SONG: O Sole Mio
ARTIST: Enrico Caruso
Listen to it here:
“O Sole Mio” was written in 1898 by the mostly forgotten composer Eduardo di Capua, and has since become known worldwide. It’s become almost the theme song for Naples, the birthplace of the composer, and is the “You Are My Sunshine” of Naples – it translates roughly to my sun or my sunshine. It turns out though, that Di Capua should not get full credit for writing this piece – he bought a bunch of melodies from composer Alfredo Mazzucchi, and like many of the best rip-off artists, conveniently didn’t mention this fact when the song started to get big. In 1972, right after Mazzucchi died, his daughter launched some sort of lawsuit to proclaim his father as co-composer of O Sole Mio. Why she waited until after her dad was dead, who knows. In 2002, victory was granted to the long maligned Mazzucchi family!
Over the years there have been various English versions made, most are lame. One english version though, has become possibly more famous than the original song. When Elvis Prestley was stationed in West Germany with the American Army, he fell in love with the piece and made his own private recording of it. When he got home, he hired some guys to write lyrics for him for his own version, and “It’s Now or Never” became a worldwide hit shortly after. Bing Crosby also included the song in his album, 101 Gang Songs. Yes. That’s the actual title.
Enrico Caruso was born – shockingly – in Naples, in 1873. He was an operatic tenor, so he got all the good male roles in all the operas. He jumped on the recording records bandwagon very early on in recording history, and his over 260 commercial recordings helped him to become a household name.
He started his career as a street singer, and then was hired to sing at a resort. Eventually he made his stage debut in Naples, but he didn’t pay one section of the audience to cheer for him, and they booed him mercilessly. He NEVER performed in Naples again, saying “I will only ever return there to eat spaghetti.”
Weird story about Caruso: One day Caruso visited the San Francisco Zoo, and while he was at the monkey enclosure, a woman accused him of pinching her butt. He blamed a monkey, but was charged nonetheless. $10 fine.
In December of 1920, Caruso was singing in Samson and Delilah at the Met, and a pillar fell on his back, allegedly right on his kidneys. Though he suffered from many health issues his whole life, his wife points to this incident as the beginning of an extreme downward spiral eventually ending in his death in August of 1921 at the age of 48.
In the 1920 Olympic Summer Games held in Antwerp, the band had not received the score to the Italian national anthem in time for the Opening Ceremonies, so they just played O Sole Mio instead.
If I ever get to Venice, I’d better hear this version of this song coming from at least one window as some stripy-shirted gondolier navigates me through the canals. Caruso sounds great here and you can hear why he’s considered a legend. In this date and time the song is pretty cheesy and as previously inferred, pretty stereotypically Italian sounding, but it’s fun and I like it.
I like the unpretentiousness of Caruso’s voice, and the way he takes liberties with the rhythms doesn’t seem to throw off the orchestra behind him at all. Castanets are ALL OVER this, which is totally cheesy and dated in a way I can definitely get behind.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Luciano Pavarotti won a grammy for his rendition in 1980:
Elvis Prestley’s worldwide hit, It’s Now or Never:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: