Early recording technology didn’t merely capture the sound of late-nineteenth century opera. As the medium through which most people had access to opera, sound recording also changed our concept of what opera should sound like.
The first superstar of recording, Enrico Caruso recorded exclusively for the Victor Talking Machine between 1902 and 1920. Caruso’s broad, warm tone was particularly well-suited to early acoustic equipment, and 1907 recording of “Vesti la giubba” was the first gramophone record to sell more than a million copies.
Although his voice exists on record, Francesco Tamagno, the second tenor we heard, was more of a relic of a bygone age. In 1887, Tamagno sang Othello at the premiere of Verdi’s great tragedy. In 1903, Tamagno came out of retirement to be recorded.