INTRODUCTION

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 afraid).


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.


Historic 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 section.

Andrea 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).

Rare 78s.com offers rare operatic vocal 78s for sale.


Links to commercial sites are provided for your information only.