Marjorie Lawrence 1907-1979
Marjorie Lawrence was born on 17 February 1907 at Dean’s Marsh, a small farming community near Geelong in Victoria.
After she won the 1928 Geelong Sun Aria contest, she headed for Paris, where Brownlee recommended that she study with Cécilie Gilly.
Marjorie Lawrence made her debut as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at Monte Carlo in January 1932.
‘Marjorie Lawrence was a great inspiration to both of us when we were growing up in Sydney in the forties,’ wrote Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. ‘She gave wonderful concerts and recitals and we were always there. We were privileged to know her when we went to Europe and to know her was to love her. We were thrilled when she came to our performances and doubly thrilled when we all appeared together at the Rights of a Child Concert for the 30th birthday of UNICEF in New York in 1976. Her courage stands as an example to every musician and in fact to mankind.’*
Marjorie Lawrence was born on 17 February 1907 at Dean’s Marsh, a small farming community near Geelong in Victoria. Her father was a good baritone, her mother played church organ, and her six brothers and sisters were talented singers and musicians. When she was 18 Lawrence took a job as a domestic servant in Melbourne, earning enough money for singing lessons from Ivor Boustead, who had also coached John Brownlee. After she won the 1928 Geelong Sun Aria contest, she headed for Paris, where Brownlee recommended that she study with Cécilie Gilly. Her progress was rapid.
Marjorie Lawrence made her debut as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at Monte Carlo in January 1932. The following year she auditioned for the Paris Opéra. She sang some of Ortrud’s music from Lohengrin, knowing there were few singers who could handle the demands of the role – and it was as Ortrud that she made her Paris debut. By 1934 she was one of the most highly paid artists on the international opera circuit. New York heard her stunning mezzo for the first time on 18 December 1935, when she sang Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. ‘The audience was taken by storm’, reported The New York Times, ‘and a burst of applause interrupted the performance.’ She made headlines a few weeks later when she galloped on a horse into Siegfried’s funeral pyre in Götterdämmerung.
Lawrence was one of the Met’s shining stars for nine years, tackling 12 roles in 74 performances, including a sensational Salome in 1937. Though she longed to sing Wagner at Bayreuth, her conscience would not permit her to sing in a Germany under the Nazis. Instead she decided to come home.
Helen Griffin: ‘Marjorie Lawrence’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 10
Royston Gustavson: ‘Marjorie Lawrence’ in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, Oxford University Press, 1997
Marjorie Lawrence: Interrupted Melody, Invincible Press, 1949