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Rosa Ponselle (1897 - 1981)

Ponselle (real name Rose Ponzillo: her parents had emigrated from Naples to America) displayed a superb natural voice at a very early age. Initially she studied the piano with Anna Ryan, the organist of the local Catholic church, and accompanied silent films in local cinemas; but influenced by her elder sister Carmela, who was successfully pursuing a career as a cabaret singer, she began to sing songs while the projectionists changed reels and by 1914 had secured a long-term engagement as a singer at the San Carlino Theater, one of the largest cinemas in New Haven.

The following year Carmela, who by now was an established vaudeville singer, having enjoyed success in 1912 on Broadway in the musical The Girl from Brighton, arranged for Ponselle to audition for her agent. As a result both were hired as a headlining sister-act on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit, earning a considerable income from 1915 to 1918, when they were dropped after requesting an increase in pay. Carmela then introduced Rosa to her voice teacher William Thorner, who arranged for them to be heard firstly by Victor Maurel and then by Enrico Caruso. Caruso, impressed by Rosa’s singing, arranged for her to be auditioned by Gatti-Casazza, who immediately offered her a contract with the Metropolitan Opera.



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