Marston Records' The Complete Olimpia Boronat came as a surprise when it was issued in 1997; one of the first releases on the then-fledgling enterprise named after its founder, an expert transfer engineer, the question automatically raised upon first glance was "who the heck is Olimpia Boronat?" Not even hardcore historical opera fans can be blamed for not knowing the name -- Boronat was an Italian coloratura soprano of Spanish origin who never appeared in any of the major Western opera houses, singing only in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and South and Central America. Boronat's biggest success was at the Imperial opera in St. Petersburg and in Poland, where she appeared as a star of the first rank. She recorded for Gramophone and Typewriter Co.'s Fred Gaisberg in St. Petersburg in 1904 and in Milan in 1908, producing 21 known sides, and all of them are represented here.
Boronat belongs to a very old school tradition, preferring Bellini, Donizetti, Gounod, Meyerbeer, and earlier Verdi operas; she never sang Wagner and singing the role of Mimi in La bohème was as far as she ventured into the world of verismo. Boronat's recordings present an unspoiled coloratura voice, similar to Adelina Patti's yet stronger, that gives us a clear-cut idea of what the nineteenth century vocal approach to operas such as La sonnambula and Martha may have sounded like. Boronat's records were expensive even when new, selling at $3 apiece, and original copies of them trade at handsome sums in the collector's market. The act of gathering copies of all 21 Boronat sides together is in itself a daunting task, and for three items transfer engineer Ward Marston has to resort to taped copies from the Witten Collection at the Yale University Library. These do not sound significantly different from the rest of the selections, all of which are transferred expertly well with a minimum of hiss and grit from these ancient recordings. Marston is careful to transfer the whole recording well, rather than singling out the voice and damned be the anonymous piano or orchestra accompaniment. This is crucial, as the 1908 session in Milan is of unusually good sound quality -- the second take of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria is stunningly realistic sounding in the source, and Marston manages to capture it.
Although admittedly belonging to a specialist's area of historical opera singers, to the right specialists, Marston Records' The Complete Olimpia Boronat will prove essential rather than optional. For the rest, know that Olimpia Boronat is one of only a few singers whose voice was captured on record with a singing style stretches back to more than a century and a half, a discipline that has no equivalent among twenty first century singers. Listening to this kind of singing is as close as we are likely to get to time travel, until scientists figure out how to make such Wellsian science fiction a reality.