Amazingly this was one of Caruso's first 10 arias recorded within two hours in one of the hotel suites? of the Grand Hotel in Milan (11 April 1902). Piano: Salvatore Cottone.
Caruso recorded Celeste Aida seven times between 1902 and 1911. I've found recordings for The Gramophone & Typewriter Company (G&T) in April and November 1902, then for Victor on February 1, 1904, again in 1906, and then two takes in 1908. Only the second take from this session was released. The final version was made in 1911.
The first 1902 recording (this one), done in April, is the most beautiful lyrical rendition, displaying the elegant and refined tenore di grazia of the young Caruso "dressed like a dandy, twirling a cane"... Verdi wrote the ending "un trono vicino al sol" with the sustained high b-flat at pp with morendo ("dying away"). Obviously, it is really difficult, especially when one considers that the whole romance is one of the toughest. Caruso sings the final Bb in a gorgeous mezza voce (in the April recording). In fact, with the exception of the November 1902 recording (where he omits the last Bb) and the the 1911 recording (where he attacks the final Bb forte), he sings all the final Bb's in mezza voce. The 1911 recording is the only one that contains the recitative at the beginning. Compare his 1911 version, when he was 38. It's darker, heavier, less spontaneous, the diction less forward. But it is perhaps the best dramatic rendition of the romance.
The F's? (as in Celeste AidA, forma divinA) are ridiculously well covered, it's unfair to the others that he does it so easily, especially since he did not comprehend his perfect technique properly... Believe it or not, the hardest things to sing well in this romance are the Fs at the top of the scales, at the beginning of each verse. This is a love song so the F's should be sung softly, not belted out, but it is very hard for a tenor to do this. Caruso is one of the few? tenors on record who are able to sing the Fs softly and yet also succeed in the stentorian passages. Even Caruso has trouble doing this on the second verse because of the stamina demanded by this very challenging piece.
Caruso had so many instinctive vocal attributes, including a pure legato musical line, a feeling for style, vocal flexibility, dynamic range, breath control, sweetness, power, and beauty of tone that he is still for many? the greatest tenor ever recorded.
"Fred Gaisberg was one of the men who invented the recording industry ... One of the first artists he recorded was Enrico Caruso who went on to become the world's first recording superstar ... In 1902 he was in Milan and after hearing a young Caruso singing at La Scala was determined to record the singer. Caruso, like many of the great stars of the day was reluctant to be recorded and demanded a huge fee of 100 pounds for ten songs (which was the standard Gramophone Company contract in those days). Gaisberg telegrammed his record company for permission to press ahead with the record, but quickly received back the negative response "FEE EXORBITANT FORBID YOU TO RECORD". Believing Caruso to be an extremely special talent and backing his judgement to the hilt, Fred chose to ignore the order and underwrote the payment to Caruso out of his own pocket.
In the middle of the day on April 11th Caruso arrived at the Grand Hotel "dressed like a dandy, twirling a cane." He was taken up to the room where Gaisberg had set up the recording equipment but the singer initially appeared impatient to get the job over as quickly as possible to earn his 100 pounds and proceed to lunch.
Once the young singer began to sing, however, he threw himself fully into the recording process. The songs were, according to Fred himself, "all about 2 and a half minutes long and one after another, as fast as we could put the waxes on the machine, Caruso poured the fresh gold of that beautiful voice on to them."
Caruso pocketed his 100 pound payment and left Gaisberg in the hotel room with the post euphoric realisation that The Gramophone Company would need to sell an unheard of 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of the 100 pound fee. At this time very very few people had gramophones and so the market for discs was tiny. This is the first of the recordings that Fred had paid for ... The ten sides of Caruso did become a huge success both for the Gramophone Company, who made a profit of 15,000 pounds on the recordings (which meant that had sold in excess of 300,000 copies; the first true world wide hit records!), and for Caruso who became famous and much sought after all over the world, these recordings acting as viral marketing for the Caruso brand."
Un DIVO vicino al sol... by