I did not know what to expect on the arrival of this DVD. The
situation was not helped by the lack of any insert or list of
Chapter headings in my review copy. The fact that the mezzo Marilyn
Horne (b. 1934) had recorded very little for EMI
also made me wonder as to the contents. In fact the set owes its
existence to the cooperation of RCA-BMG. Most of Horne’s audio
recordings were made for RCA (now subsumed into BMG) and Decca
now part of Universal. This Profile was made after Marilyn’s final
performances at London’s Covent Garden, by which time she was
not only recognised as one of the greatest singers of her generation
but also as a major influence in the developing Rossini renaissance.
The contents of
the set in twelve Chapters cover the life of the distinguished
singer from her childhood in Pennsylvania to the period immediately
after making her final appearance at Covent Garden. It is not
a linear biography. It starts with Marilyn demonstrating her
wide vocal range and commenting on the difference between mezzo
and soprano. Chapters 1-3 bring in her work in bel canto and
particularly in Rossini. Joan Sutherland also appears and sings
with her in a too brief extract from the duet Miro o Norma
from the opera of the same name. In more linear sequence
the story moves Marilyn from Pennsylvania to Long Beach, California,
where she joined the choir at St. Luke’s and where her vocal
potential was recognised to go along with her mother’s encouragement
recordings were pirate issues where, as was common practice,
she mimicked a more famous voice. For each of these she was
paid forty dollars. The resulting discs sold in large numbers
for fifty cents a go. More legitimate work came with the choir
and being selected at twenty years of age as ‘Jackie’ Horne.
to sing the sound-track Carmen to Dorothy Dandridge’s acting
and miming. This was for the film Carmen Jones based
on Oscar Hammerstein’s recreation of Bizet’s opera (CH.5). Marilyn
claims she mimicked Dandridge’s voice. Certainly the actress
is perfect in her miming of the adapted words. She pays tribute
to the quality of musicians operating in America in the immediate
post-Second World War period and recalls how Stravinsky encouraged
her to pursue her career in Europe (CH.6). She joined the Gelsenkirchen
Opera Company for whom she sang the likes of Mimi, and Musetta
(La Boheme), Minnie (La Fanciulla del West) as
well as the lower Giulietta (Tales of Hoffmann). In 1960
she made a big hit in Gelsenkirchen as Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck.
It was a role she was reluctant to take, but it provided her
ticket back home for a production at San Francisco where she
substituted for the carded singer.
Back in the USA
she married Henry Lewis. Her mother did not attend the wedding,
as she did not approve of Marilyn marrying a black man (CH.7).
Lewis was a consummate musician and worked Marilyn’s vocal development
very hard. Her lower notes had started to develop after puberty
and continued to do so even though she was still singing the
soprano repertory. In 1961 she sang Agnese alongside Joan Sutherland
as Beatrice in Bellini’s penultimate opera Beatrice di Tenda.
She was soon in demand as a coloratura mezzo singing Adalgisa
in Norma and Arsace to Sutherland’s title role in Semiramide.
The birth of her daughter in 1965 caused her to withdraw from
concert performances of Lucrezia Borgia. She was substituted
by Montserrat Caballé and another renowned bel cantoist was
launched! This bel canto repertoire was paralleled by her performances
of the florid coloratura roles in Handel operas such as Rinaldo
and Semele. She discusses voice types and Henry Lewis
explains something of how she developed her vocal flexibility
As she moved into
the Rossini repertoire in a big way, clips are devoted to her
searching for the score of Semiramide in Los Angeles.
There are also more tempting clips of her singing in that opera
at Aix in 1980 (CH.9) as well as performing in pop shows as
a means of bringing the thought of opera to a wider public.
There are examples of her in recital with various accompanists
including James Levine and Martin Katz as well as her singing
at President Clinton’s inauguration (CH.10). Marilyn is shown
conducting Master Classes and stressing the importance of breath
support (CH.11). It concludes with a Chapter (12) entitled,
appropriately, A life in music.
The bonus is sixteen
show-reel extracts from the EMI DVD catalogue of operas
and orchestral music. These include extracts of interviews with
Callas. The latter features the diva’s rendition of Vissi d’arte
from her last Tosca at Covent Garden in 1964, in black
Robert J Farr