GOUNOD (1818–1893) Faust(1859)
Romagnoli (tenor) – Faust; Gemma Bosini (soprano) – Margherita;
Fernando Autori (bass) – Mefistofeles; Gilda Timitz (soprano) – Siebel;
Napoleone Limonta (baritone) – Wagner; Adolfo Pacini
(baritone) – Valentino; Nelda Garrone (mezzo) – Marta
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Carlo Sabajno
rec. Milan 1-14 June 1920
Italian libretto enclosed. English and French translations
are available as a pdf file on disc B. DIVINE
ART DDH27810 [72:29 + 70:09]
acoustically in 1920 and sung in Italian by Italian singers
this issue could easily be passed over as of limited interest – possibly
only for historical freaks. I am one of those – I wouldn’t
have opted for the set otherwise – but even I have to admit
that it was a very pleasant surprise. One of the first
notes I scribbled down on my review pad was ‘Superb sound!!’
must be joking, mustn’t I? Actually no. Readers only familiar
with state-of-the-art digital stereo recordings will probably
frown at the sound here and quickly turn it off, but anyone
who has ever heard the feeble, scrawny sound of the orchestra,
the thin, undernourished tone of the singers and the appetizing
sound of someone frying bacon in a nearby kitchen will
sit up and reach for the booklet: Is it really 1920?
have to qualify my verdict. The orchestra can never be
mistaken for a modern one, the dynamics are limited but
instrumental details are well caught, drums and trumpets
in the opening of act II lifelike, the chorus has great
impact, the singers leap out of the speakers with surprising
realism, even in the quartet (CD 2 tr. 2-3) the voices
are well separated, and the cook has closed the kitchen
door. Andrew Rose has worked wonders with the original
shellacs that obviously were of exceptional quality for
their time in the first place. With very little adaptability
it should be possible to enjoy the performance, once one
has adjusted to the limitations.
it is sung in Italian may seem as a drawback but one should
bear in mind that the practice to perform operas in the
original language is a rather late invention. This set,
issued on twenty 12” discs, was no doubt intended for the
Italian market. Italian is of course an eminently singable
language and Italians singing in the vernacular give a
stamp of authenticity. This is what it sounded like at
La Scala around 1920.
the cuts in the score were also those applied at performances
eighty years ago. For so long an opera on shellacs it is
fairly little truncated: the ballet scene is gone – no
great loss – and there are minor cuts in the waltz, love
duet, soldiers’ chorus and three in the final scene. The
act IV prelude and Marguerite’s recitative is omitted.
Sabajno – who wasn’t named on the original labels – was
a splendid conductor who recorded a considerable number
of complete operas in the 1920s and 1930s. He secures fine
playing and singing from the La Scala forces and paces
the music as well as any of his competitors.
the solo singing there may be some reservations, but also
these are relatively marginal. The little known Giuliano
Romagnoli in the title role sacrifices Gallic elegance
for Italian passion in the title role but he is no mean
singer. His legato isn’t always the best, he tends to over-emphasize
in the Di Stefano manner and his high C in the cavatina
is ugly but he manages a fine scaling down on the final
note and his impassioned singing in the duet Il se fait
tard is truly engaging. His Marguerite, Gemma Bosini,
who besides this Faust also has a complete Bohème to
her credit, has an agreeable voice and more sense of style.
She sings a fine Jewel song and in the duet she is heartrendingly
star of the performance is however Fernando Autori as Mephistopheles.
He has a magnificent black-tinted bass and his is a truly
riveting reading of the role, expressive and dynamic. His
rondo in act II (CD 1 tr. 11) is the tour de force it should
be an altogether his is one of the most impressive devils
on any recording.
the minor roles veteran Napoleone Limonta is a rather wooden
Wagner while Adolfo Pacini has a splendid voice but totally
lacks light and shade in Valentin’s Avant de quitter
ces lieux. He makes amends however on his return in
act IV and his death scene is deeply involved. Nelda Garrone
is a rather squally Marta but Gilda Timitz is an excellent
Siebel and her/his flower song (CD 1 tr. 17) is one of
the highlights of the whole performance.
André Cluytens’ stereo
remake of Faust from 1959 with los Angeles, Gedda
and Christoff (now in EMI’s GROC series) is still the recommendable ‘modern’ recording
and there are several good alternatives, but readers with
some historical interest will find a lot to admire on this
almost 90-year-old surprisingly listenable version – and
Fernando Autori’s Mephistopheles must be heard.
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