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Rosa Ponselle, the Queen of Queens of Opera.

Rosa Ponzelle (Ponzillo) (1897-1981) was born in Meriden, Connecticut, where there was a small Italian enclave, one of two daughters of southern Italian immigrants who operated a grocery store. Introduced to music as a child by her mother, an amateur singer, Rosa began to take piano lessons and quickly gained a reputation as a piano prodigy. A voice teacher, Anna Ryan, who taught Rosa's older sister Carmela, who would go on to a distinguished professional opera career of her own, soon realized that Rosa was even more gifted. This led to a stage career, first in vaudeville where Rosa and her sister were known as "The Italian Girls," and performed with her in various clubs including "The Palace."

Rosa's opera career took off when William Thorner began to manage her in 1917. She was then signed to a contract at the Metropolitan Opera House to sing opposite the great tenor Enrico Caruso in her debut in Giuseppe Verdi's "La Forza Del Destino." With this move, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, director of the Metropolitan Opera House, was bound to cause a stir -the world's greatest tenor paired with an unknown who had never before appeared on a stage. The end result was a huge success with one critic calling her voice "vocal gold." A new star was born.

Rosa Ponzelle sang at the Metropolitan for nineteen years, retiring in 1937 because she was convinced she could no longer attain demanding standards she set for herself. Her personal life was beset by sadness including a failed marriage, a divorce and severe depression. However, she underwent therapy and slowly managed to rebuild her confidence so that she started a second career as artistic director of the Baltimore Civic Opera Company and she coached a number of important opera singers. She also made some hi-fi recordings that were highly regarded by opera music followers. Indeed the praise of professional musicians and singers stand as perhaps the most impressive tributes to her. Leonard Bernstein said Ponzelle's was the first operatic voice he ever heard and "that it made me a music-lover forever. To Maria Callas Rosa she was "the greatest singer of us all," and to Luciano Pavarotti she was "the Queen of all Queens in all of singing."

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