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The following program was produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation by W. B U R Boston. Boston University radio presents Hall of song the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966. You're right. We're. The world. Your posts are miles cast and Deek music critic of The New York. Tribune. And Milton Cross.
When it comes to engaging singers operatic impresarios are generally a very conservative and wary lot. They don't like taking chances on the know who might be a box office sensation overnight or might just as easily be nothing more than a dead weight on the roster for the rest of the season but every once in a while a manager throws caution to the winds and gambles Sometimes he even wins. Good because as I took rather a big chance in the early weeks of the 1918 season when he filled the pot of Leonora and fought to del Destino with a completely unknown American soprano and the risk involved was even greater than it might have been ordinarily because this was an opera that had never been given at the Metropolitan before the whole new production could have been jeopardized if at its first performance the leading Soprano turned out to be a dud. The memory of such a fiasco might have prejudiced audiences against the opera from then on but get it was lucky. The Soprano he had chosen was
none other than rose upon sell and the reviews made it clear that there hadn't been any gamble or risk involved at all. James Punica wrote in The Times added to our personal attractiveness she possesses a voice of natural beauty that may prove a gold mine. It is a vocal goal anyhow with its luscious lower and middle tones dark rich conduct on brilliant and flexible in the upper register a sweet appealing sympathetic voice well placed well trained. It was such an auspicious beginning. Rows upon sell went on to do still greater things. All in spite of the fact that no one knew who she was when she first set foot on the stage of the Metropolitan. A man of his own was a true to your metropolitan debut was actually your first operatic experience. Well I must say it is true. I recall being very excited and looking forward with great eagerness anticipation to my debut at the Metropolitan is
Leonora a question oh that's a lot faster than just you know by Verdi. I was very very young barely 21 Not hardly 21 now here I've divulged my age and I meant to keep that a secret. Well anyway everybody knows I was so called the baby of the Metropolitan in those days I was very young too young really to know what it was all about the really the early rehearsals built up a tension a momentum that I found both exciting and relaxing. At the same time you feel exuberance of course that's what you'd call it wouldn't you. What is your first name. Dick I'm going to call you Dick and we call me Rosa. And that got because that's a you know he was then impresario he said to me after the general rehearsal. Well you might say tapping my face but it was actually a little slap on the face like my mother used to give me when I misbehaved as a child. So in this state slapping my face after the general rehearsal saying fuck shutoffs which means you brazen thing. Tough tough skin of the face in
other words tough hide in the face fetch at the Austin how do you stand there singing and acting with the ease of a veteran. I rehearsal had gone superbly well you know. That was Wednesday morning and my debut was on the following Friday night. And I recall that Mr. Noir who was then the manager of the cannot be piano the artist of the Metropolitan and the entire metropolitan co. endorsed the cannot be piano and of course I. And Doris the piano also. That's before I even had a chance to use it for concerts. Well he gave a luncheon in my honor that same day the Metropolitan Opera Phish shows were there including got to go. Well I was so relaxed and confident and so happy over the results of my general rehearsal that I accepted I was relaxed enough to accepted some things which I would never have done later on my career. What happened from then on was a nightmare for me. Horrible and wonderful at the same time. That
evening a prominent European Tenet was making his debut. I won't mention his name. On Thursday morning I read his reviews and I always curse the day that those papers were brought into me on my breakfast tray. The critics were not very kind to him and I was terrified and I thought to myself well if they are so critical of a celebrated artist what are they going to do to poor little me. I began to tremble and I just couldn't stop. All day Thursday and Friday I thought I'd die of fright. Well when I arrived at the theater I was shaking so badly that I couldn't even put on my make up. Now that's shaking pretty bad isn't it. I had never been warned about stage fright. My mouth was so dry I couldn't salivate. I moved mechanically as though in a daze I was simply not well. My debut was to be quite a quiet one with no advance fanfare so it got because that's a thought since in some to some agree he was taking a chance and he said the last Prix heralding down the better just come out modestly as rows upon sell American ball on debut. That's all that
was in the programmes so I was the first. Well he wanted it to be modest and humble for which I was grateful after. It was the first American I was the first American singer to debut at the Metropolitan without first gaining experience in opera abroad. This may have added of course to my sense of responsibility and increasing the terrible fright thinking Well here I am I set a precedent for other young singers to follow. How did you ever imagine though that any performance with Caruso DeLuca my donors also and I could be on her older or go unnoticed. Well these were your colleagues in the well of course they are. They didn't need any and deduction. They were all old timers there everybody knew who it was and the look on everybody was they didn't need any explanation. They simply were programmed in every the world knew who they were already. They've been long established but no one heard of rows upon South. It does make you more nervous. Well naturally. And yet I was grateful that he did it that way because I saw as such what if
they turn of events should be just the opposite from what I had hoped and all of us had hope. Well there's been nothing lost but if they came out as a great find and a great discovery a great genius a great Michael would and then I let them down. Well I'd have to hide for the rest of my life in shame. Did you have any idea of how they felt about you know after all they had taken a number of years to prepare for coming to the Metropolitan who you were just walking in. Cold sort of speak do I know they heard me say at my auditions they heard me also at the studio before I even sang at the Metropolitan audition. So they were already acquainted with my talents and voice and they weren't at all so frightened. They had great confidence in me and thought that I was an exception to the rule they weren't at all concerned reprehensive. I was the only one and probably got because that's a little bit. But now that I look back apparently he wasn't concerned because how how then would he present me with this contract to sign singing and singing and they are not opposite the
great Caruso in such a short time in such a short notice three months preparation practically. So everybody had confidence Oh there goes my dogs. Keep quiet and I'll buy that my dog by the way are all named after an opera. Camille Norma Don Giovanni. Oh there are nine dogs. Camille I had 20 odd dogs at one time. That's. The penalty one pays for having a male and a female to start with that was my biggest error. God also had always felt a great sense of responsibility when performing and he felt even he felt it even more because he had suggested me for the Leonora at the theater on opening night he paced the floor and talked to no one because he was so bored. Worried about himself and about his protege. He was as you know an inveterate smoker. They say he could cut the smoke with a knife I kept clear away from his
dressing because I know that. But see the smoke coming out of the cracks of the doors. Seeing him paced up and down didn't help me any either. I must say he was wonderful once he got on the stage. I remember trying to vocalize in my dressing room before the curtain went up and I couldn't hear my voice. What if I cracked on my high notes. Was my voice there was it all right. I should have known that the heavy draperies and rugs in my room were absorbing the sound and I should have vocalized in the hallway. But I didn't know when I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to die right there on the stage what a dramatic finish for a young Yes I was sure of that. Finally my entrance came and I could feel the floor shaken under my feet. Actually the floor was firm you know. But I wasn't. I felt like I was doing the tap dance one of my long ropes. And each time I raise my hands they were trembling my throat was parched I was sure I was going to die. Luckily the audience didn't see this but the chorus did and they were rooting and praying for me every inch of the way God bless them. CARDOZA
was aware of my predicament and between our passages which were very quick passages he'd say in Italian I would say rather to him in a tie just don't want to understand what I am though which means I'm dying I'm dying. And so then I go on singing and when he'd had a split second respite he'd say Get a grip on me and hold me tightly saying Can I just cut out your thesis thing go. Courage courage I will sustain you. And then it was my turn to rest. And while he was singing these quick passages tightly embracing me you know just when I started to see quote the movie I'm dying I'm sure I'm going to die. Well it was a case of the blind leading the blind because the poor darling was dying in his own rags. So between the acts I thought well after the first act was over I thought well I made it through Act 1. But I know I surely will not live through the second act 55 minutes of continuous singing on the stage without a break. Any artist who has sung Leonore in front of Delta State will attest to that before
x second opened. I prayed and prayed because relatively speaking the first act even though it made no cuts had a big audio in it but the tester to it was quite comfortable. But the second act is a terrific cause. Just a thought and it was 55 minutes as I said before. So even though I was trembling so badly throughout the second act my voice amazingly enough was clear and steady and the audience gave me great acclaim at that point in the act. After I had sung the repeat those are very good and in fact it was during the year during the duet with my daughters who was my bass at the time. You've heard of the great my daughters. What a voice he had. Well as the middle of that when she kneels at the cross in a long sustained F sharp comes and he goes down two optos while I hold that sustained effort. Well that's where I was acclaimed really. I remember that and I thank God for the strength that he gave me and how reassuring it was to know that my mother sister teacher companions and their friends were in
the audience all saying their rosaries for me. Everyone was trying to help. They all realized my plight but it was a dear little girl on the stage and Gotti in the wings all pulling for me. I remember each time I tried to open my mouth to sing my throat felt as though it was struck by glow. And I'm not exaggerating. It was a horrible feeling believe me and in the last act there was much more relaxed. You know my favorite Adi Apache project. You know my Villa Park is named it is named after that ph party party because we have had moments of Potch in this house. My favorite idea project party opened their final scene and how true the sentiment of the text especially that night how deeply I felt the music of this audio like the calm after the storm. No one will ever know. And at last the curtain it was over. The rest as you know is history. I remember thinking I couldn't go through it again but I did many many times in my career and each time I had a
premiere I would always say to myself Rosa remember you lived through that debut. You're going to live through this and that carried me through my entire career. Remember you lived through your debut. You will live through this and it's true. Would you have any indication that after your debut what your other colleagues had felt about the performance. Well all they had is they rejoiced in my success just as I have and those close to me Have they were very proud and very cooperative and a very inspiring group and they were all plugging for me right through. And I found them to be most congenial throughout their entire career. I sang with all these big wigs and we got along got along famously artistically and socially. In fact I don't remember a discordant note with any of my colleagues in my entire metropolitan career had wonderful fun. I understand that there was just one incident or one thing about
which you became jealous. Now what was that for instance. What was that. Oh you mean my I've tried to pull that would you mean did you hear that. Well that's the only thing in life and I still am jealous of any person that can eat anything they like and and not gain an ounce of and I've always had that problem. I had to watch my diet and when I was my thinnest at the Metropolitan you probably have observed that I have sung my heaviest roles such as just going to Norma and that was of course I wasn't starving no no crash diets I think like that nice big steaks which for which fortunately I did like. And. Vegetables and salads but I did like my spaghetti and my pile of modes and what have you a bed. But I managed to keep it down but I still to this day I thought the day I retired I was going to retire in the country and I'm going to eat everything I want to get as fat as I want and I won't have to be a concern about how my appearance is for the stage or for a career. But surprisingly enough I don't do it
because I'm still in the eyes of the public here being the director of the Opera Company and I'm seen socially and and and at the theater so I'm your pride enters to a great extent so I manage to keep it down but it's a constant battle. I guess when I'm going over again I have all these specific specifications made clear to our dear Lord and so that I can eat and yes the only thing I'm jealous of. Not of beauty not of money not of Fame anyone of Fame no jealousy among my kind among all the colleagues and great artists I've heard no jealousy of beauty only food. You know shortly after your room you were in a production of Abel's Oberon singing the role of roots and came. Well only a few weeks after the derby was out a particular strain on you would you know. No it was no strain because I don't remember ever having studied it but I do remember performing it and I could have sworn that I did at the second or third season at the
Metropolitan not the first of the my month after my debut I cannot remember that now. I remember doing cover the Qana the sun through which I tossed off just like that it was nothing and it was right in my cup in my cup of tea you might say and that I enjoyed and it was only one act so that I do remember but I do not remember doing so but on the following month after my debut was over and then was done in English were there any particular reasons we don't have as well the reason was that we couldn't do anything in German because of the world war nothing anything of the German repertoire had to be done in English. So but on was done in English much to my regret and Mark to know this. Imagine I only had to learn it in English and what fun we had when he was learning this in English that was his first English role at the Metropolitan. And we often talk about it and have many laughs. To this day when we refer to the his obit on an English so that was done one month later and well as I said for
the life of me I don't recall having done it that soon I was still so numb from the thoughts of my debut in the prepared preparation of my debut that that didn't enter my mind at all and I must have done it automatically I don't know why or mechanically but apparently with a fine piece of it I don't recall the general rehearsal but downscale was conducting and I was a little slow on the uptake and one bar. Don't forget these rehearsals then took place at 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning and I I don't even turn around at that hour. If you asked me to do a rehearsal at midnight I'd be there in full bloom. But this morning business you know got because as I later did change the general rehearsals knowing my temperament and how lucky I was in the morning he did change it to 12 o'clock noon for me this was after I had been established and they did care a little bit more to me but I think they got better performances out of me too. So anyway I did. I was a little slow I guess on that. My breathing and so suddenly.
But downscale took his baton and beating it on the stand. And I thought of what happening now pandemonium took place and I looked down completely numb and stared at him and he was a stern looking man anyway so while I stared at him at that moment he looked to me like a Mephistopheles. And I was wordless speechless and motionless in the middle of the ocean the mighty monster. And he said what's the med upon So you're slow. Wake up wake up. Well I was so shaken up and right out of character right out of my character that my voice dropped an octave lower and hardly above a whisper. Could you hear me and then the tears came and off the stage I flowed to my dress. And all of everybody was there that's all the critics were at this general rehearsal those days that permitted the critics to come in and review with their performance the Premier's of any
opera at the general rehearsal I don't know whether they still do that now or not. So you had to sing in full voice and reinvent top form. And so then he came rushing to my room and got because that's a reassuring me and that everything was fine and I was just exaggerating and he was just surprised that I had made such a mistake when he called it a mistake but being so careless and I was always so conscientious and so perfect in each note that such a musician that you spotted us he said. And the slightest little error you make naturally becomes magnified but don't be such a baby. Now stop it stop and I kissed and embraced me and I finally snapped out of it and I went out and finished the perfume. The general rehearsal in my normal voice but they had to make me snap out of it for oh I just I was so sensitive. I bring this out as an example of my sensitivity and of the responsibility I felt for this in all my roles in fact that never did leave me. We finished the rehearsal but the memory of the dance skyscraper man still lives
with me and I was. Do you work with him many times. Probably not since he was almost exclusively conducting for the German wing and of course only one other I did with him. It was with that was done in French. That's the one other more because we've been wonderful is a wonderful conductor but he did as you say specialize in the German repertoire but these two exceptions. Well this one exception because the obit on was German but the rate at the leisure wave was in French and he did the premiere and until the time I had he died. He conducted that and then house of mine I think took over. And of course credit was a died the following a while and 21 Yes unfortunately and then it was dropped for several years until Martinelli took it over and then we revived it again and Martinelli also did a terrific job and that was cut it was as one of the greatest In fact the greatest thing he's ever done that was the consensus that was he really came into us
into the peak of his career in that park trail and vocally and every way that that was the greatest thing he's ever done that and the pilot actually were sort of synonymous with his name. What was it specifically about the LEOs all that he did that made it so. Well his characterization of those suffering the pathos that it and it encompassed so many emotional aspects and he seemed to I don't know whether he felt this that his end was coming or what. But he never got so lost in a part and had such control over the voice and his make up and I was simply well you just tremble just to think of it it was God as it was too beautiful to put into words. And he's left an indelible mark on everybody's had heard and saw that performance and it will live with him forever. What generally was the reaction of the Opera House to his death. Oh dear it's just too horrible to talk about I know I was at a gay party when the news came in.
Well I couldn't begin to tell you it was such a personal loss to me not only for what he has meant to me and in my career and for all Americans that followed but to think that that great great voice and talent that unique voice was hushed for ever I can't bear to talk of it even now. Well then shortly after that the Metropolitan was some of the loose limbs was in a Geraldine Ferraro left and a number of other auto family. I think I was around 21 or 20 I think it was just the following season or something. So quite quite soon after then Judy didn't Judy Judy I already made his debut before cause he died today that very same year I believe. Yes and then from there and then. J.D. I think inherited most of his repertoire which is another great voice but of course there's only one Cardozo although the others are great entities and great great voices in their own right but there was only one cuddles and I doubt if we'll hear another one in our generation.
And. Yeah. A few. We were. Going there to meet. Their. News. This. Was.
Yesterday. When I was. Going to her. With. Me. Oh. Wow. Oh.
Dear. Did you. Get it. You know you'll. Never hear it. Then there. Was this. What that. Would mean. Paunch a paci a meal deal sung by the beloved rose upon sell
next week we'll hear more from Mad pun Sal as she continues her conversation with Richard Calhoun about how brilliant metropolitan career for Noel this is Milton Cross on behalf of miles custom Deek inviting you to join us again then. Boston University Radio has presented Hall of song and the story of the Metropolitan Opera from 1893 to 1966 the series is created and produced by Richard Calhoun a grant from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of these programs for national educational radio. This is the national
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Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966
Producing Organization
WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
1918. Rosa Ponselle, the soprano, makes a sensational debut. In the first of a two-part interview she tells of her first seasons with the company.
Series Description
Documentary series on history of the Metropolitan Opera Company ("The Met") in its original home at Broadway and 39th Street in New York. "The Met" closed its old location on April 16, 1966. Series includes interviews and rare recordings of noted performers.
Broadcast Date
Performing Arts
Media type
Host: Cross, Milton, 1897-1975
Host: Kastendieck, Miles
Interviewee: Ponselle, Rosa, 1897-1981
Producer: Calhoun, Richard
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-41-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:30
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Chicago: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1918,” 1966-11-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1918.” 1966-11-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Hall of song: The 'Met,' 1883-1966; 1918. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from