The Great Caruso

The Great Caruso is a 1951 biographical film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Mario Lanza as Enrico Caruso. It was directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Joe Pasternak with Jesse L. Lasky as associate producer from a screenplay by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig. The original music was by Johnny Green and the cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Costume design was by Helen Rose and Gile Steele.

The Great Caruso
Original film poster
Directed byRichard Thorpe
Produced byJoe Pasternak
Written byWilliam Ludwig
StarringMario Lanza
Music byJohnny Green
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • April 16, 1951 (1951-04-16)
Running time
109 mins
CountryUnited States
Box office$9,269,000[1]

The film is a highly fictionalized biography of the life of Caruso.


The film also features a large number of Metropolitan Opera stars, notably sopranos Teresa Celli, Lucine Amara and Marina Koshetz, mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom, baritone Giuseppe Valdengo and bass Nicola Moscona.

Factual discrepancies

Though the film follows the basic facts of Caruso's life, the story is largely fictional. The Caruso family successfully sued MGM for damages because of this. Here are a few of the factual discrepancies:

  • Early in the film, the young Caruso is shown in a montage rising through the ranks from operatic chorister to supporting singer, including singing the minor role of Spoletta in Puccini's opera Tosca. Caruso never sang in an opera chorus, nor did he ever sing a supporting role. When Tosca premiered in January 1900, Caruso was already a rising international opera star and had been considered by Puccini himself for the starring tenor role of Cavaradossi, though the part was given to another tenor, Emilio De Marchi. When Puccini heard Caruso sing the role in Bologna later that year, he stated that he had never heard the part better sung.
  • In the film, Caruso makes his American debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's Aida and is met with silence from the audience and scathing critical reviews. In reality, Caruso made his Met debut in Rigoletto and was well received, becoming an immediate favorite with New York audiences and critics.
  • Although the events in the film follow no clear timeline, in real life Caruso met his future wife Dorothy Park Benjamin in 1917 and married her the following year; in the film, he appears to meet her at the time of his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1903 (In reality, Dorothy Benjamin would have been only ten years old in 1903), and marries her after returning to New York from a long world tour which appears to last for several years. In actuality, Caruso never made any such lengthy "world tour"; while he did frequently perform in Europe, South America and other countries, the Metropolitan Opera was Caruso's artistic home, regularly singing there each season from 1903 to 1920.
  • In reality, Caruso fathered two sons with Italian soprano Ada Giachetti, during a relationship which lasted from 1898 to 1908. Caruso's relationship with Giachetti, nor their two sons are depicted or ever mentioned in the film.
  • In the film Caruso appears to die onstage after a throat hemorrhage during a Metropolitan Opera performance of Martha. Caruso did suffer from a throat ailment and suffered a hemorrhage during a Met performance of L'elisir d'amore in Brooklyn on December 11, 1920, causing the performance to be cancelled. His last performance was in La Juive at the Met on December 24, 1920. He died on August 2, 1921 in Naples, possibly of peritonitis, following many months of illness and several surgical procedures.


Box Office

The Great Caruso was a massive commercial success. According to MGM records it made $4,309,000 in the US and Canada and $4,960,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $3,977,000.[1] It was MGM's biggest box office success of 1951, as well as the most popular movie at the British box office the same year.[2]


Newsweek wrote that, "Lanza brings to the role not only a fine, natural and remarkably powerful voice, but a physique and personal mannerisms reminiscent of the immortal Caruso." According to Bosley Crowther, the film is "perhaps the most elaborate 'pops' concert ever played upon the screen"; Blyth's voice is "reedy" but "Lanza has an excellent young tenor voice and...uses it in his many numbers with impressive dramatic power. Likewise, Miss Kirsten and Miss Thebom are ladies who can rock the welkin, too, and their contributions to the concert maintain it at a musical high." Crowther says "All of the silliest, sappiest clichés of musical biography have been written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig into the script. And Richard Thorpe has directed in a comparably mawkish, bathetic style."[3]

Nearly 40 years after its release, Caruso's son, Enrico Jr. reminisced that, "Vocally and musically The Great Caruso ...has helped many young people discover opera and even become singers themselves."He added that, "I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography." The film has also been cited by tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras as having been an inspiration for them when they were growing up and aspiring to become singers.

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards; at the 24th Academy Awards ceremony, Douglas Shearer and the MGM Studio Sound Department won for Best Sound.[4] The film was also Oscar-nominated for its costume design and its score.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


A tie-in record album (though not an actual film soundtrack), also called The Great Caruso was issued by RCA Victor on the 45, 78 rpm and LP formats. The album featured eight popular opera arias sung by Lanza, accompanied by Constantine Callinicos conducting the RCA Victor Orchestra. The album sold 100,000 copies before the film premiered and later became the first operatic LP to sell one million copies. The album remained continuously available after its original 1951 release, and was reissued by RCA Victor on compact disc in 1989.


In 1947, radio actor Elliott Lewis was considered the front-runner for the role of Caruso, and was screen-tested in January and June. [6]


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. December 29, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  3. Crowther, Bosley (May 11, 1951). "Great Caruso Makes Its Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
  4. "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  5. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  • Caruso, Enrico Jr. and Farkas, Andrew. Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family. (Portland Oregon: Amadeus 1990)
  • Cesari, Armando. Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy (Fort Worth: Baskerville 2004)
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