One of the greatest soprano
s of all time. She trained as a child in vaudeville
, not opera
. Her very first
appearance on the opera stage was in Verdi
's La Forza del Destino
at the New York Met...
in the leading role...
Callas called her the "greatest of us all". Pavarotti called her "the Queen of all Queens in singing".
She was born Rosa Ponzillo on 22 January 1897 in Meridon, Connecticut. Her early experience was with her elder sister Carmela in cinema and theatre as an act called Those Tailored Girls. An audition with the vocal coach William Thorne in New York led to another with Caruso and Romano Romani, who recommended her to the Met, where she debuted as Leonora in 1918: despite having fainted from nerves after singing Casta diva.
She sang at the Met from 1918 to 1937, a total of 258 performances in 22 roles, including Norma, Violetta, Carmen, and Giulia in La Vestale, which was revived for her.
She sang at Covent Garden from 1929 to 1931; and her performance as Giulia in Florence in 1933 forced the conductor Vittorio Gui to break a strict rule of no encores, when an audience-member called out, after the tumultuous applause had died down, "Who knows if we shall ever hear the likes of that again?".
She retired from live performance after an artistic disagreement, possibly compounded by stress from less favourable reviews. She directed the Baltimore Civic Opera, and taught. Sherrill Milnes was one of her pupils. She died in 1981.