Saturday, July 18, 2009

Which is it and which is me

While I was speaking with a phone customer at work, the subject of love at first sight came up. His example was of the famous tenor Enrico Caruso and his wife Dorothy (or "Doro"). His descriptions of passages in Dorothy's book, Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death, were interesting enough that I got the book from the library and have just finished it.

Because Dorothy has included transcriptions of letters written to her by her husband while he was on the road - reproduced in creative Italian/English - the result is very personal and appealing. Words like "emotionated" are used to describe his reaction to a very positive audience ovation.

Here is a favorite passage:

"Everything that Enrico did was as great as his singing because his vital force was expended on each task. As the public didn't know this, they regarded his singing as a huge outgrowth, overshadowing all else he did. But he always used his full emotional energy for any accomplishment - whether it was for singing a perfect song or making a perfect envelope. Once he needed several large envelopes for his clippings, but had only one. I suggested that we send the chauffeur to fetch more. 'No,' he said, 'I will do myself. That way I learn something new.' He took a large sheet of wrapping paper and with the greatest care measured, cut folded and glued a perfect envelope, using the old one for a model. Patiently he repeated this operation eleven times. When he had finished he shuffled the original model among the eleven others and handed me a dozen envelopes with a smile. 'There,' he said, 'you cannot tell which is it and which is me.' "

Another excerpt:

"When Enrico cared for people it was for their inner qualities, not for what they could give him. Soon after we were married he told me of his experience in the San Francisco earthquake. After describing it vividly he added, 'I save my big picture of President Teddy Roosevelt that he presented me the week before when I sang in the White House. Then I went to London from the earthquake and the King and Queen asked me to tell all about. They were very interested and happy I save the photograph. Such nice people. King Edward so good and so kind.' At this moment little old Gravina came into the room. he was an impoverished actor - once a great comedian in Italy - whom Enrico had saved from starvation by making him a cutter of his clippings. One day he had displayed to me an astonishing trick of his comic art - that of shooting his eyes out of his head like a snail - but he was so timid in Enrico's presence that he trembled visibly. When he had left the room Enrico said, 'That is a nice kind man too. I like to have him near me.' To Enrico there was a similar quality of goodness in the King of England and the old actor, Gravina."

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