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O.K. I know that we dedicated opera buffs are in the minority. Most people find opera a tad more annoying than they find rap ... well, for we few who are opera fans, tomorrow, February 25th is Enrico Caruso’s birthday. He was born in Naples in 1873 and unfortunately for the world of opera, he died at the age of 48.
The world around, Caruso achieved iconic rock-star status during his short career. In America alone he made over 260 recordings for the Victor Talking Machene Company, later known as (RCA Victrola). His 1904 recording of “Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacci was the first recording to sell a million copies.
The truth of his life is closely intermingled with legend. One story that I love; part legend, part fact – on the evening of April 5th, 1906 Caruso and the cast of the Metropolitan Opera Co. had performed Carmen at the Mission Opera House. He had played the lead roll of Don Jose. He went back to his suit at the Palace Hotel and went to bed.
"I wake up about 5 o’clock,” he said, “feeling my bed rocking as though I am in a ship on the ocean....I go to the window and look out. And what I see makes me tremble with fear. I see the buildings toppling over, big pieces of masonry falling, and from the street below I hear the cries and screams of men and women and children."
His dedicated valet managed to drag 54 steamer trunks, containing among other things, some 50 self portraits, down 6 flights of stairs and to the street where he miraculously manages to find a horse and cab to carry the great Caruso and his many belongs to the Ferry Building, where he got on a ferry and then from Oakland boarded a train for New Your. It is said that while his harries valet struggled with all those trunks, that Caruso himself stood on the street corner, said He’d never been so insulted in all of his life and would never sing in San Francisco again.
He was a bigger than life man with a huge appetite for life and an equally huge appetite for the dishes of his native Naples. He in fact created an excellent dish, Bauatini Caruso using a traditional pasta from Naples, Bucatini that he often prepared it himself for favorite guests.
It is simply lots of garlic, a few chopped tomatoes, a pepper and a few dry chili flakes, sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with fresh oregano and a lot of fresh basal. This is then combined with the bauatini and slices of zucchini which have been dipped in seasoned flour and lightly fried. It is simple yet delectable. As delectable as the music of this man who was anything but simple.
If you, like me, are a dedicated opera buff, particularly loving the Italian lyric opera, then perhaps you might like to celebrate Caruso’s birthday tomorrow, by cueing up a recording of Vesta la Giubba on Youtube, and whipping up a batch of Bauatini Caruso – feast your taste buds and your ears.