“That faint perfume of the salons” The Gramophone Company moves into Opera. 1902.

In the early days of their UK business (i.e. before 1900), Gaisberg and the Gramophone company made good headway in persuading music hall stars and comedians to record with the new Gramophone technology. They found it much more difficult to persuade the great Opera singers of the day to condescend to do so.

To try to alter this, Gaisberg recruited Landon Ronald, who had been Nellie Melba’s pianist and is seen above posing with her, to come on board as an A&R man to actively target the recruitment of Opera stars to the cause in 1900. Their breakthrough came a couple of years later with the huge success of the first Caruso recordings in 1902 which proved that the new medium sounded good but also, crucially, that it was a lucrative new source of revenues for the singers.

On May 30th 1902 Pol Plancon, who was a leading Opera star, arrived at Maiden Lane for a first recording session with Gaisberg in pursuit of the recording shilling. This photo is from the EMI Archives and shows Plancon in a publicity shot. Fred remembered him as “daintily booted and gloved like a Parisian dandy with that faint perfume of the salons about him” which certainly concurs with the picture. Plancon was not impressed by the dingy premises at Maiden Lane, literally turning his nose up at the place. It took some witty stories from Landon Ronald, who was there as accompanist, to relax Plancon sufficiently to deliver his contracted 10 sides of music.

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