Magazine article Opera Canada

Anna Russell

Magazine article Opera Canada

Anna Russell

Article excerpt

TO CLASSICAL MUSIC-LOVERS, THE PASSING OF ANNA Russell last Oct. 18 marked the end of an era. In a career spanning five decades, Russell kept her fans in stitches with her unique blend of devastating wit and folksy charm. Born Ann Claudia Russell-Brown in London, England, on Dec. 27, 1911, to an English father and a Canadian mother, she studied composition and piano at the Royal College of Music with Arthur Benjamin and Ralph Vaughan Williams. She worked briefly at the BBC Educational Music Department, though her real ambition was to be a classical singer. Alas, that was not to be. Every time she opened her mouth to sing, people laughed. In her 1985 autobiography, I'm not making this up, you know, she describes her voice as "sounding like shattering glass or a cracked temple bell." She told me in an interview: "I had a perfectly normal voice until one day I was hit in the face by a hockey puck. It ruined my acoustics!"

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In 1939, she moved to Canada with her mother, and made her radio debut in 1940 singing music-hall songs on CFRB's Round the Marble Arch. She also appeared on CBC's Jolly Miller Time, for which she wrote and performed comic songs, and was co-host with Syd Brown of the variety show, Syd and Anna. She also played piano and sang for the Rosselino Opera Company in Toronto. She developed a satirical routine on classical music that she unveiled at Toronto's Eaton Auditorium in 1942. It proved so popular that Sir Ernest MacMillan, then conductor of the Toronto Symphony, invited Russell to appear in the annual Christmas Box Concerts throughout the '40s.

She made her recital debut at Carnegie Hall in 1947, with many re-engagements there after. Columbia Artists Management, the biggest and most influential agency at the time, represented her. At the height of her popularity in the 1950s and '60s, her recordings were routinely best sellers. …

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