No opera singer in history is more venerated than Enrico Caruso -- the very name seems to conjure up its own mythic power, and his popularity extends beyond the limits of opera and manages to reach even those who have never heard his voice. Caruso's relationship with recording technology is a boon to posterity; he recorded often and well, and even though more than eight decades have passed since his death at age 48 it is relatively easy to access his legacy, which is captured in all its glory in this 12-disc box set from Naxos, Enrico Caruso: The Complete Recordings.
Enrico Caruso: The Complete Recordings contains everything extant that Caruso recorded from 1902 to 1920. Each disc bears a separate photograph of Caruso, each image appropriate to the contents of that specific disc within the set -- as these were all initially issued individually, each volume is a stand-alone product in itself. The liner notes, by Hugh Griffith, are perceptive, intelligently written, and targeted to each volume. They strike a nice balance between the historical context of the recordings and analysis of their content.
What really gives this set the advantage over others is the quality of Ward Marston's transfers: clear and sharp, with a little of the surface noise included in most cases. Marston tends to focus on making the whole of the recording fully audible, both band and singer, rather than trying to take Caruso's voice and "juice it up" out of context. There are some extras tagged onto the last disc -- a march written by Caruso, an obnoxious song "My Cousin Caruso" sung in bad Italian dialect by "the Denver Nightingale" Billy Murray, and Caruso's first recording, Studenti, udite from Franchetti's Germania in a cleaner copy than that used on the first volume of the set. The years have not brought more Caruso, good or bad, but what we have is more than adequate, and there is no better, more comprehensive, or economical way to enjoy the glories of Caruso's total output than Naxos' Enrico Caruso: The Complete Recordings.