A Tenor's Dreams, Sotto Voce

Cartoon Self Portrait by Enrico Caruso


There are five kinds of singing he thinks. A lonely person sings like the surface of a lake, maybe winter is coming, there’s a sense of impending ice. This is altogether proper. Bones and loneliness and ice are all apiece, little brothers and sisters.

Then the singer in a crowd of singers–this is surprisingly difficult. You have to be in love with everyone. In love with a vast roomful of odd souls. In La Traviata the tenor must raise a glass to a happiness, a delirium really, that no one has every experienced at a real human gathering. So the singer in a crowd must be a sweet and foolish visionary like that Frenchman who wrote the marriage manual–he can’t remember the name right now. One night he tells Puccini that to sing in a crowd the tenor must imagine that his pants are down but simultaneously his heart is pure.

Pretending to love someone, singing into her open eyes. And singing so the rich and the deaf can hear…

Of course singing the same aria night after night; dropping your tears; Canio the cuckold; night after night after night…

Facing your death with joy. Making the loss of oxygen look like love.

Caruso lights a cigarette and draws a clown in his notebook. Singing, he thinks, is the most important thing in the world.


–from Caruso: A Novel of Arias pending by Stephen Kuusisto



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