ROSA PONSELLE by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz


American Diva
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 A thorough if dry biography published in the centennial year of the great soprano's birth. There are two ways of writing biography: Creating a portrait--novelized nonfiction, if you will--or presenting an incredibly detailed and more distanced account of a life. Phillips-Matz (Verdi, 1993), a regular contributor to Opera News and a former manager of the Spoleto Festival, has chosen the latter strategy here; the results are both good and not-so. Reading at times like a grocery list as the author strings together quotes from reviews and other sources, this volume about one of the 20th century's great singers is nonetheless impressive for the depth of its research. In ably charting Ponselle's life, Phillips-Matz relies on extensive interviews (conducted by both herself and others) as well as on a great deal of documentary material. Born in Meriden, Conn., in 1897, Ponselle rose from her modest origins as a sixth-grade drop-out who traveled the vaudeville circuit as one half of a singing duo with her sister, Carmela. Later, with the assistance of star tenor Enrico Caruso, she made her fairy-tale-style Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 21. Ponselle was an unpredictable character, given to practical jokes and sports. This was a woman who spent her vacations not only learning every note of the new operas she was scheduled to sing the following season, but also mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps, and biking and fishing wherever. Her star status is all the more striking considering that she didn't come to opera training until fairly late. Aspiring opera singers will appreciate the author's attention to Ponselle's habits and singing strategies, while lay fans will value the book's indefatigable flow of information. Included are a Ponselle discography and a foreword by Beverly Sills. A rather conventional approach to a fairly unconventional life. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55553-317-5
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997