Peabody gets revealing Caruso document

February 17, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

The troubled romantic life of famed opera tenor Enrico Caruso can be traced through a life insurance policy he purchased in 1903; the original certificate was donated yesterday to the archives of the Peabody Institute.

Caruso, who died in 1921 at the age of 47, originally designated his mistress, Ada Giachetti, as beneficiary of the policy taken out for 100,000 lire. Their relationship was well-known, and she was the mother of his two sons, Adolfo and Enrico Jr.

But in 1908 Caruso changed the policy to name just his sons, says Elizabeth Schaaf, Peabody archivist. This was after he discovered Ada was having an affair with his chauffeur and he ended their relationship.

Ten years later, the singer married Dorothy Park Benjamin and they had a daughter, Gloria. In 1920, Caruso changed the policy a final time to include his wife, sons and daughter as equal beneficiaries.

The policy was paid in full upon his death from a lung ailment, and was equivalent to about $5,300, according to Charron Fullerton, archivist for Mutual of New York, a 150-year-old concern whose Milan office sold the Caruso policy.

The company has launched a "Gift to the Nation" program in which it is donating to various institutions the insurance records of 13 famous policyholders, including five presidents and such celebrities as Thomas Edison, Will Rogers and Mary Pickford.

The Caruso policy certificate is printed in Italian, with flowery calligraphy filling in the blanks. It will go on display as part of the Enrico Caruso Collection, which the Peabody received from the singer's widow in 1953. She had moved to Baltimore to be near her daughter, who was studying at the Johns Hopkins University.

The collection includes a variety of memorabilia, including the singer's scrapbooks, albums, correspondence and a collection of the cartoons he drew for years for La Follia, an Italian-language newspaper in New York.

Peabody Director Robert Pierce and Ms. Schaaf accepted the insurance document yesterday from Richard D. Spivey and Aris P.T. Harduvel, Maryland representatives of MONY.

Such documents often provide "the nice meaty stuff that biographers lust for," said Ms. Schaaf.

She referred to Caruso reporting on the application that he had 12 siblings who died in infancy, and that at the age of 30 he had never seen a physician. But later in the day, when she examined the document's reverse side, the artifact became meatier -- for there was revealed the changing list of beneficiaries.

The facts of Caruso's broken relationship with Ms. Giachetti have long been documented. But the life insurance policy shows the beneficiary change was made just months after he learned of her other affair, notes Ms. Schaaf.

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