Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981) was an American operatic soprano who is widely regarded as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Born in Meriden, Connecticut, Ponselle grew up in a musical family and began singing at a young age. Her older sister, Carmela Ponselle, was an established Vaudeville singer and brought a young Rosa to audition for her Vaudeville agent in 1915. Between 1915 and 1918, the sisters performed as the Ponzillo Sisters.
Ponselle was also an accomplished pianist and often accompanied herself in recitals. She was a skilled sight-reader and had a vast knowledge of repertoire.
Listen to Rosa Ponselle sing Batti, batti, o bel Masetto from Don Giovani, with text by Lorenzo da Ponte and as set by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Download the text on IPA Source:
Ponselle made her professional debut in 1918 at the age of 21, singing the lead role in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She went on to become one of the most famous sopranos of her time, known for her rich, powerful voice and dramatic interpretations.
Listen to Rosa Ponselle and Ezio Pinza sing La Vergine degli angeli from La Forza del Destino with text by Francesco Maria Piave and as set by Giuseppe Verdi:
IPA Source texts from the opera La forza del Destino
- A buon mercato by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Al suon del tamburo by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Madre, pietosa Vergine by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Me, pellegrina ed orfana by Verdi, Giuseppe
- O tu che in seno agli angeli by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Pace, pace, mio Dio by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Rataplan by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Sì, sì, ma in otto giorni by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Toh! Poffare il mondo! by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Urna fatale del mio destino… Egli è salvo! gioia immensa by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Venite all’indovina by Verdi, Giuseppe
Ponselle’s repertoire included a wide range of roles, from the heroines of Verdi and Wagner to the bel canto heroines of Donizetti and Bellini. She was particularly renowned for her performances of Verdi’s Aida and Gioconda and Puccini’s Tosca.
Listen to Ponselle and tenor Giovanni Martinelli sing the tomb scene from Aida:
IPA Source texts from the opera Aida:
- Celeste Aida by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Io l’amo… Io l’amo sempre by Verdi, Giuseppe
- O patria mia by Verdi, Giuseppe
- Ritorna vincitor by Verdi, Giuseppe
Ponselle was also an advocate for young singers and served as a mentor to many aspiring opera singers throughout her career. After retiring from the stage in 1937, she taught voice and served as an artistic advisor to the Baltimore Opera Company.
Throughout her career, Ponselle received numerous accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1955. She died in Baltimore in 1981 at the age of 84. Today, she is remembered as one of the greatest sopranos in the history of opera.
Ponselle’s recordings continue to be highly regarded by opera lovers and critics today. She made many recordings for RCA Victor, including complete recordings of “Aida,” “Carmen,” and “La Gioconda.”
[Images of Rosa Ponselle are public domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=rosa+ponselle&title=Special:MediaSearch&go=Go&type=image]