In June 1897 Plamondon was in London and appeared with Melba at Windsor Hall and in various fashionable salons. In Paris he took more lessons from Engel and made his official debut 31 Dec 1897 at a concert at the Dominicans' Church in the Faubourg St-Honoré in which the baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure and the organist Charles-Marie Widor participated. Returning to London he sang at the Albert Hall 21 June 1898 with Melba, Clara Butt, and Pol Plançon. It was suggested that Plamondon accompany Melba to the USA, but he chose instead to sing supporting roles for the opera season in Vichy in 1899 and Cairo in 1900.
On his return to Paris, Plamondon worked again as a cellist at the Casino de Paris and was hired as the tenor soloist at St-Roch Church. In 1903 he married Marie Dufriche, a pianist who frequently played his accompaniments. They appeared together in recital at the Salle Pleyel 2 Feb 1904, and a favourable critical reception helped to further Plamondon's singing career. In Monte Carlo shortly afterwards he sang the leading roles in Gounod's Faust, Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust, and Boito's Mefistofele. In the summer of 1905 he achieved great success as Iopas in Berlioz' Les Troyens à Carthage before 12,000 people at the Théâtre antique in Orange. After singing in Rubinstein's The Demon in Monte Carlo (1906), Plamondon made his debut at the Paris Opera 6 May 1906 in the title role in La Damnation de Faust. There he later sang Hippolyte in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie (1908) and Castor in the same composer's Castor et Pollux. Except for the title role in the tenor version of Gluck's Orphée, which he later sang in Angers, and the role of Admète in Alceste, which he sang in Geneva, his operatic career seems to have ended before World War I.
Plamondon built an enviable reputation as a concert and oratorio soloist, eventually appearing with virtually every distinguished musical body in France and elsewhere in Europe. A list compiled by Gustave Comte (La Musique, 1920) revealed that he must have sung in La Damnation de Faust (in both its staged and its original concert form) 250 times, Franck's Les Béatitudes 70 times, Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ 150 times, Bach's two major Passions 50 times each, Beethoven's Missa solemnis 30 times, Bach's Mass in B Minor 30 times, and the Verdi Requiem 20 times. He also sang in such rarely performed works as Weber's Euryanthe (the role of Adolar in a concert performance under the direction of Vincent d'Indy; Plamondon was one of d'Indy's favourite singers), Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (premiered in France at the Trocadéro de Paris 1906), and Edgar Tinel's Franciscus (sung in Tournai, Belgium, in 1908 and at the Montreal Forum in 1926).
World War I obliged Plamondon to cancel numerous engagements in Germany and Austria. He took part in many patriotic demonstrations and in 1917 he toured the south of France with Saint-Saëns, singing the premiere of the song cycle La Cendre rouge, Opus 146 with the composer at the piano. In Poitiers he sang in Le Déluge under the direction of Saint-Saëns, who held the Canadian singer in high esteem and in fact dedicated to him his last work, the song 'À saint-Blaise' (Durand 1921). Plamondon sang it in Montreal 19 Oct 1924.
Visits and Return to Canada
Plamondon first returned to Canada in the summer of 1906 and gave a concert that fall at the Monument national in Montreal and another at the Auditorium de Québec. He did not visit Canada again until 1920, when he appeared at the Monument national with the pianist Jean Dansereau in a recital of songs by Beethoven, Berlioz, Debussy, Fauré, Franck, and Méhul. Frédéric Pelletier wrote of Plamondon on that occasion: 'His artistry does not make itself obvious; it exists, and the least knowledgeable listener comes under its influence without realizing it, attributing to the voice alone the emotions he feels, not suspecting that sung by other more beautiful voices these pieces would bore him' (Le Devoir, 21 Apr 1920). A banquet was given in the singer's honour a few days later (24 April) at the Viger Hotel.
In 1923 Plamondon returned to Paris, where he met the bass Ulysse Paquin; together they gave several recitals in Europe and in 1924 in Canada and New England. Another concert, in which Marie-Thérèse Paquin, Jean-Baptiste Dubois, and the Assn Chorale Brassard took part, drew a full house to the Monument national in 1926, and Plamondon received a resounding tribute from his countrymen, who awarded him $2000, raised by popular subscription. Drawn by a vague plan for a conservatory, he returned to Montreal for good in 1928. He sang in the premiere of Healey Willan's L'Ordre du Bon Temps, at the 1928 CPR Festival in Quebec City; he had taken part in the first festival the preceding year. In 1930 he and his son Lucien (a cellist) made a trans-Canada tour sponsored by the CPR. Plamondon established his own teaching studio in Montreal and also taught 1935-6 and 1939-40 at the École supérieure de musique d'Outremont (École Vincent-d'Indy). Among his pupils were Louise André, Germaine Bruyère, Reine Décarie, the tenors Richard Manning and Georges Toupin, and the CBC producer Claude Garneau.
Plamondon often sang music by Alfred La Liberté, Rodolphe Mathieu, and other Canadian composers. He premiered Mathieu's Harmonie du soir under the direction of Paul Paray in 1924 at the Concerts Lamoureux in Paris.
Plamondon's singing was described again by Pelletier after the 1926 recital at the Monument national: 'Here is artistry free of the ostentation so common among tenors concerned primarily with showing off their voices, using music only as a means to that end. With [Plamondon] it is exactly the opposite; the voice, warm and enveloping, is merely an instrument obedient to the spirit of the music, which he interprets with a devotion that is by turns serene and moving. Hearing him one has the impression that he is the priest of that cult of intangible beauty that is music' (Le Devoir, 19 Jan 1926).
In 1925 and 1926, near the end of his performing career, Plamondon made about a dozen records for Starr. Most of them featured French art songs (see Roll Back the Years). A reissued recording is on Great Voices of Canada/Les Grandes voix du Canada (Analekta AN2 7801-7803, 1993). Plamondon's name was given to a street in Chicoutimi and in 1911 to an avenue in Montreal.
Author James B. McPherson, Gilles Potvin, Annick Poussart
Comte, Gustave. 'Rodolphe Plamondon,' La Musique, vol 2, Aug-Oct 1920
Gour, Romain. 'Rodolphe Plamondon, ténor classique,' Qui?, vol 5, Jun 1954
Gooding, Wayne, 'Grand tradition: great musical figures of the past,' Opera Canada, winter 1995
Links to Other Sites
Listen to a recording of "Ave Maria" featuring tenor Rodolphe Plamondon and Rex Battle, piano. From the Virtual Gramophone website, Library and Archives Canada.
Canadian Singers in Europe
A brief history of Canadian singers who performed in Europe in the early 20th century. From "The Virtual Gramophone" website, Library and Archives Canada.
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