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 Rosa Ponselle

Rosa Ponselle

Original Name Ponzillo
Birth
Meriden, New Haven County, Connecticut, USA
Death 25 May 1981 (aged 84)
Green Spring Junction, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA
Burial Pikesville, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA
Memorial ID 826 · View Source
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Opera Singer. A dramatic soprano, she was the Metropolitan Opera's reigning prima donna for almost 20 years. Born Rosa Melba Ponzillo into a musical family, she learned to sing at home and in church, took to the stage at an early age, and at 15 teamed with her older sister Carmela to form a popular vaudeville act, The Ponzillo Sisters. There are various versions of what happened next but in substance Rosa was invited to sing at the Metropolitan by tenor Enrico Caruso after he heard her in vaudeville, despite the fact that she had no operatic training. She made her debut singing Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" with Caruso as Don Alvaro on November 15, 1918, and became an instant star. For the next nineteen seasons Rosa was to make the dramatic soprano repertoire virtually her own, essentially without rivals. Elvira in Verdi's "Ernani", Elisabeth in the same composer's "Don Carlos", the title lead of Ponchielli's "La Gioconda", Leonore of Verdi's "Il Trovatore", and Maddalena from Umberto Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" all provided worthy vehicles for her voice though her signature piece was to be the title role in Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma", a work in which Carmela sometimes partnered her as Adalgisa. Late in her career she took on Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" to great acclaim and Georges Bizet's 'cigarette girl' "Carmen" to probably the only mixed reviews she ever received. Though all conceded her vocal mastery some considered her portrayal, complete with tight costumes and spitting on the stage, crude or even obscene while others felt that she had merely brought out Carmen's true nature. Rosa built a career despite two profound handicaps: she hated to travel, singing only three engagements in London where she bowed at Covent Garden in 1929 as Norma and one in Florence, Italy, where she appeared in Spontini's "La vestale" in 1933. Worse, she suffered from stage fright so severe that she was said to have prayed before each performance that she would be killed on the way to the opera house. Late in her career she saw the arrival of the legendary Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad whom Rosa was to acknowledge as her equal, an admission probably made easier by the fact that the two ladies had totally different repertoire and thus were not 'rivals'. Rosa was tired of the stress and fed-up with the Metropolitan's management which refused to stage operas such as Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur" that she wanted to sing; she gave her final performance as Carmen on April 17, 1937, in Cleveland then simply quit, never formally retiring. Around the time she left the stage Rosa entered her only marriage, a brief and turbulent union with Battimore socialite Carle Jackson. She last sang in public at the 1952 Republican Convention, performing the National Anthem. Rosa spent her last years at her estate, Villa Pace, near Baltimore teaching voice, serving on opera boards, and judging competitions. On the testimony of competent witnesses such as Luciano Pavarotti and Paul Hume she never did lose her voice. Rosa died after a long battle with bone marrow cancer leaving a massive recorded legacy, much of which remains in print, of both studio and "live" performances covering the time from her early professional days to her years in retirement.

Bio by: Bob Hufford


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 826
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Rosa Ponselle (22 Jan 1897–25 May 1981), Find A Grave Memorial no. 826, citing Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .