“And now began a period of rigid discipline. In Vergine’s idea I had been singing too loud; I must reverse this and sing everything softly. I felt as though in a strait-jacket; all my efforts at expression were most carefully repressed; I was never allowed to let out my voice. At last came a chance to try my wings in opera, at ten lire a night ($2.00). In spite of the regime of repression to which I had been subjected for the past three years, there were still a few traces of my natural feeling left. The people were kind to me and I got a few engagements. Vergine had so long trained me to sing softly, never permitting me to sing out, that people began to call me the Broken Tenor.
“A better chance came before long. In 1896 the Opera House in Salerno decided to produce I Puritani. At the last moment the tenor they had engaged to sing the leading role became ill, and there was no one to sing the part. Lombardi, conductor of the orchestra, told the directors there was a young singer in Naples, about eighteen miles away, who he knew could help them out and sing the part. When they heard the name Caruso, they laughed scornfully. ‘What, the Broken Tenor?’ they asked. But Lombardi pressed my claim, assured them I could be engaged, and no doubt would be glad to sing for nothing.
“So I was sent for. Lombardi talked with me awhile first. He explained by means of several illustrations, that I must not stand cold and stiff in the middle of the stage, while I sang nice, sweet tones. No, I must let out my voice, I must throw myself into the part, I must be alive to it—must live it and in it. In short, I must act as well as sing.
“It was all like a revelation to me. I had never realized before how absolutely necessary it was to act out the character I attempted. So I sang I Puritani, with as much success as could have been expected of a young singer with so little experience. Something awoke in me at that moment. From that night I was never called a ‘Broken Tenor’ again. I made a regular engagement at two thousand lire a month. Out of this I paid regularly to Vergine the twenty-five per cent which he always demanded. He was somewhat reconciled to me when he saw that I had a real engagement and was making a substantial sum, though he still insisted that I would lose my voice in a few years. But time passes and I am still singing.
“The fact that I could secure an opera engagement made me realize I had within me the making of an artist, if I would really labor for such an end. When I became thoroughly convinced of this, I was transformed from an amateur into a professional in a single day. I now began to take care of myself, learn good habits, and endeavored to cultivate my mind as well as my voice. The conviction gradually grew upon me that if I studied and worked, I would be able one day to sing in such a way as to satisfy myself.”