On 17 December 2013, Robert Gooch, the balance engineer of two of Maria Callas’s most famous recordings, Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Bellini’s Norma, visited Abbey Road Studios to listen with engineer Simon Gibson to the newly remastered tapes Simon has made for the new Maria Callas edition. Robert’s recollections of the original sessions and his reaction to Simon’s restoration of the recordings he had made over half a century earlier can be heard in the following revealing segments.
SIMON GIBSON I have our new remastering of the recording here
for you to listen to. We have gone back to the original master tape and we have paid attention to the job file and all instructions it contains. This is Callas singing the second part of the aria ‘Una voce poco fa’.
[They listen to ‘Una voce poco fa’]
ROBERT GOOCH It sounds terrific! I’m amazed, I’m absolutely
amazed. Is this my original tape?
GIBSON Yes, it’s the original edited stereo master from the February 1957 sessions.
GOOCH My goodness, we were bloody good then, weren’t we!
GIBSON Of course these monitors are a lot better than the ones you would have used.
GOOCH Oh sure, we had rubbish, we had some commercial
speakers. This sounds just amazing, it’s a revelation.
GIBSON There’s just a little bit of equalisation, but not much.
GOOCH There’s enough ambience there – that’s just right, isn’t it?
GIBSON You said before our conversation that there was a previous reissue where some artificial reverberation was added, and we haven’t done that. We have just used the original tape, and it’s interesting that you said the hall was damped somewhat, because you still have a lovely resonance there.
GOOCH Incidentally, in the first act, Count Almaviva sings a serenade to Rosina with guitar accompaniment. Well, the guitarist was a young Julian Bream. That was typical of Legge – nothing but the best!
GIBSON Was he credited on the recording?
GIBSON Now, let’s turn to Norma.
GOOCH When Callas arrived [for the sessions] she was in trouble
with some congestion in her throat and she said ‘don’t worry,
tomorrow will be OK’. She came in the following day and she was
fine. We covered a great deal of recording, and she said: ‘Do you
know what I have done? Yesterday I consumed a whole tumbler of
castor oil.’ We re-named her big aria ‘Castor Diva’ after that. I said to Legge ‘what must that have done to her stomach?’
‘Nonsense, my dear boy,’ he replied, ‘these Greeks drink so much oil with their food, to her it’s just a drop in the ocean’.
[They listen to ‘Casta Diva’]
GOOCH My goodness me, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
GIBSON Does it take you back?
GOOCH Oh dear… [almost in tears]
GIBSON Did you get a chance to listen to her in the hall before you recorded?
GOOCH Not in this case, because our control room was two floors
up from the hall. Normally with the orchestral recordings at Kingsway Hall I used to spend a lot of time during the rehearsals in the hall, listening. I just couldn’t do that in La Scala. But, that voice of Callas has such an effect on me, I’m just amazed at the sound here.
GIBSON We have gone back to the original tapes – sometimes in the past they didn’t go back to the original tapes and worked from existing remasters instead.
GOOCH Well, it’s remarkable. I’m absolutely knocked over. I was
practically in tears listening to ‘Casta Diva’.