Lily Pons

Lily Pons

[ponz; Fr. pawns]
Pons, Lily, 1904-76, French-American coloratura soprano. Pons studied piano at the Paris Conservatory. She made her debut in Delibes's Lakmé at Mulhouse, Alsace, in 1928. She first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931, and the company revived several operas especially for her. Pons appeared in three motion pictures. In 1938 she married the conductor André Kostelanetz.
Lily Pons (April 12, 1898February 13, 1976) was a French-American coloratura soprano.


Born Alice Joséphine Pons in Draguignan near Cannes, Pons first studied piano at the Paris Conservatory, winning the 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 title 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 auditioned for Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera.The Met desperately needed a star coloratura after the retirement of Amelita Galli-Curci nearly a year earlier. On January 3, 1931, the French woman, unknown in the U.S., made an unheralded Met debut as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Against all odds, her performance received tremendous acclaim. Pons became a star overnight, and she inherited most of Galli-Curci's important coloratura roles. She also signed a recording contract with RCA Victor Records.

Pons was a principal soprano at the Met for thirty years, appearing 300 times in ten roles from 1931 until 1960. Her most frequent performances were as Lucia (93 performances), Lakmé (50 performances), Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto (49 performances), and Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville (33 performances). Other roles in her repertoire included Olympia in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman, Philine in Ambroise Thomas's Mignon, Amina in Bellini's La Sonnambula, Marie in Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, the Queen in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, and the title role in Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, (a role she sang in the opera's Met premiere on March 1, 1934). In her last performance at the Met, on December 14, 1960, she sang "Caro nome" from Rigoletto as part of a gala performance.

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 1973. Furthermore, she starred in three RKO films: I Dream Too Much (1935) with Henry Fonda, 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. 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 she demonstrated flawless technique and very secure top notes. With her svelte appearance and good looks, she charmed a public accustomed to buxom sopranos. Nina Morgana, a fellow soprano at the Met, stated that Pons vocalised up to the A-flat above high C (Ab6) without visible effort during their first meeting in early 1930.

She died of pancreatic cancer in Dallas, Texas at the age of 77, 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. The town is known for its commercial tropical fish ponds.

George Gershwin was in the process of writing a piece of music dedicated to her when he died in 1937. The incomplete sketch was found among Gershwin's papers after his death and was eventually revived and completed by Michael Tilson Thomas and given the simple title 'For Lily Pons'.

She appeared on the TV show WHAT'S MY LINE? as a celebrity guest in 1955.


  • Lily Pons: A Centennial Portrait, edited by James A Drake and Kristin Beall Ludecke, Amadeus Press, 1999. ISBN 1574670476


ML 4087 Columbia Records (Mono): Repeat Performance: Lily Pons with Orchestra conducted by Andre Kostelanetz, Year Unknown. - L.X. 968 The Columbia Gramaphone Co. LTD. Hayes Middlesex England. - Fledermaus Fantasy Parts 1 & 2 Based on excerpts from Die Fledermaus (The Bat) by Johann Strauss, words, Toupin. arr Frank La Forge. Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel.


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