The Great Caruso
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|The Great Caruso|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Richard Thorpe|
The Great Caruso is a 1951 biographical film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Mario Lanza as Enrico Caruso. It was directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Joe Pasternak with Jesse L. Lasky as associate producer from a screenplay by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig. The original music was by Johnny Green and the cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Costume design was by Helen Rose and Gile Steele.
The film is a highly fictionalized biography of the life of Caruso.
Mario Lanza stars in the title role as Caruso and Ann Blyth stars as his wife Dorothy; the cast also includes Richard Hageman, Carl Benton Reid, Eduard Franz, Ludwig Donath and Nestor Paiva. It features a large number of Metropolitan Opera stars, notably sopranos Dorothy Kirsten, Teresa Celli, Lucine Amara, Marina Koshetz and Jarmila Novotná, mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom, baritone Giuseppe Valdengo and bass Nicola Moscona.
The film, while following the basic facts of Caruso's life, is largely fictional. The Caruso family successfully sued MGM for damages because of this. Here are a few of the factual discrepancies:
- Early in the film, the young Caruso is shown in a montage rising through the ranks from operatic chorister to supporting singer, including the minor role of Spoletta in Puccini's opera Tosca. Caruso never sang in an opera chorus, nor did he ever sing a supporting role. When Tosca premiered in 1900, Caruso was already a rising opera star and was considered by Puccini himself for the starring tenor role of Cavaradossi, though the part was given to Emilio De Marchi. Caruso, however, did sing the role shortly after the premiere and Puccini stated that he had never heard the part better sung.
- In the film, Caruso makes his American debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's Aida and is met with silence from the audience and scathing critical reviews. In reality, Caruso's Met debut in Rigoletto was warmly received and he became an immediate favorite with New York audiences and critics.
- In real life, Caruso met Dorothy Park Benjamin, his future wife in 1917. In the film, he meets her at the time of his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1903.
- In the film Caruso appears to die onstage after a throat hemorrhage during a Metropolitan Opera performance of Martha. Caruso did suffer from a throat ailment and suffered a hemorrhage during a Met performance of L'elisir d'amore in Brooklyn on December 11, 1920, causing the performance to be cancelled. His last performance was in La Juive at the Met on December 24, 1920. He died on August 2, 1921 in Naples of peritonitis following months of illness and several surgical procedures.
The Great Caruso was a massive commercial success. According to MGM records it made $4,309,000 in the US and Canada and $4,960,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $3,977,000. It was the studio's biggest success of the year and the most popular movie at the British box office in 1951.
Newsweek wrote that, "Lanza brings to the role not only a fine, natural and remarkably powerful voice, but a physique and personal mannerisms reminiscent of the immortal Caruso." According to Bosley Crowther, the film is "perhaps the most elaborate 'pops' concert ever played upon the screen"; Blyth's voice is "reedy" but "Lanza has an excellent young tenor voice and...uses it in his many numbers with impressive dramatic power. Likewise, Miss Kirsten and Miss Thebom are ladies who can rock the welkin, too, and their contributions to the concert maintain it at a musical high." Crowther says "All of the silliest, sappiest clichés of musical biography have been written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig into the script. And Richard Thorpe has directed in a comparably mawkish, bathetic style."
Nearly 40 years after its release, Caruso's son, Enrico Jr. reminisced that, "Vocally and musically The Great Caruso ...has helped many young people discover opera and even become singers themselves."He added that, "I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography." The film has also been cited by tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras as having been an inspiration for them when they were growing up.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards; at the 24th Academy Awards ceremony, Douglas Shearer and the MGM Studio Sound Department won for Best Sound. The film was also Oscar-nominated for its costume design and its score.
A tie-in record album, also called The Great Caruso was issued by RCA Victor on the 45, 78 RPM and LP formats. It featured several popular opera arias sung by Lanza and was the first operatic LP to sell over one million copies. It remained continuously available after its original 1951 release and was reissued by RCA Victor on compact disc in 1989.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- Crowther, Bosley (May 11, 1951). "Great Caruso Makes Its Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- Caruso, Enrico Jr. and Farkas, Andrew. Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family. (Portland Oregon: Amadeus 1990)
- Cesari, Armando. Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy (Fort Worth: Baskerville 2004)