In the words of a survey of nineteenth-century Italian opera, published by the Corriere della sera to mark the turning of the century, Mascagni was "condemned to a masterpiece": after the triumph of Cavalleria rusticana nothing less would do. He lived for another 55 years, and although some of his 14 subsequent operas were immensely successful for a while (he claimed that Iris was better received than Cavalleria, and there was a near-riot of enthusiasm at the premiere of Il piccolo Marat) none was judged by the critics to be the awaited 'masterpiece', and nearly all had fallen from the repertory by the end of his life.
This is an auspicious beginning to what one hopes will be a series of recordings of French opera made with the forces of the Bastille under Chung. Without doubt this is the most subtly and expertly conducted performance of this work to appear on CD, excellent as others have been in this respect, and also the best played and sung. Chung's achievement is to have welded the elements of pagan ruthlessness, erotic stimulation and Wagnerian harmony that comprise Saint-Saens's masterpiece into a convincing whole.
The CD format for opera on records coincides with (and perhaps encourages) the modern habit in the opera house of running two or more acts together without an interval. Some operas benefit from this, but I don't think Faust is one of them. It strikes a genial bargain. ''I won't waste your time,'' it promises, ''but don't bother to come along if you haven't got a full evening-out to spare.''
Kathleen Battle and Placido Domingo delight the listener from start to finish in this complilation. Most notable are the duets from La Traviata and The Merry Widow. In my experience of soprano/tenor performances, one voice usually is stronger or more powerful than the other, thus disappointing to that listener who is seeking a perfect blending of voices. Ms. Battle and Mr. Domingo achieve that perfect blend on each duet on this CD. Their solo performances are equally outstanding. It is no wonder they are in such demand with audiences in Japan where this CD was recorded live, as well as throughout the world.
The Met's first production in more than 60 years is "treated with a keen appreciation for the special requirements of verismo and a practically vanished performing tradition. Scotto has found her ideal role…a great performance… Domingo sang glamorously… Levine's affectionate concern for the music told in every measure… The massive sets by Ezio Frigerio serve the work exquisitely … Piero Faggioni’s graceful direction strikes a perfect balance” (New York Magazine)