This novel covers the romantic entanglements of Enrico Caruso from his early days to the successes of his later years, beloved by the public and larger than life. A man of insatiable appetites, Caruso surrounds himself early on with the inspiration of zaftig women who nurture his incipient genius, all instinctively understanding the importance of unconditional love.
When first he meets the Giachetti family, the older sister, Ada, is already married with a child, and the younger, Rina, sets her heart on the aspiring operatic tenor only to be pushed aside. A determined Ada throws away her marriage to share the stage with Caruso, but once their children are born, Caruso prefers Ada remain at home in the role of wife, albeit without the benefit of marriage. By 1904, Caruso accrues the majority of his income from recordings, enough to build Ada a fine house to raise their two sons.
Meanwhile, Rina pursues her own singing career, with ten moderately successful years on the stage in Naples. But her heart belongs to Caruso. After the tenor breaks with Ada, Rina raises his sons on the estate, believing her chance has finally arrived. Still, her lover spends only summers at home, as with Ada, a summer husband. Rina is disabused of her marriage fantasy when Caruso weds an American, returning home to Italy with his bride.
Thus begins the second part of the novel ("An American Fairy Tale") in New York in 1917, when Caruso marries Dorothy, a simple woman with few pretensions. This part of the story humanizes the man and sheds some light on his astonishing charisma. Through Dorothy's eyes, there is a sense of the talented Caruso and the force of his personality on those around him. Their marriage is happy, if short; after only three years, their life together is over.
As I read about these characters, I am not invested in their fates, plodding through: "The photograph in my hand was a poor facsimile of the woman I remembered", or "Then it was another summer again when sopranos and tenors must give way to the chorus of insects." The prose is oddly flat, lacking in passion or beauty, especially the drama one would associate with the extravagant emotions of opera.
While the first half of the novel is monochromatic, the second accelerates, the momentum of the plot carrying the novel to its natural conclusion, Caruso's personal relationship with his wife and their mutual attraction, although she is considerably younger - only twenty-eight - when he dies. A man of copious tastes, Caruso freely engages the willing women who attend his every need, larger than life, requiring far more from a relationship than a mortal man.