The Mapleson Cylinders are a group of more than 100 phonograph cylinders recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera, primarily in the years 1901-1903, by Lionel Mapleson. They contain short fragments of actual operatic performances and are historically important because of the aural picture they present of pre-World War I singers performing in a real opera house with a real orchestra, rather than with a piano accompaniment in a boxy room at a commercial recording studio. They also feature many famous singers and conductors who never recorded commercially. On March 17, 1900, Lionel Mapleson (the librarian of the Metropolian Opera) purchased an Edison Home Phonograph. Mapleson was apparently enchanted with the acoustic device, and on March 21, 1900, his friend the cellist and occasional composer Leo Stern presented him with a new machine: a Bettini cylinder recorder and reproducer. By the end of the month, Mapleson had persuaded the soprano Marcella Sembrich to record her vocalization of Johann Strauss's "Frühlingsstimmen" into it. The following year, Mapleson came up with the idea of putting the recorder in the prompter's box of the Met. His first effort recorded Nellie Melba during Massenet's Le Cid on January 16, 1901. He recorded several more times from the prompter's box, although often with mediocre results. After a short cessation and with the beginning of the 1901-1902 season he resumed his recording activity from the flies of the Metropolitan Opera House, this time with a huge recording horn that would be able to capture the sounds emanating from singers and orchestra below. It was with this arrangement that enabled Mapleson to unobtrusively record many performances and artists from 1901 through 1903. The morning after his recording, he would invite the artists 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 terminated by management from recording activity (although a few cylinders exist of orchestral rehearsals or concerts from 1904). 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. 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 various collectors.
With the co-operation of collectors, by 1962 eventually all existing Mapleson Cylinders had wound up in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, a division of The New York Public Library. In 1985, under the direction of David Hall, the library transferred all the existing cylinders to six LPs which were released with a 72-page booklet containing translations and extensive historical and biographical notes. In 2000, David Hamilton and Seth Winner gave a lecture-demonstration to determine if any more sound information could be retrieved from the cylinders using the most modern technology then available. Their verdict was that the cylinders are now too deteriorated to retrieve much more information than previous dubbings.
Singers included on existing Mapleson Cylinders are: Suzanne Adams, Albert Alvarez, Georg Anthes, Jacques Bars, Mathilde Bauermeister, Bernard Bégué, David Bispham, Robert Blass, Lucienne Bréval, Carrie Bridewell, Alois Burgstaller, Emma Calvé, Giuseppe Campanari, Carlo Dani, Emilio de Marchi, Edouard de Reszke, Jean de Reszke, Andreas Dippel, Emma Eames, Johanna Gadski, Emil Gerhäuser, Charles Gilibert, Louise Homer, Marcel Journet, Marguerite Marilly, Aristide Masiero, Marie Maurer, Nellie Melba, Adolph Mühlmann, Lillian Nordica, Pol Plançon, Albert Reiss, Luise Reuss-Belce, Albert Saléza, Thomas Salignac, Fritzi Scheff, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Antonio Scotti, Marcella Sembrich, Camille Seygard, Eugene Sizès, Milka Ternina, Marie Van Cauteren, Anton van Rooy, Roberto Vanni, Lodovico Viviani, Alexander Von Bandrowski, and Adolph Von Hübbenet. Conductors included on existing Mapleson Cylinders are: Walter Damrosch, Phillippe Flon, Nahan Franko, Alfred Hertz, Luigi Mancinelli, Felix Mottl, Armando Seppilli, and Artur Vigna.
Donizetti- La Fille du Régiment - Rataplan (Act 2) and Duet (Act 1) Marcella Sembrich, soprano; Marie van Cauteren, soprano; Thomas Salignac, tenor; Charles Gilibert, baritone. Philippe Flon, conductor 30/1/1903
Verdi- La Traviata - Sempre libera Marcella Sembrich, soprano; Carlo Dani, tenor. Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 27/2/1903
Leoncavallo- Pagliacci - Opening Act 2 Antonio Scotti, baritone. Philippe Flon, conductor 30/1/1903
Meyerbeer- Les Huguenots - Duet Act 3 (four fragments) Johanna Gadski, soprano; Edouard de Reszke, bass. Philippe Flon, conductor 24/1/1903
Wagner- Tristan und Isolde - Love Duet Act 2 (two fragments) Lillian Nordica, soprano; Georg Anthes, tenor; Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto. Alfred Hertz, conductor 9/2/1903
Wagner- Lohengrin - Mein Held, in dem muss vergeh'n (Act 2) Johanna Gadski; soprano; Georg Anthes, tenor. Alfred Hertz, conductor 7/2/1903
Wagner- Die Walküre - Herrlichste Maid! (Act 3) Lillian Nordica, soprano; Johanna Gadski, soprano; David Bispham, baritone; Marguerite Marilly, soprano; Camille Seygard, soprano; Marie van Cauteren, soprano; Mathilde Bauermeister, contralto; Carrie Bridewell, contralto; Louise Homer, contralto; Marie Maurer, contralto; Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto. Alfred Hertz, conductor 21/2/1903
Wagner- Siegfried - Ho-ho! Ho-hei! (Act 1) Andreas Dippel, tenor; Albert Reiss, tenor. Walter Damrosch, conductor 4/3/1902 (Sleeve notes attribute to Jean de Reszke, and Alfred von Hübbenet, 19th March 1901, conducted by Walter Damrosch)
Wagner - Siegfried - O Siegfried (Act 3) Lillian Nordica, soprano; Georg Anthes, tenor. Alfred Hertz, conductor 19/1/1903
Gounod- Faust - Air des bijoux Emma Calvé, soprano. Armando Seppilli, conductor 15/2/1902
Gounod - Faust - Trio de duel Albert Alvarez, tenor; Mathilde Bauermeister, contralto; Giuseppe Campanari, baritone; Edouard de Reszke, bass. Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 18/2/1903
Gounod- Faust - Final trio Dame Nellie Melba, soprano; Albert Saléza, tenor; Edouard de Reszke, bass. Luigi Mancinelli, conductor 4/3/1901
Verdi- La Traviata - Un dì felice, eterea Dame Nellie Melba, soprano; Andreas Dippel, tenor; Aristide Masiero, tenor. Philippe Flon, conductor 16/3/1901
Meyerbeer- L'Africaine - Duet, Act 4 (Three fragments) Lucienne Bréval, soprano; Jean de Reszke, tenor. Philippe Flon, conductor 15/3/1901
Meyerbeer - Les Huguenots - A ce mot tout s'anime Suzanne Adams, soprano; Louise Homer, contralto. Philippe Flon, conductor 1/3/1902 (Credited on record sleeve as Melba, 11th March 1901, conducted by Flon)