Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Caruso on the night shift
Sometimes when I'm awake in the middle of the night, I do odd things. No, I don't dance naked in my living room or order exercise equipment from late-night infomercials. But I do pass the time in unexpected ways. Usually I'll watch a cosy mystery on DVD. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, I'm a sucker for them all. I'll curl up in my nest, frequently with a cat as my hot water bottle, and relax in the arms of retired Majors, arsenic in the tea, and blunt objects.

But sometimes I do something different. Like listening to Caruso.

Now right from the start I must admit that I don't particularly like opera. I don't hate it, I just don't love it. I do have a few CDs of arias by those few singers whose voices appeal to me for some reason. Jose Cura is my favorite. But after an NPR special, Husband acquired a CD of that most iconic of male opera singers, Enrico Caruso.

I must say it was rather like listening to a ghost. A very talented ghost with nice pitch, but a ghost nonetheless. The ancient recording was probably to blame for the spirt voice, but the emotion behind it was entirely Caruso's. And it was perfect at 3:14 am.

The cat was spending the night curled around the feet of Husband so I had the nest to myself. I also had Jane Austen at hand. (Watching the wonderful new PBS adaptations has me returning to old friends, like the sisters Dashwood.) The wind was rising and making its presence known in our chimney and I had a fire dying in the fireplace. There were some lovely soft blankets, and then there was Caruso. I couldn't for the life of me tell you what he was singing. Puccini? Mozart? Who knows? But I can tell you that it fit with being the only person in the Bay Area awake at that hour.

Not being a music critic (I leave that to Husband) I am at a loss as to put into words what there was in his voice that struck me. Perhaps it was that distant, ghostly sadness that came through the decades. But it was, in many ways, the audio definition of "evocative." There were men in evening dress and women in long white gloves peering through lorngettes at the man standing in the yellow glow of gaslights. A hushed silence. Red velvet curtains and golden cherubs floating overhead. And that voice appearing out of the darkness, out of time, and into my night. I lay there with my imagination in overtime, watching the firelight paint shadowy frescos on the ceiling, listening to that Italian ghost and loving every melodramatic note. He wasn't subtle, Mr. Caruso, but he was definitely memorably. Which is why, I suppose, sleepy women are still turning to him one hundred years later.

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