The Gramophone Company began producing “complete” operatic recordings in Italy in 1906. The earliest attempts were rag-tag productions, sometimes with different singers substituted if those originally scheduled couldn’t make a session; and in at least one case, a domestic Red Seal recording had to be substituted for a missing side in the U.S. There were no Carusos or Farrars or other Red Seal–class celebrities to be heard — even had their Victor contracts allowed them to record for The Gramophone Company, their astronomical royalty rates would have driven the price of these sets beyond the means of most customers — but the recordings caused a sensation nonetheless. There are reports of record stores staging “Victrola Opera Nights” using these records, with costumed locals lip-synching their parts. You can find much more about them in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press.
Here are some highlights from a later, better-organized attempt, recorded in Milan in 1915 but not released in the U.S. until March 1919, on the lowly black-label series. These sets pre-date the “album” concept — i.e., the records were sold individually, and the big arias handily outsold the less-juicy portions — so assembling complete sets can be a daunting task. Our Cavalleria Rusticana set is growing steadily, but still has a ways to go.
CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA (Mascagni)
FRANCO TUMINELLO, GEORGINA ERMOLLI, LENA REVELLI and E. PERNA, with LA SCALA CHORUS & ORCHESTRA (CARLO SABAJNO, conductor)
Recorded in Milan by The Gramophone Company (F. W. Gaisberg, engineer)
PARTS 1–4 (Victor 35680 / 35681)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio e Siciliana (mx. 3022c; April 8, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Preludio – Part 2 (mx. 3021c; April 8, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Gli aranci (mx. 3017c; April 5, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Tempo e si mormori (mx. 3018c; April 6, 1915)
PARTS 17–18 (Victor 35688)
Cavalleria Rusticana: A casa, a casa (mx. 3020c; April 7, 1915)
Cavalleria Rusticana: Brindisi (mx. 3019c; April 7, 1915)
Discographic data from the Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.