Anticipating a slightly more advanced acoustical ambience and the crisp straightforward manner of the early 1900's La Scala conducter Carlo Sabajno, I was eager to purchase this set. I won't admit I'm completely disappointed, but it does fall rather below expectation. I must say that the 1912 Pathe complete Faust (beautifully restored by Ward Marston in a lush reproduction which lends a sense of presence and immediacy to the listener) far surpasses this 1920 Italian-language set for sheer soulful heart and verve in performance, hands down.
This has nothing to do with the remastering. Andrew Rose does an excellent job with the material (and I'd love to know what else he's got in his private opera 78's collection!) but the performance itself just lacks punch. The orchestra seems thin, and I fail to understand the usual excuse in truncating an opera so much to fit it on 78's - yes, they are the usual, traditional cuts such as are made in opera house productions, but the 1912 Faust recording in its original French includes the complete ballet; the Introduction to Act II and Marguerite's Spinning Wheel scene; full refrains of arias and duets. This 1920 version lacks all of those. It's not the language which bothers me. The Italian fits quite well musically - as a matter of fact, one hardly notices. It's not even the singers, even though there are strained notes abounding and some hammy business here and there, and NOT with the Mephistofeles. There's something lacking in aural bloom, an acidic matter-of-factness in the instrumentation, and the emotional second-rate singers do their best to compensate dramatically, to no avail.
This is a long-lost recording which is merely an addition, not a gem, and only to collectors of historic complete sets of the early recording era, nothing more. It can't even be classified as a curio because it lacks everything we love about recordings from those years, whether it's charm or ridiculousness which we look upon with equal affectionate acceptance. It's in no way a BAD recording - the bad recordings have the merit of being hilarious party items - and it's not necessarily boring, but the best I can call this Faust is a semi-compelling artifact, merely representative of its time.