The following year, Mapleson hatched the idea of putting the recorder in the prompter's box of the Met. His first effort recorded Nellie Melba singing a scrap of music during a performance of Massenet's Le Cid on January 16, 1901. He recorded several more times during performances, still utilising the prompter's box, but often with unsatisfactory results. After a short cessation and with the commencement of the 1901–1902 season, he resumed his recording activity from up in the flies of the Met. This time, he employed a huge recording horn that would be able to capture the sounds emanating from singers and orchestra stationed below. He was thus able to unobtrusively record bits of many stage performances from 1901 through 1903. The morning after his recording 'session', he would invite the artists involved to listen to playbacks of their performances. His recording activity continued until the end of the 1902–1903 season. At that point Mapleson either lost interest or was forbidden by the Met's management from continuing his recording activities (although a few cylinders exist of orchestral rehearsals or concerts dating from 1904).
The cylinders contain short fragments of actual operatic performances from the Italian, German and French repertoires. Despite their variable quality of sound (some are quite good while others are nearly inaudible), the cylinders have great historical value thanks to the unique aural picture they document of pre-World War I singers in performance at an opera house with a full orchestra. Other contemporary recordings only capture singers as recorded with piano or a tiny orchestra in a boxy commercial recording studio. The Mapleson cylinders also feature the only recordings known to exist of a number of famous singers and conductors who were never recorded commercially. They include legendary tenor Jean de Reszke, soprano Milka Ternina, and conductor Luigi Mancini.
Alerted to the cylinders' existence from an article in The New Yorker, William H. Seltsam, secretary (actually head) of the International Record Collectors' Club (IRCC), met with Mapleson a few months before his death on December 21, 1937. Mapleson offered two cylinders with the challenge to derive something from them. Seltsam's experiment met with success and after Mapleson's death, was able to borrow 120 cylinders from his estate for the purpose of releasing them on IRCC issues. Over the remainder of Seltsam's lifetime, the IRCC was able to issue about 60 sides on 78-rpm records and LPs.
After Mapleson's death, a number of cylinders were found in a junk store in Brooklyn, and were purchased by
Look for our cd of the remastered cylinders soon! A historical document well worth having!