I decided to transcribe Conrad L. Osborne’s memorable and very, very long stream-of-consciousness review "Diary of a Cavpag Madman," one of his last pieces for High Fidelity and certainly one of his most unusual. It's too long to post here, so I put it up on a makeshift webpage; click the following link to read it. Unfortunately the page is having some problems reproducing accent marks, quotation marks, and so on, for reasons I don't understand, but I'll try and fix it when I get a chance.
Click here to read DIARY OF A CAVPAG MADMAN by Conrad L. Osborne.
Part of the background to this review was that for a decade or more, opera recordings had been stripped of any connection to actual opera houses. Most operas were recorded in London, because it was cheaper to record there. And instead of real opera orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic or the La Scala orchestra, the companies turned first to symphony orchestras (London has more orchestras than any other city, so there was always one available) and then to ad hoc pickup groups. The recordings Osborne is reviewing here were made in London with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which did not actually exist -- it was a group formed from players from all the London orchestras, assembled purely for recordings. James Levine, who made a lot of these London-based opera recordings in the '70s, later recalled that he'd spend a large part of the session simply teaching the music to the players, because while the orchestras were excellent, many of the musicians hadn't played the music before and they certainly hadn't played it together. Add in the necessity to schedule the recordings around the busy schedules of relatively few singers (Pavarotti and Placido Domingo were on just about every Italian opera recording made in the '70s), and it's no wonder these recordings didn't sound anything like real performances; they weren't anything like real performances. Today, most opera recordings are made in conjunction with stage or concert performances, so while they have their own flaws, they do kind of sound like everybody has worked together before.