The Art of the Coloratura
Pons undoubtedly possessed one of the most staggering techniques of any soprano leggiero this century and that includes the legendary greats of the so-called Golden Age. In her prime at least, nothing daunted her—as can be judged here when she increases the difficulties in the score by including her own cadenzas or flights of fancy. Add the fact that her tone is fuller than that of many of her kind, and it is not hard to realize why she was feted first in her native France, then in her adopted United States where she joined the Metropolitan and performed almost 300 times from her debut in 1931 as Lucia (no fewer than 63 performances in the house, 30 more on tour) until 1940.
This disc boxes the compass of her career, though not in chronological order, from her superb Bell song (Lakme) of 1930 and her ''Caro nome'' of a year later to offerings from 1940, when the voice had begun to lose some of its former freshness, although she was still only 36: no doubt the exigencies of singing so much in a large house had begun to take their toll. Of the performances as such there is really very little sense of interpretation, let alone, where required, feeling. Set her ''Caro nome'' beside the roughly contemporaneous account by Norena (Preiser, 3/91) and you hear the difference between mere action and real thought. Lucia's Mad scene betrays little or no sign of the pathos it must have to seem more than a vocal exercise. Thus, she is best heard in the showpieces—Proch's tinselly Theme and Variations (a showstopper from as early as 1929) and Dell'Acqua's Villanelle are her metier.
There is a single exception: in 1940 she was joined by the 64-year-old de Luca in a performance of ''Dunque io son'', in which the veteran baritone instils into the soprano a real sense of occasion. We might be at the Met enjoying the pair parleying with each other; a moment of operatic history caught on the wing. The transfers are faultless.'