THEY GO BROKE BECAUSE WE DONíT BUY ... AND RIGHT WE ARE
Iím a renaissance-collector; I can appreciate the best parts of José
Curaís Verismo-Recital and I think that Renée Fleming live sounds
even more beautiful than on her CD "The beautiful voice".
But I wouldnít be without Fernando De Luciaís Neapolitan Songs or Fiorello
Giraudís opera-recordings. I admit that the first twenty years of the
past century was truly a golden age of singing with opera and the operatic
way of singing dominating all music making. But Iím happy to have lived
through the new golden age of singing, roughly the period between 1950
and 1975 when most operatic recordings set standards that are nowadays
so seldom attained. Therefore I belong to that clan of the collectorís
tribe that purchases all and everything in vocal history that catches
my fancy. Still I and several friends-collectors buy fewer historical
records than we could and would if the supply was better. Why donít
we? Because "the policies of record companies never fail to amaze
me" as Harold D. Rosenthal used to write. Indeed:
- often the transfers of shellac and tape to CD lack quality: example
the José Luccioni-CD on Malibran where worn 78s were used or
the Gianni Poggi-CD on Bongiovanni where an old MP (clicks included)
was used instead of the original Decca-tape
- often the quality of transfers is very good but it is enormously
frustrating to have to choose between Pearl, Romophone, Marston and
Nimbus (as was) offering us issues which largely duplicate the same
material. Therefore one buys one CD while regretfully leaving aside
other issues as they offer only a few additions.
- those many duplicates result in recording companies neglecting fine
artists who remain just names unless one has a splendid collection of
shellac or a friend willing to copy these records for you on cassette
- prices are often inflated for re-issues of CDs which carry no copyrights
- sometimes one is only interested in the performance of one or two
historical singers in a complete recording
- LPs are irregularly transferred . Often only a few arias are added
while a few others have disappeared (a pitiful specialty of Preiser):
anyway not enough new stuff to buy the CD.
The results are always the same. One is interested in a re-issue, studies
the sleeve-note and puts it again on the racks. As a consequence small
companies sell not enough CDs and go out of business. They lose and
we lose too. October 2001 was a dramatic month. On the 24th
the website of The Gramophone mentioned that the well-known firm Nimbus
was out of business. On Sunday the 28th the New York Times
told us that the bosses at Tower wanted to throw out most small niche
recording-firms (often specializing in historical vocal CDs). The same
day an e-mail warned us that one of these firms (Marston) had halved
its prices on most of its stock in a desperate move to survive.
May I therefore offer some solutions which I think would benefit us
all: producers, dealers and customers.
- A producer of CDs devoted to shellac-singers should rely heavily
on two sources before launching a new historical CD: LP-CD-catalogues
and eventually a few mammoth-collections with trusted collectors.
He/she should have a detailed knowledge of all re-issues on the market
of a particular singer. Gone are the days when people had to order
records at their local retailer. Someone interested in collecting
nowadays often combines his hobby with tourism (family included) all
over the world. The big cities of the world thrive on that mass-tourism
and every collector starts by looking at the yellow pages before leaving
his hotel. Moreover the internet and the CD-R have changed collecting
as well. Dotcom-firms deliver almost all records you desire. Some
interesting issues are only available on the net. Therefore it doesnít
take years anymore to get your favourites home in one or another way.
Conclusion: Producers should avoid duplicating, should carefully
look at the complete output of a singer and preferably transfer on
CD those records which never made it onto CD or even LP. Not every
collector threw away his LPs - the Preiser-and Rubini-products were
flawless most of the time. Moreover how often do collectors play their
records in their entirety? Sometimes years go by before a record is
played a second time. Therefore lots of collectors keep their best
LPs, only purchasing a CD when there is brand-new stuff on it.
Do producers keep this in mind? Not at all. Herewith a few examples.
How many potential customers are there on earth for Madame Sembrich?
Still Romophone, Minerva, Nimbus, Vocal Archives and Pearl thought
it necessary to transfer her shellac on CD. And these firms are somewhat
surprised they donít sell enough. Symposium brought us Burzio which
most of us could buy on Club 99 at bargain prices at Tower. Preiser
gave us the complete Lotte Schöne, a feat which Pearl thought
should be repeated. The same firm gave us a fine CD of Antonio Cortis,
a singer already in the catalogue of the Catalan firm Aria. These
are all recent examples and I could fill pages with them.
- Producers should definitely ask collectors which singers are under-represented
or even not represented on the market and go for these. Take fine
pre-war tenors like Giuseppe Krismer, Franco Tafuro, Enrico Di Mazzei:
a lot of 78s, no CDs, indeed not even an LP. Take that other beautiful
tenor: Costa Milona. Only one LP, a small part of his formidable recorded
output. Take Enzo De Muro Lomanto: 269 records and the acclaimed great
singer of Canzone Napoletane and Italian songs. Only his opera-arias
and literally a handful of songs are on CD. Two hundred 78s are waiting
for transfer. Not even the truly great have escaped this fate. Though
there are dozens of LPs and CDs with Richard Tauberís unique voice,
a close study of his huge number of records reveals that several CDs
are still possible with untransferred recordings. The same goes for
that paragon of basses Paul Robeson. These are reasonably easy CDs
to produce. Some collectors specialize in Pathés and that unique
recording system has led to an appalling neglect of fine singers which
didnít find their way to LP, let alone CD.
- Strange though it may sound, the same method can be used for singers
of the LP-era, often with amazingly big names. "Testament"
happily transferred a lot of interesting LPs to CDs but they limited
themselves to the original recitals not looking for the outlandish
recordings or to bringing together different pieces. Take Franco Corelli.
The first four Franco Corelli recordings on 78 were never transferred
(Italian songs like Lolita) - not on LP, not on CD. Some of his output
on 45s like the Werther-duo with his wife Loretta is still unavailable.
Only a few people know of his ĎAmore e grilloí from Butterfly. Even
a 1962 song on a 45 was never transferred. Then there are arias of
a never-published 1968 session gathering dust in the vaults of EMI.
If a producer succeeds in clearing the copyright hurdles and securing
the permissions of the artists themselves, he has a sure winner.
- Collectors will already have noticed a marked preference for tenor
examples. This is no coincidence. I remember too well asking that
well-known London dealer Michael G Thomas, in his Lymington Road days,
if such and such a sopranoís 78s existed on LP. He simply replied:
"No and anyway itís no use as they all buy only tenors on Oasi,
Club 99 etc. This is somewhat painful to say but it remains a fact
of recording life that during the acoustic days only male voices recorded
really well. Therefore producers should concentrate on male singers
and indeed somewhat neglect worthy female singers whose artistry takes
a lot more knowledge and patience to appreciate. Iím happy enough
to know a few collectors below 45 years of age. They donít buy acoustic
ladies. I donít say that no soprano should get her CD but not in the
numbers as is the custom now.
- Another sure proof method of losing money (or of earning less than
hoped for) is to produce transfers of complete operas of the 78 days.
We all know the limitations (of tempi, cuts, sound) artists had to
cope with in those days. Still for whatever reason (musical political
correctness? indolence?) producers continue to pour out complete sets
which are difficult to sell, even in budget versions. Is there anybody
in the collector community younger than fifty who learned his operatic
trade with the Pertile-Aida, the Gigli-Tosca, the Pampanini-Butterfly
or to exaggerate a little the Destinn-Carmen or the Paoli-Pagliacci?
Iím fifty-eight, very middle-aged, and I started with Di Stefano-Callas,
Del Monaco-Tebaldi and Björling-De los Angeles. With stereo I
went to Bergonzi-Price and Corelli-a different soprano each time.
And then it was time for Gigli after which I went down the time (not
the quality) ladder towards Merli and Pertile but I did it to hear
the singers, not to learn the opera. Moreover the less than pristine
sound in orchestral and chorus parts on these recordings make listening
not a pleasurable experience. Therefore and with the advent of the
78 minute CD Iíve never understood why producers didnít delete the
parts where prominent vocalists are absent. The vocal highlights of
most bread-and-butter operas go easily on one CD and one CD, even
a budget CD, is more easily sold than an old Bohème on two
CDs often completed with those stupid Ďfillersí or Ďbonusesí which
duplicate arias you already have in your collection. The PC has changed
the world. On his well-known website Mike Richter offers us a CD-ROM
for the price of a budget-CD. It containsÖ30 complete historical opera
- Is there anything more hateful than a collection of ten to twenty
artists on a CD? And another one with more or less the same singers?
And still another one? Symposium specialises in this kind of nonsense
and if we have enough patience they all turn up in the bargain section
of Tower. That means up to now because with its new policy those records
will never turn up at Tower any more, even at full price. But is this
the fault of this chain? Producers shouldnít produce vocal bouquets
but put the records of a single singer on one CD. Leave the bouquets
to the annual surprise CD of vocal societies like the one in New York
or the London Society with itís Record Collector-affiliate.