Operas, Ethics, and Elektra: A Return to the Recordings of John Culshaw

Ryan M. Prendergast

Reviewed by Nicholas Clark and Michele Spanghero

12 Apr 2017

If there is any secret about the sort of work we have been doing in Vien­na over the past few years, it has final­ly noth­ing to do with big­ger and bet­ter machines, although they cer­tain­ly increase effi­cien­cy: it has to do with try­ing to get to the heart of a score before you record a note of it, so that before you begin you have a con­cept of what the final record is going to sound like. This con­cept may, of course, be right or wrong; it may be sus­tained or mod­i­fied as things progress; but the impor­tant thing is that it should be there to start with, for the cat­a­logues are full of exam­ples to show what hap­pens when it isn’t.
John Cul­shaw, Three for the Road,” Gramo­phone (March 1968): 474.

Amid the wealth of opera record­ings pro­duced in the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the sets released by the Dec­ca Record Com­pa­ny con­tin­ue to resound with crit­ics and lis­ten­ers alike.1 Cru­cial to their pro­duc­tion and suc­cess was John Cul­shaw, Clas­si­cal Artists and Reper­toire Man­ag­er for Dec­ca from 1956 to 1967. Culshaw’s work in opera — which includes the first com­plete stereo release of Wagner’s mam­moth Der Ring des Nibelun­gen (1959 – 1966) — blazed a pro­gres­sive trail. His aes­thet­ic as a pro­duc­er envi­sioned opera on record not as a sim­u­lacrum of a live opera house per­for­mance but as an inde­pen­dent real­iza­tion sub­ject to its own con­ven­tions. Such an approach bold­ly seized the oppor­tu­ni­ties offered by stereo­phon­ic sound and the record­ing stu­dio: the ide­al stereo ver­sion of any opera must be a pro­duc­tion in its own right with­in its own medi­um [Culshaw’s ital­ics]. It is not meant to put the lis­ten­er in his favorite seat at the opera house: it should not even try. With­in its own terms, it can do much bet­ter.”2 In attempt­ing to do bet­ter,” how­ev­er, Cul­shaw sparked a com­plex dis­course con­cern­ing the rela­tion­ship of record­ed opera with live­ness” and audio-visu­al media. Though the stu­dio record­ing prac­tices of Culshaw’s hey­day are now a dis­tant mem­o­ry, their lega­cy still rever­ber­ates in the present.

While the Dec­ca Ring con­tin­ues to attract dis­cur­sive atten­tion in this regard, sev­er­al Cul­shaw-pro­duced operas in the Dec­ca cat­a­logue remain under­ex­plored — for exam­ple, the 1967 record­ing of Richard Strauss’s 1909 opera Elek­tra, one of Culshaw’s last projects for the com­pa­ny.3 For casu­al lis­ten­ers and con­nois­seurs alike, the Dec­ca Elek­tra remains an impres­sive inter­pre­ta­tion fea­tur­ing a for­mi­da­ble group of per­form­ers: sopra­no Bir­git Nils­son as Elek­tra, the ever-ver­sa­tile mez­zo-sopra­no Regi­na Resnik as Elektra’s moth­er Klytämnes­tra, sopra­no Marie Col­lier as Elektra’s sis­ter Chrysothemis, and a tremen­dous sup­port­ing cast led by con­duc­tor Georg Solti (not yet then Sir”) with the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra.4 No less remark­able was Decca’s vet­er­an record­ing team assem­bled for the project: pro­duc­er Christo­pher Rae­burn, who assist­ed Cul­shaw with the singers; engi­neers Gor­don Par­ry and James Brown; and tape edi­tor Jack Law.5

Despite such dis­tin­guished par­tic­i­pants on the Dec­ca Elek­tra, crit­i­cal response to the final record­ing was divid­ed. Some crit­ics were wowed, oth­ers were more equiv­o­cal in their assess­ment. Apart from quib­bles with the per­for­mances of the prin­ci­pal artists, Culshaw’s choic­es as pro­duc­er received the sever­est scruti­ny. He nor­mal­ly respond­ed to such crit­i­cisms in an oblique man­ner, yet on this occa­sion he was pro­voked to join bat­tle” against Con­rad L. Osborne, whose review in High Fideli­ty mag­a­zine took the pro­duc­er and his meth­ods strong­ly to task. While Cul­shaw cast him as a cus­tos morum of stol­id oper­at­ic tra­di­tion, Osborne nev­er­the­less pro­vid­ed a sus­tained and insight­ful cri­tique of record­ed opera and Culshaw’s approach. Far from being a pet­ty debate, their rejoin­ders help illu­mi­nate the var­i­ous dis­cours­es of aes­thet­ic crit­i­cism that sur­round works of record­ed art, broad­ly speak­ing, as well as eth­i­cal reper­cus­sions which, though dif­fuse, are no less con­se­quen­tial.6

Putting Elek­tra on Record

In a Gramo­phone essay titled Three for the Road,” Cul­shaw laid out the pri­ma­ry goals for Decca’s record­ing of Elek­tra. (It remains one of his few sub­stan­tial com­men­taries on the project.) Apart from the opera being a self-pro­fessed favorite, Elek­tra had nev­er been prop­er­ly record­ed in either the musi­cal or the tech­ni­cal sense, for ear­li­er ver­sions had suf­fered from cuts and from a type of bal­ance which per­verse­ly made the text audi­ble at the expense of Strauss’s music.”7 Here Cul­shaw tar­get­ed the only oth­er stereo­phon­ic release of the work, pro­duced by Deutsche Gram­mophon Gesellschaft (DGG) in 1960.8 Else­where his cri­tique was more explic­it: Some peo­ple think that the orches­tra plays too dom­i­nat­ing a part in the Dec­ca Ring, and nat­u­ral­ly I dis­agree with them; such peo­ple prob­a­bly like the DGG Elek­tra, which to my ear is unbear­able because of the unvary­ing prox­im­i­ty of the voic­es and the swim­ming bath dif­fu­sion of the orches­tra.”9

At the end of the essay, Cul­shaw observed that, to his ears, the sound of Elek­tra is as good as, and pos­si­bly bet­ter than, any­thing Dec­ca has done with the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic.” Dom­i­na­tion by the orches­tra was a com­mon cri­tique of Culshaw’s record­ings, and the Dec­ca Elek­tra would be no excep­tion. For many lis­ten­ers (and their equip­ment), the orches­tras on Dec­ca opera sets fre­quent­ly over­whelmed the voic­es, which were not, accord­ing to some, always ade­quate­ly cap­tured. Bir­git Nils­son was repeat­ed­ly crit­i­cal of such instances, and the company’s ear­li­er record­ing of Salome, for which she sang the title role, was her case in point: On the album cov­er the pro­duc­er, John Cul­shaw, is quot­ed as say­ing, Nev­er before has one been able to hear the tri­an­gle in a per­for­mance. Here for the first time you can hear this instru­ment.’ I have noth­ing against the public’s hear­ing the tri­an­gle, but I ask myself whether the voice of Salome is not at least as impor­tant. It is always love­ly to hear one’s voice praised but it is a bit dis­ap­point­ing to hear that the sound is bet­ter live than on the record­ing. Or worse: that the voice sounds bet­ter on some pirat­ed record­ings than on takes from the stu­dio.”10 While the lin­er notes for Salome in fact con­tain no such quo­ta­tion, Nils­son nev­er­the­less iden­ti­fies the pow­er strug­gle inher­ent in record­ing: should the singers receive the advan­tage over the orches­tra?11 A few years before Salome, Cul­shaw had antic­i­pat­ed such com­plaints: Are peo­ple who buy com­plete operas col­lect­ing voic­es or per­for­mances? If the answer is per­for­mances, then posi­tions and per­spec­tives mat­ter (with­out them, the sys­tem is mere­ly an improve­ment in sound qual­i­ty and noth­ing else).”12 The empha­sis on per­for­mance” meant that all com­po­nents were sub­ject to the total­i­ty of the opera’s pre­sen­ta­tion on record, musi­cal­ly and dramatically.

To that end, one of the major sell­ing points of Decca’s Elek­tra—and the one aspect for which it was uni­ver­sal­ly laud­ed — is its unabridged pre­sen­ta­tion of Strauss’s score. The opera endured a vari­ety of cuts after its pre­mière that per­sist in record­ings and con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tions. Pre­sent­ing operas com­plete was an implic­it aspect of Decca’s aes­thet­ic, how­ev­er, and Cul­shaw and Solti were adamant that the score be record­ed in full; for Cul­shaw, sanc­tioned cuts nev­er meant per­ma­nent cuts. Nils­son resist­ed, claim­ing the cuts amount­ed to near­ly a third of the opera. Cul­shaw timed them at a mea­ger sev­en min­utes. Even­tu­al­ly, a com­pro­mise was reached to record the exci­sions in Feb­ru­ary 1967. Yet the avail­abil­i­ty of Nils­son and the tour­ing sched­ule of the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic meant that an ad-hoc orches­tra had to be assem­bled to record the miss­ing min­utes, which were then spliced into the mas­ter tape. Cul­shaw under­stood that such edit­ing was noi­some to some, but to him, the artis­tic ends jus­ti­fied the tech­no­log­i­cal means: What­ev­er some crit­ics may say, I feel that this is a case where tech­nol­o­gy real­ly came to the ser­vice of music, for with­out immoral’ splices, and with­out super­im­po­si­tion, there would be no com­plete Elek­tra on the mar­ket today.”13 His belief in the ulti­mate ser­vice of music” would occa­sion sim­i­lar defens­es, which, as will be seen, abound with eth­i­cal implications.

Birgit Nilsson as Elektra wields an axe during a recording of Richard Strauss's Elektra at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, Spring 1966. Credit: Decca/Hanak/Lebrecht Music & Arts. Reproduced with permission.

Osborne con­tra Culshaw

Despite Culshaw’s opti­misms, High Fideli­ty crit­ic Osborne described the record­ing as an inter­est­ing but, so far as I’m con­cerned, unsuc­cess­ful pro­duc­tion of Elek­tra.” His Feb­ru­ary 1968 review Elek­tra: A Stage Work Vio­lat­ed? or a New Son­ic Mir­a­cle?” opens with a direct vol­ley at Cul­shaw, nev­er men­tioned by name: “’Tis a tale of the pow­ers and lim­i­ta­tions of the pro­duc­er. The pow­ers are such these days that a pro­duc­er is free to cre­ate almost any ambi­ence, any effect he wish­es. The lim­i­ta­tion is that his efforts won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do what he thinks they will do for the work at hand.”14 Apart from botched” effects, Osborne cit­ed cer­tain sound envi­ron­ments” per­cep­ti­ble with­in scenes to sug­gest char­ac­ters inhab­it­ing dif­fer­ent loca­tions or worlds with­in the record­ing. (Here he focused on the opera’s con­fronta­tion scene between Elek­tra and Klytämnes­tra.) Such choic­es dis­tract­ing­ly frag­ment­ed the recording’s con­ti­nu­ity and demon­strat­ed an incred­i­ble act of license. Beau­ti­ful close-ups of the but­tress­es and gar­goyles do not a pic­ture of a cathe­dral make,” Osborne observed in closing.

Osborne made sim­i­lar — though more direct and cogent — remarks on pro­duc­er intru­sions in his oth­er­wise pos­i­tive review of Decca’s set of Wagner’s Die Walküre, released the pre­vi­ous year: the device gets between me and the effect the music wants to make.”15 Here, he chalked up such choic­es to con­fused aes­thet­ic rea­son­ing” that strives for actu­al­i­ty” over emo­tion­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal ver­i­ty.” By attempt­ing to engen­der a verisim­i­lar stage atmos­phere, accord­ing to Osborne, a record­ing took the risk of being too lit­er­al, which under­mines its effect. The point is apt. As Cul­shaw stressed repeat­ed­ly, a record­ing is by its very nature dis­tinct from the stage. The acoustic con­ven­tions of the stage and effects that invoke them, how­ev­er light­ly, would seem to drag the record­ing coun­ter­in­tu­itive­ly back to the one thing it seem­ing­ly tries to avoid.

In his review of Elek­tra, Osborne sug­gest­ed that such choic­es were indica­tive of an unavoid­able real­i­ty: the change in the medi­um of pre­sen­ta­tion — here, from the stage to the record­ing — also risked chang­ing the actu­al mate­r­i­al pre­sent­ed. (Here his focus was, again, on the implied sound envi­ron­ments.) Osborne framed a fair ques­tion that could be read as a blunt chal­lenge: Can a work con­ceived and writ­ten by mas­ters of the live the­atre be trans­lat­ed in a new medi­um with­out exten­sive alter­ation?” Such alter­ation might not itself even be a con­scious choice. As a solu­tion, Osborne sug­gest­ed that, instead of record­ing exist­ing stage works, record­ing com­pa­nies should com­mis­sion new operas con­ceived specif­i­cal­ly for the gramo­phone and there­fore inher­ent­ly atten­tive to the medium’s con­ven­tions: Good or bad, it will be more valid than the tech­ni­cal­ly accom­plished vio­la­tion of stage works.” He con­ced­ed, how­ev­er, that some record­ings of exist­ing works were not with­out val­ue: mis­takes along the way should be indulged. This Elek­tra should be heard by every­one seri­ous­ly inter­est­ed in opera and/​or record­ings, if only to pon­der the aes­thet­ics of the ques­tions it rais­es.” By mak­ing the charge that a stage work had been vio­lat­ed, how­ev­er, Osborne cat­a­pult­ed ques­tions about the recording’s suit­abil­i­ty into an eth­i­cal sphere that ques­tioned the integri­ty of a work trans­plant­ed from its intend­ed” medium.

Pro­duc­ers and Review­ers Strike Back and Strike Again

Osborne’s review pro­voked a vis­cer­al response from Cul­shaw, which appeared eight months lat­er in High Fideli­ty with the title The Record Pro­duc­er Strikes Back.”16 The major thrust of the rebut­tal con­cerned the con­sis­tent com­par­isons to live the­atri­cal prac­tice; after all, Cul­shaw reit­er­at­ed, a record­ing oper­ates under total­ly dif­fer­ent sen­so­ry cir­cum­stances. After rehash­ing Osborne’s alleged parox­ysms of rage” at Culshaw’s hav­ing mas­sa­cred a mas­ter­piece,” he zoomed in on Osborne’s choice of the word vio­la­tion” in his review. In Culshaw’s read­ing, that choice exposed the reviewer’s bias as a mem­ber of that very tiny minor­i­ty of peo­ple” con­sti­tut­ing opera hous­es audi­ences ver­sus the record-buy­ing pub­lic.17

To Cul­shaw, the prin­ci­pal con­cern of the record pro­duc­er was to reach those beyond that minor­i­ty, to impact peo­ple who would like­ly nev­er expe­ri­ence live opera, to make the sound of the music more imme­di­ate than it could ever be when heard from most seats in most opera hous­es.” As a result, pro­duc­ers should not pred­i­cate record­ings on live expe­ri­ence. They must instead ask, “‘will this make dra­mat­ic and musi­cal sense in domes­tic sur­round­ings to some­one who may even be hear­ing the opera for the first time?’ In a word, the record­ing has to have impact, and I use the word with­out relat­ing it to loud­ness.” Such impact was not above evok­ing stage atmos­phere” for dra­mat­ic means, but such attempts held the poten­tial to echo live per­for­mances too strong­ly.18

Cul­shaw con­ced­ed that Osborne’s quan­daries about the record­ing were valid yet easy to address: These are good ques­tions, but I don’t think any­one who has ever paid hard cash for opera on records would have the slight­est dif­fi­cul­ty in answer­ing them. Where are we? We are not in the the­atre; we are where music belongs: in the mind and in the emo­tions and in the imag­i­na­tion. And what is the audience/​performer rela­tion­ship? It is clos­er than it has ever been, pre­cise­ly because there is no prosce­ni­um arch when you lis­ten to records.”19 The ben­e­fit of new media tech­nolo­gies rest­ed on their capac­i­ty to fos­ter this inti­ma­cy and remove the con­ven­tions and obsta­cles” asso­ci­at­ed with live per­for­mances. The pro­duc­er, fur­ther­more, also had an oblig­a­tion to har­ness the rapid­ly devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, oth­er­wise the record, as a grow­ing means of musi­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, will die.” For Cul­shaw, the evan­gel­i­cal poten­tial of the medi­um was para­mount and should be cul­ti­vat­ed fur­ther because if per­formed art doesn’t adjust to life, life won’t adjust to per­formed art.”

The essays by Osborne and Cul­shaw occa­sioned a flur­ry of read­er respons­es for and against both. Even John McClure, an emi­nent pro­duc­er at Colum­bia Records, entered the fray. Osborne authored two con­trast­ing rejoin­ders. The first was a fake fea­ture, Audiovideo in Review.” Pub­lished in the Decem­ber 1968 issue of High Fideli­ty, it pre­sent­ed a tongue-in-cheek pro­jec­tion of an issue from Decem­ber 2068. Using alter egos of the magazine’s crit­ics and a range of absurd, futur­is­tic record­ing neol­o­gisms, Osborne lam­pooned con­tem­po­rary dis­course on fusions of audio and video tech­nol­o­gy and the future await­ing the record­ing medi­um if cur­rent prac­tice per­sist­ed. Through­out, Osborne trolls Cul­shaw on his own ground. The fusion of audio and video is indeed the future, and tech­nol­o­gy will allow all man­ner of mar­vels. But left unchecked, the results could veer towards the grotesque. The high­light of this false doc­u­ment is a review of a new audio­vi­su­al cap­sule” of Elek­tra con­duct­ed by Cul­shaw.” Adopt­ing the pseu­do­nym Piotr G. Dupinksky — an allu­sion to reg­u­lar High Fideli­ty review­er Peter G. Davis — Osborne skew­ers this hypo­thet­i­cal cre­ation for its all-out, Grand Guig­nol-style,” includ­ing the per­fect­ly caught sound of Klytämnestra’s voice com­ing through a pane of glass.

For the April 1969 issue of High Fideli­ty, Osborne authored a sec­ond, more con­ven­tion­al riposte that suc­cinct­ly sum­ma­rized his orig­i­nal posi­tions against those of Cul­shaw and McClure.20 Points are con­ced­ed, false­hoods are called out, and unan­swered ques­tions are high­light­ed. Osborne end­ed with a list of three long-range invest­ments” that record com­pa­nies might pur­sue instead of con­sign­ing oper­at­ic moder­ni­ty” to the con­tin­ued slather­ing of cen­tu­ry-old stage works with irrel­e­vant melo­dra­mat­ic sound effects.” These include 1) using record­ing com­pa­ny resources to set up a clear­ing­house” for younger singers, 2) com­mis­sion­ing new operas sole­ly for phono­graph­ic record­ing, and 3) a new indus­try-sup­port­ed work­shop of the audio-visu­al arts.” Osborne admit­ted that his ideas had lim­it­ed finan­cial fea­si­bil­i­ty, but he reit­er­at­ed how record­ed opera lim­it­ed its poten­tials by keep­ing itself to works con­ceived ini­tial­ly for the stage.

Cul­shaw offered no direct response to Osborne’s invest­ments,” but such top­ics were not unfa­mil­iar to him. His posthu­mous mem­oir Putting the Record Straight (1981) offers fre­quent cri­tiques of man­age­ment at Dec­ca sign­ing up younger singers and promis­ing them a range of projects with­out prop­er con­sid­er­a­tion of their longevi­ty or the fis­cal worth of the reper­toire in ques­tion.21 Where­as Cul­shaw com­mis­sioned the opera Owen Wingrave (1971) from Ben­jamin Brit­ten for BBC Tele­vi­sion, osten­si­bly answer­ing Osborne’s sec­ond point, tele­vi­sion opera could not claim to be new phe­nom­e­non in the 1970s.22 Culshaw’s writ­ings from the post-Ring peri­od are also rife with propo­si­tions of new audio-visu­al con­ver­gences, which saw some real­iza­tions dur­ing his tenure at the BBC. One won­ders what he would make of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry phe­nom­e­non of live-stream­ing opera, some­thing he pre­saged sev­er­al times in his writ­ings.23 Final­ly, while he main­tained an active sched­ule of lec­tur­ing and artis­tic con­sult­ing until his pre­ma­ture death in 1980, Cul­shaw lam­en­ta­bly nev­er estab­lished a rela­tion­ship with any devel­op­men­tal media enterprise.

Sir Georg Solti and John Culshaw sitting together during a recording of Elektra at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, Spring 1966. Credit: Decca/Lebrecht Music & Arts. Reproduced with permission.

Towards a Cul­sha­vian” Eth­ic of Record­ed Opera

Con­struct­ing an eth­ic for record­ed opera on Culshaw’s behalf remains com­pli­cat­ed. Though eth­i­cal con­cerns abound in his writ­ings, he made no attempt to cod­i­fy such mat­ters explic­it­ly. The Osborne exchanges rep­re­sent an attempt in that direc­tion, and one won­ders how, if he had respond­ed to Osborne’s sec­ond response, Cul­shaw would have pro­vid­ed fur­ther ques­tions or clar­i­fi­ca­tions. Fur­ther mud­dy­ing mat­ters is the extent to which Culshaw’s aes­thet­ic and eth­i­cal approach­es can be seen to vary from record­ing to record­ing. While he stat­ed over and over that stereo, as a medi­um, was what one made of it, Cul­shaw open­ly con­ced­ed that the bound­aries of artis­tic judg­ment were not def­i­nite: the ques­tion of how far to go in pro­duc­ing an opera for stereo is a tricky one.”24

Despite these ambi­gu­i­ties, cer­tain eth­i­cal threads in the debates on the Dec­ca Elek­tra war­rant reflec­tion. They are most­ly con­cerned with the pol­i­tics of medi­a­tion: for exam­ple, the rela­tion­ships between human and mechan­i­cal ele­ments, the ten­sion between live per­for­mance and record­ing, or even the polit­i­cal appor­tion­ing of the son­ic space between voice and orches­tra. But an ethics of opera record­ing must first con­tend with the space with­in which that sys­tem is to be ground­ed. Any con­struct of ethics must be ground­ed in a plane of social inter­ac­tion and cir­cu­la­tion, since ethics by its very nature depends upon the orga­ni­za­tion of a social group to inform what prin­ci­ples of behav­ior and/​or belief are val­ued (or deval­ued) as well as how those prin­ci­ples are con­veyed.25 In the case of opera record­ings, the social plane would appear to com­prise those who make records and those who con­sume them. How­ev­er, the divi­sion between mak­ers and con­sumers is blurred by the fact that all of them, through cir­cu­la­tion, con­tribute in one way or anoth­er to the col­lec­tive assign­ing of val­ue to the record­ing and/​or any of its sub­sidiary components.

Per­haps the most preclu­sive eth­i­cal com­po­nent of opera record­ing is the act of lis­ten­ing, and, with it, the ethics and pol­i­tics of lis­ten­ing. As Col­in Symes observes, as dis­tinct from hear­ing, lis­ten­ing is not a nat­ur­al process [Symes’s empha­sis] but one that is social­ly con­struct­ed, pro­duced through pow­er­ful dis­cours­es asso­ci­at­ed with sound, such as those con­cern­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of music.”26 For the mak­ers of records, lis­ten­ing involved active­ly scru­ti­niz­ing what was accept­able and what was not accept­able. For the audi­ence of a record, lis­ten­ing was osten­si­bly more pas­sive, though more than once Cul­shaw enter­tained the idea of a tech­nol­o­gy that would give the lis­ten­er more con­trol over what was aural­ly pre­sent­ed. He also addressed the seri­ous eth­i­cal quan­daries that a wide­spread do-it-your­self” tech­nol­o­gy could inspire: A whole new scale of val­ues would emerge, and a method of mea­sure­ment would have to be invent­ed. Assum­ing the medi­um to be tape, would two and a half feet of Nils­son be worth more or less than the same length of Callas?”27 In this way, the eth­i­cal aspect of lis­ten­ing would ulti­mate­ly hinge on alle­giances and assign­ments of val­ue. Cul­shaw did not pro­vide a final judg­ment on the DIY issue. He mere­ly declared that such a tech­nol­o­gy had great val­ue in invest­ing the lis­ten­er with an inti­mate knowl­edge of the music as a per­former” of sorts, and that such a devel­op­ment, in what­ev­er form it may take, is part of an inevitable progress towards a more par­tic­i­pa­to­ry listener.

Anoth­er aspect of this eth­i­cal con­struc­tion, hint­ed at pre­vi­ous­ly, con­cerns the trans­porta­tion of opera from a sole­ly the­atri­cal space into a pure­ly acoustic space. A ful­ly staged opera required, and still requires, a venue for col­lec­tive gath­er­ing, even if it is not a con­ven­tion­al the­atri­cal space. One con­se­quence of phono­graph­ic records was a cer­tain democ­ra­ti­za­tion of opera by lib­er­at­ing it from its tra­di­tion­al location(s) of per­for­mance. As Cul­shaw observed, the sick­ness of opera has been, and is, that it is a very expen­sive and exclu­sive closed shop.”28 One also gets a sense that his respons­es to Osborne are a response to his per­cep­tions of a wider elit­ism in opera cul­ture, an elit­ism more detri­men­tal than beneficial.

These ele­ments cul­mi­nate in per­haps the most politi­ciz­ing com­po­nent of the ethics of opera record­ing: the ten­u­ous rela­tion­ship record­ed opera main­tains with live per­for­mance. Crit­ics of mid-cen­tu­ry stu­dio opera record­ings had no qualms about deem­ing them immoral” in com­par­i­son with live per­for­mances. Though stu­dio record­ings could impress, their arti­fi­cial” nature placed them in direct con­fronta­tion with the tran­si­to­ry and spon­ta­neous expe­ri­ence of the opera house, which car­ried an implied moral” author­i­ty. Cul­shaw him­self saw the two as cohab­iters, but his view­point was only one of many. The philoso­pher and com­pos­er Theodor Adorno, con­ven­tion­al­ly seen as the arch-neme­sis of the cul­ture indus­try,” saw much laud­able poten­tial in opera on record: It allows for the opti­mal pre­sen­ta­tion of music, enabling it to recap­ture some of the force and inten­si­ty that had been worn thread­bare in the opera hous­es. Objec­ti­fi­ca­tion, that is, a con­cen­tra­tion on music as the true object of opera, may be linked to a per­cep­tion that is com­pa­ra­ble to read­ing, to the immer­sion in a text.”29

Many oth­ers, how­ev­er, took a hos­tile stance. Sadler’s Wells Opera admin­is­tra­tor Nor­man Tuck­er described stereo opera as an enor­mous men­ace.” Harold Rosen­thal, edi­tor of the jour­nal Opera, qual­i­fied begrudged praise for Decca’s 1962 release of Salome with a caveat: I am stag­gered. I am bowled over. And yet I feel there is some ele­ment of cheat­ing in that one has got some­thing one would nev­er get in the the­atre.”30 New York Times crit­ic Harold C. Schon­berg took Culshaw’s col­leagues at oth­er com­pa­nies to task in 1968: So what comes out is a glossy, superbly engi­neered prod­uct that has no rela­tion to life or to the music actu­al­ly made in the con­cert hall. It is some­what dis­con­cert­ing to hear Vic­tor and Colum­bia engi­neers admit that they are Cul­shaw­ites. They are inter­est­ed in sound, not con­tent: in fre­quen­cy response, not hon­est repro­duc­tion. In short, they are begin­ning to traf­fic pri­mar­i­ly in gim­micks, many of those gim­micks, such as added stereo,’ thor­ough­ly dis­hon­est.”31

Cul­shaw took to the offen­sive regard­ing such com­ments, tak­ing the mak­ers of live opera to task for, in his view, mis­tak­ing the prob­lem: Peo­ple will always go to hear good per­for­mances and pay good mon­ey for them. What they will no longer tol­er­ate is the third-rate, the shod­dy, the apolo­getic reper­to­ry per­for­mance. Why should they, when they can hear the first-rate at home?”32 Part of this push for per­fec­tion was the nature of the medi­um. A record was a thing to be played with a degree of rep­e­ti­tion, and, as such, was not a place to enshrine errors. Cul­shaw addressed this con­cern fre­quent­ly: Flaws which float by in a con­cert are heard once and for­got­ten. Even in a live broad­cast, when acci­dents can hap­pen they pass in one ear and out the oth­er. But on a record such flaws would become a major irri­ta­tion on the sec­ond or third time of play­ing, so they have to be as far as pos­si­ble elim­i­nat­ed.”33 Fur­ther­more, though pre­oc­cu­pa­tions with sound were unavoid­able with a pure­ly aur­al medi­um, Cul­shaw arguably strove for an ide­al bal­ance between the acoustic and dra­mat­ic con­tent in his record­ings. This was exem­pli­fied in Decca’s con­tro­ver­sial Son­ic­Stage” tech­nique. Intro­duced in mar­ket­ing for Decca’s 1962 release of Strauss’s opera Salome, Son­ic­Stage ini­tial­ly encom­passed Decca’s attempt at greater clar­i­ty of orches­tral sound while afford­ing more pos­si­bil­i­ties to the voice: In one sense it is a musi­cal advance because it reveals more of the musi­cal tex­ture with­out iso­lat­ing or detach­ing any strand; but even more, it is a dra­mat­ic devel­op­ment, enabling the artists to con­vey extreme­ly sub­tle shades of the­atri­cal expres­sion.”34 The term Son­ic­Stage has also come to encom­pass how actu­al stag­ing was employed dur­ing record­ing ses­sions to enhance such expres­sion.” Singers would act on a grid­ded stage with sim­pli­fied but dra­mat­i­cal­ly sen­si­ble move­ments, based on the opera’s stage direc­tions. Elek­tra would be one of the final projects brand­ed with the term, though the stress on sound qual­i­ty and stag­ing would per­sist at Dec­ca in the fol­low­ing decades. In an iron­ic echo of Schon­berg’s exco­ri­a­tion of record­ing gim­micks,” how­ev­er, Cul­shaw lat­er dis­par­aged the term Son­ic­Stage as child­ish.”35

Sir Georg Solti conducting a recording of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, November 1968. Credit: Decca/Hanak/Lebrecht Music & Arts. Reproduced with permission.

Attempt­ing a Playback

John Culshaw’s record­ings, like those across var­i­ous discogra­phies, are rep­re­sen­ta­tions and embod­i­ments as much of the musi­cal works they inscribe as of the aes­thet­ics, val­ues, and ethics of the indi­vid­u­als who made them. With­in the embod­ied prac­tice of record­ing, they remain a polit­i­cal reflec­tion of what is both son­i­cal­ly and aes­thet­i­cal­ly desir­able and prefer­able. In con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­ble tenets of an ethics of opera record­ing, cer­tain points become salient. An ethics of opera record­ing is ground­ed on a social plane of inter­ac­tion com­pris­ing dif­fuse stages of cir­cu­la­tion. This social plane is pop­u­lat­ed by mem­bers of a record com­mu­ni­ty” who remain, regard­less of their role or func­tion as mak­er or con­sumer, assign­ers of val­ue as lis­ten­ers to the record­ing in ques­tion. There are many oth­er aspects still to be teased out and cri­tiqued not only with­in Culshaw’s dis­course but also with­in those of his con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­ers and suc­ces­sors. The record­ings keep us lis­ten­ing and reeval­u­at­ing, as they were intend­ed to do.

In the fifty years since the release of Decca’s Elek­tra, the sub-spheres of this cir­cu­la­tion have been broad­ened con­sid­er­ably not only because of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the record­ing in var­i­ous ana­logue and dig­i­tal forms, but also with the ever-expand­ing discog­ra­phy of the opera. Cul­shaw admit­ted that the Dec­ca Elek­tra respond­ed to what came before it, and Decca’s release would sure­ly elic­it respons­es as well. In Gramo­phones sur­vey of the discog­ra­phy of Elek­tra in 2013, the Dec­ca Elek­tra came in as the alter­na­tive choice” to the top choice,” Profil’s 2004 release of the opera con­duct­ed by Semy­on Bychkov.36 As more record­ings are cre­at­ed and released — many now record­ed and edit­ed from live per­for­mances — the cir­cu­la­tion con­tin­ues and the eval­u­a­tion will start once again. While this cir­cu­la­tion con­tin­ues in print, the dig­i­tal realm must also be exam­ined as a prime site of cir­cu­la­tion. Across the Inter­net, record­ings are streamed or down­loaded, bootlegs are furtive­ly exchanged, and fierce debate rages about the mer­its of an indi­vid­ual con­duc­tor, a per­former, a per­for­mance, and even the opera itself. With­in this cir­cu­la­tion, the eth­i­cal aspect of opera record­ing will con­tin­ue to finesse itself in the man­ner of the medi­um it envelopes: attempt, assem­ble, play­back, repeat. Of this point, John Cul­shaw would doubt­less approve.

The author grate­ful­ly acknowl­edges Louise Mein­t­jes, whose sem­i­nar at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in Fall 2015 ger­mi­nat­ed an ear­li­er ver­sion of this essay.


By Nicholas Clark

One of the projects under­tak­en by John Cul­shaw, fol­low­ing his move from Dec­ca Records to become Head of music pro­grammes at BBC Tele­vi­sion, was to pro­duce a semi-staged (if that is the cor­rect phrase) ver­sion of Win­ter­reise, record­ed in the Snape Malt­ings Con­cert Hall in Sep­tem­ber 1970. Ben­jamin Brit­ten accom­pa­nied tenor Peter Pears, who appeared in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry cos­tume and was filmed from a num­ber of van­tage points on stage. The pianist was con­cealed from view through­out – a deci­sion that arose alleged­ly from Britten’s insis­tence, but also from Culshaw’s belief that con­cen­tra­tion sole­ly on the singer would focus the viewer/listener’s aware­ness on the suf­fer­ing expe­ri­enced by Schubert’s for­lorn lover. Not hav­ing Brit­ten in shot was seen by many as some­thing of a risk, one that con­tin­ues to divide crit­i­cal opin­ion as to its success.

Cul­shaw, how­ev­er, was nev­er one to take a con­ven­tion­al stance, a point that is empha­sized in this thought-pro­vok­ing analy­sis of his 1967 Dec­ca record­ing of Strauss’s Elek­tra. This was Culshaw’s final project for the label and it saw him work­ing with a num­ber of leg­endary artists, with Georg Solti, con­duct­ing the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic, at the musi­cal helm. Ryan Pren­der­gast inves­ti­gates the back­ground and process of the record­ing, as well as some of its recep­tion his­to­ry. He broad­ens his focus by reflect­ing on the not incon­se­quen­tial respon­si­bil­i­ties encoun­tered by the per­former, the record­ing engi­neer, and those who decide about whether to make opera avail­able to the mass­es – all of which were of inter­est to Culshaw. 

Two of Culshaw’s key objec­tives for Elek­tra were: (1) to record the com­plete opera, includ­ing pre­vi­ous exci­sions; and (2) pay close atten­tion to the dra­mat­ic integri­ty of the piece. The fea­si­bil­i­ty of trans­lat­ing the opera from the the­atre, for which it was com­posed, to the record­ing stu­dio, was fer­vent­ly debat­ed between Cul­shaw and review­er Con­rad L. Osborne. Use­ful points were raised by both men, from obvi­ous­ly con­trast­ing per­spec­tives, but one is struck par­tic­u­lar­ly by Culshaw’s the­o­ries on the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing opera past and present in the best qual­i­ty for­mat, and mak­ing it uni­ver­sal­ly acces­si­ble. The argu­ment over whether the dra­ma of live pro­duc­tion either under­mines that of a record­ing, equals, or sur­pass­es it, is unlike­ly to be set­tled in the near future. From a his­tor­i­cal point of view, though, it is fas­ci­nat­ing to wit­ness such an ani­mat­ed and informed dis­cus­sion on the top­ic in the wake of the first full-length record­ing of Elek­tra. Culshaw’s record­ing, we are informed, was the alter­na­tive choice’ in Gramo­phones 2013 sur­vey of the discog­ra­phy of the 1909 opera. (The top choice’ was Pro­fil Medien’s 2004 release, con­duct­ed by Semy­on Bychkov.)

Cul­shaw was a com­mit­ted advo­cate for the pos­si­bil­i­ties afford­ed by pre­serv­ing opera in audio-visu­al for­mat, but nei­ther his meth­ods nor his ideas were read­i­ly accept­ed by every­one. A record­ing, Cul­shaw argued, placed the lis­ten­er where music belongs: in the mind and in the emo­tions and in the imag­i­na­tion’. This mode of think­ing con­nects the fore­sight and tech­ni­cal exper­tise of the record­ing engi­neer with the cre­ativ­i­ty and tal­ent of the com­pos­er and per­former. Pren­der­gast focus­es, in an essay rich with insights, on the con­text of this and oth­er state­ments made by Cul­shaw. He com­ments per­cep­tive­ly on how Culshaw’s some­times pre­scient remarks were viewed fifty years ago and notes their rel­e­vance to the labyrinthine avenues (increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly through the advent of the inter­net) of the record­ing indus­try of the ear­ly twen­ty-first century.


By Michele Spanghero


There is no such thing as truth” in audio record­ings. Micro­phones always lie. (Even the most advanced bin­au­r­al record­ings can­not prop­er­ly repro­duce the acoustic expe­ri­ence of the audience.)

Since there is no truth, the moral issue is inher­ent to the act of record­ing and, at the same time, unsolvable.

Record­ing is a process, and every process requires choic­es. It goes with­out say­ing that every choice has eth­i­cal consequences.

Lis­ten­ing is a cul­tur­al process. Lis­ten­ing to mechan­i­cal­ly repro­duced sounds is reg­u­lat­ed by tech­no­log­i­cal stan­dards that set new lis­ten­ing approaches.

Ethics is about right or wrong, and it includes rules and habits. Whether some­one fol­lows those habits and rules is an eth­i­cal deci­sion. Whether some­one or some­thing is right or wrong is a func­tion of moral judgment.


For many rea­sons, includ­ing eco­nom­ic ones, clas­si­cal music records pro­duc­ers typ­i­cal­ly pre­fer to repli­cate the feel­ing of a live the­ater per­for­mance. John Cul­shaw instead chose to use all of the pos­si­bil­i­ties that record­ing tech­nolo­gies offered to cre­ate new expe­ri­ences, and this evi­dent­ly shocked (and prob­a­bly still shocks) the melo­ma­ni­acs. Cul­shaw cre­at­ed some kind of what we may call sound design,” or maybe sound dra­matur­gy,” on his records (e.g., empha­siz­ing the pan­ning of the orches­tral sec­tions), but I believe that the aur­al results of his Dec­ca records are still astonishing.

Cul­shaw had fore­seen the impor­tance of the record­ing stu­dio in mod­ern music. Nowa­days, 90% of the music we lis­ten to is record­ed and pro­duced with over­dub­bing and oth­er edit­ing process­es. Today, the record­ing stu­dio is used as a tool by musi­cians — or, rather, as an instru­ment itself. Sound design now com­plete­ly invades our per­cep­tion of real­i­ty; there­fore, the issue of Cul­shaw’s record­ings seems to me almost rhetor­i­cal (but the world of opera is full of rhetoric and reac­tionar­ies). What I find attrac­tive is that Cul­shaw’s record­ings evoked a very cin­e­mat­ic effect in my mind, and it is inter­est­ing to note that Cul­shaw’s mas­ter­piece is the Wag­n­er col­lec­tion, con­sid­er­ing that Wag­n­er is arguably the most cin­e­mat­ic composer.

Cul­shaw did not fol­low the habits of pro­duc­tion for opera records. There­fore, some judged his work to be uneth­i­cal. But to stage an opera means to inter­pret its score, so any new pro­duc­tion, in any for­mat, is always a betray­al” of the com­poser’s orig­i­nal inten­tions. The orches­tra direc­tor is in charge of the musi­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of the score and is the main fig­ure respon­si­ble towards the com­pos­er, the musi­cians, and the audi­ence. Cul­shaw went beyond the con­ven­tion­al role of the pro­duc­er and made tech­ni­cal choic­es that had dras­tic artis­tic results, so he prob­a­bly stepped on the work of Solti and maybe Solti was the only one who would have had the right to com­plain about Cul­shaw. Did Solti ever com­plain about Cul­shaw’s work?


I have a small col­lec­tion of vinyl record­ings of operas, due to my moth­er’s pas­sion for melo­dra­ma. I remem­ber that I always had a weird feel­ing when hear­ing in those record­ings the singers’ steps on the wood­en stage or oth­er ambi­ent sounds. They remind­ed me of the pres­ence of the stage and of the set there­upon, which I could not ful­ly expe­ri­ence through the record­ing. I believe that those (acci­den­tal?) sounds may have two (of many) effects on the lis­ten­er: fas­ci­na­tion or frus­tra­tion. As the Ital­ian poet Leop­ar­di wrote, when a sense is hin­dered, imag­i­na­tion replaces it. In the case of record­ings, sound may stim­u­late a kind of vision.” This was prob­a­bly Cul­shaw’s inten­tion: to stim­u­late lis­ten­ers’ visu­al and spa­tial imag­i­na­tions by enhanc­ing the stereo­phon­ic effect on his recordings.

Anoth­er aur­al mem­o­ry from my vinyl col­lec­tion, which came to my mind sev­er­al times while read­ing Pren­der­gast’s essay: the amaz­ing per­for­mance of sopra­no Katia Ric­cia­rel­li in Verdi’s Requiem as con­duct­ed by Abba­do (DGG 1980). What made that record­ing unique is how Ric­cia­rel­li, at the end of her solo dur­ing Lib­era me,” made an unex­pect­ed lega­to with an extreme­ly dif­fi­cult phras­ing, includ­ing a pitch shift that was not actu­al­ly required by Verdi’s score. I remem­ber lis­ten­ing to a radio inter­view a few years ago in which Ric­cia­rel­li explained how she had to per­form that lega­to because she was over­dub­bing a pre­vi­ous record­ing that had been cor­rupt­ed by a tech­ni­cal defect, and she was alone in the record­ing stu­dio, with­out Abba­do con­duct­ing her. Know­ing that Abba­do was very strict about rhythm, and since she had no ref­er­ences, she decid­ed to make that haz­ardous lega­to to be a tem­po,” with­out breath­ing. She had been able to do such a long lega­to only because she was in a record­ing stu­dio, and she did it in apnea” (her words); on stage, this would have been almost impos­si­ble. This sto­ry remind­ed me that, some­times, stu­dio record­ings and over­dub­bing may give singers or oth­er musi­cians the pos­si­bil­i­ty to make mem­o­rable per­for­mances and bet­ter records.



At the time, Dec­ca released its albums in North Amer­i­can on the label of its sub­sidiary, Lon­don Records.


John Cul­shaw, The Stereo Approach to Opera,” Sat­ur­day Review (Jan­u­ary 16, 1960): 74. Cul­shaw, like many writ­ers on record­ing in this peri­od, always iden­ti­fied the home lis­ten­er as male.


Cul­shaw left Dec­ca in Octo­ber 1967 to become the Head of Music for BBC Television.


Released in Novem­ber 1967 on the Dec­ca label as a 1233rpm two-record set with matrix num­bers MET354-55 (mono) and SET354-55 (stereo). Released in Decem­ber 1967 on the Lon­don label as a 1233rpm two-record set with matrix num­bers A4269 (mono) and OSA1269 (stereo). First released on CD in Octo­ber 1986 with matrix num­ber 417 345.2DH as a two-disc set ADD. (Philip Stu­art, Dec­ca Clas­si­cal Discog­ra­phy, 2017, https://​elo​quence​clas​sics​.com/​d​i​s​c​o​g​r​a​p​hies/.) The record­ing has been sub­se­quent­ly remas­tered and rere­leased on CD and as a down­load from the Dec­ca Clas­sics web­site under matrix num­ber 475 8231 dor2 Dec­ca ADD and as part of two com­plete sets of Solti’s Strauss operas for Dec­ca, also avail­able as a CD release and download.


The major­i­ty of the work was record­ed in Vien­na at Decca’s prin­ci­pal venue in the city, the Sofien­säle in the Third Dis­tract. Ses­sions took place on June 14, Sep­tem­ber 11 – 17, Novem­ber 30, 1966, and Feb­ru­ary 22, June 7 – 9 (for effects) and 14 – 15, 1967. Stu­art, Dec­ca Clas­si­cal Discog­ra­phy.


In the notes below, I include only the prin­ci­ple cita­tion for these arti­cles, unless oth­er mate­ri­als are cit­ed amid the discussion.


John Cul­shaw, Three for the Road,” Gramo­phone (March 1968): 473 – 76.


Inge Borkh sang the title role on this record­ing, with the Dres­den Staatskapelle under con­duc­tor Karl Böhm.


John Cul­shaw, The Mel­low Knob, or the Rise of Records and the Decline of the Con­cert Hall as Fore­seen by Glenn Gould,” Records and Record­ing (Novem­ber 1966): 27.


Bir­git Nils­son, La Nils­son, trans. Doris Jung Pop­per (Boston, MA: North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007), 237.


In his lin­er notes for Salome, Cul­shaw does list cer­tain moments in the orches­tra­tion that are more audi­ble on the record­ing than in the­atri­cal performances.


John Cul­shaw, Song­sters in Motion,” High Fideli­ty (Novem­ber 1958): 136.


Cul­shaw, Three for the Road,” 474. The orches­tra com­prised sev­er­al prin­ci­pal play­ers from the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic who had not gone on tour, alter­nate play­ers, and instru­men­tal­ists from oth­er ensem­bles in Vien­na. Marie Col­lier, required for one cut, was lat­er dubbed in at one of Decca’s stu­dios in London.


Con­rad L. Osborne, Elek­tra: A Stage Work Vio­lat­ed? or a New Son­ic Mir­a­cle?,” High Fideli­ty (Feb­ru­ary 1968): 77 – 78.


Con­rad L. Osborne, The Com­ple­tion of London’s Ring — A Walküre to Ful­fill All Promise,” High Fideli­ty (Novem­ber 1966): 93 – 94, 158 – 59. Die Walküre was the final install­ment of the Dec­ca Ring, which was record­ed out of sequence.


John Cul­shaw, The Record Pro­duc­er Strikes Back,” High Fideli­ty (Octo­ber 1968): 68 – 71.


It should be not­ed, how­ev­er, that High Fideli­ty includ­ed reviews of live per­for­mances at this time, hav­ing recent­ly sub­sumed Musi­cal Amer­i­ca into its install­ments. Crit­ics like Osborne did dou­ble duty review­ing both live per­for­mances and recordings.


See John Cul­shaw, Our Search for Stage Atmos­phere,” Records and Record­ing (Decem­ber 1957): 27.


This state­ment is iron­ic since the stage of Son­ic­Stage” was con­ceived as a prosce­ni­um stage in all but name.


Con­rad L. Osborne, The Opera Review­er Strikes Again,” High Fideli­ty (April 1969): 20, 24 – 25.


John Cul­shaw, Putting the Record Straight (New York, NY: Viking, 1981). See his dis­cus­sion of tenor James McCrack­en (34052).


NBC was already a major pro­po­nent in the Unit­ed States in the late 1940s.


See the final chap­ter (“coda”) of John Cul­shaw, Ring Resound­ing (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1967).


Cul­shaw, Ring Resound­ing, 13.


Cir­cu­la­tion here is used in the sense of David Novak’s dis­cus­sion of the term: Cir­cu­la­tion is a nexus of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion that defines the things, places, and prac­tices with­in its loops.” See David Novak, Japanoise (Durham, NC: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013), 17 – 18.


Col­in Symes, Set­ting the Record Straight (Mid­dle­town, CT: Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004), 61.




Cul­shaw, Ring Resound­ing, 264.


Theodor W. Adorno, Opera and the Long-Play­ing Record,” trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Octo­ber 55 (1990): 64.


John Cul­shaw, Charles Reid, and Harold Rosen­thal, Kin­dling the Mag­ic Spark,” High Fideli­ty (Novem­ber 1962): 46. Tucker’s com­ment is ref­er­enced by the authors in this tran­scribed debate.


Harold C. Schon­berg, Pip­squeaks Sound Like Nils­son,” New York Times (Sep­tem­ber 221968).


John Cul­shaw, The Chal­lenge of Stereo Opera,” Records and Record­ing (Feb­ru­ary 1962): 15.


John Cul­shaw, What to Record and Who to Record It?” Records and Record­ing (March 1961): 47.


Cul­shaw, The Chal­lenge of Stereo Opera,” 15.


Cul­shaw, Putting the Record Straight, 281.


Richard Lawrence, An opera to die for,” Gramo­phone (Sep­tem­ber 2013): 104 – 106.


Ryan M. Pren­der­gast is a Ph.D. stu­dent in The­atre Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, work­ing under the direc­tion of Kather­ine Syer. Apart from the his­to­ry of opera record­ings, his research involves the his­to­ry of opera pro­duc­tion, with a spe­cif­ic focus on the works of Richard Strauss. Pren­der­gast com­plet­ed a B.A. in The­atre at Ball State Uni­ver­si­ty, with an empha­sis in direct­ing and stage man­age­ment, and an M.Mus. in Musi­col­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, writ­ing his the­sis on Strauss’s opera Frieden­stag. Email: rmprendergas@​gmail.​com

Nicholas Clark is Librar­i­an at the Brit­ten-Pears Foun­da­tion (Alde­burgh, Suf­folk, Eng­land). His research inter­ests include the his­to­ry of Brit­ten and Pears’s library and lit­er­ary influ­ences on Brit­ten’s music. Clark is co-edi­tor, with Vicky P. Stroe­her and Jude Brim­mer, of the book My Beloved Man: The Let­ters of Ben­jamin Brit­ten and Peter Pears (Boy­dell Press, 2016). Email: N.​Clark@​brittenpears.​org

Michele Spanghero is a sound and visu­al artist based in Mon­fal­cone, Italy. His work focus­es on the rela­tion­ship between space and per­cep­tion inves­ti­gat­ed through acoustic and visu­al arts. He has exhib­it­ed and per­formed works wide­ly at dis­tin­guished, inter­na­tion­al venues, includ­ing the Galerie Maz­zoli, Berlin; Loop Fair, Barcelona; the Darb 1718 Cen­ter, Cairo; Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, Istan­bul, and EXPO CHICA­GO 2016. His sound sculp­ture Lis­ten­ing Is Mak­ing Sense” (2012 – 2016) was recent­ly fea­tured in the 16th Quadri­en­nale di Roma, and his record­ing have been released on the labels head­phon­i­ca, Palo­mar Records, Gru­en­reko­rder and MiraLoop. Email: michele.​spanghero@​gmail.​com