Lily Pons

Of Italian and French ancestry, the famed coloratura was born Alice Josephine Pons near Cannes, France in 1898. She studied the piano as a child and entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 13. Fragile health and the outbreak of World War I interrupted her education. She began appearing again in ingenue roles in the ensuing years. In 1923, she married August Mesritz, who encouraged her singing. Pons made her professional debut in the difficult title role of “Lakme” in 1928. She continued to sing at Paris opera houses, building up her repertoire. She debuted at the Met in 1931 and was instantly revered for her critically-lauded performance of “Lucia de Lammermoor.” She exuded beauty, charm, range and glamour, making her one of the most popular prima donnas of her time. Specializing in French and Italian coloratura parts, she became a durable figure at the Met, remaining with the company for nearly three decades. She was the first soprano who could reach the high “F”, composer Delibes wrote in his opera “Lakme.” “The Bell Song” from the aforementioned opera, became her signature piece. Though she possessed a rather small voice, it is rightly stated that Pons could hold a high “D” for nearly a minute. Her international success eventually crossed over into movies where plush operettas were all the rage. Pons would film three, but her popularity would never match rivals Jeanette MacDonald or Grace Moore in that realm, and she quietly retired from the movies after a couple of years. Radio, however, was a different matter and she remained an enduring favorite. In addition, she entertained troops during WWII, touring battlefields in North Africa and Asia. In 1938, having divorced her first husband, she married Russian-American conductor Andre Kostelanetz and a beautiful collaboration began. For over three decades, they would appear together in concert. During this time, she became one of the highest paid performers in history. Although the couple divorced in 1958, they continued a professional relationship, appearing together from time to time. Formally retiring in 1964, she continued in concert until 1972. She died of pancreatic cancer in 1976 at age 77, and was buried in a family grave in Cannes.

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