The Great Caruso This film traces the life of tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). He loves Musetta, in his home town of Naples, and then Dorothy, the daughter of one of the Metropolitan Opera’s patrons. Caruso is unacceptable to both women’s fathers: to one, because he sings; to Dorothy’s, because he is a peasant. To New York patricians, Caruso is short, barrel chested, loud, emotional, unrefined. Their appreciation comes slowly. The film depicts Caruso’s lament that “the man does not have the voice, the voice has the man”: he cannot be places he wants to be, because he must be elsewhere singing, including the day his mother dies. Throughout, Mario Lanza and stars from the Met sing.
Magnificent Mario at his best!
The Great Caruso Let me just say this, and then feel free to comment: I truly don’t think that the late, great Mario Lanza ever had a better cinematic vehicle for his talents than “The Great Caruso.” His larger than life personality and magnificent voice were never better served than here.
Like Caruso before him, and long before the Three Tenors and Andrea Bocelli, Lanza became THE tenor superstar of his generation. If there is anyone who wants to know why, just listen to him sing some of the magnificent arias in this film. “Cielo e Mar,” “E Lucevan le stelle,” and especially his matchless “Vesti la Giubba,” are evidence enough that Lanza could, indeed, have become bigger than Caruso, had not his excesses caught up with him at such a young age.
I have just a couple of negative comments to insert here. First, the plot, while it makes for a good story, actually has very little to do with Caruso’s life (Read Enrico Caruso Jr.’s “Caruso: My Father and My Family” for a good, readable biography. He even compliments Lanza and his performance!). For one thing, Caruso didn’t die on stage, but several months after that last performance at the Metropolitan. Second, the “Italian” mannerisms in this movie are straight out of the Henry Armetta/”Life with Luigi” school, stereotyped to the hilt.
But, given the overall scheme of things, these are relatively minor complaints. As to the rest, I say that, for those of you who’ve never heard Lanza and wonder why he was so great, this film will give you ample proof. For those of you who were there when Lanza was in his prime, here’s a chance to live it all over again. A great film, and a matchless tribute to TWO of the legendary voices of our time.