Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Old Opera Recordings

On Christmas Eve 1907 a group of men gathered beneath the Paris Opera and carefully wrapped two lead and iron containers containing 24 recorded discs. Each were sealed and locked in a small storage room with a note that read “This will teach men 100 years from now about the state of our talking machines and the voices of the principal singers of our times” In 1912 two more urns were added to the archive plus a hand-cranked gramophone and instructions on how to use it. The project was the idea of Alfred Clark who was the founder and president of EMI’s ancestor, the International Gramophone Company. In 1989, during the installation of air-conditioning it was discovered that the archive had been broken open and one of the 1912 urns was empty and the gramophone was missing. The remainder of the archive was immediately transferred to the National Library of France in Parris. At the end of 2007 the archive was opened. Apart from those missing, the discs were undamaged. It was decided that the records should remain un-played to avoid physical contact with the discs. Since precise details of which discs were in the archive were documented, copies of the same discs available from other archives were used to be digitized.

I just wanted to add that the fact that they didn’t play the actual records and used existing copies, in my opinion kind of takes the romance out of the whole thing.

Interesting Fact: Some were not impressed with the old masters. Fran├žois Le Roux, a Paris Opera baritone and teacher, said that the old techniques grated on modern professional ears. He also said most of them would not get past the quarter-finals in a contest nowadays. [JFrater: In contrast to Le Roux’s opinion, when I was studying opera I was very interested in the great voices of the past and frequently listened to the singers. Their technique was very different to now and often not as polished, but they were masters of emotional performance which is the most important aspect of performance singing in my opinion. Considering that some of these great recordings are of people who performed in the premieres of works by Puccini etc, we have much to gain by studying them.] The recordings of the Paris Opera Vaults were release earlier this year. You can judge for yourself and listen to several of the recordings.

Top Ten Incredible Times Capsules

Recordings available the the Bibliotheque Nationale.

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