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By Charles Gounod

VIDEO: Kraus, Scotto, Ghiaurov; Ethuin conducting; Japanese subtitles; Legato LCS 008; have heard the audio -- splendid; but viewers have reported very murky visuals [G.R.]

AUDIO: A) GOP or RADIO YEARS: Raoul Jobin, Licia Albanese, Ezio Pinza, Beecham conducting ("live" at the Met, 1943); a solid ensemble captured in fairly good sound and benefiting from Sir Thomas Beecham's assured grasp of the elusive French style; both Albanese's Marguerite and Jobin's Faust register strongly in the listener's ear; they and Beecham understand the essence of Gounod, even though Jobin's expressiveness can't quite match Albanese's (whose vivid interpretive gifts and welcome vocal freshness do not quite encompass all of Marguerite's coloratura requirements, though she copes respectably); we also have Pinza's fine Mephisto here--an alert, uniquely opulent interpretation, establishing a benchmark of sorts, which loses some musical concentration in the Serenade: a blemish, though not a critical one; Beecham adopts a number of standard cuts; Mono, some slight pitch wavering in the Garden Scene [G.R.]

B) PEARL: Cesar Vezzani, Mireille Berthon, Marcel Journet, Busser conducting (1930); oft-praised recording; no vocal benchmarks of the kind heard in A and C (see below); rather, it is overall style that sets this one apart, even more consistent style than in A; Vezzani's Faust is more vibrant than Jobin on A, but his tense delivery can put one off; Berthon's Marguerite splits the difference between Sutherland's vocal riches in C and Albanese's commitment in A; Journet's Mephisto is still quite astounding--especially considering his age at this time--but he is heard to better advantage elsewhere (see below); a number of cuts; in dated mono but Ward Marston's restoration here is quite astonishing considering [G.R.]

C) DECCA/LONDON: Franco Corelli, Joan Sutherland, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Bonynge conducting; the only commercially available stereo recording I know of where all three principals are in fine vocal shape throughout, making some attempt at real music; unfortunately, vocal health does not necessarily mean idiomatic style; this is an exercise in committed, fearless and reasonably accurate singing, but not thoughtful musicianship; though Corelli's Faust establishes a benchmark for opulent vocal tone and boasts respectable legato, genuine commitment and striking dynamic variety, his French is awkward; though Sutherland is a bit more into Marguerite's emotional world than one might sometimes expect of her and her coloratura is, as ever, dazzling, her imprecise French (what she lets you hear of it) seems as awkward in its way as Corelli's; though Ghiaurov's Mephisto maintains an imposing vocal presence, his phrasing is a bit more ham-fisted than it would be later in his career (though it's still preferable to Christoff's fragmented approach, whose sheer choppiness effectively disqualifies the older, more stylish EMI set [not itemized here] from any serious consideration); and so on; still, to hear such an ambitious performing edition (this one is much more complete than either A or B) with such game--generally musical--singers is unusual--and the stereo is superb [G.R.]

D) NIMBUS: Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, Marcel Journet, Rogers conducting (ca. 1910); no this is not complete (sorry); around this time, this cast made a concerted effort (p.i.) to record as much of the opera on 78s as seemed practical at the time; they succeeded in making a twenty-side abridgement, which runs about 80 minutes (the opera in its entirety runs well over three hours, too prohibitively expensive at the time with such Grade A artists as these); this is still quite an achievement, though disparaging descriptions of the acoustic recording process of Caruso's time as merely an attempt to "make music inside a sardine can" is sometimes warranted--poor Rogers' conducting is strictly "traffic cop duty," no more; even though the whole sequence could--just--fit on a CD, Nimbus, for the sake of a handful of filler items at the opening(!), gives us only 14 sides from this recording--most of the purple items are here, but one misses, among other things, an exciting Church Scene and Farrar's affecting "window aria" at the close of Act III; NIMBUS has entitled this transfer CARUSO * FARRAR * JOURNET Highlights from Faust & French Opera; maybe, NIMBUS figured that knowledgeable listeners would be miffed by the missing sides if it was clearly labeled "Faust highlights" only, letting one find out about the filler items on one's own; whatever its problems, NIMBUS has made a surprisingly "present" and vivid transfer of these old recordings; in many ways, these excerpts give us the essence of Gounod's vocal writing far more memorably than any of the complete sets; surprisingly, the usually energized Caruso does not give us as much vibrancy in the title role as the less melifluous Vezzani or the more simpatico Corelli, but the beauty of Caruso's singing is without peer; it is Farrar's Marguerite who gives us commitment and a probing characterization on a par with the best in this role and coloratura command almost on a par with the best; as for Journet, place au diable(!); the richness and ease of his tones and his superb characterization surpass his achievement in B and put his Mephisto in a league with Pinza's; mono [G.R.]

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