Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Decca Veteran Charged With Remastering Complete Callas Catalog

Maria Callas with Nanni Ricordi in 1958. She recorded
Cherubini's Medea at La Scala with Tullio Serafin for
Dischi Ricordi on Mercury label equipment flown in
from New York. Warner Classics now owns the rights.
When the compact disc revolution began to hit the classical music world in the early 1980s, many labels looked to their back catalogs for a treasure trove of riches. The process by which they went about reviving some of the great masters was a bit painstaking to say the least. First the old analog master tapes had to be located and transferred into a new digitally encoded master. "The digital process merely translates everything on the old tape - hiss, bumpy splices, bad balances and mixes, deterioration of tape oxide - onto a new tape. Sometimes the sound is beefed up with added reverberation, filtering of high and low frequencies (to eliminate hiss and rumble) and occasionally a touch of compression (ostensibly to protect your home system from the shock of dynamic extremes)....After the recording to be reprocessed has been designated, the balance engineer assigned to the project goes back to the original
The original British cover art has been faithfully reproduced.
For more information about the release, click here.
master tape to see what shape its in. First he determines what sort of equipment it was recorded on, so it can be played back on the same system (otherwise, hiss becomes intolerable). He then looks it over for oxide deterioration, for weak or sticky splice joints, and other signs of age and/or wear. It must be remembered that producers and engineers counted on certain flaws on the master tape - poor splices, extraneous noises such as subways or outside ground and air traffic, musicians coughing, even distortion - vanishing in the general swooshing of the vinyl on the turntable....If the splice is too sticky, the tapes has to be thoroughly cleaned. If the oxide has fallen off, another copy of the master must be raided to supply the affected area. If a
Maria Callas with EMI producer Walter Legge during a break recording Ponchielli's La Gioconda. Legge is one of the few people whom could try to produce on vinyl what the Callas voice sounded like in person. An engineer working on the project today, would be working with a ghostly memory of the soprano if they had heard her live at all.
splice is too crude (as occasionally happened), it has to be targeted for attention later in the process. Then the analog master is converted to digital. Any digital cleaning up of poor

splices is done at this point. Because a splice becomes a computer-controlled matching up of digital data, the slight thump that all but the most deft splices usually create is often
Callas with Tito Gobbi (right) and Walter Legge during
the recording of Verdi's Rigoletto in the summer of 1955.
eliminated."* Maria Callas has always been EMI's biggest money-maker in the classical division and remains so in the digital age. Now that Warner Classics owns the EMI archives, they are going for one last push to squeeze the financial gain out of the singer (now dead for nearly four decades). "A new authoritative Box Set: The complete Maria Callas edition comprises a lavish boxed set of 39 newly remastered studio recordings (totaling 69 discs) from 1949 to 1969 – each with the original sleeve art preserved. All 39 albums, from Callas’ earliest wax recordings on Cetra, will be available individually as well as within the boxed set. Finally, the new single-disc collection Pure will draw together highlights of the remastered edition, showcasing the previously unattainable quality of sound that can now be experienced in Callas’ most beloved arias. Although Maria Callas died, aged just 53, as long ago as September 1977, she remains an icon: as a supreme
Callas with Legge in 1959 listening to a playback of
Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermor. It was her second
recording of the opera for the EMI, the other was
actually her first recording with the label in 1953. 
singing – actress; as a celebrity, and as a woman of great style and elegance. The epitome of the operatic diva, the American-born Greek soprano is recognized as a singer who defined, and even redefined opera in the 20th century and she has never lost her place among the world’s top-selling classical artists. With the release of Callas Remastered: The Complete Studio Recordings, opera lovers will now be able to hear her as never before. Warner Classics is now the guardian of Maria Callas’ official recorded catalogue, and this 69-CD deluxe box set contains all the studio recordings that she made for both EMI/Columbia and the Italian label Cetra between 1949 and 1969. Each recording has been painstakingly remastered in 24-bit/96kHz sound at Abbey Road Studios using the original tapes, on Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond speakers, and the entire collection has been curated with the greatest of care. The 26 complete operas and 13 recital albums contained in the box will also be made available as separate releases. Conceived as a true collector’s edition, Callas Remastered presents each individual opera or recital CD in its original artwork. It also contains a 136-page hard-back book with essays, a biography and chronology, rarely-seen photos and
The single disc, Pure, will feature highlights of the
entire remastered collection by Warner Classics.
reproductions of revealing letters written by Maria Callas, Walter Legge and other EMI executives. The opera librettos and aria texts are provided on a CD-ROM. The box set and the individual operas and recitals will be available at mid-price. Warner Classics presents the most ambitious and extensive project ever undertaken in the name of the Maria Callas catalogue: a groundbreaking remastered edition of her complete recordings. For the first time this century, a team of world-class sound engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios – where Callas herself recorded – returned to her original master tapes to bring previously unimaginable clarity and depth to the legacy of the most iconic opera star of all time. A dedicated producer, Grammy Award winner Andrew Cornall, was assigned to the Callas Remastered project at London’s Abbey Road Studios. When Robert Gooch, a former sound engineer who worked with Callas on a number of her recordings, heard some of the remastered tracks, his response was: "I’m amazed, I’m absolutely amazed. My goodness me, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. … It’s a revelation. I was practically in tears listening to '
Casta Diva.' It’s remarkable. I am
Complete operas will be included in the set
with librettos available on CD-ROM.
absolutely knocked over." "A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music and the University of Manchester, specialising in composition, Andrew went on to study for an MA at the University of East Anglia, concentrating on recording techniques and research. His appointment as assistant producer at the Decca Record Company started a 27 year career with the company rising to Senior Executive Producer and encompassed work with all the major Decca artists of the period including Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Georg Solti and particularly long term relationships with Riccardo Chailly, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Herbert Blomstedt. During that period he also re-launched Decca’s Argo label with its concentration on British and American music, and particularly living composers producing multiple discs by Michael Nyman, Mark Anthony Turnage, Graham Fitkin, Aaron Kernis, Michael Torke and Michael Daugherty." Pre-order your copy by clicking
here.
EMI first remastered the Callas recordings from 1985-1994 and were mostly released on German, British, Japanese and American pressings known as first generation compact discs. In 1997, EMI Classics famously attempted to remaster the recordings for the 20th
The first generation CDs produced by EMI featured photos
taken by Christian Steiner on all 20 of the opera covers.
anniversary of the singer's death. Critics have lambasted the engineering (the work of four men...) done on this project, with the greatest mistake being made on the Tosca: "The new sound of the 1953 Tosca has spaciousness, exuding a certain excitement not unlike some of the later LP versions, but the voices are thinner, less present, and colder. There are several felicitous editorial corrections, particularly the volume reduction at Tosca’s 'Ah! Piuttosto giù mi avvento!' in her act 2 scene with Scarpia (CD 2, track 9, 1:35). Yet, this Tosca, as initially released in 1997, contains a profoundly disturbing example of engineering recklessness. [Allan] Ramsay 'corrected' what he presumed to be an editing error but is, in fact, an interpretive subtlety that Callas incorporated into both her recordings
The edition EMI Classics released in 2007
using the disastrous decade-old remasters.
of Tosca and all live performances following the first recording. At her entrance, she calls Mario’s name three times, each more insistent than the previous one, to indicate her approach; Callas and Legge worked assiduously to achieve optimal spatial results within the limitations of period mono recording techniques. The third and last 'Mario' is preceded by an agogic pause and is then elongated; it is also the loudest and the closest—the only one of the three that Callas sings at a normal distance from the microphone. Without consulting other Callas versions—including EMI’s own second Callas Tosca, apparently—Ramsay deleted the third 'Mario,' perhaps because it contains a slightly audible thump or sounded too different from the other two; he replaced it with a copy of the second. He then deleted the spaces, so that the three calls emerge dovetailed and identical, all spatial effect and musical
EMI Classics even designed a deluxe box-set
to market the re-issue in 2007 with rare photos.
subtlety removed. The effect is reminiscent of a defective, repeating CD. With the original third "Mario" replaced and its surrounding musical time eliminated, Di Stefano’s voice jumps in early, the initial sibilant of his reply 'Son qui' cropped." For a detailed historical analysis of the EMI recordings of Maria Callas, click here. Several complete box sets have appeared on the market in the last decade, most of which used the 1997 remasters for production. Let us hope that Warner Classics has indeed taken the care to restore to closest proximity what Callas laid down in the studio over half a century ago. The company has faithfully reproduced the original cover art for the whole series. [Source, Source, Source, *"Cleaning Up the Classics" by Thor Eckert Jr., Opera News - August 1986]

When compact discs first arrived on the scene, this is exactly how they should have been sold to the public: with original artwork. The engineering has yet to be judged, but hopefully this new set from Warner Classics will breath new life into the recorded legacy of the 20th-century's greatest opera soprano. 

5 comments:

  1. There's a trailer of sorts for the New box set and it features a song snippet. Its up on my blog. Also, the September issue of BBC Music Magazine features five tracks from the Maria Callas Remastered Edition.

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  2. For those to listen: http://oleconquistador.blogspot.com/2014/08/maria-callas-remastered-complete-studio.html

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  3. There's also a clip of Casta Diva. I'd post it but I'm not too HTML savvy - so I don't know how to embed a video unless there's a share button. If you go on Amazon and search Maria Callas Remastered it will take you to the page where you can pre-order the box, if you look several inches under the graphic, there will be a caption/title: Amazon's Maria Callas Store, and under that "Music Photos Videos" - click on Videos. You'll be taken to another page with several CDs but look to the right and there will be two video options, the first video has an audio clip of Casta Diva.

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  4. It will not allow embedding, but here is the link: http://www.amazon.de/gp/mpd/permalink/m1G3W85UASHVCQ/

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  5. Your comments on remastering butchery are well noted and my problem with every remastered re-issue I purchased over the past 15 years. The so called clean up process is never benign, these re-issues are mostly devoid of life and any real resemblance to the original event. Just a flat, hollow copy. I hope that engineers of this project were more careful and didn't sacrifice musicality to technology.

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