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Lily Pons

Lily Pons

ALily Ponslice Joséphine Pons was born on April 12th 1898 (not 1904 as the Diva later sustained) at Draguignan near Cannes in the South of France. She studied piano at the Consérvatoire Paris but soon decided that she was to become a singer and studied singing with Alberto de Gorostiaga. After her debut as Lakmé in 1927 at Mulhouse/Alsace she gained experience on several provincial stages as Cherubino, Mimi and Queen of the Night. Giovanni Zenatello and his wife, Maria Gay, were in the audience one evening and drew Gatti Casazza`s attention to this new soprano. Within 24 hours after a successful audition for Gatti-Casazza, Tullio Serafin and Otto Kahn the singer not only signed a five-year contract with the MET but also an exclusive contract for Victor. Since Amelita Galli-Curci was by that time in considerable vocal trouble Pons was engaged to take over her repertory. The evening of her debut as Lucia (with Gigli, De Luca and Pinza) on January 3rd 1931 was the beginning of a lifelong association with the MET and its public which adored her from the first moment on. During her first season, alone, Pons was heard in 20 different roles and was given a revival of “Lakmé” in the consecutive season. Until 1959 the singer appeared as Gilda, Amina, Philine, Linda di Chamounix, Olympia, the Queen in “Le Coq d`or”, Rosina and Marie in “La fille du Regiment”.

The name of Lily Pons had become an indispensable box-office hit for the MET but the Diva knew only too well how to create the impression of being omnipresent without making her appearances a customary habit. The more her salary went up the lesser became her performances. In the course of her 28 years at the MET Pons sang an average of only 10 evenings each season and gradually reduced her fundamental repertory to 10 roles. Lily Pons was a child of her time. The era of Glamour-Divas, the era of the first Hollywood sound-film productions and high strung extravagances which sure enough made a good publicity. The press devoured the slightest move of its Darling and the fact that on her first American tour she was accompanied by an almost grown out jaguar caused several headlines. The MET was central point of the soprano`s career, still, her guest appearances abroad always caused a great stir: 1931 she gave more than 20 performances at the Teatro Colón, in May 1935 she introduced herself to the public of London`s Covent Garden Opera as Rosina.

She successfully appeared at the Grand Opéra in Paris as well as at the Opéra Comique, in San Francisco (where in 1952 she attempted Violetta), Mexico and Cuba. She willingly accepted offers from Hollywood where she made three films: “That Girl from Paris” (1936), “Hitting a new high” (1938) and “I dream too much”. During the War she sang for the troops at the battlefronts of North Africa, India and China and was awarded many honors for her charity work. In 1956 the Metropolitan Opera celebrated Lily Pons` 25th MET-anniversary with a splendid gala-evening.

In 1972 she officially bade farewell from to her audience  and died on February 13th 1976 in Dallas only one month after having been told that she had cancer. Lily Pons  was brilliant in presenting herself on stage. She made the most of her vocal resources and her acting had a vivacity and a high-spiritedness which was entirely convincing. Young Robert Merrill was more than impressed when they first met: “She was not just a star. – She was a whole darned constellation!”    

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