By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
To hear the Honorable Consul General of Italy Natalia Quintavalle cordially calling Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz “Marty” was music to our ears. Both Markowitz and Quintavalle, accompanied by her deputy, Lucia Pasqualini, were visiting the Enrico Caruso Museum of America for the first time on Monday, Oct. 7
The museum, located at 1942 East 19th St. between Avenues S and T, has had thousands of visitors over the last quarter century. It is the “dream come true” of Cavaliere Ufficale Aldo Mancusi. His wife Lisa allowed him to make their upstairs apartment into a shrine to the immortal Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921).
Among the special guests were Eric Murray, Caruso's grandson, and his wife Lynne. Murray’s mother Gloria was Caruso's daughter from his American bride Dorothy. Murray told us that we all have to leave something that betters humankind.
Mancusi spoke lovingly of the great tenor, whose voice thrilled the world and still reverberates in the museum via old phonograph horns and a colorful jukebox.
Cav. Uff. Mancusi asked Quintavalle which selection she wanted to hear. She chose “Questa o Quella” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and out poured the golden tones with insouciance and brio as the carefree Duke of Mantua. The next selection was the famed song “Core ‘n Grato” from a large Victor 6 phonograph with a golden horn with remarkable pathos and clarity.
Mancusi mentioned his father Evaristo, who bought more than 70 Caruso records many years ago and who said, “Aldo, my son -- why do you want to spend so much money on a museum?” To which he replied, “Papa, how much did you make in those days “Two dollars a week” was the reply. Mancusi said “Caruso records sold for seven dollars each. See, if you can spend, so can I!” and the Caruso Museum was born! Mancusi’s mother Maria, loved to sing and had a beautiful soprano voice.
The next selection was Caruso’s 1918 recording of George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” sung in English and French with military accompaniment in Caruso’s inimitable accent and great verve, power and spirit. In 1918 at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack, Caruso sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Over There” for the police games and the Liberty Loan drive. Caruso was made an honorary police chief and proudly showed the 125,000 people in attendance his bride Dorothy. He sang at least 20 times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from its reopening in 1908 until his throat hemorrhage in December 1920 with the Metropolitan Opera on tour.
The final selection was Caruso’s unsurpassed million-selling recording of “Vesti la Giubba” from Pagliacci from 1907 on a Wurlitzer juke box with flashing lights.
Board members included my wife Judy and myself, bestselling author David Mercaldo and his wife Linda and opera lecturer Lou Barrella with his wife Kathleen. Also present was filmmaker Anton Evangelista, who is making a documentary of Aldo Mancusi and his Museum -- all happy to be of service to Aldo and his dream of having a permanent home for the Enrico Caruso Museum in the near future.
We all viewed a brief film in his charming mini-theater, the Michael Sisca-Licia Albanese Theatre, which includes seats from Brooklyn’s Loew’s 46th Street Theatre and the old Metropolitan Opera, courtesy of soprano Licia Albanese.
A rare photo of the convalescent Caruso a few days before his death in Italy in August 1921 was displayed along with his charming caricatures that Caruso sketched in the publication “La Follia di New York.”
Caruso s death mask was displayed—but it’s his voice, once again thrilling us on the original horn phonograph, still “alive,” that really matters.
Cav. Uff. Aldo Mancusi is the restorer and caretaker of the unforgettable voice and persona of Enrico Caruso. We are privileged to be in Mancusi's universal orbit spreading the sunshine of the man from Naples with the voice of gold!