A Passion-Less Caruso Set
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 03/29/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The legendary Enrico Caruso was a very passionate man, apparently about everything. So I wonder what he would think about this new BMG/RCA dvd and cd set. Great concept combined with a surprisingly lackluster execution. I am not sure of the market BMG had in mind because the set seems to work best as an introduction to the great tenor rather than as an addition for the Caruso afficionado. Yet even as an "Intro" it provides little information for the neophyte to want "more."Getting down to specifics, the main attraction is a 46 min. A&E biography that is very nicely produced with fascinating newsreel footage of Caruso, interviews with key people including his son, and of course, Caruso singing on the soundtrack. How can you go wrong? The problem is the unanswered questions a viewer may have at the end. For example, what happened to Caruso's little daughter and his wife? This is where liner notes have usually come in handy but there are no liner notes with this set (either that or they were left out of the copy I received), a very shortsighted omission on somebody's part.Buyers are urged to go to bmgclassics.com on the Internet for more info, but that turned out to be just advertising for other titles. When I visited it, it didn't even list the dvd/cd set I had just bought!Following the A&E bio on the dvd is the real prize of this set, a complete silent film from 1918 starring Caruso himself. An introductory title explains that scenes were filmed at the old Met making the footage of Caruso onstage priceless. But beyond that info, there is no more said about the film, its origins, or why it's not in better shape. It looks like the transfer was taken from a worn 16 mm print, quite viewable for silent film fans but possibly tough going for everybody else. To be fair, pehaps this print is the best surviving material available but BMG says nothing about it. I noticed that Caruso's real life secretary, Bruno Zirato, plays his secretary in the film and I wondered about other cast members too. But BMG really fell down here by providing no information or background. There is a nice piano accompaniment that uses some arias and Neopolitan songs effectively to suit the action in various scenes. The story is rather predictable but is handled with some ingenuity to make the viewer wonder how it will all turn out. For all his success, Caruso would not be popular as a film star, unlike his colleague Geraldine Farrar, who did quite well for a number of years in silent films.The bonus cd contains about 46 minutes of Caruso's most beloved recordings but with no info about their dates or even identifying who the other singers are on each track. The afficiando will already have this info but what about the newcomer to Caruso? My overall impression of this set is that the price is right for what the purchaser is getting but the finished product seems to lack an enthusiasic producer who really cared about its subject matter. Earlier RCA releases going back, at least for me, to the early LP era all were packaged with notes that conveyed a sense of excitement about the great man. This set seems to say, "Here it is, take it or leave it.""
A Great Find For Silent Film Fans And For Opera Lovers Too.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 01/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here is another example of running across an item totally by accident and finding something extremely worthwhile. I wasn't looking for this title. In fact I didn't even know that it existed. But what a find! This 2 disc set contains a DVD and a CD of Caruso recordings and was put out by BMG Entertainment, the German conglomerate who owns the rights to the RCA Victor classical music library. The CD features arias by Verdi, Puccini, and others along with his signature tune (Vesti la giubba) from PAGLIACCI. The DVD features the A&E BIOGRAPHY episode on Enrico Caruso which runs about 45 minutes. It provides a good but superficial introduction to the great tenor but as pointed out in another review it leaves quite a few questions unanswered.
As also pointed out elsewhere the real prize in this collection is the inclusion of Caruso's 1918 silent film MY COUSIN. This rarely seen offering features Caruso in two roles. One is as a famous opera singer (naturally) while the other is that of a poor sculptor in New York's Little Italy who might be the singer's cousin. While the story is routine what makes the film so remarkable is Caruso himself and the authentic NY backgrounds including a performance inside the old Metropolitan Opera house. While you can't hear Caruso's voice (that's what the CD is for) you can easily tell what a natural and dynamic performer he must have been and why he was (and still is) so beloved. The movie was directed by Edward Jose' who is best known to silent film fans as Theda Bara's primary victim in A FOOL THERE WAS. MY COUSIN looks to be taken from a 16mm copy but is in decent shape by silent film standards and the piano accompaniment of opera arias and popular Italian tunes works quite well.
Looking at this release as a silent film fan and as a classical music lover I found it to be an unbeatable combination. Sure the BIOGRAPHY segment is not as good as it could have been and there are better Caruso recordings available elsewhere but this is the only place to get MY COUSIN. Put all three together and that makes it a must buy for the opera lover and/or the silent film enthusiast."
Great documentary and CD for the price
Nestor Masckauchan | New York, USA | 12/04/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is DVD has a great documentary, very enjoyable to see, can be bought at a bargain price. It is true that some information should be on the box, shame on BMG classics, as the other reviewer says, but I find this a great deal as I loved the documentary. And the extra movie with Caruso in it playing two roles is great too!."