Enrico Caruso was rumored to be the only surviving child out of 18 siblings, a story that wasn’t true but which suggests how miraculous his voice was. It must surely be a miracle. The tenor was Moses, a divine gift floating up from the slums of Naples, This is how we like our artists: improbable with upbringings impossibly dark.
Now a voice out of the night. Now he’s singing as the clock winds down. And the gramophone also. He sustains three minutes of life on a spinning disk.
Before Caruso and the record player life was all shovels and customary filth.
Then there was opera. In the rudest huts. Verdi in the small towns. We shouldn’t underestimate this, the import of it, the glory. When I was that blind kid in the attic hearing “Vesti la giubba” I was exactly like the farmer and the farmer’s wife with their mail order machine and for whom such a thing was preternatural. We’ve forgotten what this was like after a hundred years of popular culture. Caruso was a voice from a cloud.
“And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
Maybe the tenor wasn’t Christ. But for millions across the dirty world he’d do just fine.