David's Review Corner
, October 2007
If you are just coming to the art of the American-born soprano, Rosa Ponselle, do start here. With previous releases in this series I have related the story of how Rosa was one part of a successful young Vaudeville singing duo who was suddenly thrust onto the Metropolitan Opera stage at the age of 21 to partner Enrico Caruso in the American premiere of Verdi's La Forza del destino, the supply of Italian sopranos having been cut off by the entry of the United States in the First World War. She was an enormous success and became a staunch favourite for 19 Met seasons. Though never appearing in Italy she received tremendous admiration in London's Covent Garden, when suddenly in 1937, and at the age of 40, she announced her retirement. The present disc covers recordings made over the period 1923 to 1929, every track finding her on peak form, the wonderful tight trill in the Ernani excerpt so captivating I would buy the disc just to hear that alone. Throughout her voice is so free, intonation right in the centre of every note, and who today could float such gorgeous high notes. Two recordings made on the same day were common so as to have one suitable for release, the difference between them so slight as to be immaterial. She is joined in the last scene of La Forza del destino and the Il Trovatore extracts by Giovanni Martinelli, his lyric voice perfectly complementing hers, while Marion Telva is an admirable partner in the Norma excerpt. The orchestra(s) give superb support hanging on every fluctuation of tempo, and is more detailed than we would expect from this era. With the Norma duet, Ponselle made her last recording for ten years, by which time her stage career had come to an end. In the Naxos Historical series this is a gem, Ward Marston's restoration work a tribute to his skill.