Sure to be on many music fans’ Top Five list for remastering to 5.1, Queen’s classic album, A Night at the Opera, is scheduled to be in stores in April. The DVD-Audio package will feature not only the requisite 96/24 MLP tracks, but also a 5.1 96/24 DTS version in the video zone for backward compatibility and a 96/24 stereo track, remastered from the original.
“This album has been on my list since I started with DTS,” enthuses Rory Kaplan, executive producer/artists relations at DTS Entertainment. “We’ve all talked about records we’d like to experience in 5.1 surround. You hear the songs in your head and how incredible they would sound.” But remixing a classic like A Night at the Opera does not happen overnight. “I’ve nurtured this one for the last five years,” reports Kaplan. He recollects that, several years ago, Reinhold Mack, who produced a number of Queen and Freddie Mercury projects during the 80s, put him in touch with Queen’s manager, Jim Beach. “But they had planned to release Freddie Mercury’s solo projects first.” Then, finally, Beach phoned to say that the project would go forward.
Understandably reticent to let the original tapes out of his sight, Queen’s librarian, Justin Shirley Smith, oversaw their transfer at Abbey Road Studios in London. The 24-track tapes were transferred into Steinberg Nuendo at 96/24 with the assistance of Steinberg’s Rob Hill and Sam Wetmore and Paul Wiffen from Swissonic, plus Brian May’s engineer and studio staff.
Not surprisingly, the tapes, over 25-years-old, began to shed oxide almost immediately. The team took a break while the tapes were baked, returning several days later for a trouble-free transfer. The hard drives were then shipped to Glen Frey’s Doghouse Studios in Santa Monica where engineer Elliot Scheiner and the album’s original producer, Roy Thomas Baker, set to work on the 5.1 remixes. As some readers may be aware, DVD-A copies of the album first made an appearance at the AES Convention late last year. Kaplan explains that May had unfortunately been unavailable during the initial mixes at Doghouse due to previous commitments in Europe. A change in distribution channels opened a window of opportunity. “Our distribution went bankrupt about the time we were thinking of releasing [the DVD], so we reorganized our distribution and it bought us a few months,” explains
Kaplan. “As soon as Brian May finished his obligations with the planetarium in Munich and work on his play in London he joined us at Capitol Studios to finish the album.”
He continues, “One thing I love about DTS is that they have such integrity. We’ve always been really artist-oriented. They let me keep the integrity with no shortcuts: we work with the artists, we get the best engineers, the original guys if possible, and, if not, the ones that the artists approve.”
That integrity extends to the album package, which was overseen by Beach and May with Jeff Levison in the DTS authoring department. “Brian sent us all the original photographs and even some additional stills. The original 1975 “Bohemian Rhapsody” video release is on there as well, in sync with the 5.1 mix, and there are lyrics with every song.”
For Scheiner, the project started with “being thrilled at being – asked if I wanted to mix the project, and then getting the call from Roy. There was a lot of dialog between me and Rory and Roy. It took what seemed to be years – Rory first asked me a year and a half ago. It took forever to get the formal approval and licensing and so on.”
Scheiner was pleased with the choice of Doghouse Studios. “I like working there. I did Hotel California there, and it turned out really good. I thought, Gee, this is similar in that it’s one 24-track.’ Glen has a 48-input console, which in the end turned out not to be enough for the 24-track tape.”
He elaborates, “These guys were so crafty when they recorded [the album], they utilized every bit of space on the tape. There’s so much track-sharing going on that, by the time you’d got everything split off where you needed different EQ, different reverbs, different panning, it was 96 channels in some cases.”
He adds, “For a 24-track tape, that’s saying a lot. It says these guys were not only able to record all this information, but mix it without the benefit of automation.” His hat is off to the band’s legendary producer, he says: “Roy Thomas Baker is brilliant; just amazing.”
The idea was to remain as true to the original recording as possible in terms of equipment, says Scheiner. “Some effects were printed, but most of them have been re-created. We’re using an analog delay machine, which is what they used, and we’re using