Rosa Ponselle
January 22, 1897 - May 25, 1981

Legendary Operatic Diva, Rosa Ponselle, was discovered at age 21, while singing in vaudeville, by Enrico Caruso who brought her to the Met to appear opposite him as the "Leonora" in the 1918 Metropolitan Opera premiere performance of Verdi's La FORZA del DESTINO. She became the first American-born artist to sing a major role at the Met without the benefit of prior European training or experience, and is credited with opening the doors of the Met to the American-trained singer. Most remarkable about Ponselle is that she had no vocal training prior to her operatic debut. Born with a natural gift for singing and acting, she was a true Dramatic Soprano having many revivals done for her. For the 19 seasons that she sang with the Met, she was considered its reigning queen, and was dubbed by Huneker as "The Caruso in Petticoats". Geraldine Farrar is reported to have said when discussing singers, "There are two you must put aside, one is Enrico Caruso, the other is Rosa Ponselle. Then you may begin to discuss all the others." Leonard Bernstein, who credited Ponselle with changing the direction of his young life, wrote in a letter to her, "Yours is the first operatic voice I ever heard, at age eight, on an old Columbia 78, singing 'Suicido'. Even through all the scratchiness and surface noise, that voice rang through in such glory that it made me a music-lover forever. I thank you every day of my life." Elisabeth Schwarzkopf wrote of Ponselle in her autobiography, "In playing her records, I find myself repeatedly commenting: 'This is ultimate perfection.'" Maria Callas, who credited Mme Ponselle as being her vocal idol and sole inspiration, is quoted in an interview with Ida Cook, noted British authoress and music historian, as having said, "I think we all know that Ponselle is simply the greatest singer of us all."  See what other critics and other renowned personalities have said of Mme Ponselle.

In 1937, at age 40, shortly following her marriage to Baltimorean Carle A. Jackson, at the height of her career and in her vocal prime, (as all of her critical reviews and recordings of the period document), she shocked the music world when, following a performance in Cleveland on April 17, 1937 of "Carmen", she was never again to be heard on the operatic stage. The live radio broadcast of the performance released on LP by the Metropolitan Opera Association, reveals the loss the opera world has suffered by Ponselle's untimely retirement. She continued to concertize and to record for RCA for a few years after her retirement from the operatic stage, and to dedicate the remaining 44 years of her life to nurturing and launching the careers of aspiring young operatic talent. Among those who were schooled in Ponselle's "Villa Pace" studio (her home in Maryland's Greenspring Valley) or who were coached for roles or launched by her in their professional careers, include John Aler, Lili Chookasian, Placido Domingo, Raina Kabaivanska, Spiro Malas, Adriana Maliponte, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Sheila Nadler, Will Parker, Leontype Price, Louis Quilico, Beverly Sills, and William Warfield.

In 1997, a centenary celebration was held in honor of Rosa Ponselle.  A Centenary Commission was established and a series of events took place throughout the year.  The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in honor of Mme Ponselle's Centenary Year.

 

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