Not to be outdone by Naxos' box set Enrico Caruso: The Complete Recordings, RCA Red Seal, the successor company to Victor, has repackaged its The Complete Caruso at a bargain price. This may come as a disappointment to those who purchased the 1990 edition of The Complete Caruso, but to others who decided to wait it out, this is a real bargain; its content is exactly the same as the earlier, significantly more expensive set. The Complete Caruso contains everything extant that Enrico Caruso recorded from 1902 to 1920. It comes with a 56-page booklet in three languages that includes scant notes, but a couple of useful indices, one relating Caruso's operatic roles to his recordings, and the other a cumulative list of the artists who recorded with Caruso. Each of the 12 discs comes in a separate cardboard sleeve. There are no recorded "extras," not surprising, as the years have not brought any more Caruso. There are some of Caruso's self-caricatures gracing the booklet, and one of these images has never before been seen.
The transfers date from the 1970s and 1980s, made with the "Soundstream" process developed by the late Thomas Stockham, an early type of digital recording. Curiously, there is no mention of Stockham's technical contribution in this set, whereas in previous packages the "Stockham Soundstream" banner was quite prominently featured. The technique puts Caruso's voice front and center, with little or no regard to the instruments behind him, and a high amount of the surface noise is removed. While Naxos' set makes no pretensions toward representing Caruso's recordings as being anything other than what they are sonically, there are plenty of listeners who will prefer the RCA Red Seal version simply because it is less noisy. Also, while priced one dollar above the Naxos set, with RCA's ready availability in retail, sale pricing can take the cost even below the competition. The incomparable recorded treasures of Enrico Caruso have never been so inexpensive to obtain as now, and no matter which complete Caruso set one decides to obtain, there is room for both.