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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, November 2007

This is certainly one of the most complete singers in recorded history!

With this third volume in the Naxos series of Ponselle’s American recordings we reach the era of electrical recording technique. She had made her first recordings with the new technique in June 1925. When she returned to the studio in May the following year it was to set down one of the all-time classics, the final duet from Aida with Giovanni Martinelli as Radames. The reproduction is clear and lifelike – Ward Marston has worked wonders again – and catches the unique incisiveness and Martinelli’s penetrating intensity. Both singers are in superb form and deep inside their characters. This is possibly the finest recording of the scene. They recorded an abridged version of the scene two years earlier acoustically, without Amneris and with no chorus. This remake surpasses the older one in every respect. Callas described Rosa Ponselle as “the greatest singer of us all” and there is a lot of truth in that statement. The sheer beauty of the voice, its even production, the expression and the subtle nuance – all these factors combine to bring this voice as close as possible to the unattainable. In some of the lighter music, notably the Tosti songs, she employs an absolutely endearing sensual rubato. Just listen to ‘A vucchella (tr. 6); I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed by her singing.

Both the music and the singing make Spontini’s music in the two arias from La vestale indispensable. I wonder why this opera is never performed today. I searched Operabase and had no hit on Spontini for the rest of the decade. 'O nume tutelar' is a gem and there must be other things in the opera on the same level. There are two takes of this aria, the second of which was never issued on 78 rpm. Neither were the two Aida arias nor the one from Ernani; listening closely one can detect a couple of pinched notes that were probably the reason for withholding the records. A curiosity is the Schubert Ständchen. A collector found two unpublished takes which were both damaged but Ward Marston managed to combine the two takes and produce a playable version. This Ständchen is a duet with Rosa’s sister Carmela, possessor of an impressive mezzo-soprano voice with contralto depth. Interestingly both sisters denied having recorded together for Victor.

Ms Ponselle sings throughout the disc with unerring taste and reminds me of Tito Schipa in the elegance and intimacy also of the lighter songs. Kahn’s rarely heard Ave Maria ends with a magical diminuendo.

Those who have hesitated to acquire the earlier volumes on sonic grounds need feel no qualms this time. The orchestras may not be reproduced with the dynamic and frequency range of later efforts but the voices could just as well have been recorded in the early 1950s.

I do agree with the Maria Callas view quoted above: this is certainly one of the most complete singers in recorded history!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

As a seven-year-old besotted with music, my parents bought me a second-hand wind-up gramophone, the equally second-hand records that came with it including the Martinelli and Ponselle 78's of the Tomb Scene from Aida. They became my pride and joy, hardly daring to play them lest they should wear out. Sadly I could never enjoy them with the fidelity we have in this new transfer to CD, the recording remaining as the bench-mark against which all others are judged. I have in previous releases in this Rosa Ponselle series related the story of how one part of a Vaudeville singing duo was suddenly thrust onto the 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 was cut off with 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. She never sang in Italy but received tremendous admiration in London's Covent Garden Then suddenly in 1937 at the age of 40 she announced her retirement. \It caused shock waves at the time, yet even ten years earlier in the Spontini recordings she was showing stress on high notes and was much happier when in her middle register. There is one novel track in Schubert's Standchen when she is joined by her sister, Carmela, the other half of the Vaudeville duo, the disc of elegant singing never released in their lifetime. Two badly worn discs were found by a collector who pieced them together to make a successful disc, Strangely both sisters denied they ever recorded together for Victor. My own first choice would be Tosti's A vucchella which sits so comfortable on her voice, the piece shaped with a nice sense of fun. The inadequate accompanying notes tell us very little regarding the background to the discs, and particularly why Ritorna vincitor and O patria mia where unissued at the time, as both find her in peak form. Made in the States over the period 1923 - 29, the orchestral sound is basic, but the transfers have been superbly handled.

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