Friday, October 9, 2015

Emmy Destin - Madame Butterfly on Edison

I haven't posted any Edison Diamond Discs before now, but my new turntable has a switch which enables playing vertically-cut records such as Edisons. I'm up to 16 Diamond Discs of various types, including jazz, early country, and classical. Here's a nice one: Emmy Destinn singing "Un bel di vedremo" from Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

Edison Diamond Discs don't look or play like any other records of the time. The difference is obvious at first glance: they are a quarter inch thick, and weigh about the same as three standard 78s. And they're not even 78s, they're "80s," since they play properly at 80 RPM. They're laminated around a core of some type of pressboard. The earlier Diamond Discs didn't have paper labels; the title and other information was embossed on the center of the disc. Edison later used paper labels, but they weren't pressed into the record (the method used by every other record company), they were glued onto the core - a space was left unlaminated for that purpose. The glued labels did not prove to be very durable, and Diamond Discs with torn or missing labels are common these days.

But Thomas Edison claimed that his odd little records were superior to all others on the market. And when I adjust my equalizer and play a Diamond Disc that's in excellent condition, it's hard to argue with Edison's claim. These records produce a full, rich acoustic sound. They have little of the high-end hiss other 78s have, although they have their own distinct surface noise - more of a mid-range rumble. And since vertical grooves don't take up as much surface space as lateral grooves, Edison could fit up to five minutes of music on one side of a ten-inch disc.

As with many Edison opera discs, the unlabelled flip side has an "explanatory talk" by Harry Humphrey, a well-known "voice talent" of the time. Oddly, the music side does not have the name of the performer, although she is mentioned in Humphrey's talk and in the Edison Records of Music that Lives catalog.

Emmy Destinn (1878-1930) was born in Prague, and had a successful career in Europe before joining the Metropolitan Opera in 1908. When World War I broke out in 1914, the patriotic Ms. Destinn returned home, where she was promptly put under house arrest by the Austrians. After the war, she returned to the United States, but she was out of shape physically and vocally, and her career never recovered. I would be remiss if I left out a mention of Arthur Rubenstein's surprise at finding a tattoo of a snake on her thigh during an amorous encounter.

Enjoy Emmy Destinn on Edison, recorded in New York on December 16, 1911. Harry Humphrey's explanatory talk was recorded in January, 1914.

Un bel di vedremo

Explanatory talk