, 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 A collector found two unpublished takes which were both damaged but Ward Marston managed to combine the two takes and produce a playable version.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!