Subscription Services Offers Opera Lovers A Fantastic Way To Listen To Their Favorites, Past & PresentBy David Salazar
UPDATE: This review has been updated to include information about new features.
When thinking about how we consume music these days, it is hard to question the fact that we live in a “Spotify World.” The famed subscriber service has dominated the online community with its access to a wide range of music of all kinds and from all places.
But the reality is that nothing can be everything for everyone. For as rich a collection of classical music as the online service might have, Spotify is simply not that great for lovers of classical music.
Enter Primephonic, an online service that specializes in classical music. If you love your recordings of both modern giants and those of yesteryear, then there is simply no comparison.
Elegant Content Curation
In terms of aesthetics, Primephonic encapsulates the elegance and beauty of the musical sphere it is promoting. Everything is clean and organized with musical content organized by composer, or musician, instrument, nation, mood, or specific time periods or genres (film music, baroque, art song, choral, opera, etc.); as of this writing, there was even a shelf dedicated to the winners of the Opus Klassik award and Gramophone awards.
Personally, the most intriguing of these playlists has to be the “Musical Surprises” lists where you get a chance to listen to a composer from a unique perspective. Want to hear what Verdi composed besides operas? Then check out “Verdi Beyond Opera.” There’s a “Minor Key Mozart” playlist and even a “Lighter Side of Wagner” series that focuses more on his symphonic and instrumental output.
Artists and composers have their own pages, linked with albums or other artists that they often perform with. For example, a Verdi lover will be pleased to find the composer with his own page and then each of his works listed there with a number of recordings associated with it. For example, “La Traviata” is included in over 454 recordings with “Rigoletto,” “Aida, Il Trovatore,” “La Forza del Destino” following suit, all of them topping 300 associated recordings. Click on one of those operas and you will find the most popular recordings, but also have the option of viewing the content by alphabetical order (backward and forwards), newest recording, oldest, longest, and even shortest. In the case of “Traviata,” Alberto Erede’s Met Opera performance with Licia Albanese in 1956 clocks in as the longest. On the composer page, you will also get a chance to see the latest releases associated with the composer, related composers, and even a biography for context.
Of course, not all pages are created equal and not all composers or artists will get that complete a treatment; an artist like Michael Fabiano, for example, only has his album featured on his artist page without any associations to other tenors or artists he works with. Searches for legendary soprano Nellie Melba yields but one album, while the likes of Tito Schippa and even Rosa Ponselle yield none; they still have artist pages however that suggest that content is on the way. The library is still being built and it is likely that further enhancements will feature expansion of collections for such artists.
On an experiential level, this kind of curation gives you a sense of feeling closer to the artists and music you love.
Not only are there playlists curated by them, which provides a window into their musical tastes, but there are several artist podcasts in which they talk about their art or recordings. For example, Ian Bostridge is one of the foremost interpreters of Schubert’s “Winterreise” and his podcast is dedicated to his interpretation of the piece, complete with selections that he contextualizes and elaborates on. All of this enhances the user experience, allowing you to feel more involved in the musical journey they want to take you on.
For those newer to classical music, there is an entire podcast series dedicated to introducing the listener to its evolution of time. This series was created by the company’s Head of Curation, Guy Jones.
In taking the curation concept further, the company has also added a radio feature in which listeners can select a period of music, a style, or even a mood to get an endless playlist. For those seeking out a more structured, but less predictable listening experience, this is a welcome feature.
Also worthy of note is the addition of album booklets, a valuable feature often overlooked. Album booklets are usually great sources of contextualization for a particular album and the pieces included. In the case of opera lovers, having the booklet means having the libretto on hand, a major boost to any immersive listening experience.
Some Tech Specs
The sound quality is sharp whether you hear it on headphones, your car, on a top-end speaker, or even right off you mobile device or even laptop computer. This obviously depends on the capabilities of the device, but in my experience of trying similar tracks across differing devices and situations (headphones or no headphones, even) the quality was never lagged or sounded obtrusive. This was consistent across more recent recordings or even older mono live performances.
You can download entire albums for offline listening or create playlists from individual tracks and then download those playlists for offline listening as well.
Price point is also solid. The basic packages offer 320kbps MP3 streaming at $7.99 per month; this was the plan that I utilised in writing this review and it was a top-rate experience. For $14.99 a month, users get 24-bit lossless streaming. Those who want to give the free 14-day trial a chance will find no limitations like the ones that Spotify imposes on those using the free service.
Also – there were no ads to speak of at any point in the experience, a major plus for those who are tired of listening to Spotify’s off-putting ad choices.
Drawbacks are minimal, but for those that love to share what they are listening to on social media, options are limited. You can share albums or your individual playlists on social media, but you cannot share individual tracks; OperaWire was informed that this is an upcoming feature.
Ultimately, Primephonic offers opera and classical music lovers – a fantastic library of content put together in an elegant and intuitive package.