Enrico Caruso's golden chord, which kept the world so enthralled, first began to fade at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn on December 11th 1920. There, in the first act of Donizetti's opera, L'Elisir d'Amore, leaning on the shoulder of whichever chorus member happened to be closest to him, Caruso filled handkerchief after handkerchief with blood as he struggled to sing through the pain of a hemorrhaged vessel in his throat.
During a prolonged 45 minute intermission Caruso was examined by his physician and forbidden from continuing with his performance. As the intermission dragged on, the audience -- especially the 300 standees -- grew nervous and attempted to hasten the beginning of the second act by breaking into sudden outbursts of applause, but it was all to no avail. Members of the orchestra appeared on stage only to retrieve their instruments and head home for the night. The musicians were in turn followed by the opera company's Press Representative, William J. Guard who, begging for the indulgence of the audience, explained: "I regret to inform you that shortly before this evening's performance Mr. Caruso burst a small blood vessel in his throat. I assure you the injury is not serious, but despite the artist's protest he has been peremptorily forbidden by his physician to continue." Guard then went on to outline the management's ticket refund policy as the opera-goers gathered their things and slowly filed out of the building.
Though not attributed as a direct cause of his death, the throat hemorrhage that night certainly presaged Caruso's fate. Eight months later his passing was front page news in the Eagle, a paper that frequently covered all things Caruso in both life and death.
We have two photo files on Caruso down in the morgue. The photos include headshots, costumed portraits, photos of his family, and paparazzi-like snapshots of Mrs. Caruso with the suitors she entertained after the tenor's death.
Like the first photo in the post, this too captures Caruso dressed for the role of Eléazar from Halévy's La Juive.
Here is a recording, from the Internet Archive, of Caruso singing the best known aria from that opera, "Rachel, quand du seignur."
And here we see an Eagle-doctored photo of Caruso dressed as Don José in Bizet's opera Carmen.
And a recording of Caruso singing the "Flower Song" from that opera.
Caruso as Radames in Aida.
And -- you guessed it -- a recording from 1911 of Caruso singing "Celeste Aida" from that opera.
In addition to the photo files in our morgue, I also unearthed a rather slim Biographical File on Caruso -- containing but one article from a 1997 Sunday edition of The New York Times. The article highlights the one and only Enrico Caruso museum in North America, housed in the two-story Gravesend brick home of Italian-American Aldo Mancusi. If you want to learn more about Caruso you can either visit us here at Brooklyn Public Library, or head out to 1942 East 19th Street to see Mr. Mancusi's collection. But before heading out on the B,Q line you can take a virtual tour on YouTube.
I leave you with another Caruso aria, this time from the Donizetti opera in which Caruso performed at the Academy of Music on Brooklyn on that fateful night. Here he is giving exquisite voice to the longing of the peasant, Nemorino, in the aria "Una Furtiva Lagrima."