Cher Public


On this day in 1956 the Metropolitan Opera celebrated the 25th anniversary of the debut of soprano Lily Pons with a special gala performance.

Rigoletto: Act I, Scene 2

Lucia di Lammermoor: Act III, Scene 2

Linda di Chamounix: O luce di quest’anima
Mignon: Je suis Titania
Le Rossignol: Chant du Rossignol
Lakmé: Bell Song
Bachelet: Chère nuit (encore)
Ponce: Estrellita (encore)

Irving Kolodin in The Saturday Review of Literature:

She looked indescribably well, she sang with an indescribable effect on a large audience, and they responded with applause of warmth and volume. Leopold Stokowski was present, also Gladys Swarthout, Lillian Gish, David Oistrakh, and Andre Kostelanetz. . . .

The whole point of the occasion—how long Miss Pons has lasted in her chosen field and how well she still does what made her famous—was dulled a little by two facts. She has, truly, lasted longer than most other coloraturas (the pedants will note that Marcella Sembrich sang in the Met’s first season, 1883, and didn’t retire until 1909) but in the ten postwar years she has appeared at the Met only thirty-four times, an average of three-plus a year. Thus, her operatic endeavor has been spread very thin for a very long time. In some of these seasons she sang no more than once, meaning that her “streak”-like some famous ones in the sporting world—has been kept alive as much by courtesy as by achievement.

As to the second point, Miss Pons has been famous a long time, and has been singing near, rather, than on, the pitch much of that time. That typical characteristic was not denied the audience at her “gala,” which heard a Gilda in typical Pons style—not too sparkling in sound, but with every note animated by a keen sense of audience effect..

  • Bill

    I saw Lily Pons only twice in the earlier 50s, both as Lucia.
    She was demure and attractive and both times received entrance applause though it was hard to determine where the applause ended for the harp and began for her appearance. At that time Pons was singing rarely at the Met (a couple of Lucias and Gildas per season t best) and making more appearances in such
    locales as the Hollywood Bowl and on TV. Her voice was not difficult to hear but a little thin. She was very slender and sang all the standard high notes but usually sang them in her last Met years noticeably flat. At the time most of the Lucias at the Met were chirpy coloraturas (Munsel, Delores Wilson, Peters from early 1956) and Pons was no exception. It was not until Callas arrived at the Met (late 1956) that a dramatic coloratura essayed the role and made Lucia into more of a drama (in the same old production) which was a revelation for the public. Sutherland followed later in 1961 making her debut in a new production, and then Moffo the same year (she was excellent in the role). In her prime at the Met Pons was decidedly a huge star but sang only 10 roles (five in her first season in 1931) there all within her fach. Pons recorded Adele in
    Fledermaus with the Metropolitan Opera forces for Columbia but never actually sang the role at the Met -- The original cast in the wildly successful production at the Met in 1950 could not be recorded together as some of the singers were under contract to Columbia Records and some with RCA so two recordings were made at the time with different singers both in English (Welitsch and Pons together great fun in English !!!).

    • Dan Patterson

      Thanks so much for these reminiscences! Pons was just slightly before my time, but I had her records, including the giddy Fledermaus, and loved them all.

    • Jay Haskell

      You remind me of the Welitsch recording (allegedly in English).

      She had a line where she says something like “Your high notes drive me wild” to Alfred. With her Bulgarian-Austro-English It came out “Your high NUTS drive me wild. Great fun!

  • I’m glad to see the headlines of the “on this day” feature going to opera related items. And I like the contemporary quotes too (as with Mahler’s Met debut).

  • Ivy Lin

    So some major shit went down at NYCB this week: Peter Martins stepped down after another DUI arrest and accusations of physical abuse. I am a huge dance fan and ponder some highs and lows of Martins’ career at NYCB:

    • Lohenfal

      Thanks for the perceptive article on Martins and NYCB. I also think the company will survive and flourish.

      It’s interesting that your progression from ABT to NYCB mirrors mine. I was once an ABT subscriber but ultimately tired of the antiquated repertory and relentlessly old-fashioned choreography, not to mention the reams of Minkus. Once I became a NYCB subscriber, I started to visit ABT less and less frequently, and now hardly go there at all. Even during the period when the company wasn’t dancing at its present level, the superiority of the Balanchine/Robbins offerings was obvious, and Stravinsky, even at his thorniest, much better than Minkus. Even the inferior Martins ballets, which I saw often, couldn’t change my high opinion of the company in general, which I still hold.

      • Ivy Lin

        I go to ABT a few times during the spring season, and maybe once in a blue moon during their fall season, but I agree, ABT tends to grow on old and their current roster is not very strong. This season alone I’ve already been to NYCB 15 times!

  • Tribute to Mafalda Favero,born 1/6/1903. How many of you ever did this??Do not be shy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!