1. “The texts are copyright and permission to reproduce them cannot be obtained or would be unsustainably costly.” This, I’m afraid, just won’t wash. If a writer is having his or her text provided as part of an issue promoting their works, it is surely inconceivable either that they would refuse permission or seek to charge excessively for the same.
2. “The costs of producing a booklet of the size required would be excessive.” Well, one can understand this in the context of a reissue of an existing performance, especially if the reissue is being made available at bargain price. But many of these reissues derive from recordings which did have full texts and translations in their original format, so at the very least one would expect the existing material to be made available to purchasers, if necessary online.
3. “The texts and translations are available online anyway.” This follows on from the previous rationale, and it is true that many companies do make texts (and sometimes translations) available in this manner – and Naxos, for example, manage to do this at budget price. This is especially important in the case of operatic works which fall outside the mainstream repertory. It is also true that there are sites on the internet which provide texts of operas which can be printed or downloaded. But, and most particularly in the case of full-priced issues, there seems to be no reason why purchasers of expensive sets should be required to do this.
4. “Most people just want to listen to the music, and don’t care about the dramatic context.” If this is true (which I doubt) I find it simply incomprehensible as an argument. If I am listening to any dramatic work, I want to know what is going on. If any listener is really not interested, one wonders what they are doing listening to operas (or operettas) in the first place. And no composer that I know of, no matter how light-hearted the music they are writing, has ever contended that the words are not important.
5. “There simply isn’t room for the material in a CD booklet, or the typeface would have to be unreasonably small.” Well, some companies seem to manage all right, and even small typefaces are better than nothing at all.
I am pleased to say that some companies seem to have taken some notice of my remarks or similar comments elsewhere, and Brilliant Classics in particular are now providing full texts on line. However Warner and Melodiya seem to be especially lax in this regard, and in four recent reviews of Melodiya reissues - Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko, Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar Saltan and even worse Sviridov's Pushkin Garland and Molchanov's The dawns here are quiet - the failure to provide even basic information militates against the intrinsic value of the reissued material. I have long recognised the value of the website giving song texts which has been referred to in earlier correspondence - the indefatigability of the research involved is truly astounding (extending to texts for my own music which is not even commercially available!) - but they cannot be expected to cover everything.
In the case of Melodiya, regardless of cost considerations, their standard of presentation (in the Molchanov opera in particular) must surely impact adversely upon their sales. The same could be said for Warner (as in my recent review of Schulze's Schwarze Peter, where we are given no information about the work whatsoever). The examples set by Naxos and Brilliant show what can be done, quite apart from the reissue policies of labels such as Nimbus, Hyperion and Chandos who make a point of giving us everything that was in the original booklets. (Apologies to anyone else I've failed to mention in this context.)
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