Lily Pons (1904-1976)

Bell Song
Lakmé by Léo Delibes

Lily Pons as Lakme A piano student at the Paris Conservatoire, Lily Pons received her first vocal instruction from Alberti de Gorostiaga. She made her operatic début in 1928 at Mulhouse as Lakmé, with Reynaldo Hahn conducting, then sang in French provincial houses as Gretel, Cherubino, Blonde, the Queen of the Night and Mimi. Giovanni Zenatello, who ran the summer seasons at the Arena at Verona and who had become a prominent agent, brought Pons to New York to audition. Galli-Curci had withdrawn from the Met due to the advancement of a goiter, leaving the colortura throne vacant. Gatti-Casazza was desperately searching for a replacement. Toti dal Monte had been alienated, Pagliughi’s figure was considered impossible, and Mercedes Capsir was past her prime. The time was right for a fresh coloratura to step in, but Pons’s credentials were so unimpressive that it took a great deal of patience to persuade Gatti-Casazza to listen to her. Pons had a tiny voice, but she looked good and posessed charm and very secure high Es and Fs, so Gatti-Casazza decided to take a gamble. For her 1931 début as Lucia, he gave Pons no fanfare whatsoever, not even advance photos for the newspapers. Lanfranco Rasponi describes the event in The Last Prima Donnas: “The public, totally unprepared, was dazzled by the purity and daring acrobatics of the diminutive voice, which, because of infallible schooling, always managed to reach the last row of the gallery, however big the theater. The mad scene was a triumph, and in the excitement no one could recall how many curtain calls there were.”

Lily Pons Following this sensational début at the Metropolitan, Pons became a star overnight and remained with the company for 28 seasons logging successes as Gilda, Amina, Marie ( La fille du régiment), Philine ( Mignon), Olympia and, above all, Lakmé. In 1935 she sang Rosina at Covent Garden and Gilda and Lucia at the Paris Opéra. She sang in South America, San Francisco, Monte Carlo and Chicago, and made several films. She was married to André Kostelanetz from 1938 to 1958. She made her stage farewell at the Metropolitan in 1958 as Lucia. She continued to sing in concert and in 1972, at the age of 68, appeared at Philharmonic Hall in New York City, under the baton of her ex-husband André Kostelanitz. She sang six arias to delirious acclaim, and the concert became part of a television documentary dedicated to her. Lily Pons was diagnosed with cancer in 1976 and died a short time later.

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