Our thanks to John Bolig for the first fully detailed discography of the RCA-produced “World’s Greatest Operas” records. Data are from original RCA documentation at the Sony archives in New York. All issues were anonymous, but as you’ll see, some first-rate talent was employed.
John’s complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Music” records (a substantially revised and expanded version of our very basic listing that was posted a few weeks ago) has also been posted.
Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series. Other producers took over the “World’s Greatest…” series after the RCA Victor connection was severed in 1940.
Classical collectors, be sure to check out A Classical Discography, another outstanding free online database. It’s compiled by Michael Gray (who was also a major contributor to CHARM) and focuses on major-label 78s and LPs from 1925 through 1950, domestic and foreign, using original company file data. As you’d expect with anything Michael does, the level of detail and quality of research and editing are first-rate.
The search engine offers numerous search fields and returns pinpoint results. The screen-shot below shows the first two of 165 entries returned for Feodor Chaliapin (in this case, sorted alphabetically by composer):
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.
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (Albert Coates, cond.):
Boris Godunov — Coronation Scene
Hayes, Middlesex: November 26, 1925
HMV D.B.900 (mxs. Cc 7064 – 3 / Cc 7066 – 1)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (Rosario Bourdon, cond.): Boris Godunov — Varlaam’s Song (In the Town of Kazan)
Church studio, Camden, NJ: March 16, 1927
Victor 1237 (mx. BVE 26100 – 4)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (with London Symphony Orchestra, Max Steinmann, cond.): Boris Godunov — I Have Attained the Highest Power
Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 6, 1931
HMV D.B.1532 (mx. 2B 577 – 3)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN (with London Symphony Orchestra, Max Steinmann, cond.): Boris Godunov — Clock Scene
Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 6, 1931
HMV D.B.1532 (mx. 2B 578 – 2)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN, ANGELO BADA (with ROYAL OPERA CHORUS & ORCHESTRA, Vincenzo Belleza, cond.): Boris Godunov — Duet, Boris and Shuisky (Part 1)
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London: July 4, 1928 (live performance)
HMV test (mx. CR 2312 – 1)
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Farewell and Death of Boris
HMV D.B.934 (mxs. CR 375 – 1 / Cc 10938 – 3)
Part 1 — Small Queen’s Hall, London (relayed to Gloucester House): May 21, 1926 (Eugene Goosens, cond.) / Part 2 — Studio C, Small Queen’s Hall, London: June 13, 1927 (Lawrance Collingwood, cond.)
The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:
2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:
ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.
Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.
Chaliapin performs the roles of Boris, Pimen, and Varlaam, in the Rimsky-Korsokov revision of Mussorgsky’s original work. Discographic data are from the Gramophone Company and Victor Talking Machine Company files, courtesy of Drs. Alan Kelly and John R. Bolig.
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Yet One More Tale [Pimen, Act I]
Moscow: August 31, 1910
His Master’s Voice 022157 (mx. 2016½c) Orchestra of the Imperial Moscow Opera directed by I.Semenov
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — In the Town of Kazan [Varlaam, Act I]
Camden, NJ: January 30, 1922
His Master’s Voice D.A. 100 (mx. B 26100 – 2) Studio orchestra directed by Josef Pasternack
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Once at Eve [Pimen, Act IV]
St. Petersburg, Russia: November 26, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022252 (mx. 2548c) No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file
FEODOR CHALIAPIN: Boris Godunov — Farewell and Death of Boris [Boris, Act IV]
St. Petersburg, Russia: October 15, 1911
His Master’s Voice 022221 / 022222 (mxs. 2492½c / 2493c) No conductor listed in the Gramophone Company file