Plançon (first name Paul-Henri, Pol being a familiar version of Paul) was first taught by the tenor Gilbert Duprez, who had created the role of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835, and later studied with Giovanni Sbriglia, who also taught the brothers Édouard and Jean de Reszke, with whom he was to sing frequently. In an interview given in 1905 Plançon himself said he had modelled his singing on that of a Parisian idol of the 1860s and 1870s, the baritone Jean-Baptiste Fauré. He made his operatic stage debut in 1877 as St Bris / Les Huguenots at Lyons, remaining there for two years, after which he appeared in several French provincial theatres and made his Parisian debut in 1880 as Collona in Duprat’s opera Pétrarque at the Théâtre Gaîté-Lyrique.
At the Paris Opera Plançon’s first appearance was in 1883, when he sang Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust. During his ten years with the Opera, where his partners included the sopranos Emma Eames and Nellie Melba, he created the roles of Don Gormas in the first performance of Massenet’s Le Cid (1885) and of François I in Saint-Saëns’s Ascanio (1890).
From 1891 to 1904 Plançon was a welcome guest in London at the Royal Opera House. Here he made his debut as Méphistophélès and took part in several premieres of note: Isidore de Lara’s The Light of Asia (1892), Massenet’s La Navarraise (1894) and Stanford’s Much Ado About Nothing (1901), as well as the first local performances of Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys (1901) and Massenet’s Hérodiade (1904). Of the traditional repertoire he sang Rocco / Fidelio, Ramfis / Aida, Pogner / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Jupiter / Philémon et Baucis (Gounod).
Plançon first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1893 as Jupiter, going on to sing over six hundred performances in the seasons 1893–1897, 1898–1901 and 1903–1908, of which eighty-five were as Méphistophélès. Operas that were common to both Paris and later London and New York included Faust, La Favorite, Les Huguenots, Lohengrin and Roméo et Juliette. Later operas that Plançon added to his repertoire included La sonnambula and Norma (both ideally suited to his voice) and Die Zauberflöte; and in 1906 he sang Méphistophélès in the first American performance of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. His final appearance at the Met took place in 1908, when he sang Plunkett / Martha.
On his return to Paris, Plançon taught a number of select pupils, having retired from the stage with his voice in good shape, although the top was beginning to weaken. He had been with a group of singers from the Met who were caught up in the great earthquake of San Francisco in 1906, and survived shaken but unhurt; but died just as Europe entered the cataclysm of World War I.
For many Plançon’s singing represents the peak of the fabled ‘golden age’. His was a voice of great range, characteristed by its light tone and flawless trill. He was able to use it with great skill, whether singing with a pure legato or alternatively in rapid scales.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
|EAMES, Emma: Complete Victor Recordings 1905-1911
|PLANCON, Pol: Complete Victor Recordings 1903-1908
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