The year is 1902.
We are in Milan, Italy.
The gramophone is in its infancy.
The Gramophone & Typewriter Company thought that in order for the recording industry to take off, it needed a few top-notch singers under contract to record. But, almost every singer that the company approached refused.
Then, by pure luck, it all changed.
Fred Gaisberg, a recording technician for the company, heard a young rising tenor make a sensation at La Scala in Franchetti’s now forgotten opera, Germania.
Gaisberg immediately inquired if the young singer would be interested in making a recording. The singer agreed.
However, when Gaisberg informed his bosses, they thought the costs to high and cabled him to not move forward. In a move that the company would later thank Gaisberg for the rest of his life, he disregarded the cable and on April 11, 1902, he transformed his suite on the 3rd floor of the Grand Hotel in Milan into a recording studio. He had a piano brought in for Salvatore Cottone to accompany the singer. For two hours, the singer’s voice was put on disc for the first time. He made ten sides.
So who was the young singer? Enrico Caruso, who would become probably the most famous opera tenor of them all.
Caruso even provided a sketch of himself that day.
Of those ten sides recorded that day, one aria put the gramphone on a path to unmeasured success. The aria, Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacci became a best seller.
Here is that recording made that afternoon in the hotel.
What a glorious sound. No wonder other singers starting running to be recorded. The record industry was born.
This month is the 96th year since the passing of the great Enrico Caruso.
Author of A Song for Bellafortuna and Tempesta’s Dream