Rosa Ponselle    (James A. Drake)       9781574670196
Item# B0022
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Rosa Ponselle    (James A. Drake)       9781574670196
B0022. (ROSA PONSELLE) James A. Drake.  Rosa Ponselle, A Centenary Biography.  Portland, OR, Amadeus, 1997. 494pp. Index; Bibliography; Exhaustive Chronology; Discography by Bill Park; Numerous Photos, many rare & unknown. - 9781574670196 1-57467-019-0


"Rosa Ponselle's voice was one of extraordinary beauty and voluptuousness. In its richness and depth, it has been compared by commentators at various times to port wine, maroon velvet and dark chocolate. The voice was absolutely even in its scale, from top to bottom, with all vocal registers seamlessly integrated and no audible changes of gear. Her legato singing was exemplary. She could sing at all dynamic levels, from a powerful forte to a gossamer pianissimo that carried to all corners of the opera house, and she could execute a perfect messa di voce in all parts of her range. In her early years, she had a three-octave range from low C to high C. She possessed an exceptionally rich and mellow middle and lower register. In weight and caliber Ponselle's voice was a true dramatic soprano, capable of encompassing all the demands of roles like La Gioconda and Norma. Although not a coloratura soprano in the mould of Tetrazzini or Galli-Curci, she had unusual flexibility for such a large and powerful voice and could negotiate fast scale passages with ease and accuracy, the proverbial 'string of pearls'. She possessed a fine trill that she could sustain seemingly forever: when she sang the trill in the cabaletta 'Tutto sprezzo' in Act I of Verdi's ERNANI, the story was that the conductor would simply fold his arms and wait for her to finish, picking up his baton only when she indicated that she was ready to come out of the trill. Added to the above, Ponselle was a sensitive musician and an imaginative interpreter. She was a quick study and could sight-read with accuracy. She possessed an excellent sense of rhythm. She was a convincing and intense actress, at times (in the opinion of some critics) pushing drama and intensity past the bounds of good taste. One can hear something of this in the denunciation scene in a 1935 performance of LA TRAVIATA, during which Ponselle's Violetta sobs and cries out and grows increasingly (and audibly) hysterical as Alfredo berates her. The principal flaw in Ponselle's voice, past the earliest years of her operatic career, was a problematic top register. Even in her earliest days, she had a phobia of the high C. In an interview in 1955, Ponselle said that the first thing she did when looking over a prospective role was flip through the score and count the high Cs. (The exposed high C in 'O patria mia' in AIDA terrified Ponselle and was the reason she did not sing more often a role that otherwise fitted her, vocally, like a glove.) Throughout her career Ponselle availed herself freely of transpositions. Apparently, she never sang any of the high Cs in NORMA but transposed them all down to a B. Her 'Sempre libera' in the live TRAVIATA is taken down a whole tone. In the later years of her career, but while she was still relatively young, her top register receded, and she was increasingly drawn to roles like Santuzza, Carmen and Adriana that did not tax her upper register. Some have speculated that Ponselle was by nature a mezzo-soprano with an exceptional upper extension. This theory is bolstered by the dark richness and solidity of her lower register. Ponselle herself once told mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne that she might have studied as a mezzo had she not begun singing so young. More likely, however, Ponselle, like Horne and Regina Resnik, started out as a true soprano, but as her voice matured it darkened and settled into a lower placement. If Ponselle had continued to sing in opera into the 1940s, she would probably have done so as a mezzo-soprano."

- Z. D. Akron