Lily Pons

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Lily_Pons.jpg
Lily Pons as Rosina

Lily Pons (April 12, 1898February 13, 1976) was a French-born U.S. coloratura soprano.

Born Alice Josephine Pons in Draguignan near Cannes, Pons first studied piano at the Paris Conservatory, winning First Prize at the age of 15. During World War I, she played piano and sang for soldiers in Paris hospitals. She also sang at receptions in Cannes. In 1925, encouraged by soprano Dyna Beumer, she started taking singing lessons from Alberti de Gorostiaga in Paris.

She successfully made her operatic debut in the role of Léo Delibes' Lakmé at Mulhouse in 1928 and went on to sing several coloratura roles in French provincial opera houses.

She was discovered by the impresario Giovanni Zenatello, who took her to New York where she auditoned for Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. In 1931, the unknown French girl made an unheralded Met debut as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Against all odds, her performance received tremendous acclaim. She became a star overnight.

Pons was a principal soprano at the Met for thirty years, from 1931 until 1961. She also made guest appearances at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, Covent Garden in London, La Monnaie in Brussels, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Chicago Opera and the San Francisco Opera. After her Met farewell, she continued to sing concerts until 1972. Furthermore, she starred in three RKO films: I Dream Too Much (1935), That Girl From Paris (1936) and Hitting a New High (1937).

In 1940, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. From 1938 to 1958, she was married to the conductor André Kostelanetz, well-known at the time. During World War II, she toured the battlefields of North Africa and East Asia. Her country of birth awarded her the Croix de Lorraine and the Légion d'Honneur.

Lily Pons had a small voice but flawless technique and very secure top notes. She was one of very few sopranos who could effortly reach the high F in Delibes' "Bell Song" from Lakmé. She also charmed a public accustomed to buxom sopranos with her svelte appearance and good looks.

She excelled in Italian and French coloratura parts: Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto, Rosina in Rossini's Barbiere di Siviglia, Marie in Donizetti's Fille du régiment, Amina in Bellini's Sonnambula and the title role in Delibes' Lakmé.

She died of cancer in Dallas, Texas and her remains were brought back to her birthplace to be interred in the Cimetière du Grand Jas in Cannes on the French Riviera.

A village in Frederick County, Maryland, 10 miles south of Frederick, Maryland is called "Lilypons" in her honor.

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