New York Public Library Digital Library Collections

[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search


     The Mapleson Cylinders   --   An Historical Introduction    Table of Contents      The Mapleson Transfers

The Mapleson Cylinders - Program Notes

- History
- What Can We Hear? -- The Maplesons as -- Research Tools: -- The Singers, Their Capabilities; -- The Impact in the Theater; -- The Performance Practices -- of the Period


What Can We Hear?
The Maplesons as
Research Tools:
The Singers, Their Capabilities;
The Impact in the Theater;
The Performance Practices
of the Period

by John Stratton

Though a first encounter with the cylinders may leave simply the impression of voices and orchestra faintly amidst much noise, patience yields some surprising rewards. In spite of the surface noise, the voices generally ring out true, and are often readily recognizable when familiar from studio recordings. At certain points, a voice can be heard reverberating in the theater, giving vivid assurance of the impact it had--something that can seldom be confidently estimated from studio recordings. Sometimes one can hear the applause that follows some splendid passage, reminding us that delight in the art of song and in opera was as alive then as now. As well, the orchestra is heard surging with the singers' voices, something which the early studio recordings strove, for technical reasons, to avoid rather than capture. This effect of a substantial orchestra working with the singers is surprisingly audible in the Mapleson cylinders, and belies claims that the conductors of the day were servile and provided merely a background for self-indulgent singers--at any rate, it belies that this was so at the Met at the turn of the century.

There are moments of striking vocal brilliance to be heard. Indeed, virtually every celebrated name provides evidence that he or she deserved a great reputation. On the other hand, I cannot think of a single example of conspicuously self-indulgent singing (or, for that matter, conducting): a few interpolated high notes, that is all. The performances in general are unexpectedly direct and honest. Of course there is frequently evident an eagerness to make big effects that does contrast somewhat with present-day practice, but to my ears what we hear never breaks out of the frame of an overall performance.

The reader will perhaps find interesting a short survey of the Mapleson collection with some observations pointing up what I have just said, and some suggestions of matters that perhaps deserve further reflection or research. The cylinders are in fact a mine of information regarding performance practice at the turn of the century and what the celebrated singers of the time were prepared to attempt in the theater--at any rate, in the Metropolitan Opera House. I will proceed by opera, not quite in alphabetical order.

It is striking how modern-sounding are the fragments from Aida, mostly from a performance in 1903 under Luigi Mancinelli. The presentation of the music is vigorous and straightforward. The rhythm is strongly underlined and the singers do not linger. This is especially conspicuous in the "Su! del Nilo" passage from Act I: the singers are able to deliver the notes without having to sit on them to make sure they are really there. It is unfortunate that the preponderance of low harmonics in Journet's voice makes him all but indistinguishable from the chorus in the fragments of the Temple Scene, but the tenor De Marchi's voice rings out, sustaining reports that he was an accomplished Italian tenor, and making one regret the more that he never made any commercial recordings.

Nor did Marguerite Marilly, who is readily audible as the Priestess--and one is reminded, as so often in playing the cylinders, how nicely the singers of the secondary parts did their work. The excerpts from the Triumphal Scene are thrilling, especially the "Ma tu, o Re" passage (Side 5/Band 9), where the concerted singing of the principals can be quite easily followed. At the end, De Marchi drops his own line and ascends to the high C with Gadski, the Aida of the occasion--a not-uncommon practice even more recently. The singers deliver their notes with the most complete composure, no matter where these lie. What is particularly arresting is that they all do this.

The cylinders from L'Africaine are from 1901, when Mapleson did not have the big collector-horn we see in the pictures; they were made in the prompter's box, which greatly restricted where he could point the equipment. The results are therefore much fainter, much more submerged in cylinder noise. But there amidst it all is the voice of the legendary Jean De Reszke, not to mention the important and also otherwise unrecorded Lucienne Bréval! One can make Bréval out--indeed, she delivers notably strong and clear high notes, but, in all honesty, other than to say that she partners De Reszke deftly in the passages where they sing in unison, little otherwise can be said confidently about how she sang.

Whereas in the case of the great tenor, patient listening yields a surprising amount of information regarding his voice and his style: a fine, somber but lyric tone quality, somewhat vibrant in the middle range, rather

[Begin Page 9]
heady up top; a quite deliberate style, attentive to all the notes, but in certain details Romantically effusive. The care and deliberateness is very evident throughout the two cylinders from "O paradis"; and an example of the effusiveness occurs immediately following the first B-flat climax. At the end, De Reszke belies the idea that he was a French tenor by adoption: for he takes a breath before the penultimate note of the aria--as virtually all Italian tenors do, but French tenors almost never. One too easily forgets that, in spite of his important association with Paris and French opera, Jean De Reszke was entirely trained for his international career by Italians (Cotogni and Sbriglia).

The cylinders from the fourth-act duet are also instructive. Eight and nine measures into the theme passage ("O ma Sélika," not recorded), at the words "...sois ma femme!," De Reszke does a wonderful vocal flourish that takes him up to a high B-flat, then down again through a rapidly executed turn and group of sixteenth-notes, which quite decisively puts him in the class of superior vocalists. Also an interesting feature of his and Bréval's performance of the duet is the fluency with which they sing the running passage at "O transports...." They accomplish this by rendering it virtually at two beats to the measure, whereas in every other recording I have ever heard the singers mark all four beats. I would regard this desire to achieve a fluent plasticity of phrasing as another instance of what I have called the "Romanticism" in De Reszke's singing. As well, one should note the splendid forte high B-natural that he directly attacks in the earlier of the two cylinders from the duet, immediately after the aforementioned running passage. His declamation here seems to provide us with a vivid example of advice he used to give his pupils as to how such notes should be delivered: as if one were pasting stars on the ceiling.

The chief attraction of the Carmen cylinders is the willful and capricious but utterly beguiling Emma Calvé. In the fragment from the end of the second act she sounds exactly like herself, and, in the passage that echoes the "Là-bas" duet with Don José that was sung a few minutes earlier, we discover that Calvé sang her part with high interpolations. She delivers herself almost identically as she would several years later when she recorded that duet with the tenor Dalmorès. Also, at the very end of the act, she sings a high C which comes across as sheer daring, since plainly it is just about the end of the line for her. In the fourth-act Carmen cylinder, Mapleson was presumably more optimistic about capturing the chorus singing the Toréador theme than the Escamillo-Carmen duet that follows, but before the cylinder runs out we do get the beautiful phrases beginning with the words "Si tu m'aimes, Carmen," very faintly yet sung with the greatest expressiveness. It does not sound like Scotti, and if it is not he it must be Journet.

The Cavalleria cylinders give us Calvé again, and also De Marchi. The stage action must have moved them around a good deal, since in the two cylinders from their big duet they pass quite often into and out of the horn's line of pick-up. Calvé does not rant: she pours out that poignant tone of hers, and De Marchi throughout strongly supports her. Her sounds are those of a great singing actress, as everyone says she was. This wonderful sound is heard briefly as well in a few phrases of the Santuzza-Alfio duet, with the mellow-voiced Campanari.

The Cid cylinders are of more than passing interest, not least because several of the singers in the casts were in the first production, amongst them Jean De Reszke. He indeed is the only one of them actually distinguishable, and then only very faintly. But it is apparent that De Reszke under Mancinelli and Alvarez under Phillippe Flon adopt about the same tempo for "O noble lame étincelante." And that, more recently. Domingo under Eve Queler in both sections of the piece went a lot faster. If Domingo sings this music again, I hope he will listen to Alvarez--he, at least, is quite audible--and will decide to slow down. Alvarez appears to declaim the music in much the same manner as De Reszke, though much of the evidence is a cylinder (Side 3/Band 8) that may simply be from a different performance by Alvarez himself.

Alvarez possessed a splendid voice, but with an extremely idiosyncratic method of emission, as odd in its way as Tamagno's. The quality of the voice was appreciated at the time, as well as the fine stage presence, but the emission puzzled. Nonetheless, he makes one of the most imposing impressions of any of the male singers recorded by Mapleson. Incidentally, at the concerted climax of the first section (on Side 3/Band 5), one of the sopranos--either Adams or Bréval--anticipates a note by a fraction of a second. In the Jean De Reszke performance, the Adams part was sung by Melba. The very earliest really audible Mapleson recording from the Met stage is in fact Melba's rendition of the Infanta's "Alleluia," and her characteristic slightly staccato-from-the-diaphragm tone is instantly recognizable. The Melba Maplesons show that the incomparably even scale and the detached manner were as evident in the opera house as in the recording studio.

That there was an alternative, in the period when Mapleson was active, to this great mistress of vocal virtuosity, says something for the times. Marcella Sembrich was not with the company in the Melba season, but she returned for the next two, those during which Mapleson was able greatly to improve his recording technique. The two almost identical fragments of the famous and tuneful ensemble from Ernani allows us to distinguish the singers' voices from one another, so that we hear more than merely Sembrich's ringing tones. Once again, De Marchi is squarely in the picture, further affirming the impression that he was a worthy tenor. And one can hear the unique, slightly wooden sound of Scotti's baritone leading the way. There is little difference in the singing between the two cylinders. What strikes me is the complete composure of the performance: no apparent striving to make it work. As a matter of fact, the critics of the day considered that this was the chief defect of the production, since to them it seemed that the music failed to speak for itself.

I do not find a great deal to say about the Ero e Leandro fragments. The chorus sings with efficiency under the composer's lively baton. And the fluency and easy upper range of Gadski's voice in the cylinder where she can be heard shows why she became such a mainstay of the Met in the next decade and a half. The voice is sometimes a bit overpowering in her studio recordings, and occasionally sounds so in the Maplesons (see below), but in the Aida fragments and here, for instance, it sounds very well balanced indeed.

It used to be said that the Met was the "Faustspielhaus," and there is certainly a long run of cylinders from this opera. One notes that Mancinelli gets energetic performances from the chorus, though it sings in Italian even when the soloists are singing in French. As for the soloists, they are a parade of some of the greatest names of the day. Melba, though faint, sounds exactly as she always sounds, even to such details as her distinctive way of clipping notes here and there--for instance in the Final Trio at the words "Portez mon âme au se in des cieux!" Calvé, in turn, pours out a breathtaking fullness of tone. The final ascent to B-natural in the Trio is well calculated to set the audience back on its heels. The very full tone is also in evidence in the "Jewel Song," but the ever unpredictable lady here takes the climactic B pianissimo--and, if my ears don't deceive me, it has a little crack in the middle of it; again, a wonderful piece of daring. Before this cylinder has played out, she begins the aria over for an encore; that was "the name of the game" in those days at the Met, at least as far as Faust was concerned. Incidentally, Calvé's voice is even clearer in the reprise, but the cylinder does not quite last to the B. Maybe this time she sang it forte!?

In such superstar company, Fritzi Scheff must be counted as a minor light. Yet she has produced one of the most delightful of all Mapleson's recordings in her rendition of the scene at the window: her singing audibly has charm, composure, and beautiful shimmering tone. There is a big, big high C at the end, with the tenor Salignac also vividly at the climax, and Journet as Méphistophélès laughing sardonically in the closing measures of the act.

Adams sings the same music earnestly and with very beautiful tone quality, but she seems that day to have been having difficulty with her upper range; when the moment comes for the C, she starts to take the note, then abandons it. The Final Trio from the same performance shows her "just managing"; moreover, this is one of the most troubled recordings amongst the Maplesons--the sound seems somehow muddled. I suspect we are partially hearing a previous recording on the cylinder; certainly at the end there is a phrase or two of an "Alleluia" from Le Cid (see Side 12/Band 5).

The Duel Scene, from a performance that had Nordica as Marguerite (though no fragment of her participation has survived), is an exceptionally long cylinder and gives a more than usually strong sense of an actual performance taking place. Alvarez sounds forceful as usual, and hangs on to his high note a moment too long at one point; Edouard De Reszke sounds, as always, a little larger than life but genial; and Campanari sounds, as always, mellow. We have the beginning of Valentin's death scene before the cylinder runs out, and I suspect that Campanari sang it movingly. As for the various versions of the Final Trio: that Calvé sets even a listener of today back on his heels has already been indicated. This might suggest that the tenor (Dippel) and the bass (Journet) are overshadowed, but in so far as they are, this is, I think, mostly because of the recording characteristic of Mapleson's machine; it did often tend to pick up female voices more readily than male. Indeed, as I have already mentioned, the bass singers are frequently all but inaudible. The best balanced of the Trio recordings, though very faint, is the Melba version with Plançon. Particularly in the recent transfer (Side 1/

[Begin Page 10]
Band 9), the great bass's distinctive sonorous tone is readily heard, and even a hint of the elusive tenor Saléza.

The Fille du Régiment cylinders feature the virtuosity of Sembrich, and clearly were recorded with that aim in view. The important French lyric tenor Salignac, who made no studio recordings, is moderately audible in the duet. Flon conducts with exhilarating energy and in the "Rataplan" ensemble Sembrich delivers some ascending scales with an evenness and aplomb that one is not likely often to hear. It is at the end of the first of these cylinders that we have one of the most vivid and arresting of Mapleson's recordings: the last minute of Sembrich singing Arditi's Parla Vals (Side 4/Band 10)--as has developed after some research, it was a pendant to the Fille performance. The "spring" of the voice in its interplay with the orchestra is astonishing. The orchestra swells around the voice without ever drowning it, and, just before Sembrich's wonderfully launched high D at the end, there is a series of "rat-tats" with the orchestra almost unbelievably synchronized. Perhaps no other recording gives such an impression of one of the great singers of the nineteenth century in action. Somehow, Mapleson has caught unusually vividly the ambience of the great opera house.

This Sembrich fragment has not been available for hearing until now, but another of the cylinders has long conveyed a somewhat similar sense of a dazzling performance in the theater. This is the cabaletta to the Queen's aria from the second act of Les Huguenots. Since the cylinder was originally unidentified, it was assumed that only Melba, if not Sembrich, could have sung so brilliantly. But research and subsequently unearthed evidence strongly indicates that it is Suzanne Adams of the "exquisitely beautiful voice" (as it was characterized by one of the eminent critics of the day). Here, her upper range and her resources of energy are far more at command than in the Faust recordings of a year later; indeed, the wide-ranging sweep of the voice, the total decisiveness of the attacks in the upper register, and the great trill near the end, are almost without equal in the whole catalogue of the phonograph.

Of course, Huguenots was one of the most popular operas of the nineteenth century, and in Mapleson's period of recording activity the ability to sing music from this opera impressively was still taken to be the hallmark of a great singer. It is not merely the Adams recording just mentioned that informs us powerfully of what singers thought was expected of them in those days. The four cylinders by Gadski and Edouard De Reszke of the extended Valentine-Marcel duet are a study in derring-do. Gadski is obliged by the composer to fling her voice all over the place, and again and again to arrive in the vicinity of the dominant in her upper range, whereupon Meyerbeer unexpectedly changes key, giving one the impression that she is holding the musical scale together by sheer nerve. As for Edouard, as the crusty Marcel temporarily mellowed by Valentine, Meyerbeer puts him through his paces too. At one point he is obliged to go from the lower F to two Ds above--that is to say, nearly two octaves--and back down again, all within the space of three measures. What this reveals is that Edouard was more at ease in his upper range than the lower. But mostly he takes the music as an opportunity to display his famed geniality. At another point he revels in a jaunty melody for several measures while Gadski sits with all her force on a high C, waiting for him to get to the point where she can come down again. It is quite a cliff-hanger, but fun.

The fragments of ensemble from Huguenots turn out not to be very interesting, I think chiefly because the solo voices are for the most part not distinguishable; they are lost amidst the chorus. But Flon's tempos--he conducts all the performances--are lively.

Unfortunately Jean De Reszke and Nordica in the famous Act IV duet (sung here in Italian) are not for the most part very audible; far, far less so than the duet between Gadski and Jean's brother recorded two years later. But this should not be taken as saying that nothing can be heard at all. Something of Nordica's splendid soprano voice with its great compass is in evidence, particularly her straight-as-a-die high notes. But, what is more, one of the three cylinders from the duet--of the middle section with its big melody ("Tu l'as dit," sung as "Dillo ancor")--has Jean De Reszke audible in spite of the noise for nearly a full two minutes. We hear his heady ascent, solo, to the high C-flat, then in the passage of melodic recitative that follows there is that complete composure and sense of the meaningfulness of the music that seems to have been characteristic. Nordica rejoins him just at the end, where the cylinder breaks off at a particularly unfortunate moment.

But in truth, Nordica's most spectacular showing amongst the Maplesons is in the series of five cylinders from the "Immolation Scene," in two 1903 performances of Götterdämmerung. Her voice seems to have been one of those that needed a big orchestra and a sure conductor, such as Hertz, to sound at its best. As all collectors know, she was not happy in the recording studio and passed very few of the records she made. But in these Götterdämmerung cylinders both the force of Nordica's singing and the force of the orchestra come over very well, particularly in the two of virtually the end of the scene (Side 11/Bands 7b and 8b). As Walter Damrosch has pointed out--and I think it is audible in these recordings--there was a certain tendency to rhythmic diffuseness in Nordica's singing that took quite a bit of management. It makes for a plasticity in the singing that is very attractive, provided the conductor has matters well in hand.

This plasticity in Nordica's singing stands in marked contrast to Gadski's tendency to be almost over-emphatic at times. Thus Gadski makes for a very strong-voiced, not very vulnerable-sounding Elsa, in Lohengrin, from which opera Mapleson recorded such a long series. Anthes is a tough-sounding Lohengrin, though not without some subtlety. Which I suppose makes them a pretty good match--their voices might otherwise not have registered so well on Mapleson's recording machine! The celebrated Van Rooy as Telramund is audible in the preparation for the duel (Side 8/Band 3), but, in this music at least, he seems to me to "bark." Blass's fine-grained bass has not quite enough authority for the "King's Prayer." The vocal play within the ensemble is, however, generally impressive, and at times the chorus works up a wealth of tone. The two cylinders with Jean De Reszke are fainter, at least as far as the solo voices are concerned. Indeed, in the "Mein Herr und König" passage, De Reszke is much of the time all but drowned out. His declamation here seems to have been effective, but not especially remarkable. What is remarkable is the sudden and beautifully poised ascent to the A natural in the measures just before "In fernem Land" (not a scrap of which we have, alas). The other cylinder, from earlier, in the "Bridal Chamber Scene," yields to patient listening the entire of a most beautifully phrased short solo: Lohengrin sadly commanding that Elsa be readied to go before the King.

Melba is easily recognizable in all the Lucia cylinders. What is surprising about the duet fragment is the very fast tempo that Melba, under the authoritative Mancinelli, adopts. It points her voice nicely, but makes it hard going for Saléza: his voice seems not altogether to settle into the music at the speed, and some of his notes sound almost spasmodic. Two fragments of the "Mad Scene" are of virtually the same music--not a part of the scene that Melba recorded in the studio. The concert version without chorus (Side 4/Band 6), though faint, is for the most part wonderfully clear, and shows off one of Melba's marvellous, even ascents of a scale and her familiar tendency--one might even say, determination--to go down at the end of pieces, as characteristic, it seems, as her compatriot Sutherland's habitual inclination to go up.

What the brief fragment from Manru shows, other than some limpid "la-la-la" from Scheff, is--for anyone who has managed to consult a vocal score--that what was performed at the Met was very different from the music printed.

What is striking about the two choral passages from a 1903 Meistersinger is the fullness of the sound that Mapleson was able to capture. The liveliness and forthrightness that seems so typical of the period is as evident on this occasion under the direction of Alfred Hertz as anywhere in the collection. In the last measures of the opera Gadski, the Eva. ascends to one of her easy high Cs, capping, as it were, the concluding ensemble. A strange anomaly in this collection is an excruciatingly distorted recording of the latter part of the "Prize Song" (Side 12/Band 15). Much painful listening has convinced me that there is no chorus, and clearly there is a concert ending; but in that case when can it have been recorded? I suspect that it may be Burgstaller from a Sunday concert program in 1904; we do know that Mapleson made a number of recordings in the house that winter.

The Pagliacci fragments are virtually all choral, with a few notes here and there of Scotti and Alvarez. These cylinders convey an engaging sense of the actual performances going on so long ago. The two from January 30, 1903, are unusually clear, with practically no surface noise. This, incidentally, was the same day as the fine Sembrich cylinders from La Fille du Régiment.

In the Roméo Valse, even amidst the mighty roar, Melba sounds exactly like her record--a fact that can be viewed as a virtue or a defect, depending on how you look at it!

The Siegfried recordings are decidedly interesting. They show us that Jean De Reszke was a fairly lyric-sounding hero. The forge music plainly is not easy for him. He seems to have the music entirely in hand, however, though at the climaxes he has to force a little. It is evident that Jean produces, in the final phrase of the act, the same flatout sound as earlier. A notable feature, from the point of view of vocal technique, is the way in which he sings the downward phrases after each of the climaxes in the "Forging

[Begin Page 11]
Song" (Side 11/Band 1). I understand that he taught his pupils to use wherever possible the lowest position of the larynx. The result of doing this is the sort of noise one must make with the doctor's stick on the tongue. The tone then is very intense and emphatic. To my ears these phrases in the "Forging Song" are in fact taken with such a throat position, and that is why they are the most audible through the surface noise. Incidentally, Melba and the other Marchesi pupils worked out ways of using this position of the throat very widely in their singing: it is the basis of the so-called "Marchesi sound." And it is, I think, the reason why Melba is so consistently audible even in the faint 1901 Mapleson recordings.

The other three Siegfried cylinders are much easier to hear--indeed, they are pretty good. Since Anthes nowhere else displays such smoothness and finish of tone as in the longer "Ho-ho! Ha-hei" (Side 11/Band 4), perhaps it isn't Anthes, as was initially proposed in this project. I would have thought it might be Dippel from a 1902 performance. Nordica's wide-ranging voice encompasses the climax of "Ewig war ich" almost too easily, and Anthes drives on from there with, clearly, the requisite stamina for his part. There is quite a big cut after Nordica's solo that seems not just Mapleson stopping his machine. Indeed, the collection shows that Wagner was heavily cut at the Met in those days. (There are sizeable omissions in some of Jean De Reszke's Wagner cylinders.) The very end of Siegfried is thrilling. It takes a Birgit Nilsson to rival the kind of command that Nordica is able to bring to bear in these final measures of the opera.

In those days Gadski could also do it, as is evident in her very clear recordings of the latter part of "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser. But, as I remarked earlier, her preferred stance is very different from Nordica's: more angular, more rhythmically incisive; less diffuse, less ethereal. Nordica's manner, by contrast, is especially evident in her cylinders from the Tristan "Liebestod." Many would consider her dreamy and diffuse singing exactly what is required in this music, though others might want something more rhythmically pointed. Her ease with the notes, however, is certainly admirable, as it is, too, in the "Love Duet" music sung with Anthes. He partners her strongly--it is perhaps his best showing amongst the Maplesons--and she at the appropriate moments delivers her marvellously spanning and intense high notes.

The Jean De Reszke-Ternina cylinders from Tristan are, of course, a great disappointment. They tell us practically nothing, except that Ternina seems to have possessed clear and strong high notes, and that she and Jean could deliver this demanding music.

The Tosca recordings with Eames, De Marchi, and Scotti, conducted by Mancinelli, are justly famous. Scotti's unique voice, perhaps not really quite strong enough for Scarpia (presumably it was chiefly his presence and his acting that made him so successful in the part), is audible in the "Te Deum," and of course he is very much on stage in the "Torture Scene." Here, however, it is Eames and De Marchi who stand out. At "Vittoria!," De Marchi manages to sound nearer the recording horn than any other singer from the Maplesons. The creator of his role, he sings with great intensity. And Eames sings with an abandon and passion that belie the famous remark about skating on the Nile. Like Calvé, she really sings all the notes, and indeed the voices of all three of the principals come right through the thunderings of the orchestra. Eames's "Vissi d'arte" has very much the composure of her studio recordings, though at the climax she goes impulsively to the B-flat just ahead of the beat. The note is finely sustained, and thereafter she returns to her familiar repose. The finale with the guns going off is an exciting moment of theater, even so far away in time and some perspective.

The two cylinders from Traviata allow us to compare the two great mistresses of high soprano virtuosity of the day. Even the roar of the 1901 recording cannot obscure the fact that in "Un di felice" Melba produces a series of echo effects that everyone else has aspired to and no one else has been able to bring off. Dippel partners her smoothly and sympathetically. Sembrich, for her part, in "Sempre libera" conveys exuberance through great velocity. ("Velocity" used to mean the ability to make notes distinct even at great speed. Perhaps only Horne, among modern singers, has taken much interest in pursuing this sort of virtuosity.) Sembrich's singing is dazzling. Dani, as Alfredo, does his bit, which includes a quite nicely taken high C. Sembrich's interest in velocity does not, I think, serve the Zauberflöte Queen of the Night aria so well. It is not what we are used to, but Sembrich does make the Queen sound angry. The interpolated D at the end is somewhat forced, and cannot compare with the note at the end of the Parla Vals.

Which leaves only the rather numerous Walküre fragments to discuss. It hardly comes as a surprise that Nordica can negotiate "Ho-jo-to-ho!" Once again, it sounds almost too easy for her. Van Rooy--what little can be heard of him--sounds less spasmodic than in Lohengrin. It is, of course, thrilling to find Nordica and Gadski singing together on one cylinder (Side 10/Band 8). The Valkyries in the "Ride"--for the most part strongly recorded--impress because they all really can and do sing their notes. Bispham sounds clean of tone and imposing as Wotan in the final scene, as does Van Rooy, if it is he, in the last of the Walküre cylinders (Side 10/Band 10). We have here Wotan's final phrase, then an amazingly engaging and audible rendition of the concluding "Magic Fire Music."

One could wish that Mapleson's collection went on and on. We know that once there were other cylinders. Some empty boxes have survived: Ternina and Jean De Reszke from Götterdämmerung, a finale of Act II of La Bohème, Campanari singing Faure's Charité from a Sunday concert. Remarks made by Lionel Mapleson's son Alfred to David Hall in 1982 suggest that at one time there were a great many more. I think it not unlikely that Mapleson may at the time have given some cylinders to the artists themselves. For instance, we know that Suzanne Adams and her husband materially helped him with his recording project. And it may be that the only reason that her stunning Huguenots cylinder remained with Mapleson was because it was misplaced! Whether any more of his cylinders will one day turn up remains to be seen. At any event, we must be grateful for the hundred and some that have been preserved. The present publication of the whole of the surviving collection on LP, under the auspices of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, virtually guarantees the permanence of these fascinating glimpses of operatic performances long ago.


     The Mapleson Cylinders   --   An Historical Introduction    Table of Contents      The Mapleson Transfers