartments had it not been for his stage performances. At the turn of the century, The Met was having difficulty meeting its expenses. On February 25, 1903 a little Opera piece debuted. Rigoletto composed by Giuseppe Verdi starring the great tenor Enrico Caruso! The results? Standing room only, and a complete revision to scheduling, rushing to accommodate the massive crowds.
Enrico Caruso changed the world of Opera, not with elaborate costuming, theatrics and lighting. He did it with his voice! From those early months on people demanded nothing less than the kind of opera that Caruso produced on stage. Today he is still the standard by which all tenors are judged. Yes, the century has given us tenors with distinct and different sounds, timbres and interpretations that fulfill the basic obligations the original composers expected in their scores. However the “pathos” he delivered through passages that demanded something beyond human emotion, and the enchantment — the excitement captured in his interpretation transcended human expression. Audiences were mesmerized when he sang. People had to have “Caruso!” Wherever he appeared the throngs stood outside of the ticket office for hours, waiting for the few precious tickets that might be left after the subscribers demanded the best seats. Perhaps the word “fan” originated in the devotion people had for Caruso. As limited as media communication systems were at the time, news of Caruso’s stage triumphs reached the West Coast. The year was 1906 when he arrived at the train station to a cheering crowd. But they wouldn’t be cheering for long! The San Francisco Opera house could boast a sold out crowd, and everything was ready for Caruso. It was easy for him. He knew his lines, the music and all the classic gestures he brought to the stage. The costuming arrived safely in trunks and his entourage were there to do his bidding on and off stage.
72 | I Meet Michael Sisca
Outside, something would happen to change all his plans. An earthquake rocked the city and the opera would have to be put off for a while. Feeling the shock and seeking the destruction, Caruso joked: “I’ll take Vesuvius anytime!” The cities of Stabia, Herculaneum (In Italian Ercolano), and Pompeii were testimonies to nature’s wrath. Populations South of the Border also awaited a Caruso performance when 10,000 people gathered in Mexico City to see a seven-minute film of him singing. He was now commanding ten thousand dollars a performance and it concerned Marziale who remarked to his son, Michael, “Perhaps he wouldn’t be pushing himself to earn so much money to support his new wife!” As I ref lect on my research I have to personally conclude that his whole career was, push, push, push! His energy was endless but the human body can withstand just so much and his determination and pride brought him to an early grave.
In 1920 we find him on a stage in Cuba. He was tired and health issues prevailed. What happened on that stage is a matter of record, for as he was about to perform, a bomb went off under it. Unnerving him, he stood frozen and frightened. The last thing he needed was the psychological trauma that often cuts an artist’s career short. But it didn’t stop Caruso! Today, the details of Caruso’s short-lived career are found in numerous sources on the internet and in a large bibliography of news articles, monographs and books, to mention just a few sources. With this in mind, I’d like to take you on a tour of the museum via the collected pieces coupled with pertinent information as to how and where I secured each piece.
Welcome to the Enrico Caruso Museum of America!
to Fame Rise
1873 Born in Naples, Italy
74 | Carusoâ€™s rise to fame
1894 He is drafted into the army but is then quickly and honorably discharged because, “he was too good of a singer”
1882 – 1893 Starts working in a factory with his father but sings whenever he can at the waterfront in Naples
1880 – 1882 as a boy he sings in the church choir
Caruso’s rise to fame | 75
1900 Makes his debut at the world famous La Scala
1897 – 1900 Separates from Vergine and performs on his own in Italy, Russia, and North Africa
1894 – 1897 Returns to sing at the waterfront in Naples while studying under Guglielmo Vergine
76 | Caruso’s rise to fame
1903 â€“ 1920 Travels the world dazzling audiences near and far, always returning to The Met in NYC to open every year
1903 The biggest debut of his life takes place at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City
1902 Makes his first 10 recordings, leading to the sale of thousands of records
1920 â€“ 1921 His unfortunate sickness and tragic death at the age of 48
Today, the details of Carusoâ€™s shortlived career are found in numerous sources on the net and in a large bibliography of news articles, monographs and books, to mention just a few sources. With this in mind, Iâ€™d like to take you on a tour of the museum via the collected pieces coupled with pertinent information as to how and where I secured each piece.
Enrico Caruso Museum of America Gallery
Caruso â€” 1898
A young Caruso was poised for greatness with voice, stature and personality. An 1898 photo shows the strength and persona while the 80 | Gallery
photo 1894 shows his dramatic stage presence.
Caruso â€” 1894
Pictured here are early autographed pictures of Opera sopranos sisters Ada and Rina Giachetti. Both sang with Caruso. Ada gave up her son and marriage to live common law with Caruso. She is the mother of his two children, Rodolfo (1898) and Enrico Jr. (1904).
82 | Gallery
It was sister, Rina, whom Caruso was infatuated with at first. After the common law relationship ended between her sister and Caruso, she went on to become the governess of his children. Thinking she would be next in line, she was shocked when the world news services announced that he had married an American woman.
Gallery | 83
84 | Gallery
This caricature, dated 1905, is accompanied with a letter that was offered as a gift to a Boston Newspaper Editor for publication. Caruso spoke and wrote in many languages, including French, which he chose to compose this letter.
Michael Sisca was a collector of many
Sisca had possession of a pair of Caruso’s
of self-importance has also been found
items pertaining to the opera world. In his
shoes. On numerous occasions, I politely
in other tenors who were already over
collection were personal signature items
asked him to donate the pair to the museum.
six feet, namely Franco Corelli, and
of Caruso, including numerous carica-
Each time I would ask for them, he would
Jerome Hines. So much for short singers!
tures, opera programs, records, clothing,
give me a polite answer, NO! Finally, he
Michael tells the story that when Corelli
and things that would have been lost had
allowed me to display them on a “per-
announced he had bought shoes with
he not provided a sanctuary for them until
manent loan basis.” But I would not give
inch and half heels, Hines went out and
they became part of the museum.
up and my curiosity and jealousy finally
ordered a pair with inch and three-quarter
Caruso never flaunted his wealth, but it
got the best of me. I lost all respectability,
ones. I am a debtor to my friend Michael
was reported that he did wear handmade
pleading with him to sell me the shoes.
for many of these wonderful opera tidbits.
clothing from the finest tailors in Italy and
When the museum was finally opened,
Today, when people ask me how tall
the United States. He was a very generous
with a handshake and smile, he finally
Caruso was I have to answer, “His height
man, sending many suits and other gar-
relinquished the treasure. “This is where
is based on the pair of shoes he was wear-
ments to his brother, Giovanni, who was
they belong Aldo!”
ing!” Today, Enrico Caruso’s shoes are on
sure to be one of the best-dressed men in
The inch and three quarter heels tes-
Italy. But he gave to others and there are
tified to Caruso’s vanity! All of his shoes
many stories of his generosity.
had some kind of lift. That same streak
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display at the museum.
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Pirro the student born to an Etruscan mother used to give his bottom upside down. So Egypt without a smile is for me like fries without lemon. Oh, you who smell in many places, why don’t you spit before you eat? But in the third act they want you dead, but I’m not crazy, I want you king. This is the story of the thing that without pride I will write to you. Say hello to Peccia and say hello to Buzzi, all the rabble who love me. The pious women are lying at your feet, I’m going instead with my apathetic wife to the Pharaoh’s Eldorado. I’m going for fun just because I like it. The trunk is empty I’m changing color. Your name is Johnson and also Ramerres, you will see the care I dedicate to it. It will be a role full of love in the end will be a game of cards. I received that poetry full of the sun, tears falling, because of sorrow. I will be happy to see you always in Florence and see you sitting on the eiderdown. And instead without blushing you bring light to the black and turbid river. You can sing everything very well.
Giacomo Puccini 4.2.08
On the left is a letter, dated 1908, from Giacomo Puccini to Caruso explaining that he is going to compose the opera, “Girl from the Golden West.” At our request, Simonetta Puccini graciously translated the letter into English. The opera was specifically written for Caruso. In 1907 Puccini came to New York to see and study David Balaso’s stage play so he could bring it to opera form. Caruso performed it at the Met.
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A death mask is an exact facial mold of an
I don’t imagine there are many of these
The expression of Caruso’s death mask is
individual. A rather technical process was
castings in existence. The one we have is
one of tranquility. He had suffered tre-
used to create a finished mold of the indi-
indeed molded from the original and was
mendously during the last few years of
vidual’s face. It was a process employed to
donated by Luciano Pituello, the curator of
his life, especially during those closing
preserve the memory of the individual for
the Enrico Caruso Museum in Milano, Italy.
months and the look on his face testified
loved ones and admirers. Death mask con-
that he was finally at rest.
struction was not uncommon in Europe and other parts of the world at the time of Caruso’s passing.
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Pictured are the plaque and letter given to Enrico Caruso Jr. in honor of his fatherâ€™s contributions to the recording industry marking the period of his releases from 1903 to 1920. Presented by the National Academy of Recording Artists in 1987.
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On the occasion of the Museumâ€™s 25th anniversary, Marcello Giordani, among the great tenors at the Met, honored us with a concert at the New York Athletic Club in NYC. Joining us is City Councilman, Vincent Gentile.
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New York being a center of Italian culture with hundreds of thousands of individuals with Italian ancestry, we welcomed several Consuls General representing the Italian Government.
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Pictured at the entrance of the Museum is Eric Murray, Carusoâ€™s grandson, and Marty Markowitz, Borough President of Brooklyn, NY.
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One of my most coveted pictures is this 1994 photo of my two dear friends, Opera star, Licia Albanese and founding member of the museum, Michael Sisca. This was taken at the museum on one of their many visits over the years. I am indeed honored and privileged to have known both.
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acetates, 48 Aeolian Hall, 69 Albanese, Licia, 36, 101 Alleva Ernesto and Micolina, 51 Dorothy, 52 Ralph, 52 Atlantic Macaroni Company, 40
baptism, 52–53 basement, 28–29, 30–31, 59
Campania, 16 caricature, 6, 9, 27, 44 – 46, 48, 69, 84 –85, Caruso Enrico Jr., 56, 82, 92 Rodolfo, 82 coin, 15, 34 –35, 64 –67 Core’ngrato, 61 Cuba, 72
dealer, 56–57 earthquake, 72 Edison,Thomas, 47 Ercolano, 72 Follia, La, 44, 61, 69 fork and spoon, 8, 46–47 Fort Dix, 29
Gentile, Vincent, 94 Gershwin, George, 69 Giachetti Ada, 82 Rina, 83 Giordani, Marcello, 94 godfather, 52
health, 72 Herculaneum, 72 Knickerbocker Hotel, 8, 45, 47, 56
Mancusi, Everisto, 15 Leasa, 59 Markowitz, Marty, 96, Metropolitan Opera, 35, 65–66, 71 Mexico City, 72 Murray, Eric, 96
Naples, 9, 25–26, 51, 74 –76 National Academy of Recording Artists, 93 Neapolitan, 27
Pagliacci, 12–13 Paparazzi, 9 Pituello, Luciano, 91 Pompeii, 72 Puccini Giacomo, 70, 89 Simonetta, 89
RCA Victor, 47, 57 Rigoletto, 71 Rossi, Ernie, 61 royalties, 41, 57
shoes, 2, 86 Sicily, 44 Sisca Alessandro, 44, 61 Marziale, 5, 40, 44 – 46, 61–62, 69, 72 Michael, 5, 46– 48, 62, 69, 72, 86, 101 Staten Island, 35
Tiffany & Co., 66–67 Tonello, Father, 25–27 Verdi, Giuseppe, 70 Zonophone, 56
To my family, friends, and all those who have see me through along the way.