Opera Scotland

Enrico Caruso signing autographs

Enrico Caruso in Scotland

Posted 31 Jan

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was in his day the world's most famous tenor, by far, and his reputation lasts unimpaired to this day.  This was not just because of his astonishing natural gifts, his work ethic and his training but because he  was performing at the very birth of recording.  Furthermore, while other singers were reluctant to use the new medium because of the evidently poor quality of sound, Caruso embraced it.  In consequence his 1904 recording of 'Vesti la giubba' from Pagliacci was the first sound recording to sell over a million copies.

His Scottish performances took place in 1909, as part of a provincial concert tour, and he appeared here only on the concert platform, not in a staged performance.   It was organised by Thomas Quinlan's Musical Bureau, and took him to Plymouth, Blackpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and  Belfast, before appearances in London's Albert Hall and finally Liverpool.

He performed in the St Andrews Hall in Glasgow on 3 September 1909.  It is recorded that there were 3500 present, with 500 or so being turned away.  Amongst the arias he sang were of course 'Vesti la giubba' and 'Celeste Aida'.   On 7 September, he performed in Edinburgh's McEwan Hall, with the same accompanist and singers.  The Scotsman critic acknowledged Caruso's greatness and the warmth of the reception. In trying to explain why the Hall was not full, he invoked a combination of the uncommonly early date relative to the usual concert season, and the high prices, particularly for the most expensive seats.  There were eight price levels advertised, ranging from 6s (all sold) up to 31s 6d!

At the end of his British tour, Caruso went on to Germany for eight performances in five cities - Frankfurt, Nürnberg, Hamburg, Berlin and Bremen, before returning to the USA to open the new season at the Metropolitan Opera in early November.

Caruso's  earnings for the season of 1909-10, including the European tour and fifty-seven staged performances and one concert at the Metropolitan Opera, are recorded as being $158,350.

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