Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy Birthday: Marilyn Horne

Mezzo-soprano Marilyn "Jackie" Horne was born January 16, 1934, in Bradford, Pennsylvania. At two years old she was performing in church and by age four she was singing "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" at a Democratic fundraiser for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a bottle of lime soda was her performance fee). She and her sister Gloria performed as "The Horne Sisters" for occasions that ranged from church functions to social clubs. Both the siblings took voice lessons (Marilyn starting at age seven) from the local choir director of St. Bernard Catholic Church. She also studied violin, piano and flute. Through early school she sang in acapella choir, girls glee and madrigal singers. At the age of 11, her family moved to Long Beach, California. An important first singing experience was joining The Roger Wagner Chorale when she was 12. She also became a member of the Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus and St. Luke's Episcopal Choir of Long Beach. It was with these groups that she started to record for movies in Los Angeles. In high school, she sang the title role of The Merry Widow when she was 16. By 17, she was performing with the Pasadena Symphony and Westchester Orchestra in concerts. She studied voice
at the University of Southern California School of Music where she had master classes with Lotte Lehmann. In 1952 she met Igor Stravinsky while performing his Russian songs (he coached her on the language) for an organization called "Evenings on the Roof." Singing in a madrigal group, she toured southern California singing the motets of Gesualdo with Aldous Huxley giving 30-minute lectures after the intermissions. In 1954, she sang Micaëla's aria (in French) from Carmen for an audition as a background chorister on a movie that led to her first major professional job dubbing the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the film Carmen JonesHer first professional experience with opera on stage was with the Los Angeles Guild Opera singing the roles of Hata (The Bartered Bride), Hänsel (Hänsel und Gretel) and Angelina (La Cenerentola). She sang an audition for Erich Leinsdorf in 1956 at the Shrine Auditorium, after which he took her to lunch. He inquired about her future plans and she told him about going to Germany to seek work in a provincial opera house to learn roles. He thought that was a good idea but offered her a job at New York City Opera anyway, which she refused. As she ventured to Europe, Stravinsky invited her to perform in the 1956 Biennale di Venezia. It was through the composer that she met Nadia Boulanger. Next, she got a three-year fest contract with the Gelsenkirchen Opera. As a soprano in her early days she often did roles like Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, Amelia in Simon Boccanegra and Tatiana in Eugene Onegin. Even when she returned to the United States, she sang Marzelline in Fidelio, Musetta in La Bohème, Nedda in Pagliacci and Marie in La Fille du Règiment.

She made auspicious debuts in the opera world including San Francisco Opera (Wozzeck 1960), Carnegie Hall (Beatrice di Tenda 1961), Covent Garden (Wozzeck 1964), Opera Company of Boston (Semiramide 1965), La Scala (Oedipus Rex 1969) and The Metropolitan Opera (Norma 1970). In addition to the well-known bel canto and opera seria roles, she sang the music by contemporary composers like William Bolcom, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Stravinsky. Some of her more unique recordings include the soundtrack of Flower Drum Song singing "Love, Look Away" and she also sings the role of Lady Thiang on the Philips recording of The King and I starring Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley. She had previously sung in the women's chorus for the 1956 film version of The King and I. She married conductor Henry Lewis in 1960, they separated in 1974 and divorced in 1979. The couple had a home in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles for many years. She has one daughter Angela, by Lewis, and now three grandchildren. She retired from the concert stage in 1999 with a recital at the Chicago Symphony Center. She still occasionally performs at pop concerts (most recently with Broadway star Barbara Cook), her voice undimmed by age. Horne also has established the Marilyn Horne Foundation to help preserve the art of vocal recitals. She is Vocal Program Director at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, and each season she is engaged for master class residencies at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the University of Maryland at College Park.
(Photo: Richard Termine/The New York Times) 

A more detailed biography of Marilyn Horne's accolades, awards and honorary degrees can be found

Recordings of Marilyn Horne

Information on the Marilyn Horne Foundation

Music Academy of the West

Artist Management for Marilyn Horne

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