Monday, April 06, 2009

Mary Garden Dazzled the Eye & Pained the Ear

Mary Garden 1874-1987

Born in Scotland, came to US as a child
Listening to a radio interview with her, in 1940: She sounds pretentious—enunciating like Liza Dolittle via Henry Higgins—the interviewer dares to ask about the poor reviews she received: she pays no attention to critics, just to the public, is her reply—besides, a singer’s personality and acting are what really count—in the past, she admitted she was no great singer—though she had a pretty voice, and her record of singing of At Dawning is pleasant—
A critic who saw her in Thais wrote that she “dazzled the eye and pained the ear.”

She’s famous for singing Melisande (she was a friend of Debussy’s) and Salome—the latter in a very sexy version. She was accused of having had a child out of wedlock when she was young, but it seems dubious—she seemed to be fairly ignorant about sex. She once did one of the wackiest things any opera singer ever did: Donned a man’s clothes and tried to enlist in the army! All in all, she was cute and attractive—and a slight singer who made the most of her meager talent.

A biography by Michael T.R.B. Turnbull (1997) makes hash of a previous work, MG’s autobiography written with Louis Biancolli—“Mary’s distortion of the facts stemmed from an innate tendency to exaggerate which, in combination with her failure to keep accurate records, her later highly developed skill in managing the media, and the onset of senile dementia around 1945, led to the confusion or transposition of dates, events, feelings and even people.” P 1

famous story:

At a party, both Melba and Garden sang—during a dinner later, Melba said loudly, What a poor concert this would have been if I hadn’t been singing!’ When someone tried to mollify Garden, she shrugged it off: She was accustomed to Melba’s bad manners.

She was opposed to women getting the vote. “Woman is made to be loved, not to vote.”

Maeterlink was angry that Debussy chose Mary to play Melisande—instead of a friend of his, Georgette Leblanc, whose voice has been described as “pitiable”—he actually went to his home and told his wife he had come to thrash Debussy with his cane—(when Sam Goldwyn met him ears later, he reported that Maeterlink was indifferent to music)

P 109: “It was one night in mid-February 1913 in Philadelphia … Nineteen-year-old Helen Newby… committed suicide because she was unable to see Mary.” Daughter of a wealhy tycoon, she shot herself in the head on the lawn of her family’s house after Mary declined to give her an interview. “Hidden in the bosom of her dress was a picture of her adored Mary.”

She studied German, hoping to sing Wagner—but said she couldn’t sing opposite a fat German tenor—“Most German tenors are fat, aren’t they?”

A critic wrote of her Louise: “It is to the credit of the great dramatic power of this woman that, although her singing has long been a bad joke, her personation of Louise is still able to command the intense interest of great audiences by the sincerity and power with which she throws herself into it.”
During WW1 she worked as a Red Cross nurse—and on Nov 16 1914, wearing a uniform, she tried to enlist in the French army—she had a “somewhat effeminate bearing”—was she a German spy in disguise?—before the youngster could be examined, Mary Garden tearfully confessed—apparently she had been “seized by a whirlwind of patriotism”—later she defended herself: “I could fight as well as any man if they would only let me. I have never failed to subdue every man I have met so far.”

In 1946 she was hired to teach French to Beverly Sills—Sills: “Charming, she wasn’t. Mary Garden often struck me as the meanest woman I’d ever met.” She was “absolutely awful about allowing me room for a single creative thought….”

She made a silent film in 1917 of Thais for Sam Goldwyn – in Fort Lee. But studio people, Goldwyn reported, said she was “acting all over the place.”
She was enraged when she saw the rushes—she said to the playwright, Margaret Mayo, “Did you see the way they made me die? Imagine a saint dying like that!”
Mayo replied “in a tone of studied insolence: ‘You would have a hard time, Miss Garden, proving to anyone that you were a saint.’”
Goldwyn later came upon her, “weeping hysterically. ‘Oh,’ said she, ‘that terrible woman! Have you heard what she just said to me?’”
(Goldwyn seems like a smart fellow, by the way.)

“When you leave the opera house, you are lonesome with your triumphs.”

A female associate of hers said Mary liked to talk about erotic matters—but “this sophisticated woman was actually as ignorant of most facts of life as a little girl.”

A cop reported on her performance of Salome in Chicago. “Salome is OK. The show was better than gthe movies and he costumes were up to snuff. Regarding Miss Garden in her veil dance, wehave sween worse right on Second Avenue. It was a nifty dance, but it was kind of sad- - John the Baptist being beheaded.”

Her performance of At Dawning was the only one of her records she could bear to hear played.

Standing by a window with Debussy, she killed a couple of flies. He objected to her cruelty and tears rolled down his cheeks.

The women of America, she said, made her career. When they took their husbands to see Thais or Salome and saw that she was nearly nude, they took the opera glasses away from their wives and kept them all evening. They learned “that opera could be made interesting.”

She once said that she had never loved anyone of the opposite sex.

Later in life she said that Mario Lanza had a gorgeous voice—he should to to Europe and study—re Callas, she said, “You know, she is a great actress, she is a great singer, but she acts on impulse. That’s very dangerous.”


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