Emma Eames and Pol Plançon
1. Plançon - Robert le diable, Meyerbeer, Nonnes, qui reposez [4.00]
2. Plançon - L'Étoile du Nord, Meyerbeer, Ô jours heureux de joie et de misère [3.46]
3. Plançon - Le Pardon de Ploërmel, Meyerbeer, En chasse [3.05]
4. Eames - Carmen, Bizet, Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante [4.18]
5. Eames - Faust, Gounod, Ah! je ris de me voir si belle (Jewel Song) [3.14]
6. Plançon - Faust, Gounod, Vous qui faîtes l'endormie (Mephistopheles' Serenade) [3.16]
7. Plançon - Roméo et Juliette, Gounod, Allons! jeunes gens [2.19]
8. Eames - Roméo et Juliette, Gounod, Je veux vivre dans ce rêve (Waltz Song) [3.25]
9. Plançon - La damnation de Faust, Berlioz, Voici des roses [3.05]
10. Plançon - La damnation de Faust, Berlioz, Devant la maison [2.02]
11. Plançon - Le Caïd, Thomas, Enfant chéri ... Le Tambour-Major [4.17]
12. Eames, Emilio de Gogorza - Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Crudel, perche finora [3.01]
13. Eames, Marcella Sembrich - Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Sull' aria ... Che soave zeffiretto [3.20]
14. Eames, Emilio de Gogorza - Don Giovanni, Mozart, La ci darem la mano [3.22]
15. Eames, Emilio de Gogorza - Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bei Mànnern [Sung in Italian] [3.40]
16. Plançon - Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, O Isis und Osiris [Sung in Italian] [3.45]
17. Plançon - Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, In diesen heil'gen Hallen [Sung in Italian] [2.55]
18. Eames, Louise Homer - Lohengrin, Wagner, Du Àrmste kannst wohl nie ermessen [3.55]
19. Eames - Schubert, Gretchen am Spinnrade [4.02]
20. Plançon - Stabat mater, Rossini, Pro peccatis [2.54]
21. Plançon - La sonnambula, Bellini, Il mulino, il fonte ... Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni [3.29]
Although Caruso was already a star by the time the first recordings here were made, they are redolent of an earlier epoch. They capture a Golden Age of elegance and refinement in singing of the kind typified by Jean de Reszke and here exemplified by five stars of the first decade of the 20th century. The two great artists most prominently featured are bass Pol Plançon, born only a year after de Reszke, and soprano Emma Eames, born fifteen years later; both enjoyed quite long careers but their glory years were in the 1900s. Eames is variously partnered by three other renowned singers: Marcella Sembrich, in perhaps the most famous recording in this compilation, their 1908 “Letter Duet” from “Le nozze di Figaro”; contralto Louise Homer in a duet from “Lohengrin”, and Eames’ husband, baritone Emilio de Gogorza, in three Mozart duets.
The impression of suavity is reinforced by the fact that there is no Verdi or verismo amongst the music sung here: bel canto rules, with the emphasis upon Gallic and Mozartean restraint. Plançon was celebrated for the fastidiousness of his person and his technique; his bass was not particularly voluminous but it was exceptionally smooth and sonorous, with an exquisite trill, perfect legato and the agility of a cello. Eames’s soprano was pure and cool – hence the famous critical jibe after her first Aida at the Met, “there was skating on the Nile last night”. At times her voice, as recorded, takes on a weirdly disembodied, piping quality. Yet like Melba, she was feted for a beauty of sound that matched her person (unlike Melba), so perhaps the primitive acoustic recording process is more to blame for that whistling sound. Her intonation is impeccable and her coloratura facility, including an almost mechanically precise trill, lends her singing more than a touch of the automaton Olympia.
Some modern listeners might also feel that such voices are rather wasted on Meyerbeer’s ditties and Gounod’s faded sentimentality, but the vocalisation is marvellous. Not everything is by any means marmoreal or static; Plançon displays an appealing sense of fun in his percussive interjections of “Hah!” at the end of Mephistopheles’ serenade in the Berlioz excerpt. His delivery of the “Tambour major” aria from the lost opera “Le Caïd” by Thomas is witty and delicate. The instrumental precision and clarity of Eames’ soprano in Mozart is matched and perfectly blended with Sembrich’s similarly pure tones, while her duets with de Gogorza are charming. My personal favourite item here, the “Letter duet” apart, is the excerpt from “Lohengrin” featuring Homer’s rich contralto, so tellingly contrasted with Eames’ virginal naivety. I also love the Old World gracefulness of the last Bellini aria, so nobly sung by Plançon.
The recordings are inevitably a little trying for all that Nimbus has worked its usual magic, adding a little resonance and removing distortion. That said, at times there is so much surface noise it sounds like gravel being spin-dried. Fans of the Nimbus process and canary-fanciers won’t be deterred.
John Steane’s otherwise excellent note wrongly states Plançon’s date of birth to be 1854; it is correctly given as 1851 on the reverse of the CD case.