Preserving the Life and Legacy of Enrico Caruso

Aldo Mancusi, curator of the Enrico Caruso Museum in NYC, talks with We the Italians.

This interview, conducted by Umberto Mucci, appears on We the Italians.

Aldo Mancusi (Founder – Enrico Caruso Museum)

Imagine years of discrimination, without hope of being recognized of being worthy of any respect, possibly far from your family left in your homeland, working two or even three jobs, living in very poor conditions: that was life for the majority of the Italians emigrated at the end of XIX century in the US. Then, imagine a moment of pride, a glimpse of revenge, a situation where not only your people are respected, but one of them is hero, a celebrity, a leader cherished and admired in the whole world.

That is what happened when Enrico Caruso arrived to the US. From then on, he would be the most important, popular and successful living artist in the world. New York celebrates Enrico Caruso, of course. In Brooklyn there’s a museum that was imagined, created and still is directed by a pioneer, a visionary, an enthusiast for Caruso like nobody else: his name is Aldo Mancusi, and we are very happy to talk with him today

Aldo, first of all: who was Enrico Caruso, and why has he been so important for the Italians all over the world and in particular in America?

When Enrico Caruso first came to America in 1903, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, most Italians were not educated. They came from Southern Italy to America for a better life. So, he brought so much prestige to Italians and so much culture to the New York area that people looked up to him when he performed. Many Italians, including my grandparents and my father, would go to the Met, in the standing room only, so they did not pay for the seat. That is how he uplifted the Italian community, he was the first one who did that, because everyone loved Caruso. Everyone that heard Caruso, of course, admired his voice and him personally, because not only he was a great tenor and a great artist, but he was also a great personality and he was adored by everyone who met him in America. And he was loved all over the world, not only here. I’ve got people coming to the museum from China, Korea, Australia, Canada, Especially from South America and it’s amazing how the world knows this name, Enrico Caruso.

When did Caruso start recording, and when did he come to the US?

In the beginning, his first ten recordings were done through the Gramophone & Typewriter Company based in London. All of them were recorded by the Gaisberg brothers, in Milan, Italy. When they left America for London, to improve their recording systems, they were sent to Milan to record someone from the opera world. And they said “Ah, we must get il signor Caruso”.

When Caruso demanded five hundred dollars for the recordings, the company back in London radioed them a telegram: “Do not record Caruso. The fee is ridiculous”, because if they sold 25 or 50 or 100 records they would never make their money back. But they did know the talent of Enrico Caruso, and so they took the deal. And so, when those ten first recordings were released they didn’t sell 100, they sold thousands: so much that in November of 1902 the London company paid the Gaisberg brothers five hundred thousand dollars in advance and said: “Please, try to get Caruso again”. And they did: that’s when the recording industry became very popular, it was because of Caruso who literally made the record business boom.

When he came to America in 1903 he exclusively recorded for the Victor Record Company. Right upon the time he died, which was on August 2nd 1921, those records became his treasures, the legacy that he left to the public. The Victor Record Company made millions and millions of dollars and in 1929 was sold to RCA Radiola Company. Today, from what I know, the Caruso family is still receiving royalties from the records sale. Read more on We the Italians.

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