He closes the dressing room door, applause still lapping the stairs.
He lathers his chest with lavender soap, rinses and towels his torso, dresses.
The silk shirt, the linen suit, the English cravat in shades of Verdigris.
He stoops to his spats; the door opens softly.
-Magnifico, Cesare, as always.
-I have clinched Gioconda for September, and for December, Traviata at La Scala.
-And I have another proposition.
-We’ll discuss it as we eat.
-You discuss, I eat.
-We have the tagliatelle, the cassata, the chianti.
The chianti scatters shards of lamplight.
-We have an offer from Columbia.
-The phonograph company. They want you to record your voice.
-It’s a good offer.
-You think I prostitute my voice, my art? How much they pay?
-Three thousand lire, paid in dollars.
-Is an insult. Should be hundred times more. Tell them put another
figaro, figaro, fiiiiigaro. Besides, I am artist, you think my voice can be squeezed
-You owe it to your public, Cesare. What about your fans who can’t get to the Opera? Why shouldn’t they hear you in their homes?
-And where am I when my voice is singing? You Inglese, you do not understand Art. Art is sympathica. I make love to the music, I make love to the audience, they respond, they give me back to myself a hundred, a thousand strengths. The Manager in Sienna, he say to me, Cesare, you sang like a devil tonight, I say, Angel, he say, Devil, you stoke the fires of the house, I say, Bene, but only to warm myself. I was big success there. I have this suit made to celebrate. Is the colour of triumph.
-Is Burnt Sienna.
-Accept the offer and you could afford a suit for every colour of the palette.
-You insult my integrity.
-Caruso has done it.
-Pah. He would. His father was mechanic, monkeying with machines is in his blood.
-People all over the world can now hear him sing.
-They hear Caruso. Whatever he sing, he is Caruso. I am like the good lover, I am whatever I am required to be. I am Alfredo, I am Manrico, I am Rodolfo, I am Faust. I am Nemorino, Don Alvaro, I am Otello or MacDuff. I am Edgar, I am –
-All the more reason for recording your roles. What will happen when your voice cracks?
-The wax will crack before my voice.
-It will happen eventually.
-Then, like the great lover, I will live in memories.
-Memories are fickle, inventive. How long will you be remembered?
A season, a few seasons, until the next great tenor. These phonographs will last longer than your voice, maybe longer than your life. Maybe forever.
-You wish to embalm me, make me waxworks. I am young, I am alive, I eat, I sing, I sing, I eat. I eat in ristorante, I sing in auditoria. You wish me to sing in latrina.
-The studio is large. We could arrange an audience.
-You think I am gigolo?
Through the mist of crackle the voice breaks through,
gathers and lifts, looming between the CD speakers. It
hardens and blooms, nasal with distortion, yet there,
It is Caruso.