Monday, 17 October 2011

Oodles of opera: a sound donation

Last March, a donation of over a thousand CDs was delivered to the Music Faculty Library by Professor Michael Burden. This collection, of epic proportions, belonged to the late Robert Oresko (1947-2010), who worked in publishing, owning his own press, before becoming a full-time private scholar of Italian history.

Donations can be a great way for libraries to develop their collections; however, there are certain restrictions on what can be accepted. Practical considerations, such as staff having time to deal with the material, and space (or lack of it!) also exert an influence over what we can keep.

Mostly comprising opera recordings by composers ranging from Handel to Berg, many of them of live performances from the mid 20th century, this particular donation’s historical and research value was identified straight away. We decided that we would keep as much of it as possible, by keeping some material on open shelves and putting the remainder into storage.

How, though, were we to decide what warranted display in the library, and what should be relegated to the store cupboard?

To answer this, we decided to inventory the collection as quickly as possible, using an Access database to record key details, such as title, composer, conductor and principal performers. We could then extract the results and send them to people with specialist knowledge who would be able to use this information to distinguish the most significant recordings from the more peripheral ones.

In making the database, it was very interesting to observe themes and patterns in the recordings, perhaps telling us something about what motivated Oresko as a collector. Clearly a fan of live recordings, his favourites were clear; for instance, the collection contains no less than 17 different recordings of Wagner’s Die Walkure, but only three of Siegfried. Verdi and Wagner topped the list in terms of composers, whilst Karl Böhm and Joseph Keilberth were the most recurring conductors.

We are grateful to Dr Roger Allen, who advised us on the merits of the Wagner and Strauss performances, and Dr Emanuele Senici, from La Sapienza in Rome, who selected the key recordings of Mozart’s operas, and those of the Italian composers. The remainder of the material comprised mainly single recordings of other operas, many of which did not already feature on our shelves; Umberto Giordano and Alberto Catalani are examples of composers who now feature thanks to the Oresko donation.

In total, we identified 429 recordings to keep on open shelves, a massive boost to our existing collection of opera discs. Most of these are now on display in the listening room, so can be browsed and borrowed as normal. They’re not catalogued on SOLO yet, though, but if you want to search the collection away from the library, you can consult a spreadsheet on the faculty library website, here. The 516 recordings we’ve kept in reserve are on here too, and these can also be retrieved and loaned out if you can’t find what you need on the shelves.

Happy listening - we hope you enjoy the collection as much as we have!


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