Ok, my mistake - I've violated internet posting commandment no. 1, "thou shalt never take for granted that your own knowledge is everybody's standard". But you, a57se, shouldn't violate that commandment either, nor should Pappano & Flórez.
One after another, first come, first served: a57se, what is vulgar about Caruso's singing? First of all, you may well have a different understanding from mine what vulgar singing is, but we're not talking about your understanding here, nor about mine. What I criticized about Caruso is that his singing was vulgar "for the standards of the period" - standards that you don't necessarily have to make your own, but you have to understand them if you want to understand operatic singing. Certainly, if you're firmly rooted in our brave new operatic world, and if thus your standard for vulgar singing is Massimo Giordano, you'll perceive Jonas Kaufmann as incredibly subtle and refined. But in the early 20th century, even a singer like Nellie Melba (whom I've briefly discussed on this thread) thought of Caruso as a coarse singer. (Note: a "refined" singer is not necessarily a good singer, cf. Melba, nor is a "vulgar" singer necessarily a bad singer - people like Corelli or del Monaco can be, in all their vulgarity, quite exciting at times, and you may even find that more appropriate than a Schipa-like approach for certain roles; but it's still vulgar, and for a listener from the early 20th century, it would be intolerably vulgar, and the excitement wouldn't count, or it would probably count as plain laughable.)
In medias res: I'll be fair with Caruso, too (also because, as I said earlier, he was by no means a bad singer, just his mythical status is undeserved), and choose only famous and successful examples among his recordings. One of his very best (and one that I really like) is "Apri la tua finestra", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jV9DJa9e_AM
, from 1902. He is in splendid, youthful voice, and there is nothing wrong with the recording. But now listen to Fernando de Lucia, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIJ09KTBZK8
. Since you, a57se, violated internet posting commandment no. 1 by stating that some of the singers discussed here were "not even famous", I shouldn't violate it again and presuppose that you know how famous Fernando de Lucia is, so here goes: de Lucia was one of the international top stars at the end of the 19th century. Most of his recordings were made at a time when he had essentially become a baritone, but instead of switching to baritone roles like Domingo e.g., de Lucia chose to retire from the operatic stage and to give only (infrequent) concerts where he would continue to sing tenor arias, but in baritone key. And so almost every of his recordings is much transposed because he didn't simply have a tenor top anymore. Which doesn't change in any way how incredibly much we can learn about style, musicality and vocal technique of the late 19th century from his recordings. And don't say "but that's not what Mascagni had in mind, he was a verismo composer". The opposite is true: de Lucia was the true verismo singer (for his contemporaries, his style was incredibly and sometimes shockingly modern), and Mascagni wrote the tenor role in Iris for him. Ok, and now go back to Caruso's recording. It's still beautiful, but he is lacking everything that a star tenor of the preceding generation was required to master: his messa di voce and his legato can in no way compare with de Lucia's, his musicality is not sufficient for inventing all those little ornaments that a relevant singer was expected to invent (listen what de Lucia does at 0:22), his attempts at piano singing (at 1:42 for instance) are actually quite nice, but what a difference to de Lucia's mastership! (from 0:40 to 0:48 for instance, or from 1:21 to 1:27), Caruso starts biting certain tones already at this young age (what he does on the word "sol" at 1:53 is actually less than beautiful), and he already starts pushing, as well (the long acuto that starts at 1:26 is unsteady, keeps sliding away, and the same problem recurs at 2:08). If we now take into consideration that Caruso was 29 but de Lucia was 59 when they made their respective recordings...
Second example (de Lucia, this time, in a far superior and actually perfect CD transfer, this is how he should really sound): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxJzarm6cjY
. It's just enough to listen to the first 50 seconds of de Lucia's recording, and to the respective part of Caruso's (2:17 to 2:48), and you'll understand what "vulgar" means. Caruso just sounds like a modern tenor (a good modern tenor, no doubt!), and that's exactly the problem: so many nuances, so many shades of vocal expression are lost in this gung-ho style of singing. If you now say "if already Caruso's voice production is gung-ho, then Jonas Kaufmann can't be called a singer at all", I'm certainly the last one to dissent.
And de Lucia is of course not the only one to prove my point. Here comes another Caruso classic, Cielo e mar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vip8-9Ufqo
; and here his contemporary (actually, three years his junior) Giuseppe Anselmi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Loxyeh97zg
. Let me just point out what Anselmi does at 3:26 - ever heard such a marvellous ornament from Caruso? Listen to Caruso from 1:49 to 2:12 - beautiful for somebody who grew up with Domingo and Pavarotti, no? But listen to the respective phrase in Anselmi's version, from 3:31 to 3:55 - another fantastic little ornamentation at 3:49, and the beautiful messa di voce at the end of the high b at 3:53... delicacies from a long, long by-gone era.
Ah yes, one more stunning de Lucia example, this time in a role that admittedly didn't suit Caruso perfectly: Rodolfo in Bohème. But he doesn't do much wrong for modern standards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FFRrfUUChY
. However, there is not one single note that can compare with de Lucia's absolutely stunning refinement, which is (as is often the case with de Lucia) only in completely wrong speed on Youtube, but you can hear it here: http://redmp3.cc/5481361/fernando-de-lu ... dolfo.html
Final example, another particularly famous Caruso recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Hn3JVAptKk
. The tone-biting here goes beyond my limit of tolerance; he even bites tones that are not at all exposed, like the poor, innocent "c'est" at 3:45, or the "li
vre" at 3:51. And now listen to Léonce-Antoine Escalaïs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkaQo9YgmdA
, and there you have a heroic tenor who is capable of combining vocal power and elegance. (Arguably, Escalaïs is cold and less human in comparison, but that's not the point here: I'm discussing coarse vs. smooth voice production, not vocal acting here.)
oddjobman, now for Pappano and Flórez. That experiment was of course completely nonsensical: (1) Cylinders were an extremely difficult recording medium; even at their time, few engineers were able of recording them properly. Very obviously, nobody can do that today - putting a modern recording engineer in front of a cylinder recording equipment is exactly like putting an 1897 recording engineer who has never seen a microphone in front of a digital stereo recording equipment. The result, in both cases, must be devastating. The last person who might (might!!) have been able to record a cylinder properly was the great German record collector (and retired recording engineer) Horst Wahl, who died several years ago. (2) Flórez is the last singer who should try such a recording. For an acoustical recording horn (even for records, all the more so for cylinders), you had to have a real voice; Flórez needs a microphone even in an opera theater (much easier to master for a singer than an acoustical recording!) if he wants to be heard in a role as "dramatic" as Duca di Mantova... with René Pape's large voice, the result would perhaps been different. (3) If early recording equipments were so terribly limited, then they should make those early singers sound worse
than they actually did. So why do they sound so much better than their modern successors?
Actually, hardly anything is as easy to prove as the faithful reproduction of the human voice even by very early recordings. Please listen again to Caruso's "Apri la tua finestra", see above; it's from 1902. Listen for example to this Caruso recording from 1918: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KweYyXb-8J8
- it's, though more mature and (naturally) aged, the same voice, right? So the recording process didn't change that much from 1902 to 1918. Now hear Beniamino Gigli in 1918 (another "Apri la tua finestra", for a maybe interesting comparison): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGUdxrjMtYg
; and a Gigli recording from 1928: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65w7iUIXT7A
- it's the same voice, just (slightly) more mature. So also the difference between acoustical (1918) and electrical (1928) recording process didn't change anything substantial, as far as the human voice is concerned (it's of course a very different story for the piano or the orchestra!). Parenthesis: one more direct comparison between 1902 and 1928 - same song, same singer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDMfkUEWPjM
(just in case anybody shouldn't know, Lucien Fugère was another REALLY famous singer, in fact a mito, but entirely a mito giusto). As everybody can easily recognize, it's the same voice in 1902 and 1928, just that it's obviously much older in 1928 (though aurally, you'd never guess just HOW old: Fugère was 80 by then!!).
So we've now established that from 1902 to 1928, the capturing of the human voice didn't change substantially. On we go, back to Gigli, forward to the early LP era, 1949: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i65gTptGig
. It's still the same voice, just that Gigli is now 59 while he was 28 and 38, respectively, in the two earlier recordings. At about the same time as this third Gigli recording, Nicolai Gedda made his first appearances in the recording studio; please go to 1:00:11 in this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxODr9VvXeo
complete recording. And here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWmqIR_dkko
, we have Gedda in the same aria, but in 1997. He is in rather terrible form (not surprisingly since he's already 72 and certainly no Fugère), but his voice is basically unchanged and immediately recognizable as the same voice of 1953.
Bottom line: no substantial changes in how recordings capture the human voice from 1902 to 1997 (and of course, to 2016, as well).