• Presentation

    Her life

    Friday, November 15th, 1918. The Great War had finished just a few days before, and in the MET of New York, there was an evening scheduled with the premiere in the city of one opera by Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino.

    The big star of the show would be the most famous tenor in the world, Enrico Caruso. In the role of Leonora, a young unknown american soprano that is hardly 21 years old. Her name is Rosa Ponselle. Twenty years later, many operagoers in New York will remember this evening as one of the most sensational of all times, the introduction of a singer that will be MET's darling, and arguably the most shining star among all american sopranos.

    Born Rosa Melba Ponzillo, in Meriden, CT (January, 22nd, 1897), she was a professional vaudeville singer, with a well paid number together with her sister, Carmela. The agent of the Ponselle sisters, Mr. Thorner, introduced Rosa to Caruso. After listening to the young girl, Caruso told to an intimidated Rosa that very soon they will sing an opera together, in the MET.

    True to his word, Caruso got Ponselle an audition with MET management. Rosa prepared "Casta Diva" with her friend and teacher Nino Romani. Even if the young singer fainted at some point out of pure excitement, she impressed everyone and was hired to sing La Forza with Caruso.

    Ponselle spent all the summer and the month of October learning the piece, and also losing weight to produce a better impression in the public. The evening of the premiere, after a solid first Act, she was prepared to sing "Pace, pace mio Dio"... The rest is history.

    Until her retirement in 1937, Ponselle was the female star of the MET, where she sung operas like Cavalleria Rusticana, La Juive, Ernani, Il Trovatore, Aida, La Gioconda, Don Carlo, L’Africaine, Andrea Chenier, Traviata, Don Giovanni, Norma, Carmen,... She also sung in other american theaters, as well as in three Covent Garden seasons (Norma, Gioconda, Traviata, L’amore dei tre re,..) and just one performance in Florence (La Vestale). A major disappointment for her was the poor reception of the new operas she premiered: The Legend, Fedra and La notte di Zoraima.

    Her Art

    A beautiful, deep voice, with an extraordinary harmonic richness. It was also big, in Flagstad's category, but at the same time very flexible. Perfect homogeneity in all her tessitura, with immaculate legato. The original extension was three octaves, from C2 to C5, but in the last years of her career there were growing problems reaching the top notes.

    Ponselle was one of the best, indeed perhaps the best, dramatic soprano in the history of recorded singing. Her deep notes are so full and rich that she could had sung the mezzo repertoire with ease, too.

    She was also a very good piano player, and was able to read a score at first sight. Her acting talent was more debatable, and there are very different opinions on the subject.

    We will review the career of Ponselle, as well as her recordings, in coming posts. For now, just listen to one of her vaudeville favorites, My Old Kentucky Home:

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