About this Recording
8.111141 - PONSELLE, Rosa: American Recordings, Vol. 4 (1923-1929)

Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981)
American Recordings 1923-1929, Vol. 4


With the revival of Bellini's Norma in the Met's 1927-28 season, Ponselle achieved perhaps the greatest triumph of her career. (On my programme she wrote, 'My favourite of all – because it was my greatest challenge.') After the first performance on 16 November W. J. Henderson wrote in the New York Sun that her flawless technique blended 'the qualities of the tragédienne and the passionate accent of the artist'. Olin Downes, writing in The New York Times, remarked that the opera's success was due to Ponselle, 'probably the most beautiful voice of any soprano of her generation, and who has advanced remarkably as an artist', and, according to the Musical Courier, Rosa Ponselle in Norma was the sensation of the 1927-28 season. No one can dispute that fact.'

On New Year's Day 1928, Ponselle appeared again on the radio in the Victor Talking Machine Hour. As well as singing 'Ritorna vincitor', she was joined by Martinelli and Pinza, performing the Miserere from Il trovatore with the former and the Trio Finale from La forza del destino with both. Later that same month the three artists joined forces at the Victor studios to record all three pieces. We are fortunate to have two sets of "takes" of the famed "Forza" trip – one of which was never published in its original form. The singing by all three singers is sublime in both. In addition to these memorable recordings, she also made her famous electrical versions of 'Pace, pace, mio Dio' and 'Ernani, involami'. In her later years Ponselle regarded these solo recordings as among her best performances on disc.

No new rôles entered Ponselle's repertoire during the Met's 1928-29 season, but she was chosen to open the season in L'amore dei tre re with Martinelli, Danise and Pinza. In addition to Fiora, she repeated the roles of Norma, Gioconda, Maddalena, Leonora and Elvira. On New Year's Eve Ponselle returned to the Victor studios to record 'Casta diva'from Norma. This aria and the duet 'Mira, o Norma', recorded on 31 January 1929 with Marion Telva, were to be Ponselle's last recordings made at Victor's Camden studios.

Following a three-month concert tour across the United States, Ponselle returned to the Met to make her final appearance of the season as Norma on 12 April. Six weeks later she made her London début in the same rôle. This was the soprano's first performance outside North America and an event eagerly awaited by London audiences. Broadcast by the BBC, Ponselle's Royal Opera Covent Garden début on 28 May 1929 was an unqualified success. The New York Times headlined its review: "Rosa Ponselle has a London triumph – Wins ovation in middle of act while making début in Norma – A tradition broken" – Melba had warned her not to expect applause after the aria 'Casta diva'. According to the London Daily Express: 'Time seems to have stood still… thunderous applause greeted what undoubtedly is one of the finest voices of the age'. And Harold Rosenthal had this to say in the London Times: 'Here is that rarity of the operatic stage, an artist who can not only sing but create a character.' He also praised the voice 'as remarkable for its purity in the big dramatic passages as in the quiet phrases of the Casta diva and a really finished style in the long-sustained notes and in the coloratura passages.'

Ponselle's second rôle of that first Covent Garden season was as Gioconda. Gioconda was a great favourite with both Ponselle and her public. Her comment on my programme was: 'Another great opera – and one of the heavier and most demanding – but loved it!'

Ponselle would sing two more seasons at Covent Garden. Here she sang her first Violetta on any stage. Newman wrote of the occasion: 'It was difficult to believe that she was singing the rôle for the first time. In the great scene at the end of the first act she repeats the words 'È strano' four times; each time it was different because the mental image at the back of the note was different.' Francys Toye cited her Violetta as the alliance between first-class singing and first-class intelligence. 'I do not think I have ever heard anything to surpass or even to equal it.' Unfortunately because of the great depression, Ponselle did not commercially record anything from La traviata. Ponselle and Pinza also sang together on the last night of that second season in L'amore dei tre re. According to The Times, 'It was a great pity that Fiora's death should occur at the end of the second act, for she had given a performance of great visual and aural beauty.'

In her final season at Covent Garden, Ponselle would sing Leonora in La forza del destino, Fedra in Romano Romani's opera of the same name and again Violetta in La traviata. The Times noted that King George V and Queen Mary attended La forza del destino. In 1933, at the first Maggio Musicale in Florence, she performed the rôle of Giulia in her only appearances in Italy.

After the Norma recordings in 1929, Ponselle did not make any further commercial recordings for more than a decade. It is indeed fortunate that these souvenirs of her Norma have been preserved for posterity.

© Bill Park



VERDI: La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio
17 January 1928; CVE 29060-8 (Victor 6875 A)

VERDI: La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio
17 January 1928; CVE 29060-9 (unpublished on 78 rpm)

VERDI: Ernani: Ernani! Ernani, involami
17 January 1928; CVE 29062-6 (Victor 6875 B)

DVOŘÁK: Songs My Mother Taught Me
17 January 1928; BVE 41623-1 (Victor 1319 A)

RUBINSTEIN: Since I First Met Thee
17 January 1928; BVE 41624-3 (Victor 1319 B)

VERDI: La forza del destino: Final Scene (Act IV Scene 7)
Io muoio! – 18 January 1928; CVE 41625-1 (unpublished on 78 rpm)
Non imprecare, umiliati – 18 January 1928; CVE 41626-1 (unpublished on 78 rpm)

VERDI: La forza del destino: Final Scene (Act IV Scene 7)
Io muoio! – 18 January 1928; CVE 41625-2 (Victor 8104 A)
Non imprecare, umiliati – 18 January 1928; CVE 41626-2 (Victor 8104 B)

VERDI: Aida: Ritorna vincitor
18 January 1928; CVE 29063-9 (Victor 7438 A)

VERDI: Il trovatore: Miserere
23 January 1928; CVE 41637-1 (Victor 8097 A)

VERDI: Il trovatore: Miserere
23 January 1928; CVE 41637-2 (Victor 8097 A)

VERDI: La forza del destino: La vergine degli angeli
23 January 1928; CVE 41636-1 (Victor 8097 B)

BELLINI: Norma: Casta diva – Sediziose voci
30 January 1929; CVE 49031-3 (Victor 8125 A)

BELLINI: Norma: Ah! bello a me ritorna (Cabaletta)
31 December 1928; CVE 49032-2 (Victor 8125 B)

BELLINI: Norma: Mira, o Norma
30 January 1929; CVE 49703-2 & CVE 49704-1 (Victor 8110 A & B)


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