February 26, 1921
Page 1

Crucially Ill After Unexpected Relapse, Great Tenor Fights Way Toward Recovery After Science Has Done Its Last—His Indomitable Will to Live Is Powerful Factor in Successful Outcome of Battle—News of Grave Illness Set Nerves of World on Edge—Cheered by Personal Messages from Rulers of Nations—Reported Making Satisfactory Progress

ENRICO CARUSO has again encompassed the miraculous! After science had placed the issue in the lap of the gods, and a stunned world had resigned itself to the threatening inevitable, the great tenor won a toe-to-toe battle with death. At the time of writing he was reported in progress toward health.
Won His Own Fight
The beloved singer literally won his own fight, as the saying goes. How he was stricken by pleurisy on Christmas Day, how he was apparently brought past all danger, how with the suddenness of an untimely blast he f ell, early last week, into an acute relapse—all this has even now passed into contemporary history. The corps of distinguished medical men that kept vigil at the tenor’s bedside had shaken its collective head dismally and proclaimed that the outcome depended upon the patient himself. Priests had been summoned in the first dark hours, and the last rites of the church administered. A shocked and despairing world awaited the worst, its optimism severely shaken by the somber statements emanating from those in charge.
That the imperial singer was really in dire straits a visit to the Hotel Vanderbilt, his place of residence, made only too clear. The humid atmosphere of impending tragedy hovering over the great lobby; the army of reporters, on watch night and day, gleaning every scrap of potential “copy”; the curt bulletins from doctors’ headquarters; the hourly arrival of sad-visaged friends, many bearing distinguished names—these were some of the outward tokens that a happening of first importance was transpiring high above where the sick man lay.
His Single Watchword
For three full days Caruso was in the shadows. And it was he himself who at length beat off the besieger. For he had set his mind with all the power spared by consuming fever upon the single thought—“I will not die!” Indomitable resolution carried away the victory. Science had done its last and utmost; the rest remained with the sick man. His rock-like will won.
The first crisis safely surmounted; the physicians refused to be lured into a re-action of optimism. Bulletins for three days after the crucial night maintained a guarded, even a dubious tone. But by Saturday, and still more so by Monday, the reports began to be somewhat definitely hopeful and reassuring. As MUSICAL AMERICA went to press, it appeared that the tenor was reasonably secure on the path to recovery. On Sunday the bulletin issued by the five physicians read as follows:
“Mr. Caruso has had a good night and is refreshed this morning. His condition is still feverish, but quite satisfactory.”
Relapse Came as Thunderbolt
The first news of Caruso’s serious relapse came Wednesday morning of last week. A bolt from a smiling sky could hardly have occasioned more surprise. The turn for the worse, after weeks of supposed convalescence, took place the previous afternoon and the tenor’s condition was regarded as critical. It was feared he could not live till daybreak. Life was being maintained by constant ministrations of oxygen and stimulants.
Immediately the relapse set in, a telegram to Culver Military Academy, in Indiana, brought his eighteen-year-old son, Enrico Caruso, Jr., to his father’s side. From Mrs. Caruso, steadfastly in attendance, and from his son and thirteen-month-old baby daughter, Gloria, the tenor drew cheer and strength for his mighty encounter in the twilight. For days, while hope had been abandoned and revived in turn, he fought on.
A Message from the King
Among the touching scenes of which the sick man was the center, was the visit, last Thursday, of Rolando Ricci, Italian Ambassador to the United States. The Ambassador, who has kept in close touch with the apartment since Caruso’s serious illness began, went to the Vanderbilt in person, and news of his presence was conveyed to Caruso by Mrs. Caruso.
“Where is he?” asked Caruso.

“He is going away.”

“Please let me see him.”
He was visibly pleased as the Ambassador entered. Removing his carnation from his buttonhole, the Ambassador approached Caruso’s bed and, handing the flower to the singer, said:
“I bring you in this flower the hearts and wishes of the King and the people of Italy. I wish you the best of health. I am so glad you look so well to-day.”
Both men fell into an exchange of reminiscences which demonstrated Caruso’s clarity of mind.
“I remember hearing you sing twenty-four years ago in Genoa at the Politema,” said the Ambassador.
“No, your excellency,” replied Caruso; “it was at the Carlo-Felici.”
“I see that your memory is much better than mine, Mr. Caruso,” said the Ambassador, accepting the correction with a smile.
“I sang there in the ‘Pearl Fishers,’ with De Luca, the baritone,” continued Caruso.
The tenor paused for a moment and added:
“Oh, yes, I also sang ‘Le Cid,’ by Massenet.” Another pause and Caruso began stirring uneasily and sighed:
“I want to die! I want to die!”
“No! No! You don’t mean that,” returned the Ambassador.

“No,” said Caruso; “I mean I want to die in Italy.”
Late the same afternoon Giulio Gatti-Casazza was permitted to enter the sick room. After exchanging greetings with his greatest star the Metropolitan head pinned the medal of St. Antonio di Padua, a small church in Italy, on Caruso’s pillow.
Public Interest at Intense Pitch
Throughout the week public interest in Caruso’s condition was at intense pitch. The inquirers ranged from the President—whose secretary, Joseph Tumulty, called up over the long-distance telephone from Washington—to Italian laborers who stopped at the hotel on the way to work to ask about their idol. Telegrams and cablegrams poured in from every corner of the globe. Some idea of the tremendous public interest and anxiety that reigned may be gathered from the average of telephone calls, said to have been ten a minute after the malady took a grave turn.
History of His Illness
The history of Caruso’s illness is a twice-told tale. Its salient points may be recalled briefly. Christmas Day found the tenor confined to his bed with pleurisy. He had sung the night before, in “La Juive,” with scarcely an outward indication of the sickness which must already have been far upon him. The news created even greater consternation among his admirers than it would ordinarily have done, in that it was the culmination of a series of misfortunes beginning to assume significance two weeks earlier.
At that time, singing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, he ruptured a minor blood vessel in his throat, and the opera had to be concluded with Act 1. Shortly before this dramatic incident he had sustained a distressing fall in a performance of “Pagliacci,” resulting in a strained side. Foreboding was added to surprise, when, but two days after the injury to his throat, Caruso appeared in “Forza del Destino.” Characteristically enough, he sang the rôle of Don Alvaro finely. Later he placed to his credit a strikingly beautiful interpretation of Samson.
Christmas Day, then, saw him ill. Earlier in the week he had been obliged to forego an announced appearance in “L’Elisir d’Amore,” but his ailment at that time was variously described as a slight cold, neuralgia and lumbago. His legion of admirers were totally unprepared for the announcement in the press that followed. This announcement appeared in the dailies on Monday morning, although Caruso had been in bed since shortly before noon Saturday. Monday afternoon the five physicians in attendance issued a bulletin putting a cheery complexion on the tenor’s condition and. progress. Before long, however, it developed that the singer’s malady was of the order known as empyema, or suppurative pleurisy. Six physicians were in attendance, the original five having been increased by the addition of the surgeon Dr. John F. Erdmann. Why, became apparent when it was announced that two operations had been performed—the second one drastic—to relieve the patient of a considerable deposit of poisonous matter. Bulletins were issued daily. Rumors thickened. No attempt was made to conceal the fact that anxiety was felt over their patient’s condition by the medical staff. The consensus of opinion at the time (the first week of the New Year) was that Caruso would sing no more during the present season. Then the regularly issued bulletins began to take on optimistic hues. The possibility that the tenor might again be heard by March was discussed. Followed the “convalescent” period. Southern trips were talked of, and Atlantic City, and a visit to Italy. The world, breathing easy turned its attention to other matters. Anxiety over his condition subsided and finally disappeared until Wednesday morning of last week, when the news of his relapse burst like a bombshell.


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