Arago: Exhibits


Leading Ladies of the Opera

32c Rosa Ponselle single

The Rosa Ponselle stamp was issued September 10, 1997.

32c Lily Pons single

The Lily Pons stamp was issued September 10, 1997.

The classical singing form of opera has remained popular from generation to generation. One of the most prestigious opera companies in the world is New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Three of the Metropolitan Opera’s most renowned singers are Rosa Ponselle, Lily Pons, and Marian Anderson.

Rosa Ponselle (1887-1981) is one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most well known sopranos. However, this leading lady began her career on the vaudeville stage and in theatre productions. In the 1920’s Ponselle got her big break at the Metropolitan Opera, where she consistently played leading roles for twenty years. Despite the fact that she was still a success at the opera, in 1937 Ponselle ended her professional career to focus on her domestic life. However, although she no longer performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Ponselle still remained active in the Opera world through acting as a mentor for up and coming singers.

Another one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most famous leading ladies is Lily Pons (1898-1976). Lily Pons was French-American and began her career in a 1928 performance of Lamke in Mulhouse, France. Like Rosa Ponselle, Pons had a soprano voice and her vocal talents eventually led her to a career with The Metropolitan Opera. Pons continued to perform with the Metropolitan Opera throughout the 1930’s and also received work within the film industry.

The United States Postal Service honored Rosa Ponselle and Lily Pons by featuring them on postage stamps. Their stamps were issued at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, New York. The stamps were designed by Howard Paine for the American Music Series: Opera Singers Issue.

Another famous opera singer from the 1930’s is Marian Anderson (1897-1993). However, unlike Rosa Ponselle and Lily Pons, Anderson had a rough start to her career due to the discrimination and racism of her lifetime. Marian Anderson received particularly strong discrimination in 1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) would not allow her to sing at the DAR Constitution Hall because she was an African American. In response to this discrimination, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt set up a concert for Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and also resigned from her position in the DAR. Anderson’s concert on the Lincoln Memorial not only launched her personal career, but also remains as a landmark within the history of civil rights in America. After her concert, Anderson went on to become the first African American singer in the Metropolitan Opera and had a very successful career as an opera singer. In addition to her singing career, Anderson also became a U.S delegate to the United Nations, and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The music community rewarded Anderson for her contributions to opera music by awarding her the Kennedy Center Award for lifetime achievements in the arts.

The Marian Anderson stamp was designed by Richard Sheaff for the Black Heritage Series. The stamp features an oil painting of Anderson created by Albert Slark. The ceremony was held in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall to acknowledge the fact that Anderson was discriminated against by the DAR in the 1940’s.