The opera legend was born Rosa Ponzillo in Meriden, Connecticut on January 22, 1897, of Italian immigrant parents. Rosa Ponselle lived in Baltimore, Maryland from the late 1930s until her death in 1981.
Ms. Ponselle was one of the greatest opera singers of all time and was the first native-born American to reach such a grand status in the world. She opened the door of acceptance to American singers at the Metropolitan Opera Company and throughout the world.
Enrico Caruso discovered her when he attended a variety show at which she was appearing with her sister, Carmella. He was captivated by the beauty of her voice and sponsored her audition at the Metropolitan Opera Company. In 1918 she made her Met debut in La Forza del Destino opposite Caruso. Ponselle was the first American to achieve that distinction. She went on to many subsequent triumphs and is thought of by many as the greatest Norma of all time.
After her sudden retirement in the 1930s, she came to Maryland with her Baltimore-born husband. Here, she was very instrumental in supporting the Lyric Opera Company and other significant artistic efforts in Maryland. Her reputation enabled the Baltimore Civic Opera to attract good singers for principal roles. Her unerring ear allowed Baltimore to be the scene for early career triumphs for such opera luminaries as Placid Domingo, Beverly Sills, Sheryl Milnes and James Morris.
In the 1940s Ms. Ponselle built an estate, Villa Pace, in the Greenspring Valley area where she spent the remainder of her life. She devoted much of her time and energy coaching young singers, some of whom went on to world renown. In her will she established a charitable foundation to encourage young opera singers by way of an annual vocal competition.