An Opera Collector And Changing Technologies

I bought my first record back in 1963. It was a recital with Franco Corelli. and it was an LP (33 rpm). I actually just missed the old 78rpm records. In school they had still played these. One had to change records all the time to listen to a symphony. So the new LP was great you only had to turn to the other side when listening to Beethoven 9th. And soon there came LPs with stereo sound !!

My first opera records I bought were the Karajan Tosca and Carmen both with Leontyne Price. More followed with some Verdi and Puccini with Renata Tebaldi and Mozart operas with Böhm.

The collecting fever had really hit me. Over the next ten to fifteen years my LP collection grew rapidly finally reaching over 5000 records. I even collected quadraphonic LPs for which I had to get special gear and additional loudspeakers. But four-channel LP was very short-lived.

I also had Compact Audio Cassettes in order to play opera in my car.

In the 1970s there appeared a new technology – VHS tape which could actually record television. How great now I could watch opera on my television. There came prerecorded opera on VHS which I started to collect too. And I recorded opera myself from broadcasts.
The VHS picture quality could be from acceptable to poor depending on source. Stereo was supported for sound but quality was very variable. One of the big drawbacks of VHS was that after watching one had to rewind back to start.  The good thing was that VHS capacity allowed one opera to fit on one tape (except some Wagner).

With the 1980s came the Compact Disc CD. Fantastic!! Designed to fit Beethoven 9th on one side – no turning! Small and best of all no crackling due to dust and dirt any more during your favorite aria. Well that is what I had to have. I did not buy any LPs any more – everything new had to be CD. Soon I was so convinced with the benefits of the CD that I made the big decision to replace all my LPs with CD instead. But first I had to sell my collection. That was not easy but finally I found a buyer who took it all for an acceptable price. With a tear in my eye I parted my collection and started to buy a lot of CDs. My CD collection grew to over 6000.

Early 1980s there was suddenly a Laser Disc for Video. It was huge – larger and heavier than an LP. It promised better video quality than VHS and no rewinding any more. You could actually jump directly to a chapter. Great I thought. There were quite many operas published on Laser Disc. One of my favourites was the Boulez Bayreuth Ring. So I ended up with almost 100 operas on LD.
There were some other futile technology attempts to improve video recording none of which took off. And I did not take any seriously either.

But evolution never stands still. Next came the Digital Video Disc DVD. Better quality than Laser Disc and handsomely small. And you could record yourself on it. And last not least it promised multi-channel sound!! Well this must be the ultimate solution I thought. First I converted all my VHS tapes and LD to DVD. Then I got rid of the old stuff. VHS I did throw away. LD I succeed to sell.

Now I started to collect opera videos in big style. I bought most published opera DVDs and I recorded broadcasts on DVD. The collection grew rapidly to several thousand opera recordings.

In the 1990s I suddenly became aware of a thing called the Internet. I was working in the computer industry all my life so I had to get into it too. By the way evolution of technology in the computer industry is an even more fascinating story than what I am telling here about audio and video technology.

A little bit later (2003) there came Blu-ray Disc BD. It offered great picture quality with high-resolution and much more – compared to DVD. But I had learned my lessons and I decided that as good as BD may be the future will belong to the digital recording in Internet and computers. Yes, I did buy some BD and I even can record them – but considering my history it was really peanuts.

Internet started with text and got into pictures soon. But in the beginning both transmission speeds and computers were far too slow to cope effectively with sound or even worse with video. But as usual things changed quickly. With MP3 there came compressed audio which reduced the burden on bandwidth. And computers got exponentially faster. Audio files started to spread throughout the Internet at the end of the century and a service called Napster became quite popular.

By that time my audio collection was so huge that I really did not need one additional version of everything any more. My CD purchases became lesser. I did not like to download illegally so I never used Napster or any comparable service. First with the launch of iTunes and Spotify  in the first decade I started to use these service.

First I burned a CD with the downloaded music. But I realized soon that that was unnecessary – I could store the music files (MP3) on my computer and play it from there on my Audio System. And I understood after some time that I could do the same with all my music which would be very convenient and take much less space. Now that required of course that I expanded my computer storage and had good backup facilities.

If I could do it with audio – why not with video. In the meantime there was great video compression technology (MP4) and very powerful home computers. And there appeared more and more videos on Internet which could be downloaded. There came YouTube which published many operas too.

After some deliberation, planning and getting more gear I started work: I ripped all my CDs and stored them on my computer(s). I am using iTunes for cataloging. I ripped all my DVDs and stored them on my NAS (Network Attached Storage) – all of this with complete backups. That is quite some work you can imagine. I can access my audio and video music from several computers as well as from several Network Players around my flat. It is extremely convenient.  Today I have several computers, over 100 TB of storage, a great home network and very fast Internet connection.

I still store all my files locally. I often hear that the future is to listen or view from the Internet directly on demand when needed. This is theoretically OK but today it is not practical yet. The reason is that opera videos in the Internet appear and disappear. There are so many different sources and video qualities. So it is very difficult to find the right thing even with Google. Everything is very messy today including YouTube. What is needed is an properly organized index which points you to the video source in an easy manner. A dream for the future…?? Opera on Video is a first attempt to provide you with a properly structured source for opera.

Quite a story!!  I have learned my lessons. Therefore I am sure things will change again.
But this time the next generation of collectors and opera fans will have to deal with it….



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