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Subject: Recording Opera in Rome (was Re: More Zinka)
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Thu, 18 May 2017 10:49:44 -0400
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Max Paley wrote:

"Most of these recordings were made with the Rome Opera orchestra - notoriously bad at 
playing in tune or playing together much less both at the same time."

The Rome Opera Orchestra and the opera house itself were both very problematic for RCA.  
The orchestra was notoriously undisciplined with some really lousy players and, as Mr. Paley 
noted, both intonation and ensemble were recurring problems that required numerous 
retakes and multiple splices for the final master tape.  Another thing that drove conductors 
(Solti in particular during the Aida recording) and producers crazy, was the fact that 
members of the orchestra would rotate in and out without notice, so a conductor might 
rehearse with one set of players and then, after a break, find different players at the actual 
recording session.

The Rome Opera House itself was very problematic, acoustically, for recording as well, as 
the sound reverberated in such a way as to cause problems for the mics.  RCA had to string 
up mattresses around the balconies to absorb the sound and then add some reverb, in order 
to deal with this.

The problems with recording at the Rome Opera were what led RCA to build its own 
recording studio in Rome in the early 1960s (the RCA Italiana Studios) and at the same 
time to form the RCA Italiana Orchestra, a pickup orchestra made up mostly of Rome Opera 
players but more selective and which gave the producers more control over the quality.  I 
think that the RCA "Butterfly" with Price was the first complete opera recording made in the 
Italiana studios.

There is a very entertaining book called "Aria" by Brown Meggs (a former EMI recording 
executive) about the making of a recording of "Otello" in Rome.  It is obviously based in 
part on real characters and events and by someone who knows about recording at the Rome 
Opera.  While it is a bit trashy (plenty of gratuitous sex), it is lots of fun to read if you know 
the opera world well.  Callas, Moffo, Gobbi, Muti and others make appearances in disguise.  
As one Lister wrote years ago, "Aria" reads like John Culshaw channeling Jacqueline Susann.  
Warning : the book's treatment of the black tenor singing Otello reflects a 1950s racial 
sensibility (or lack thereof), so this is not for the P.C.-squeamish.

MDW

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