Rosa Ponselle

The online opera guide to Rosa Ponselle

Read the short biography of Rosa Ponselle and listen to Highlights of his career. She was perhaps the greatest soprano of the golden age.


The ascent

Born in 1897 as Rosa Ponzillo in a musical family in Meriden Conecticut. Her sister Carmela was talented as well and the two appeared in their youth as “Ponzillo-Sisters”.

She made her debut at the Met in 1918 in Forza del destino alongside Enrico Caruso. She was 21 years old, had never stood on an opera stage before and had only seen two operas so far. Fischer: “As a newcomer, her nerves were tense enough to be torn apart and she mumbled to her partner Caruso. ‘I can’t sing anymore’, he whispered back ‘coraggio, coraggio io ti sostengo’. She took courage again and triumphed in the 4th act with Pace, pace, mio Dio.”

Pace, pace, mio Dio (forza del destino) – Ponselle


The debut was phenomenal and the couple was celebrated. She got the nickname “Caruso in Petticoats”. The conductor Tullio Serafin, perhaps the last great conductor who knew everything about voices (Fischer) said he had experienced three voice miracles in his career, Caruso, Ruffo and Ponselle.

Rosa Ponselle concentrated mainly on the Italian repertoire but did not sing Puccini. Her highlights were the Norma 1927.


Casta diva (Norma) – Ponselle


and the Traviata in 1935.

Ah fors’è lui (La Traviata) – Ponselle


She stopped singing when she was 40 years old. One reason was an argument she had with Gatti-Casazza, the director of the Met. And possibly a second one, because she had her biggest failure of her artistic life with a failed Carmen 2 years before.


Her voice

Walter Legge characterized the voice as follows: “It was majestic, enormously rich in overtones. Her legato was perfect with a breath control that only makes the listener breathless with amazement. She was a lirico-spinto with an astonishing agility and the power reserves of a highly dramatic one. The voice was well proportioned, from the lowest tone to the highest, register changes were completely inaudible.

Kesting speaks of the fullness and richness of the vocal sound that truly was unique.





She was perhaps the greatest soprano of the golden age. For Elisabeth Schwarzkopf she was the ultimate perfection and for Maria Callas “the greatest singer of us all”.



More highlights of her recordings


Rosa Ponselle sings this aria from Il Trovatore with a beautiful legato. The voice is rich and expressive even in the high notes and has a beautiful dark timbre. She sings the moods of this aria wonderfully. e.g. the «Dolente», or the «Misero». Especially beautiful is also the final note: with great grace Ponselle floats on the final note of the cadenza.

D’amor sull’ali rosee


Rosa Ponselle was one of the outstanding sopranos of the golden age. Kush called her “the real prima donna of the Metropolitan Opera at which she celebrated unimaginable triumphs”. Before each performance she suffered from a great nervous tension. Fischer: “Long walks through the streets had to be completed each time before the magic door to the opera house could be crossed, and she also had a fresh air neurosis: the windows of her wardrobe and also the doors behind the stage had to be opened wide for her two hours before the performance, summer and winter, other colleagues were not enthusiastic about it, and De Luca even threatened with the lawyer if he should catch a cold from it”. Let’s get back to the opera Trovatore: “You have to go back to Ponselle to find the old truth confirmed that interpretation can only begin after the technical mastery of the music. She masters the music, and this technical surplus is transformed into expression. In the cabaletta after Tacea la notte she sings an incredible piano des.” (Kesting) Listen to this recording of Tacea la notte with Rosa Ponselle.

Tace la notte…di tale amor  –  Ponselle


A duet form Il Trovatore by Rosa Ponselle and Riccardo Stracciari, which is worth hearing for Ponselles “sublime thrills” (Kesting).

Mira di acerbe lagrime (2) –  Ponselle/Stracciari


Listen again to Rosa Ponselle in «Teneste la promessa…Addio del passato» from the 1935 Traviata.

Teneste la promessa…addio del passato (2)  –  Ponselle


Kesting (grosse Stimmen) even counts the Ponselle version, not least because of the heavenly singing Rosa Ponselle, among the great moments of Verdi singing. Rosa Ponselle (1897 – 1981), who is often mentioned by experts together with Maria Callas as the greatest soprano voice of the 20th century, offers great vocal artistry with this recording of Aida.

O terra addio 6:47 (3)  –  Ponselle/ Martinelli


Kesting on Ponselles Casta Diva: “the flow of the voice, the bright luminosity of the voice, the suppleness of the melisms are of intoxicating beauty”. She sings the aria in this recording without repetition.

Casta Diva  –  Ponselle


This recording is a duet from Norma. Kesting: “Perfect in the parallel voice lines, dancing to the music, with a fabulous sense of timing”. For example, listen to the scene from 2.03, 5.14 and 6:19!

Mira, o Norma  –  Ponselle / Telva


In the playlist you will find an interesting document of the great Rosa Ponselle, one of the most outstanding Adriana in history. There are no recordings of her from the twenties, only house music from 1953 (in her late fifties), when she accompanied herself on the piano and a friend of hers had a recorder with him.

Io son l’umile ancella


This scene from “La forza del destino” is simply great in the interpretation by Ezio Pinza and Rosa Ponselle. Ponselle must have had a voice that was pure like a bell, which can only be guessed at based on the recording technique of 1928. Pinza’s beautiful warm bass gives the scene the foundation, which led to a soulful recording.

La vergine degli angeli  –  Pinza / Ponselle


At this point, an excursus must be made for “opera historical” reasons. Rosa Ponselle, perhaps the greatest soprano of the time between the world wars, made her debut at the Met 1918 in Forza del destino at the side of Enrico Caruso. She was 21 years old, had never stood on an opera stage and had only seen two operas herself. Fischer (large voices): “As a newcomer her nerves were strained to the breaking point and in the first act she murmured to her partner Caruso to ‘I can’t sing any more’, he whispered back ‘coraggio, coraggio io ti sostengo’. She regained her courage and triumphed in Act IV with “Pace, pace, mio Dio. ” Kesting (Kesting, the great singer) speaks very highly of her pace, pace: “with Rosa Ponselle you are sent to the angels. She sings with the most exuberant tone, but its beauty is a painful one.”

To demonstrate her art of singing, the two “Messa di voce” (swellings of the voice) at 00:20 and 1:48 may illustrate why the great Tullio Serafin called her “one of the three wonders of the world”.

Pace, pace mio Dio  –  Ponselle



Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on Rosa Ponselle




1 reply
  1. Tanya Kim Dixon
    Tanya Kim Dixon says:

    Her singing leaves me speechless. What technique she possessed; what unfeigned beauty. Truly the best of our soprano legacy.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *