In search of the "true" sound of an artist : a study of recordings by Maria Callas

Fuchs, Adriaan (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2006-04)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Modern digital signal processing, allowing a much greater degree of flexibility in audio processing and therefore greater potential for noise removal, pitch correction, filtering and editing, has allowed transfer and audio restoration engineers a diversity of ways in which to “improve” or “reinterpret” (in some cases even drastically altering) the original sound of recordings. This has lead to contrasting views regarding the role of the remastering engineer, the nature and purpose of audio restoration and the ethical implications of the restoration process. The influence of audio restoration on the recorded legacy of a performing artist is clearly illustrated in the case of Maria Callas (1923 - 1977), widely regarded not only as one of the most influential and prolific of opera singers, but also one of the greatest classical musicians of all time. EMI, for whom Callas recorded almost exclusively from 1953 - 1969, has reissued her recordings repeatedly, continually adapting their sound “to the perceived preferences of the record-buying public” (Seletsky 2000: 240). Their attempts at improving the sound of Callas’s recordings to meet with the sonic quality expected of modern recordings, as reissued in the latest releases that form part of EMI’s Callas Edition, Great Recordings of the Century (GROTC) and Historical Series, have resulted in often staggeringly different reinterpretations of the same audio material that bear no resemblance to previous CD or LP incarnations or “evince no consolidated conviction about exactly how Callas’s voice should sound.” In essence, some commentators argue that the “Callas sound” we hear on recent CD releases is not necessarily exactly as the great diva might have sounded. The purpose of this study is to consider the influence of audio restoration and remastering techniques on the recorded legacy of Callas, by illustrating the sometimes startlingly different ways in which her voice has been made to sound, examining and comparing the way in which different remasterings of the same audio material can vary in quality, as well as demonstrating how vastly different sonic reinterpretations of a single recording can affect our perception of an artist’s “true” sound. To this end, various reissues of six different complete opera recordings, including four studio recordings: Tosca (1953), Lucia di Lammermoor (1953), Norma (1954), Madama Butterfly (1955), as well as two “live” performances of Macbeth (1953) and La Traviata (1958), have been evaluated and compared, using the “true” sound of Callas’s voice as reference in comparing the different remasterings. Pitch and frequency spectrum analysis was used to confirm or support any subjective claims and observations and further analysis performed with the aid of a specialised Matlab algorithm.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Moderne digitale seinprossesering bied kragtige en veelsydige moontlikhede vir die verwerking van klankseine. Die groter potensiaal vir ruisverwydering, toonhoogte verstelling, filtrering en redigering van opnames bied klankingenieurs ‘n wye verskeidenheid van maniere om die oorspronklike klank van opnames te verbeter, te interpreteer en soms ingrypend te verander. Dit het aanleiding gegee tot teenstrydige en uiteenlopende menings oor die funksie van die klankrestourasie-ingenieur, die aard en doel van klankrestourasie en die etiese gevolge van die restourasieproses. Die invloed van klankrestourasie op die klanknalatenskap van ‘n uitvoerende kunstenaar kan duidelik bestudeer word in die geval van Maria Callas (1923 – 1977), algemeen aanvaar as een van die mees invloedryke en grootse klassieke musici van alle tye. Die platemaatskappy EMI, vir wie Callas feitlik uitsluitlik vanaf 1953 tot 1969 opgeneem het, het haar klankopnames reeds verskeie kere heruitgereik en die klank daarvan deurlopend aangepas om aanklank te vind by die “veronderstelde voorkeure van die publiek” (Seletsky 2000: 240). EMI se pogings om die klank van Callas se opnames te verbeter om aan die klankvereistes van moderne opnames te voldoen, het ontaard in dikwels aangrypend verskillende interpretasies van dieselfde audio materiaal wat geen ooreenkomste toon met vorige laserskyf of langspeelplaat uitgawes nie, asook “geen vasgestelde oortuigings openbaar oor hoe Callas se stem presies moet klink nie.” Sommige critici argumenteer dat die “Callas klank” wat ons op hedendaagse CD uitgawes hoor, nie noodwendig klink soos wat Callas werklik geklink het nie. Die doel van hierdie studie is om die invloed van klankrestourasie op die klanknalatenskap van Callas te bestudeer deur die verskillende wyses waarop die klank van haar stem aangepas is te illustreer, die verskille in klankkwaliteit tussen verskillende uitgawes van dieselfde materiaal te ondersoek en te vergelyk, asook te demonstreer hoe uiteenlopend verskillende interpretasies van ‘n enkele opname die persepsie van ‘n kunstenaar se “ware” klank kan affekteer. Vir hierdie doel is verkeie uitgawes van ses verskillende volledige opera opnames, insluitend vier studio opnames van onderskeidelik Tosca (1953), Lucia di Lammermoor (1953), Norma (1954) en Madama Butterfly (1955), asook twee “lewendige” opnames van Macbeth (1952) en La Traviata (1958) bestudeer deur Callas se “ware” klank as maatstaf te gebruik om die onderskeie opnames te vergelyk. Toonhoogte- en frekwensie spektrum analise, asook analise deur middel van ‘n gespesialiseerde Matlab algoritme, is deurlopend gebruik om enige subjektiewe gevolgtrekkings en waarnemings te staaf.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/17355
This item appears in the following collections: