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I'm in a library so I can't listen to the clips, but speaking generally this is what I think: while I do believe you have to allow for both limitations in recorded sound and "the style of the times," as well as the possibility that some of these singers weren't totally comfortable in front of a microphone, I have sometimes had the same experience as you, DavidA -- with, for example, Aureliano Pertile. No matter how many times I listen I cannot hear why he was/is considered so great. So while I do love certain singers from about the same time (Ponselle, De Luca), and I can easily hear their greatness on recordings, in general I just prefer more modern artists.
I don't make any allowances Bellinilover. I just listen to what is on the record. I am an ignoramus on opera, and blown away by the knowledge of vocal technique displayed by Figleaf , Wooduck and others. I don't spend enough time on it to be an expert listener to opera, so I'm not sure if my opinion counts. Nevertheless, I have found that the early recordings, and more specifically acoustic recordings, have an immediacy, naturalism and poignancy that I don't get from the modern artists that dominate my collection.
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