Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Recovering the Forgotten Singer, 8: Lois Marshall

The international career of Toronto-born Lois Marshall (1924-1997) began in the early 1950s, subsequent to frequent radio and television appearances in Canada. Viewers of the CBC saw Marshall in the demanding roles of Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) and Leonora (Fideliio). Winner of the prestigious Naumberg Award, she was soon contracted as leading soprano by Arturo Toscanini for a radio concert of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and by Sir Thomas Beecham for recordings of Mozart’s Die Entführing aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) and Handel’s Solomon. The beauty of her timbre, her excellent musicianship, and remarkable technique won her these difficult assignments.

Marshall’s concert career, encompassing a wide-ranging repertoire, lasted for more than three decades. Her stage performances of opera were regrettably few since her mobility was limited by the polio she had contracted as a child. On disc and in recital she programmed arias from the Baroque period to the 20th century.

Here is a clip from Beecham’s 1957 recording of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Konstanze, a Spanish noblewoman is captive in a Turkish harem. She answers Pasha Selim’s entreaties for her love with the aria “Ach, ich liebte, war so glücklich (Alas, I loved, I was so happy),” bemoaning the separation from her true love, Belmonte. The seamless legato of the opening adagio section is followed by the challenging embellishments, at the top of the singer’s range, of the vehement allegro passages. As she spins out the opening phrases, and attacks the runs and trills with utter confidence, Marshall rises to Mozart’s disparate demands.

“When I am Laid in Earth” is Dido’s lament in Act III of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Abandoned by Trojan prince Aeneas, the Queen of Carthage announces her suicide to her devoted retinue and asks only to be remembered. Expressing Dido’s deep sadness, Marshall deploys her rich middle register with utter evenness. In this 1963 clip she is accompanied by a Dutch chamber ensemble.

Although she recorded Italian arias by Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini, and often sang them in concert, Marshall’s voice was perhaps most suited to the repertoire of the Jugendlich dramatischer Sopran, the dramatic lirico spinto. Her rendition of “Leise, leise, fromme Weise! (Softly, softly, My pure song!)” from Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz glows with the warmth of her sound, the long-breathed sureness of her phrasing, and the ease of her agility. First, Agathe tenderly evokes the sweetness of the night and her love for Max, then betrays her excitement when she senses his approach. The clip is from a commercial recording issued in 1958.



Marshall’s versatility is captured by her many YouTube selections.

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