No matter whether you think Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was the greatest tenor of all time, you have to admit the idea for this album is a kick: Caruso singing with a modern symphony orchestra in full-blown stereo. What the marvels of modern digital technology can't accomplish.
RCA did these renovations in the year 2000; thus, the title of the album. They have cleaned the century-old Caruso recordings (made between 1906-1920), edited out extraneous clicks, ticks, and pops, and deleted the original, meager instrumental accompaniments altogether. Then conductor Gottfried Rabi and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra played along with the voice. The results can occasionally sound quite convincing and highly rewarding, enabling us for the first time to hear Caruso as he might actually have sounded live all those many years ago. The results can also be highly frustrating sometimes, sounding exactly like what they are, a modern orchestra playing behind old phonograph records. So, maybe the whole thing's merely a novelty; depends on your point of view.
RCA included seventeen selections on the disc, among the best sounding of which are Meyerbeers's "O paradiso!" and Leoncavallo's "Vesti la giubba." As a final track, RCA provide the original version of the latter recording for comparison purposes. Yes, there is a huge difference, albeit an unfair one. RCA, after all, cleaned up the remastering (and added modern accompaniment), making the new version sound quite a bit better than the hundred-year-old one, with its thin sound and plethora of associated noises. I think we get the point.
If you are a Caruso collector, the disc is probably already in your collection. If you have avoided buying any Caruso recordings because you knew you would not be able to cope with the ancient sonics, this is your chance to hear something perhaps more pleasing to the ear. Of course, if you are happy with the old Caruso recordings just as they are, you might not appreciate these newfangled concoctions. The disparity in aural surroundings between voice and orchestra may be more distracting to you than the old originals.
In any case, there's a lot here to think about and, with an open ear, maybe a little something to enjoy.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: