The Voice of the Early 1900s: Enrico Caruso

In the climactic chapters of FORGIVEN, Kula, along with other wealthy patrons, spends an evening at the opera and hears Enrico Caruso perform. It was to be his last performance in San Francisco, and her last night of stability.

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an Italian tenor who captivated the world with his voice. He lived during the advent of the phonograph, and in part because his celebrity was spread through the new media of his time – newspapers, books, and magazines – his popularity expanded worldwide and his notoriety continues to this day.

In April 1906, Caruso visited San Francisco as part of a series of performances by artists of the Metropolitan Opera. He sang Don Jose in Carmen to an enthusiastic audience. But on the following morning, April 18th, he like all San Franciscans was awakened by the first jolt of the great earthquake of 1906. He escaped unharmed, and even went on to eat breakfast. But the fires that broke out following the earthquake destroyed most of the city, including his hotel, his entire personal wardrobe, and the sets of the opera company.

Caruso left the city and vowed never to return, and he never did.

Here is a recording that speaks to his tremendous ability:


The opera Carmen tells the thwarted romantic story of the naive soldier Don Jose and the seductive but doomed Carmen. For Kula, this story would have been a scandalous revelation, and hearing the great Caruso would have been a high point in her sheltered life. The earthquake might have seemed like a fitting coda, if not for the terrible tragedy in the making.

More on that in the next post.

2 Responses to “The Voice of the Early 1900s: Enrico Caruso”

  1. Bobbi Miller

    I’ve so enjoyed your series on San Francisco and this time period. So much information. And, I particularly love this post. I thought I was the only one left in the world who knew — and enjoyed!! — Caruso! Thank you!

    • Janet

      Oh, I’m so pleased you like these, Bobbi!! And yes, what a voice. Magnifico!! Cheers – j