There are not many complete opera recordings that go back almost 90 years, but this is certainly one of them, and we must be particularly grateful for Divine Art for bringing this first-ever recording of Faust once more to the public, especially in such an excellent transfer of Italian acoustic 78s as has been accomplished by the engineer Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio with absolutely minimal surface noise. Thus, we can – all due regard being made for the age of the recording – appreciate this set as a genuine performance, not merely as some kind of historic relic, and with this in mind we enter a world of singing which has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth.
Faust was first heard in 1859, around the time that Napoleone Limonta, who sings Wagner in this recording, was born. Limonta took part in the premiere of Otello in 1887 and in Toscanini’s Die Meistersinger in 1898. He must have been around 60 when this recording was made, and it is as Stephen Sutton rightly says in his excellent notes, a very creditable achievement. Giuliano Romagnoli takes the title role very well indeed, and all the other principals are really outstanding, giving the distinct impression of a genuine company production. Mention must be made of Gemma Bosini (Margeurite) who is first-class; she was married to Mariano Stabile. Carlo Sabajno will be known to older 78rpm collectors, for he conducted many operatic recordings, and was a really fine musician. We ought not to forget that Toscanini was principal conductor of La Scala at the time this set was made, and without trying to read too much into that fact, the quality of this world-class opera company shines through these old discs with an excellence and unfailing deep musicianship that justifies this reissue in artistic grounds alone.
There is a genuine sense of atmosphere here which makes this a fascinating and, in its way, important set of CDs.