Ponselle Foundation Ends Grants for Opera Singers

By Rauschart, Lisa | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

Ponselle Foundation Ends Grants for Opera Singers


Rauschart, Lisa, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Rosa Ponselle stood above the likes of Geraldine Farrar, Amelita Galli-Curci and Claudia Muzio in an age of golden singers.

The voice of the young American from Meriden, Conn., brought even the great Arturo Toscanini to his knees. But Elayne Duke, president of the Rosa Ponselle Foundation in Stevenson, Md., says few singers today can reach the standard set by the legendary soprano.

"Regrettably, over the years we have found a decline in the training of opera singers," says Miss Duke, in announcing the foundation's decision to suspend its vocal competition. "The talent has simply not progressed enough to merit continued competition."

The Rosa Ponselle Foundation will continue to give individual grants to aspiring young classical singers "studying with competent private teachers who are willing to provide intensified training schedules without charging rapacious lesson fees," Miss Duke say.

The end of the statewide vocal competition, called "All Marylanders," marks the latest in a series of retrenchments by the foundation, which was formed in 1982 after the singer's death and endowed by her estate. Villa Pace, the singer's palatial home near Baltimore, was sold in 1987. It had been maintained by the foundation as a museum and occasional recital hall.

Ten years later, the Rosa Ponselle international vocal competition, which had awarded nearly a half-million dollars in grants and prizes to rising singers since its inception in 1984, was shut down.

The foundation also had operated a "Young New Yorkers" competition.

"Without consistent and competent technical and artistic training of young singers, the potentials of our fine young talents cannot be realized," Miss Duke, the last remaining close friend of Rosa Ponselle, wrote in 1997.

Singers such as Olga Borodina, who won both the international competition and a study grant in 1988, or Deborah Voight, who did the same in 1990, are few and far between, Miss Duke says.

More common is the case of a recent medal winner, a baritone, who received his $25,000 first-prize money with the "solemn commitment" that he would move to Italy and study with famed opera singer Carlo Bergonzi.

Instead, he invested the money in the stock market.

"Today, he's a serviceable house baritone in a small European opera house," Miss Duke says. "The interest in becoming a great singer just wasn't there."

Lonel Woods, a member of the Washington Opera Chorus who has also sung with the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Houston Grand Opera, agrees with Miss Duke's assessment of the state of the art.

"A lot of people are just mediocre," he says. "Singers are not encouraged to be individuals any more. In the old days, every time a singer opened her mouth you knew who they were. Now if you close your eyes you can't tell them apart. Teachers want everybody to sound the same."

The withdrawal of the Rosa Ponselle Foundation from the competition circuit has eliminated a valuable resource for young singers, but Miss Duke maintains that judges are hard pressed to find voices that merit the awards. …

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