Critics and Renowned Personalities
Have Said About Rosa Ponselle
C. SCHONBERG wrote in his October l6, l983 column in The New York Times:
"Rosa Ponselle, who retired in l937, was simply, the greatest voice in
any category this listener has ever heard. No voice has had such color, such
resonance, such sheer physiological beauty of sound. None had the voluptuous,
perfectly controlled column of sound that emanated from the throat of Rosa
the occasion of Miss Ponselle's 70th Birthday, Mr. Schonberg wrote:
"Rosa Ponselle has the low notes of a contralto, and a knock-out high-C.
And there were no artificial registers in the voice--it went from bottom to
top in the smoothest, most seamless of scales, with no shifting from chest to
head. And that trill: that articulated br-r-r-r- which no singer today is able
to come near matching! And the emotionalism of her singing, combined with good
taste! And the power when she let loose! And the delicacy of her pianissimos!
And the flexibility in coloratura work! And the accuracy of intonation! And
the handsome figure onstage!"
CALLAS, in talking to her friend, the English critic, IDA COOK, said:
"I think we all know that Ponselle is simply the greatest singer of us
Conductor for both Rosa Ponselle and coach/conductor for MARIA CALLAS, had
conducted most of the great voices of this century, told WATER LEGGE of
EMI-Angel records that in his long life, he had encountered only three
authentic vocal forces of nature--three miracles--ENRICO CARUSO, TITTA RUFFO
and ROSA PONSELLE.
"She turned into the purest gold everything she touched. We shall never
hear her like again. She never ventured into high-voice trapeze parts--she was
always much too intelligent to echo tootling flutes and warble imbecile Mad
Scenes--levity was not her forte--but her coloratura surpassed belief. Each of
a succession of notes marked staccato was genuinely separated not by a coup de
glotte or an intrusive H; they were like rows of equally matched pearls with a
glimpse of light separating each one without a trace of attack on any of them.
Legato scales and chromatics up or downwards ran like golden ball-bearings as
smoothly as though invisible oil. The voice was in one piece, so even from top
to bottom, that changes of register--if she made them--were inaudible. There
was only a slight and gradual darkening of colour as she moved down to the
lowest notes. Imagine Rostropovich playing with a circular bow on one string
covering Ponselle's full compass and there you have Rosa's legato, and on top
of all this she had words and specific emotions to express, which she did
without ever producing a sound which was not in itself musical, beautiful and
"The first records my future husband (WALTER LEGGE) played to me were by
Rosa Ponselle: 'to teach you the meaning of bel canto'. Thirty years later,
while he was replaying her records, I found myself repeatedly commenting,
'This is ultimate perfection'."
"It was a voice that made her The Queen of Queens in all of singing.
Ponselle, almost more than any other singer, had the unique combination of
voice and musical profundity to advance operatic interpretation by decades,
simply by the sheer genius of her artistry...She is also among the most copied
of any singer in history...She is an ideal, an almost mythical figure in opera
singing. Whenever young singers ask whom they should pattern their singing
after, I always respond, 'Make a sincere study of the recordings of Rosa
Ponselle.' To every young singer in any age--ours, or some distant one--this
will always be excellent advice."
"My favorite singer? Rosa Ponselle! I devour every recording I can find
of her singing."
"For those of us who came along too late to hear Caruso, we may console
ourselves. We heard Ponselle! Hers was the way of the great Italian
"When you discuss singers, there are two you must first set aside: Caruso
and Ponselle--then you may begin to discuss all the rest." After a
Ponselle La Traviata, LOTTE LEHMAN said to GERALDINE FARRAR: "How does
one get a voice like Ponselle's?" GERALDINE FARRAR replied: "There's
only one way: by a very special arrangement with the Lord--and then you must
work very, very hard!"
"It is, of course, easy to say at this distance of time that no
gramophone record gives anything like a full idea of the Ponselle magic. But I
can truthfully aver that when we could still hear her in person we put aside
her records because we could not bear to hear such a pale shadow of the
reality. She is a curious mixture of absolute simplicity and absolute
authority. It is endearing, often touching, and breath-taking...A magical
pianissimo which used to sound exactly the same in the front row of the stalls
as in the back of the gallery."
DOWNES writing in The New York Times, January l930, after a performance of Don
"...roused her audience to demonstrations of enthusiasm which recalled
the legendary days of the opera gods of a past generation. Such singing as
she accomplished in a role far removed from the vocal and dramatic style to
which she is accustomed, was something of a revelation even to her most ardent
admirers...Last night she consecrated herself wholeheartedly to the essence of
the Mozartean tradition." (As Donna Anna)
CRUTCHFIELD writing in The New York Times, October l985, reviewing a
recording: "And finally there is the big Traviata scene from l935, with
Rosa Ponselle and Lawrence Tibbett. Words fail this one, simply be- cause if
the right words were reserved only for such performances, then daily
criticism would be a drab thing while waiting for them. Let me put it in this
unpoetic way: If all the recordings of the scene were ranked from l to l0,
with this one as l0, the very best of the others would be clustered somewhere
between 4 and 7."
"The joy of joys for me, who had once thought I would be an opera singer,
was to hear the world's great voices from 'The Diamond Horseshoe' at The Met:
Galli-Curci, Martinelli, Chaliapin, and--as often as I could because she was
the greatest singer-actress of them all--Rosa Ponselle."
HORNE (speaking with Edwin Newman in OPERA NEWS, December 22, l990)
"You rarely hear a voice and say, 'Oh, what a gorgeous quality!' or one
that can stand out and you say, 'Oh, that's so-and-so singing.' You hear
Ponselle on the radio, and you know immediately...She was the queen of
"As a student in New York City, I stood in the gallery to hear Ponselle's
CARMEN which was billed in the New York Times as the 'hottest ticket in town.'
In the 'Card Scene', from Bizet's CARMEN, to see Rosa Ponselle flinch away and
cover her face with her arm in anger and terror on the final 'Toujours la
mort!', has never been forgotten by me. It was Ponselle's vocal artistry and
interpretive genius as a singing actress that left an indelible impression and
inspiration on me as an actor."
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