The United States Postal Service has announced the unveiling of a musical postage stamp series in which it will honor legendary American, Dramatic Soprano, Rosa Ponselle.
Ponselle, born Rosa Ponzillo in Meriden, Connecticut on January 22, l897, is credited with opening the doors of the Met to the American-trained singer. She is unique in operatic history in having stepped out of a vaudevillian career with her sister, Carmela, to make her debut, at age 2l, as Leonora opposite Enrico Caruso's Don Alvaro in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Verdi's LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. The November l5, l9l8 Metropolitan Opera debut of Rosa Ponselle, heralded in a new era for America's operatic talent, as prior to Ponselle's historic launching at the Met, American singers, who were not previously trained in Europe with internationally acclaimed career status, were not con- sidered cast-worthy in the major operatic roles at the Met. Her discovery by Enrico Caruso while she was starring at the Palace Theater, off-Broadway, and the vision of the Metropolitan Opera's then-managing director, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, produced the career of what many critics have acknowledged to be the greatest vocal artist of our century.
Until her marriage in l936 to Baltimorean, Carle A. Jackson, Ponselle remained at the Met as its reigning queen for l9 seasons, creating new roles and reviving repertoire which had not been attempted by singers for generations. Considered the greatest Verdian soprano of our century, the role in which she established herself as a paradigm to all subsequent generations of singers, was Bellini's NORMA. In the years that followed Ponselle's retirement, American soprano, Maria Callas, based her own ear training and operatic aspirations on the old 78 Ponselle recordings of NORMA, LA VESTALE and LA GIOCONDA, which she played repeatedly "until", stated Callas, "they wore out, and I then sent my sister to buy new ones." She was later to be quoted in another instance in an interview with the noted British musicologist, Ida Cook, as having stated, "I think we all know that Ponselle is simply the greatest singer of us all."
Luciano Pavarotti, to whom she was also a role model through the recordings his father played for him since childhood along with Caruso's, is quoted as having said, "She is the Queen of Queens in all of singing." Always known for her causes in the interest of young singers, she discovered an unknown baritone while living in Hollywood in the l930's. He had asked her for an audition and her counsel as to how he should embark upon a career. She told him to study and work hard at his art and not to waste any time in stepping into a professional career so that he might gain valuable stage experience along the way. Advising him to accept any and all baritone roles--so long as they did not hurt his voice, she told him that he would be ready, one day, to step into the protagonist roles as the major artist his potential warranted. She followed his progress for the years that followed until it came to pass that he was cast at the Met as Germont in LA TRAVIATA opposite Rosa Ponselle's Violetta. That young baritone was Lawrence Tibbett, who is also due to be commemorated in the same stamp series, along with Ponselle. American tenor, Richard Tucker and French coloratura soprano, Lily Pons are also to be celebrated in the same series.
The year l997, marks Ponselle's centenary year which will be widely celebrated in the United States, England, Italy and Russia by major opera companies, through radio and tv, audio/visual lectures, concert programs and journalistic tributes by noted music critics. New CD releases on NIMBUS and ROMOPHONE are to be introduced in honor of the Centenary. Recently published are two pictorial monographs by Enrico Aloi which may be purchased through The Rosa Ponselle Foundation. The noted Verdian histor- ian, Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, is currently completing a biography on Ponselle which will be released in l997 by Northwestern University Press.
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