"LES URNES DE L'OPÉRA" - 48 recordings of opera made before 1907
EMI CLASSICS 206267 (3 disks) (B) TT: 78:48 / 78:38 / 63:36

Arias from Il pirata, I puritani, Poliuto, Les Huguenots, Giovanna d'Arco, Macbeth, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Don Carlo, Aida, Otello, Mefistofele, Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Gianni Schicchi, La rondine, Cavalleria rusticana, and Andrea Chénier. TURINA: Canto a Sevilla, Op. 37
EMI CLASSICS 64845 (4 disks)_ (B) TT: 76:06 / 76:55 / 73:54 / 77:58

Arias from I puritani, Norma, La favorita, Il trovatore, Luisa Miller, La forza del destino, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Ernani, Un ballo en maschera, Aida, Les Huguenots, Loreley, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Turandot, Andrea Chenier, Le Cid, and Roméo et Juliette. Music of Schubert, Verdi, Handel and Rossini; popular Italian and French songs
EMI CLASSICS 64887 (4 disks) (B) TT: 75:42 / 76:08 / 78:12 / 78:32

Alfred Clark, founder and president of International Gramophone Company (later EMI) decided to arrange for a "time capsule." December 24, 1907 he arranged to have 48 gramophone records buried in the basement of the Paris Opéra with instructions not to disturb them for a century, at which time audiences would then have the opportunity to hear the best artists of 100 years earlier. The disks represented important vocal artists—and some instrumentalists—of the time. Of course Clark had no idea that as the record industry developed most of these recordings would still be available on a medium: CD. The original recordings were restored by Bibliothèque Nationale de France working with EMI Classics, and all are now included in this budget-priced 3 disk-set that is called Les Urnes de l'Opéra, perhaps best translated as "The Caskets of the Opera." The first disk begins with a "visionary speech" by Firmin Gémier, famous actor and director who founded France's Théatre National Populaire in 1920—interestingly this was recorded in 1912 about five years after the "casket" was sealed.

Performers include Marguerite Mérentié, Berthe Auguez de Montalant, Julia Lindsay, Agustarello Affre, Maurice Renaud, Jean Noté, Léon Beyle, Hector Dufranne, Raoul Pugno, Henry Debruyne, Cornelis Liegeois, August Delacroix, Selma Kurz, Lucette Korsoff, Francesco Tamagno, Antonio Scotti, Enrico Caruso, Pol Plançon, Mattia Battistini, Fernando de Lucia, Giuseppina Huguet, Adelina Patti, Landon Ronald, Nellie Melba, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Celestina Boninsegna, Emma Calvé, Jan Kubelik, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Pasquale Amato, Paul Franz, Feodor Chaliapin, Bessie Abott, Louise Homer, Geraldine Farrar, Gina Viafora, Gina Severina, Marcella Sembrich, Marcel Journet, Francesco Daddi, Maria Galvany, George Falkenstein, Fritz Kreisler, Luisa Tetrazzini, Léon Carmagnola, Reynaldo Hahn, David Vigneau, and Suzanne Brohly.

Unfortunately, program notes are only in French. There is a complete listing of contents with a few comments and recording dates for each item. This is an intriguing set for vocal collectors, and the price is budget.

Sony Classical recently issued a 15-disk set in their Original Jacket Collection of all of Montserrat Caballé's RCA recordings (REVIEW). Now we have this important 4-CD set from EMI in their Icon series, her recordings for the label made from 1970-1979, consisting mostly of excerpts from complete opera recordings, but including recital disks as well. The Spanish soprano is in top form in these, and this is a convenient way to acquire these recordings at a reasonable price. Limited program notes are in three languages, and there is a complete listing of tracks with complete recording details.

Tenor Franco Corelli also appears in the Icon series in this welcome set of 4 CDs taken primarily from his complete EMI recordings of Il trovatore, Aida, Turandot, Pagliacci, Andrea Chenier, and Romeo and Juliet.Also included are tracks from recital disks of arias, French and Italian songs, and repertory usually not associated with Corelli: Schubert and Handel. All of these were made from 1958-1968 when Corelli was in his prime—need more be said? As with the Caballé set above, program notes are limited, with complete listings of tracks and recording dates. The legion of Corelli fans will welcome this, and they also should investigate the budget-priced Opera D'Oro set of seven live performances of complete operas (REVIEW)

R.E.B. (April 2009)