Essays Recordings

Moving One’s Collections

This edition is from 1975. Notice the title.

Moving One’s Collections

It had to happen some day. After living up a hill two and half miles from the center of Keene, NH, my wife and I decided to move into town and spend our Medicare years saving gas and possibly losing some pounds by walking to almost every place we need to go.

So a month and a half before the closing date, I began to haul cardboard cartons into my basement to begin to pack. Now, I must make one thing clear. The sight of a wall not covered by a book or CD case in my present home is rare indeed. In estimating the insurable value of my CDs alone, I had to measure them by the foot, estimate how many discs there are to a foot, estimate the average resale value as well as the original cost of those discs, and then put a price on them. Then repeat the above with my DVDs.

A case of moving with which I can sympathize from “The Grapes of Wrath”

But alas, getting them all into cartons, labeling each one to determine for which room it is destined, are quite another matter. So the question arises, “MUST they all go?” That means weeding out (1) what is in bad enough shape simply to throw out and (2) the ones can I spare and donate to the Friends of the Keene Public Library book sale.

When it comes to novels, I don’t think I will ever really read all those Perry Mason paperbacks, but I certainly will reread my Agatha Christies. And so on. But when it comes to my collection of books about music, my heart breaks to part with a single one. Given a desert island choice, I would certainly opt for my 20-volume “The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,” which I picked up at that same library sale for $20.

Do I need five books about George Gershwin, five about Jerome Kern, six about Richard Rodgers, some with Hammerstein, some with Hart? Of course not. But which ones do I get rid of? Each contains something I MIGHT conceivably perhaps need for a talk—if I live to be 500. I’ll take them all so there will be no regrets.

And is it vital to keep all the Penguin and Grammophon Guides from 1975 up to this year’s edition? Well, I tell myself, with all the reissuing of older recordings onto new CDs by all the major labels, it would be nice to read the original reviews.

21S0AST07RL._AA160_As for recordings, aye, there’s the rub. As I wondered in a past essay for this journal, do I REALLY need all those “Carmen” sets? Well, the one in Italian is a novelty. I never play it, but it is nice to know it is there. Then the 1950 recording with the Opera Comique is doubtless the most authentic and has an all-French cast. Actually, the 1911 recording with dialogue on the Marston label, taken from Pathe cylinders, is indispensable. (Just why, I could not say.)

And Troyanos is so good in the Solti version, and Beecham conducts a great recording with Victoria de los Angeles on EMI. Well, maybe the one with Callas can go to give me a two-inch savings in space.

436127-SM2And then there are the six “La Boheme” sets, not to mention the duplications of “La Traviata” and “The Barber of Seville.” Four “Mefistofele” sets? Then, what about operas of which I have only one version (“Oberon,” for example) but never play? A clear case of having for the sake of having. Or more optimistically, a case of “some day a friend will ask to borrow it for some good reason.” Like, yeah.

download (7)It gets worse in the symphonic department. Do I really want to pack the complete symphonies of Boccherini?  [Since writing this, I donated them to my local library.] Every single Sousa march? Every single short piece written by Johann Strauss, Jr (on 10 CDs) and every note of piano music written by Grieg (on even more than 10 CDs)? Well, I DO like Grieg and seldom play Strauss.

As for the DVDs, that is another problem. As I have said in past articles, so many productions of opera from Europe are of the “director-as-destroyer” type (the male chorus of “Un Ballo in Maschera” discovered on toilets reading the Wall Street Journal being my favorite), that I keep them only to use as examples of how NOT to stage an opera. But are they worth packing and moving? If they are that bad, do I want my library to have them for the innocent to take out?

Sigh. By the time this article appears, I will have made all my decisions. However, I would really like to know if others have gone through this agony when they moved. (And what did they do with all those empty cartons?)


Note: It is now many years after I wrote that essay and the number of DVDs alone has practically doubled. There are some I will never watch again. But just maybe…maybe…someone might ask to borrow just that edition. Sigh.

Essays Recordings

RCA Victor Opera Recordings in 1921

This CD set holds the oldest “La Boheme” recording that appeared in 1928.


When Volume 1 of “Opera on Record”   (Harper) came out in 1979, there were listed 26 complete recordings of “La Boheme” (including one in French, one in Russian and two in German). Since then, I have simply lost track of how many others have been  issued, mostly to feature some current media-hyped star. Since the advent of CDs, many of the older sets are available again; and so Bohemephiles have more than an embarrassment of riches from which to choose their favorite versions.

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a copy of the 1921 edition of “The Victrola Book of the Opera” and recently took a look at what was available back for those who craved a recording of “Boheme.” The pickings were slim indeed.

For starters, there were no complete recordings available in the US. If you wanted to hear Rudolfo’s Act I aria, you could choose from the renditions of Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Martinelli, John McCormack, Orville Harrold–in Italian–and Evan Williams, in English. Each was on a single-faced 12″ disc selling at $1.75. If you wanted to hear it in French, there was a double-facer for $1.50 with Leon Campagnola, with his “Vesti la giubba” (also in French) on the second side.

Mimi’s aria was available with Geraldine Ferrar, Nellie Melba, Lucrezia Bori, and Frances Alda at $1.75 per 12″ single-faced disc. The love duet was rendered by Caruso and Melba ($2.50), Alda and Martinelli ($2.00), and Bori and McCormack ($1.50 on a 10″).

download (1)
Alma Gluck

Musetta’s Waltz came in only one version, with Alma Gluck for $1.25 on a 10″. And that is all you could have gotten from Act II. That is unless you wanted a “whistling solo” version of the Waltz on a double-facer with “Carmen” selections for xylophone on the second side for $.85! (If anyone out there has a copy, could you please send me a taping?)

Act III fared much better. There was the Marcello-Mimi scene with Farrar and Antonio Scotti ($2.00); Mimi’s “Addio” with Farrar, Melba, and Gluck ($1.75, $1.75 and $1.25 respectively); and the concluding quartet with Farrar, Gina C. Viapora, Caruso, and Scotti ($3.00). [I find the price variations fascinating and wonder on what they were based.] On a double-facer, you could get the Marcello-Rudolfo-Mimi scene with the Soldiers’ Chorus from “Il Trovatore” on the other side for $1.35.

Act IV was represented by the opening duet (Caruso and Scotti, for $2.00), Colline’s Farewell to his coat (Marcel Journet for $1.25), and the death scene in German (Claire Dux and Karl Jorn) on a double-facer for $1.50.

The only other items listed in the Victrola book are some band selections. Several years would have to pass before an American opera lover could purchase a complete “Boheme” from La Scala on the RCA Victor label.

Considering that “La Boheme” is one of the most beloved operas, what was one to do if one wanted to hear (say) “The Flying Dutchman, ” a work not very high on most people’s list of super-favorites? You had a choice of three double-faced discs. There is the Dutchman’s opening monologue sung by Fritz Feinhals ($1.35), the Spinning Chorus in English (backed up by the Bridal Chorus from “Lohengrin”, $1.35), and Erik’s aria by Karl Jorn ($1.00). And so on.

All of this research brought back memories of when I cherished my little Gilbert & Sullivan excerpt albums long before I finally owned my first complete “Mikado.” (Some of you MUST remember those Nelson Eddy sets of the Patter Songs!) Each hearing was a rare treat, both wonderful and frustrating: I loved what I had and yearned for more. Today I have in my collection about ten “Mikado” sets (only one of which has the dialogue) and four video versions. But somehow all of this completeness never quite compensates for that sense of wonder I experienced in the past. I am sure that when someone back in 1921 put on their brand new Caruso or Melba or Scotti disc, the reverse side shiny, black and empty, there was a thrill when the first notes filled the room through whatever megaphone the set was designed to hold. Today we have supercalifragilistic surround digital heaven-knows-what that is simply ho-hum because we are so jaded.

No, darn it, I could never bring myself to give up my collection of seven complete “Bohemes” and about as many “Aidas” for some scratchy collection of excerpts. But I would like to go into some attic and find a wind-up phonograph with a good Cactus needle and a pile of those “Boheme” discs I listed up above; and spend a few hours of low-fi delight with those joys we have lost in the name of Progress.