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wotan’s daughter : the life of marjorie lawrence

WOTAN’S DAUGHTER : THE LIFE OF MARJORIE LAWRENCE by Richard Davis is a captivating biography of Australian operatic megastar of the 1920’s and 30’s Marjorie Lawrence, The book, a new revised updated edition of the 2012 version is of small to medium size and not too thick and is divided into twenty chapters with a preface, two forwards , an appendix , footnotes , bibliography and index . Illustrations are in the middle It is written in a warm yet respectful tone and meticulously researched.

It is a story of fame, adversity and resilience.Lawrence rose to become one of the major Wagner singers of her generation, feted and thunderously applauded in Europe and at the Met Opera in New York where she shared roles with the renowned Kirsten Flagstad. Afflicted by polio at the height of her career, Lawrence fought back heroically against her physical disability and prejudice to rework her ravaged life and return to the stage.

We follow Lawrence’s life chronologically. She was the second daughter, one of six children, known as “Marge ‘, born in 1907 in Dean’s Marsh, then sort of rural Victoria. Her early life is discussed – her mother passed away when Lawrence e was very young and she is sent to live with her grandmother but recalled back to the family home where we learn about he childhood , learning to ride – and the serious discovery of her Voice when Lawrence was about sixteen ( she had already been in the school choir). She was advised to go to Paris but her father was furious … at eighteen with the help of her brother Percy she escapes to Melbourne.

First Lawrence studies with Ivor Boustead, one of Melbourne’s top singing teachers. In 1928 Lawrence won both the Sun Aria and scoops many other sections of the Geelong Competition and eventually moves to Paris for her vocal studies .She becomes a pupil of Madame Gilly , as organized by Boustead and Aussie singing sensation John Brownlee, It is a major culture shock at first but Lawrence adjusts and grows to love Paris. We learn of the various roles Lawrence studies and the auditions and performances she gives and the amazing range of her voice .There is backstage shenanigans at the Paris opera . Lawrence dashes between Paris, Nantes and Monte Carlo and is a sensation wowing the critics and audiences . Also Lawrence has various romantic entanglements with her male costars. Her brother Percy , also living on Paris , changes his name to Cyril and becomes her manager and at times interfere with his sister’s private life. Some early recordings Lawrence made are discussed and we follow her zooming around giving performances.

We also learn of the rise of Kirsten Flagstad.

Davis informs us that Lawrence, aged 24, made her stage début as Elisabeth in Tannhaüser in January 1932 in Monte Carlo. We then follow a dizzying round of her singing various major roles (not only Wagnerian but for example in Carmen , Alceste , other roles and leider  in preeminent opera houses and concert halls both n America and Europe. She wows audiences as Strauss’ Salome and Elektra , shares Sieglinde and Brünnhilde with Kirsten Flagstad and famously rides a real horse into the flames in Götterdämmerung at the Met(just the once ).  Lawrence performed with some of the greatest opera stars and conductors of the era. Lawrence and Flagstad had quite a courteous and respectful relationship, unlike the icy one between Lawrence and soprano Germaine Lubin .

To massive acclaim Lawrence was the ‘finest and most dramatic soprano today’ according to Sir Thomas Beecham after he had conducted her Isolde in Montreal.

Performing various roles at the Met in New York in Wagner’s Ring cycle Lawrence is again a huge success. In the last few years before World War 11 Lawrence performed in Paris but also for example Chicago and Buenos Aires, and London . She performs specially for FDR the American president .Lawrence has an Australian tour , championing Australian composers , returning to Dean’s Marsh and creating a frenzy in Melbourne. At the end of 1939 she is back at the Met for performances of Die Walkure and Gotterdamerung as well as special concerts for the servicemen. The backstage politics and dramas behind the scenes are catalogued. Throughout the book Davis analyses the various recordings and broadcasts Lawrence made.

In 1941 Tom King, Lawrence’s husband, enters her life and they marry in March 1941.They honeymoon, with performances organised at the Met upon their return. But first , a side trip to Mexico where disaster strikes.

Lawrence is stricken by polio and ends up in America in hospital in horrendous pain. Tom contacts the celebrated Sister Kenny and they move to Minneapolis for treatment. In 1942, still heavily incapacitated, Lawrence fell pregnant, to her and Tom’s joy, but the baby died in the womb and she was unable to have more children.

Eventually we learn that Paris has been liberated and Lawrence hears from her Paris friends but it is harrowing news. Lawrence and Tom return to New York for a New Year’s Eve concert and then travels to London for concerts but it is a bit of a shambles and quite disorganised. Lawrence tours the Occupation Zone in Germany performing for the Allied troops and visits Belsen concentration camp We then read of more international dashing about , assorted concerts and tours . Lawrence is made a member of the Legion d’Honneur.

We learn of Lawrence’s courageous defiance battling polio and after a very hard slog she returned to the stage , having regained a little movement and retrained her voice . Her 1942 performances of Venus in Tanhauser (sitting down) are a sensation., Later Lawrence sang Isolde at the Met as well as in Montréal, and Amneris ( in Aida) at the Paris Opéra, while seated. There are radio concerts and masterclasses (Lawrence taught at a couple of American universities) and more Australian tours .Lawrence also fund raises for polio victims. There is also the release of her ‘ ghosted’ autobiography Interrupted Melody and the film linked with it. Lawrence not only has her own TV show for a while but is also featured on both the American and Australian versions of This Is Your Life.Davis also catalogues the assorted awards Lawrence received, eg an Honorary Doctorate of Music and a CBE .
An inspiration to many, she died 10 January , 1979 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

A new documentary film has also been made : Marjorie Lawrence: The World at her Feet.

WOTAN’S DAUGHTER : THE LIFE OF MARJORIE LAWRENCE by Richard Davis

ISBN: 9781743058466
ISBN-10: 1743058462
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 360
Published: 18th October 2021
Publisher: Wakefield Press
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.6 x 1.91
Weight (kg): 0.54
Edition Number: 1

https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=980

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