If you haven’t listened to opera on 1.FM, I’d recommend that you do. The easiest way to listen to the internet station is to use the iTunes software which is free and easy to use. The station has more channels than a millipede has legs, but one of them plays opera 24 hours a day. Otto Klesz has put 500 of them on the station. Inevitably some of the tracks are not in the right order, but he responds promptly to emails calling his attention to error. He also manages the station’s classical music and baroque channels. He’s an internet Prometheus.

So while I’m trying to work out the effect of intracellular acidosis on myocardial mitochondria I turned on Otto’s opera channel. Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri has just started. Since this opera is worth more than four Ring Cycles combined, I listened. The program bar at the top of iTunes told me that the Isabella was Giulietta Simionato and that the conductor was Carlo Maria Giulini. I recognized Cesare Valletti. I couldn’t identify the rest of the cast. As the first act progressed mitochondrial metabolism drifted away – the performance was so spirited. Giulini had a great cast, but his conducting was as fresh and youthful as the 20 year old composer who wrote the piece. Only Rossini wrote great operas (note the plural) under the age of 25. Not even Mozart could do it. Verdi of course was like a great Madeira, continually getting better with age.

The performance was too good to resist, and even though I have multiple recordings of the opera I decided to buy it. Obviously, the performance was recorded in the 50s; rather than going to Amazon.com or a similar vendor I went to Classical Music Mobile. They had it.

Giulietta Simionato (Isabella), Mario Petri (Mustafa), Graziella Sciutti (Elvira), Mafalda Masini (Zulma), Enrico Campi (Haly), Cesare Valletti (Lindoro), Marcello Cortis (Taddeo)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Carlo Maria Giulini (conductor)
Recorded in 1954

Classical Music Mobile (based in Paris) sells classical music and opera MP3s for one euro an album. A twenty minute suite or a three hour opera – no difference. One euro. Also, no digital rights management. What’s the catch? All the recordings are more than 50 years old and thus in the public domain. CMM is now up to the early stereo era. The MP3s are encoded at 192 kps and sound about as good as 50 year old recordings can – which is quite good. They have a substantial number of operas available and add new material each month.

Listen to the great first act finale of L’Italiana. This is to opera what the Marx Brothers are to movies. Act 1 finale L’Italiana in Algeri

The lesson is that DRM is not needed if the price is right. Instead of suing their customers the big record companies should offer downloads at a much lower price than is currently charged. They never should have let Apple steal the business from them. If you belong to BMG’s club you can get a CD for about $3. Download it and it’ll cost $10-$15. What kind of screwed up business model is this? The CD comes in a jewel box and has liner notes. The download costs almost nothing to deliver, has poorer sound, and costs more. The record companies will never stop piracy with DRM. All the moralizing in the world will not change human nature. If EMI et al want to get people to buy their products over the Internet they’ll have to reduce prices. It may already be too late. There is so much free music available that they may have irretrievably lost their market.

Back to Giulini’s L’Italiana. Simionato’s singing is matchless save for Marilyn Horne’s impersonation. Simionato had a lush voice that handles Rossini’s ornamentation with ease and verve – a great performance. Almost 98 she probably can still sing the role better than most active mezzos. Valletti has everything the role requires. He was the ideal Rossini tenor and was just as good in person at the Met as he is on this recording. He had the same type of voice that Juan Diego Florez now offers with a little less vocal pressure and a little more elegance. Why Rudolf Bing let him go from the Met at the height of his vocal powers remains as mysterious as virtue. The rest of the cast bounces around with all the vigor and pep that Rossini’s wonderful score demands. Giulini’s conducting is a revelation. It’s only one euro. What are you waiting for?