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Maria Gambarelli

Biography: 

(1900-1990)

The Italian born Maria Gambarelli was the greatest dancer to have been trained by the Metropolitan Opera ballet school. Enrolled in the school in 1908 at the age seven, she first appeared in a professional production in the Met's 1914 "Aida" playing a slave girl. Understudy to the cruel Rosina Galli, she found her ambitions to appear in classic roles thwarted during her teenage years. She took employent where she could, serving as a supporting dancer in touring Pavlova troupes, and making a New York reputation dancing as part of the live shows performed in the metropolitan movie houses during the post-World War I period.  She became ballet mistress at the Capital Theater, and amped her popularity by singing Italian popular songs. This secured her a spot on radio supporting impresario Roxy Rothafel.

When Rothafel opened the Roxy Theater, Gambarelli brought her dancers in as part of the entertainment; these became the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in 1932. Periodically throught the 1930s Gamberilli--"Gamby"--and her troupe appeared in motion pictures. But she regarded the highpoint of her career as her elevation to ballet mistress of the Metropolitan Opera in 1939, a role she held for three years. In the post-war period she toured constantly educating the American public about dance traditions and building the popularity of ballet.

NOTES: Obituary, http://www.nytimes.com/1990/02/09/obituaries/maria-gambarelli-fenton-89-a-metropolitan-opera-ballerina.html. David S. Shields/ALS