The vocals here date from the so-called 'golden age' of
operatic singing in the early years of the 20th century. Whereas the
three vocal records on the 78s demo page (which are also included here)
were chosen principally for their technical quality, the recordings
here were selected more for their musical interest, and in some cases
the quality is not quite as good as the demo records.
The object has been to retain as much as possible of the
quality of the voices, so minimum filtering has been carried out: no
affordable digital noise reduction was available at the time I made
these transfers, but more recently I've been able to apply noise
reduction - see note below. On the whole the surface noise is
reasonable, with occasional slight wear noises or clicks. Equalization
for the pre-electrical recordings has been carried out by ear, since
there is obviously no agreed standard.
Most transfers of this sort of material to LP or CD that I
have heard are so determined to remove the surface noise that they also
take all the life out of the voices. I understand that non-collectors
can find the surface noise very distracting: but do try to listen
through the remaning noise and I think you will find a surprising
vitality to the voices: even quite early recordings, such as the
Tamagno (1903) bring out the voice quite vividly when carefully
equalized and not over-filtered. I should add that the small speakers
usually used with computers tend to be rather peaky and exaggerate the
surface noise. If you can connect your computer to your hi-fi you will
hear a considerable improvement.
Speed is always a difficulty with older pre-electric
recordings: prior to around 1920 there was no agreed speed, and
variations from 75 to 83 were common. The speed was only occasionally
given on the label, though some some catalogues did show them (however
these should be approached with caution and not taken as gospel). The
obvious approach of pitching the recording against a score is also not
reliable, since singers sometimes transposed arias to suit their voices
(as with the Melba and Tamagno recordings here, both apparently
transposed down a semitone); also modern concert pitch (A=440) was not
an international standard until 1939, and recordings may have been made
in concert pitch (A=440), continental (or French) pitch (A=435), London
Philharmonic pitch (several different, including A=433.2 and the
uncomfortably high A=452.5), or just out of tune. In the end there is
always an element of guesswork and speeds have to be set with regard to
published speed, pitch, and the resultant sound.
These recordings have been transferred to MP3 files: if you
need help in downloading or playing them please refer to this page.
Incidentally, the flowery decorations across the top of the
screen were taken from the 1914 HMV catalogue (with the wording changed
to suit this page) (though the flower columns are modern clip-art, I'm
Noise reduction was carried out using ClickRepair and Denoise
from Brian Davies, with the aim or reducing, rather than totally
removing, the noise with the object of doing as little damage as
possible to the sound of the voices. Occasionally there is actual
damage and wear - not surprising in records around 100 years old -
which can't be reduced as successfully.
Masters issues rare operatic vocals in modern vinyl pressings from
the original metal parts: they come in batches and I believe are
usually subscribed to in advance, though some of the earlier issues are
still available. Their website gives details.
Some other links:
The Metropolitan Opera, New York, has a historical
Suhm-Binder's site is dedicated to her operatic collection and
includes some audio downloads (taken, I assume, from commercially
available transfers) and a shop (in Germany).
offers rare operatic vocal 78s for sale.
Links to commercial sites are provided for your information