The spirited dramatic soprano Marjorie Lawrence was becoming an increasingly important figure in Wagnerian circles when she was stricken with polio in 1941. The misfortune was made all the more poignant by Lawrence's vaunted athleticism which previously had encouraged her to appear with a real horse in Götterdämmerung, riding it into the flames as Wagner had envisioned. Her attempts to return to the stage were thwarted by certain MetropolitanRead more patrons who found the sight of a singer not fully mobile "unseemly." Thus, her post-attack suitability for such roles as Isolde and Venus came to naught. She did make a successful return to Paris in 1946 as Amneris, but gradually her singing career diminished as she entered into a new phase as a respected teacher. Her story was the subject of a widely viewed motion picture, Interrupted Melody.
Lawrence was born in a small Australian town a hundred miles from Melbourne; her parents were sheep ranchers. An enthusiastic singer as a child, Lawrence entered a voice competition in Melbourne and won; she followed that victory with intensive studies with Ivor Boustead. Her father, at first opposed to her becoming a singer, eventually consented to sending her to Paris when the noted Australian baritone John Brownlee suggested the move.
In Paris, Lawrence studied with Cécile Gilly for three years before making her operatic debut in Monte Carlo as Elisabeth in a 1932 production of Tannhäuser. Her success there led to a contract offer from the Paris Opera and, only weeks after her very first appearance on stage, she was introduced to Paris audiences in Lohengrin. Soon thereafter, she sang the title roles in Salome and Aida, and remained with the company for three years, during which she sang the standard dramatic repertory and such relative rarities as Brünnhilde in Ernest Reyer's Sigurd, Valentine in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, Salomé in Massenet's Hérodiade, and Keltis in the world premiere of Canteloube's Vercingétorix.
On a visit to Europe in 1935, recently appointed Metropolitan Opera manager Edward Johnson heard Lawrence and immediately engaged her for New York. The attractive soprano, still well shy of 30, made her Metropolitan debut on December 18, 1935, as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, impressing critics as a splendid addition to the company. Lawrence Gilman wrote, "She has temperament and brains. She has a beautiful profile. She has an admirable sense of costume, a feeling for the stage, for the meaning of words and notes." Although her singing could not match the Olympian standards of Kirsten Flagstad, also newly arrived at the Metropolitan, it was nonetheless dynamic and bright-toned. Perhaps as a result of her French training, her Ortrud was felt to be lacking in seductive sound when she introduced that portrayal three days later, but her Brünnhilde in Siegfried was felt to be promising. In her masterful singing of the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde later that same month, she surprised the audience by actually mounting Grane and riding into the opera's consuming flames at the end of the immolation scene. As Rachel in La Juive just days later, she proved the efficacy of time spent in Paris with a well-sung, stylistically sensitive realization.
Lawrence's Metropolitan performances over eight seasons also embraced Alceste and Strauss' Salome in addition to her big Wagnerian roles. After being attacked by the poliomyelitis that left her paralyzed from the waist down, Lawrence devoted herself increasingly to concert performance. Read less
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