Enrico Caruso sings the bass aria "Vecchia Zimarra" (the Coat Song) from Puccini's "La Boheme."
Recorded on February 23, 1916? It was not issued in a regular way (it was issued in 1949), and the recording date has been questioned.
"Vecchia Zimarra" is sung by the character Colline, a philosopher, a basso who sings a song of farewell to his old coat. The setting is an attic room. Mimi had collapsed on the staircase to the attic room and was carried into the room. On the edge of death, she says that her hands are cold. To buy her something to keep her hands warm, Musetta pawns her jewelry and Colline decides to pawn his old overcoat, to which he sings farewell.
Caruso sang this in a recording studio to duplicate a kind of "stunt." He sang the bass aria on stage with his back to the audience, which means the audience did not realize Caruso was filling in for a friend.. During a performance of La Boheme in Philadelphia, Andres de Segurola--the bass on stage--indicated to Caurso that he had lost his voice. Caruso saved the day (or saved Act IV) by telling his friend that that Caruso himself would do the bass singing while de Segurola moved his lips.
Caruso replied, "You just stand still and move your lips and I'll sing it for you." With his back turned to the audience, Caruso sang the aria for de Segurola.
It seems La Boheme was performed in Philadelphia with Caruso, Alda, and de Segurola in the cast on at least two different dates. We don't know today whether de Segurola had voice problems on December 23, 1913, or on January 25, 1916.
After Caruso made the recording, he presented eight privately pressed copies to friends. He said the master should be destroyed since he "didn't want to spoil the bass business."
For decades, the record was elusive since those handful of copies stayed in private collections. In 1949, Wally Butterworth, conductor of the "Voices that Live" radio program. acquired a surviving copy of Caruso's Coat Song. Wally Butterworth's disc (he owned it or borrowed it?) was acquired from Dr. Mario Marafioti, former physician at the Met.
Butterworth took the record to RCA so that company could press new copies (so we have a dubbing, not discs pressed from a master). The dubbings were sold exclusively by Butterworth.
The disc sold by Butterworth has Caruso singing a bass aria on one side. The reverse side features the talking voices of Wally Butterworth and Frances Alda, who was by that time the only surviving witness of that legendary La Boheme performance. The talking side was titled "Why Caruso Recorded the 'Coat Song.'"
Music is by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto is by Giuseppe Giacosa.
Here are lyrics to "Vecchia zimarra," Colline's aria from La Bohème:
Vecchia zimarra, senti,
io resto al pian, tu ascendere
il sacro monte or devi.
Le mie grazie ricevi.
Mai non curvasti il logoro
dorso ai ricchi ed ai potenti.
Passâr nelle tue tasche
come in antri tranquilli
filosofi e poeti.
Ora che i giorni lieti
fuggîr, ti dico: addio,
fedele amico mio.
Enrico Caruso bass aria "Vecchia Zimarra" (Coat Song) Puccini's "La Boheme" (1916)