Celebrations worldwide mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary American dramatic soprano, Rosa Ponselle, considered by many to have been the greatest vocal artist of our century.
Discovered by Enrico Caruso, and becoming, at age 21, the first American opera singer to have made a debut at the Metropolitan Opera House without the benefit of European training or experience, she is credited with opening the doors of the Met to future generations of American-trained artists. Said Maria Callas of her idol, Ponselle, to close friends, Peter Mennin (former head of The Peabody Institute and The Juilliard School) and Ida Cook, the noted British music historian, "When I first discovered Ponselle, I listened to her NORMA recordings until I wore the grooves out, and then bought new ones and started all over again. I think that we all know that Ponselle is simply the greatest singer of us all." Tullio Serafin, who is arguably the greatest operatic conductor of our century stated, "In my lifetime, I have encountered three miracles--Enrico Caruso, Titta Ruffo and Rosa Ponselle."
The reigning queen at the Met for 19 seasons, she retired from her operatic career in 1937, after performing the last of her publicly acclaimed roles, CARMEN, which to this day, retains the title of being the biggest box office success in Metropolitan Opera history, for which four live radio broadcasts were made by the Metropolitan Opera in a consecutive two-year period. After one of the CARMEN broadcast performances, the critic from the Boston Globe wrote of her CARMEN, " She's Ponselle and she has the world by the ear." Married to a Baltimorean, she retired from her operatic and concert careers by age 42 and moved to Maryland's Green Spring Valley in 1941 where she lived the last 40 years of her life, contributing to the cultural endowment of the State. In 1949, she was coaxed out of retirement by Mary and Leigh Martinet, the founders of the Baltimore Civic Opera Co. She began coaching and training young, unknown singers in her private studio, creating a new generation of vocal artists who have gone on to stellar careers. They include Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Placido Domingo, Leontyne Price, William Warfield, Raina Kabaivanska and Samuel Ramey.
The memorial services for Ponselle, which are open for public attendance at no charge, will be held at Pikesville's Druid Ridge Cemetery on Park Heights Avenue and Old Court Road. Both Rosa and her sister, Carmela, are buried side by side in a mausoleum in the Cemetery.
The service, which will be held at 4:00 P.M. on Saturday, September 27, in the outdoor chapel near to the mausoleum, where Rosa and Carmela are interred, will be conduced by the Rev. Michael White who is Pastor of the Church of the Nativity. Rev. White assists His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, in civic and cultural affairs throughout the City.
There will be a musical interlude arranged by Ponselle's close friend and colleague, and the Music Director of The Rosa Ponselle Foundation, Maestro Igor Chichagov who will be at the keyboard. Famed American bass baritone, William Warfield, a former protégé of Ponselle, who sang at Ponselle's funeral mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church in 1981 will be the guest soloist along with Metropolitan Opera singer, Kevin Short, who was a former Medalist in the Rosa Ponselle INTERNATIONAL Competition for the Vocal Arts. Laureates of the Rosa Ponselle "ALL MARYLANDERS'" Competition, Gold Medalist Cristina Nassif and 10 year-old treble, Daniel Westen, will also sing in the service. Each will perform pieces which were particular favorites of Ponselle that she enjoyed hearing or sang in church services since early childhood.
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