Carmela Ponselle, a renowned mezzo-soprano of the opera and concert stage, was born Carmela Anna Ponzillo on June 7, 1887 in Schenectady, New York. She was the eldest of three children born to Maddalena and Bernardino Ponzillo; Antonio and Rosa were the younger siblings. Like her sister Rosa, Carmela began her musical activity in the girl’s choir at Meriden’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The church organist, Miss Anna Ryan, taught her how to read music and play the piano. Carmela’s voice continued to develop and, on her 21st birthday, she moved to New York City to receive voice training and seek employment.
After a start as a ballad singer in a supper club and in theatrical musicals in New York City, she made many appearances in vaudeville on the Keith Circuit. Joined by her sister Rosa they became national headliners as “The Ponzillo Sisters” until Rosa left to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House.
In 1925 Carmela made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera Company as Amneris in “Aida.” She went on to sing such great roles as Laura in “La Gioconda” (which she did with Rosa), the female lead role in “Samson and Delilah” and “Carmen.” The photo above shows her as Santuzza in “Cavalleria Rusticana,” one of her most famous roles.
Madame Carmela Ponselle retired from an active career in 1935 and made her last public appearance as a performer in April, 1951 when, at the age of 63, she sang an aria from Verdi’s “Don Carlos” at Madison Square Garden at a benefit concert for the blind. She spent many of her retirement years working with the handicapped and underprivileged and left a legacy of sincere human service to those less fortunate than her.
MERIDEN HALL of FAME