« On Streisand's 70th birthday, my list of her 10 most exquisite recordings | Main | Recovering my 'lost weekend' (Part 1): Handel Choir's 'Semele' »

April 25, 2012

Midweek Madness: Rosa Ponselle and Joan Crawford sing Verdi (!)

Once upon a time, two icons, one from film and the other from opera, enjoyed a sincere friendship in Hollywood.

The opera star gave the movie star encouragement to sing, and the two legends apparently joined voices from time to time in private.

One such session was captured on what, even for 1938, sounds like a rather primitive recording device. It's the the soprano-mezzo duet from Verdi's ...


I thought for this installment of Midweek Madness it would be fun to offer this memento of what appears to be a very congenial collaboration between the divine Rosa Ponselle and the equally immortal Joan Crawford.

It's not really mad, of course, but it sure is unusual and fascinating. Awfully cool, too.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:13 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes


Baltimore Sun techs: This page needs a Twitter link. I was all set to post this blog entry on my Joan Crawford Twitter page, only... no link to post to. Why no Twitter link?

Thanks for posting my video Tim. Suggest that viewers switch to 1080p hires and full screen for maximal appreciation. Joan sang a host of classical arias with her husband Franchot Tone as well as with MGM contract operatic performer Douglas McPhail (Babes in Arms) but I'm dubious recordings of these or others with Ponselle will show up at this late date. We can only hope! Thanks again!

I'm just glad we have this fascinating memento. TIM

Is this an authentic jam by Crawford and Rosa? , beautiful ...makes me wonder why if Joan could sing as here and in films like "mannequin "1938 and earlier gems why her voice was dubbed in the campy "torch song " , that made the film look ridiculous, no Crawford was no Jeanette MacDonald or Rosa but her voice was as deep as her looks they matched well -thats how Joan made the transition from silents to talkies by singing in "hollywood revue of 1929 " and "untamed " 1929 .It was definitely not a special voice and the recordings are choppy but obviously something about her voice was appealing to the masses , great post im glad i stumbled across it - thanks so much !

The irony is that Joan did get to sing a little in 'Torch Song' -- that's her voice singing along to a recording of 'Tenderly' sung by India Adams, who did all the other dubbing in that film. And at least Joan was allowed to sing in a few of her early movies, including 'The Bride Wore Red.' Studios always had their own ideas about what would work. I love the idea that Rosa Ponselle thought enough of Joan's talent to spend time with her and even do some singing together. TIM

Hi Tom--
After all the years of Joan bashing, sincere fans at the Best of Everything message board are having trouble believing that Joan might have had a real talent for classical music that doesn't belong in the bash category. If you have a few kind words you could throw out as a professional critic, keeping in mind the informality and work-in-progress nature of the recording, you'd be doing Joan's memory a real service. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Well, first, I'd like to clarify that I'm Tim, not Tom (but I make so many typos, I can hardly complain). That said, the little evidence provided by that recording shows that Joan was a serious, attentive and expressive singer. Verdi may not have been her true calling, but this is not a negligible effort by any means. The stories of Joan and Franchot (I like to think of her as Joan Tone in those days) trying out opera together adds to the notion that she was not just out on a lark, but was trying to learn more about an art form she must have admired. I do not know if she went to the Met during her New York years, but I'd like to think she never lost her appreciation for the glories of opera. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected