, October 2008
Despite my having worked for RCA Records for several years Rosa Ponselle was a name from the past. Her voice and interpretations were virtually unknown to me! That was until I listened to these CDs. Hearing these CDs has changed all that!
The helpful biographical notes by David Alexander Terry were most informative and have quotations about Ponselle from artists of the calibre of Callas and Pavarotti. Maria Callas remarked that Rosa Ponselle was “the greatest singer of us all” and Luciano Pavarotti wrote “Rosa Ponselle, almost more than any other singer, had the unique combination of voice and musical profundity to advance operatic interpretation by decades, simply by the sheer genius of her artistry. … Whenever young singers approach me and ask whom they should pattern their singing, after, I always respond: ‘Make a sincere study of the recordings of Rose Ponselle’”.
These CDs date from Ponselle’s middle years. The first comprises recordings set down in the RCA Victor Hollywood Studios in 1939 when she was about 42 years old. The other two offer recordings made at her home ‘Villa Pace’ in Baltimore by an RCA Victor recording crew in October 1954 when she made a return to singing after a few year’s gap. At that time she was 57. The notes by the producer of these CDs, Ward Marston outline the technical problems encountered by Naxos in their efforts to obtain quality material for this Ponselle album. When considering the artist’s age, the sonic limitations of the recording venue at Villa Pace and the transfer problems, it is amazing that the recordings were made and are now available on CD!
One can hardly criticise this project as it is an important historical oeuvre, letting us hear this great soprano’s interpretations and making them available for today’s opera-lovers and students. The sound has its limitations but it is wonderful to be able to hear this greatly admired singer in a variety of repertoire from numerous versions (with piano or organ accompaniment) of Ave Maria, through French repertoire including Lully, Debussy, Chausson, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, de Fonenailles, Delibes and Duparc. Neither does she ignore Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner. This is heard alongside Spanish repertoire from Alvarez, to Granados and de Falla. There are a number of Italian songs as well.
Her superb phrasing, diction and interpretation are so carefully thought out and executed. She is so musical and one can sense her influence on the sopranos who followed her as the years rolled on. Her accompanists Romano Romani and Igor Chichagov were also of the highest order and there is some lovely playing from them.
We must be grateful for Naxos for providing the opportunity to hear this great soprano in her later years through the medium of these CDs.