Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Mary Morrison

Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Mary Morrison

Article excerpt

Soprano Mary Morrison is one of Canada's premiere teachers of voice, with an impressive number of students who are currently making their mark on the international scene, including Tracy Dahl, Adrianne Pieczonka, Valdine Anderson, Gordon Gietz, Wendy Nielsen, Ingrid Attrot, Barbara Hannigan and Liesel Fedkenheuer.

Morrison also has a long and distinguished performing career to her credit. She sang in the first production of La Boheme for the CBC Opera Company in 1948, at the old Eaton Auditorium in Toronto. Two years later, she reprised the role for the inaugural production of the Canadian Opera Company. The CBC archives contain a wealth of live performances, including that first Boheme. Despite the scratchiness of the original shellac, the tape captures the clear, lovely, lyric quality of the Morrison voice.

Morrison herself is still astoundingly youthful, with perfectly erect posture and a razor-sharp mind. A native of Winnipeg, she studied at the Bornoff School of Music. By the time she was 16, she was already singing professionally in Just A Song, a radio choir in her hometown. She won all the singing awards in Winnipeg, and even had her own weekly radio show with an orchestra, Sweethearts: "I always had a tenor or baritone," she says. "We did all the Rudolf Friml and Irving Berlin numbers, singing solos and duets." A little-known fact is that she sang in Naughty Marietta opposite Jon Vickers. It was Morrison who encouraged the tenor to move east to pursue his studies at the Royal Conservatory, which Morrison also attended, studying voice with Dr. Ernesto Vinci, and lieder with Emmy Heim.

Homegrown opera in Canada was very much in its infancy then, and Morrison had such a success as Mimi for the COC that in 1950, Floyd Chalmers, editor of Chatelaine, arranged for her and a photographer to visit the great opera houses in Europe: Milan, Rome, Paris, London. "All I had to do was wear a certain wardrobe--and Dupont nylons, which were new at the time!" It was a fantastic opportunity, and she fondly recalls seeing a performance of Turandot at La Scala.

Morrison was the original crossover artist before it became fashionable. "I sang lots of pop and jazz and voice-over types of things," she says. "I did the GE show, with Bob Goulet and Joyce Sullivan, Star Time, Northern Electric Hour--radio was how I earned my living." At the same time, she became an original member of the Festival Singers with Elmer Iseler. Among her roles in opera were Marguerite, Fiordiligi, Pamina (her favorite), Marenka in The Bartered Bride and the Countess. …

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