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Jed Distler, January 2001

"In January, 1910 Enrico Caruso and fellow Metropolitan Opera cohorts Geraldine Farrar, Marcel Journet, Antonio Scotti, and Gabrielle Gilbert recorded substantial excerpts from Gounod's Faust, issued on nine 78 rpm sides. What strikes me hearing these long-familiar, much-praised recordings again is not so much Caruso's brilliant negotiation of the title role and command of style, but Farrar's supremely focused vocalism, easily dispatched high notes, and effortless legato. This really hits home in the Prison scene, where Journet's Mephistopheles emerges fresher and more responsive than in the famous 1931 complete Faust conducted by Henri Busser. Conversely, Caruso's older, darker voice in the 1910 'Cielo e Mar' and 'Siciliana' from Cavalleria Rusticana gains expressive dimension in comparison with the tenor's earlier traversals. The authority and ripeness of tone with which Caruso invests 'Non Pagliaccio non son' beggars description, to say nothing of those two scary-perfect B-flats. Wow!

"Caruso proves every inch as ardent and commanding in "Ora e per sempre addio", leaving us to wonder what the rest of his Verdi Otello might have been like had he sung the role onstage. Some of this disc's greatest moments, however, occur in the Il Trovatore and Aida duets with the ample-toned mezzo-soprano Louise Homer (a once popular, now way underrated singer). Do you think pop ballads in English that are painfully oversung in a heavy, incomprehensible Italian accent began with The Three Tenors versus West Side Story and Andrew Lloyd Webber? Wrong-o! Listen to Caruso barnstorm his way through "For You Alone", the sole loser on a disc of perennial winners lining the gates of vocal record heaven. Ward Marston continues making exemplary and forthright transfers for this series, and these new restorations offer subtle improvements upon his earlier Caruso cycle for Pearl. Add Naxos' bargain basement price, and the choice is obvious."

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