Daring to make a live classical album
This week is pretty exciting for us: we're opening our first full-length album up for pre-orders, and ending the week with the premiere of the documentary film about The Cast! That's a lot of release in one week, but there's one thing I hope you notice: they're both "live" experiences. This is a pretty unusual thing in the classical music world.
Classical musicians obsess over details. It's a part of our job. When you're interpreting a piece that hundreds of people have done before you, the composer's original idea becomes really important. After all, you don't want to copy someone else's mistakes! So we get really focused on every tiny marking. We pay attention to every drop of ink on the composer's original manuscript, sometimes literally. For example, the composer Giuseppe Verdi is a problem because he used so much ink, he left behind a lot of weird smudges. Classical musicians tend to agonize about interpreting these marks just right.
Of course, in a live performance not everything goes precisely as planned. Some days your high notes just aren't as good. Maybe you run out of breath partway through a line, or forget to dot that rhythm quite like you usually do. Sometime at the end of the 20th Century, classical musicians started to use the benefits of studio recordings to fix this problem. Pavarotti would wake up at 6 in the morning to sing his low notes, and then come back to the studio in the evening for the high notes. We started literally cutting and pasting individual notes into every part, to make sure that our CD recordings were perfect interpretations of the score, showing the absolute best technique throughout.
I find those recordings pretty boring. They're useful study guides, but they don't feel real, the way older records or live performances do. Personally, I prefer the version of the Forza del Destino where famous baritone Robert Merrill makes up words in the middle. I love hearing legendary tenor Franco Corelli hold out his line "vittoria, vittoria!" for what feels like forever because he was feeling his oats that day. That's a part of the experience of live music, it's a part of what even Verdi expected from his score. I don't want to hear a robotic interpretation of a piece; I want to hear this particular group of performers, on this day. I want to hear the warts.
What's more, studio recordings leave out half the point of music: the audience. Go listen to that clip of Franco Corelli again. That high note wouldn't be the same without the audience roaring to its feet afterwards! Music is a shared experience between performer and audience. Taking the notes out and putting them into a dry studio space with no one to hear it, is kind of like writing the notes down on paper. It's a great document, but it's just not the same as the real thing.
The audience is a big part of a show with The Cast. Those of you who have seen us live will know that there's a lot of cheering, and even some singing along involved. We also like to talk to the audience, and make a lot of our musical decisions in the moment. When the mood is right, Kevin will hold out the high notes extra long, or Alison will stop a coloratura run to laugh along with the audience (like she does at the top of track 9). Brigitte will dance along with her Seguidilla. That stuff is a really important part of the experience of The Cast, and we didn't want to lose it by making a studio recording.
The other side of a live recording is that mistakes can happen. That's normal, and it's a part of the live experience, too. In the middle of Live from Paris I got totally lost in what Dimitri was playing, and missed a line in my aria. I shared a smile and a laugh with the audience at the obvious flub. That kind of connection, even in the mistakes, is what we try to emphasize in our shows. We definitely didn't want to lose that in a studio recording.
If you want to record the atmosphere of a show, if you want to keep the excitement of the audience and the intimate feeling of a performance, you have to make a live recording. That doesn't happen very often anymore in the classical industry. So we're bucking the trend, and daring to release a live album - warts and all. You can hear us get excited and improvise, you can hear us make mistakes. But most important, you can hear the audience loving every minute.
If you like real, live music, then check out the preview tracks! You can pre-order the whole album now, and be the first to get the full thing at the end of the month.