1897 – 1981
Madame Ponselle, one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the 20th century, was born Rosa Ponzillo in Meriden. Her father, who had immigrated from Caserta, Italy, was a baker and owner of a grocery store in the house in which the family lived for many years on Springdale Avenue. She began her musical education by studying the piano and sang as she played the piano at a local silent movie theatre. She received encouragement from her mother, Maddalena, and piano training from the organist of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, where she sang in the choir.
Her older sister Carmela, an established vaudevillian with a beautiful singing voice, brought Rosa to New York City where they formed a sister act on the B. F. Keith Vaudeville Circuit. The great Enrico Caruso, who had heard her rich dramatic soprano voice, opened the door to her operatic career by arranging for her audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company which led to her debut with him in the role of Leonora in Verdi’s “La Forza del destino.” Rosa named her Maryland home “Villa Pace,” inspired by words in the aria “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio” which she sang as Leonora.
Following a career spanning 20 years, Madame Ponselle retired after her last performance in “Carmen” in April, 1937 with her golden voice intact. During her retirement at “Villa Pace” she gave generously of her time to the encouragement and development of young musicians and singers in the Baltimore area. Her home is now the Rosa Ponselle Museum. A provision in her will established a fund to provide for a musically oriented project for the education and benefit of the people of Meriden. A biography of her life is entitled “Ponselle.”