Heralded as one of the most famous opera singers of all time, Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) rose from obscurity as an impoverished street singer to perform in virtually every major opera house in the world. A big guy with a hot temper, and a reputation as a perfectionist and a stickler for order, “The Great Caruso” had his greatness put to the test in a tragic real-life opera. With a cast of thousands and an improvised libretto, he was given a role for which he could not prepare.

On 18 April 1906, while visiting San Francisco for a celebrated series of concerts with the Metropolitan Opera, Caruso was rudely awakened at 5:12 in the morning by a violent jolt. A substantial amount of shaking and plaster falling followed and it became apparent that his was no ordinary nightmare. As the day’s drama unfolded, Caruso realized (as did all of San Francisco) that he had been significantly upstaged by California’s San Andreas fault!

Nerves rattled; he was escorted from his fifth-floor suite at The Palace Hotel by his devoted valet. With 54 steamer trunks full of costumes, memento’s, and self-portraits in tow, his valet trudged through the mayhem of Market Street. Able after some time, to commandeer a horse and cart to get The Maestro and his luggage ferried safely out of the city.

And so it was that the “Great” Caruso was made greater still by escaping the great San Francisco earthquake with a great amount of luggage, and the help of his great and loyal valet!


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