Want Wagner’s complete operas on one small CD-ROM for $10? Yes, that’s right, more than 40 hours of hard-to-find live performances, featuring singers and conductors you won’t hear anywhere else. But wait, there’s more. Another disc, for the same low price, offers all of Strauss’s operas. Then there’s an anthology of French opera, mostly rarities recorded between the early forties and the seventies, starring native artists still in touch with a fading vocal tradition. Callas widows, rejoice—there’s a disc that holds all 46 hours of Maria Callas’s 1971–72 master classes at Juilliard. There are collections of golden-age voices from the Bolshoi; of British singers born before 1900; and more, much more.
I’ve been addicted to Mike Richter’s CD-ROMs for years, and the time seems right to pass the word on. Each disc, playable on a PC or Mac, is assembled by Richter, a retired engineer in California whose knowledge of opera and singers rivals his technology expertise. These little discs constitute “The Audio Encyclopedia,” a modest title considering the riches they offer and how thoroughly they provide access to the history of recorded singing. The audio is compressed, but it’s tolerable through desktop speakers and better on earphones. It’s not a profit-making enterprise; the $10-per-disc price allows Richter to just clear his costs and postage. To read about “The Audio Encyclopedia” and order discs, visit his Website at mrichter.com.