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Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence Opera sets

Forwarded from Opera-L

----- Original Message ----- From: "Max Paley" <mgpaley@xxxxxxx>
To: "Steve Abrams" <steve.abrams@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: <OPERA-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, September 07, 2008 7:22 AM
Subject: Re: Bastianini's studio RIGOLETTO with Kraus and Scotto-- what year?

On Sep 6, 2008, at 8:37 PM, Steve Abrams wrote:

I have been in touch with Tom Fine, who is the son of Wilma Cozart and C. R. Fine. He has consulted the official sessions book of the Mercury Living Presence recordings and confirms my assertion that Rigoletto was recorded in 1960 at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence beginning on July 2nd. The full dates were July 2-7 and 9,10. He does not believe Max Paley's claim that his mother contradicted the official sessions book and claimed the recording was shifted to a nearby warehouse. The recordings were co-produced with Ricordi and the ownership eventually reverted to Ricordi.

The article including the interview with Tom's mother was one of a two- part series on Mercury Living Presence recordings in one of the two
UK publications "Classic Record Collector" or "International Classical Record Collector." The two magazines are very similar in content and
form factor. I can't cite the specific issues because I ran out of space for them about a year ago. However, someone else on this group may have them. I'm fairly certain it was later than the the Summer 1998 "International Opera Collector" issue mentioned by Jon Conrad that discussed the "Rigoletto" in question.

In the same article, Ms. Cozart had negative commentary on the first of the series, Cherubini's "Medea" with Maria Callas. She indicated that the recording
team didn't have enough preparation time in that case to set up properly for a hall new to them (La Scala). She did, however, surprise me by commenting
that she thought EMI had done "a great job" of remastering it, my surprise being that any EMI CD issue I've heard of this recording sounds like a pallid
shadow of either the original Mercury discs or the Mercury/Ampex open- reel tape issue.

The "Notes about the recording" in the original booklet make it clear that the recording was made at the Pergola. Three microphones were suspended in the hall and not moved during the recording. As usual with Living Presence sessions, this was a three channel recording.

The notes in the booklet do make it clear, which is why I particularly noted Ms. Cozart's comment and was surprised by it. The booklet notes go into some
amount of detail of the Mercury truck going down small alleys to an area under the Pergola on "a sunny day in July, 1960."

By the way, I think Wilma Cozart is a truly great lady who really understands sound like few others. The recording process used for the Mercury "Living
Presence" series was outstanding in its integrity and truthfulness of sound. Those recordings remain unsurpassed. It might sound simple to use only
three microphones for a stereo recording, but it's one of the hardest things you can do and you'd be hard pressed to find a recording engineer today
with the ear and skill for how to position such a small number of mikes effectively to capture the full orchestral, choral and vocal forces involved in an opera
along with a good capture of the hall in which they were recorded.

Once these microphones were placed, tests were recorded and levels set based on those. There was no "gain riding" or compression applied, at least to
the master tape. The results are interesting for the sheer realism and vitality of sound, but also for another reason: they effectively debash the notion that
singers have to be positioned so that they sound a city block away for the recording to reflect opera house reality. In these recordings, the voices are
clear, present and very "there."

I think Ms. Cozart also effectively bebunked the thought that there is anything innately wrong with digital sound reproduction, and not just DSD or high res,
but standard 16-bit, 44.1 KHz. She did this with the series of reissues of that Living Presence series on CD that was done in the early 90's. These are
phenomenal sounding CD's. To produce these reissues, Cozart had original tube-amplified tape decks fully restored.

Interestingly, Wilma Cozart refused to allow CD reissues of the stereo recordings Mercury had made of the violinist Josef Szigeti.

I think that Paley has also confused the Teatro della Pergola with another theatre, probably the Communale?, in speaking of the venue of the 1953 Serafin Lucia.

I did confuse the two Florence theaters.

And I would be very, very interested to hear if Tom Fine knows what became of the master tapes. If "ownership" reverted to Ricordi, did they also get the


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