Rosa Ponselle: American Diva

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Author, Beverly Sills, Foreword by Northeastern University Press $35 (357p) ISBN 978-1-55553-317-5
With its focus on performance detail, this book becomes more a re-creation of a career trajectory than a full-fledged biography, and one wonders if Phillips-Matz, author of the award-winning Verdi, may have felt constrained by the Ponselle Foundation, which commissioned the book. James A. Drake's recent Rosa Ponselle (Amadeus) proves to be the more vibrant and comprehensive biography. Ponselle, born in 1897 to Italian immigrants who established a successful coal business in Connecticut, was the youngest of three children. Her brother joined the family business while she and her sister performed in vaudeville and ultimately at the Metropolitan Opera, where Rosa became an acclaimed diva. A protegee of Caruso, the soprano was 21 when she signed her first contract with the company, and within a few seasons critics were proclaiming Ponselle the greatest soprano of her generation. She left the stage in 1939 because, at least according to the legend to which Phillips-Matz subscribes, the Met refused to mount Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur for her. The book scants Ponselle's life thereafter in Baltimore, where she married and divorced, became artistic director of the Baltimore Opera Company and coached the likes of Beverly Sills, who supplies the foreword to the book. Although Ponselle, who died in 1981, had a notable career, Phillips-Matz moves cautiously through it and makes the biography so partisan that the soprano emerges as dull and predictable. 26 photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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