Enrico Caruso was an Italian tenor. He sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and North and South America. Caruso also made approximately 290 commercial recordings of his voice, beginning as early as 1902 in Italy and continuing from 1904 until 1920 in the United States. All of his known surviving recordings are available today on remastered CDs.
Caruso’s 25-year career, stretching from 1895 to 1920, included 863 appearances at the New York Metropolitan Opera before he died from an infection at the age of 48. His fame has lasted to the present day despite the limited marketing and promotional vehicles available during Caruso’s era. Publicity in Caruso’s time relied on newspapers, particularly wire services, along with magazines, photography and relatively instantaneous communication via the telephone and the telegraph, to spread a message and raise a performer’s profile.
Caruso biographers Pierre Key, Bruno Zirato and Stanley Jackson attribute Caruso’s fame not only to his voice and musicianship but also to a keen business sense and an enthusiastic embrace of commercial sound recording, then in its infancy. Many well-known opera singers of Caruso’s time rejected the phonograph due to the low fidelity of early discs. Their voices have been lost as a result. But other singers, including Adelina Patti, Francesco Tamagno and Nellie Melba, exploited the new technology once they became aware of the financial returns that Caruso was reaping from his initial recording sessions.
Caruso made more than 260 extant recordings in America for the Victor Talking Machine Company from 1904 to 1920, and he earned millions of dollars in royalties from the retail sales of the resulting 78-rpm discs. He was also heard live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in the first public radio broadcast in 1910.