Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sleeping Beauty: Shirley Temple & Mary Costa

Coinciding with the recent restoration and re-release of the animated classic, “Sleeping Beauty,” I thought I’d do a few posts dedicated to it. Shot #1 shows America’s Princess, Shirley Temple, marching up to the Castle at Disneyland on April 19, 1957. Walt is on the left, son Charlie is holding up her cape in back, and as you can see in the detail shot, husband Charles is on the right carrying their daughter Lori. Shirley was onhand to do the unveiling of the Sleeping Beauty Diorama.

The animated feature “Sleeping Beauty” was still over a year away from being released. One of the things that makes the movie work so well was its leading lady, Mary Costa. The clarity and emotion in her voice gave Princess Aurora the perfect mix of innocence and rebellion.

To see Mary Costa today in the featurette section of the DVD is a total treat to watch. She is still lovely and gives heartwarming memories of her work on “Sleeping Beauty.” Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1930, Mary’s family relocated to Los Angeles while Mary was a teenager. After High School, she entered the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to study with the famed maestro, Gaston Usigli. In 1952, Ms. Costa was personally chosen by Walt Disney to be the speaking and singing voice of Princess Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty,” which turned out to be a 7-year production.

In 1958, Mary substituted for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at a gala Hollywood Bowl concert conducted by Carmen Dragon. Because of her glowing reviews, she was invited to sing the lead in her first fully staged operatic production, “The Bartered Bride.” Following these triumphs, Leonard Bernstein deemed her “perfect” as the leading lady for his “Candide,” which had both a U.S. tour and a London season, receiving great acclaim from critics and public alike. The San Francisco Opera then engaged Ms. Costa for several operas and she immediately became a favorite leading soprano. In 1961, Ms. Costa recorded “La Boheme” for RCA Victor from the stage of the Rome Opera House. This recording was re-mastered and re-released in 1998 and was awarded the RCA Victor Red Seal CD release of the month. The original recording has been used in music schools across the country as an example of a high standard of artistic singing.

Later in 1961, Mary sang her first “Manon” in Cincinnati, followed by an appearance at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, where she sang in “La Traviata,” the opera in which she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on January 6, 1964.

Ms. Costa’s Metropolitan Opera debut received one of the season’s greatest ovations and enthusiastic praise from critics. It is considered one of the most outstanding debuts of an American singer in the history of the company. One of Ms. Costa’s favorite remembrances was being chosen by Igor Stravinsky for the role of Anne Trulove in the San Francisco Opera’s production of the new work, “The Rake’s Progress,” which included an unforgettable three weeks of private vocal coaching in the Stravinsky home. Also considered a special occasion was the invitation to perform in the Western Hemisphere production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Among Ms. Costa’s most treasured memories, was receiving a personal request from Jacqueline Kennedy to sing for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Service. The President and Mrs. Kennedy had been following the career of the diva for many years. Mary’s choice to sing at the Bolshoi Opera in 1970, during her first tour of Russia, was “La Traviata.” She made such an impact on the audiences that she was asked to extend her two-week trip to an unprecedented thirteen weeks in order for audiences all over Russia to hear her. In 1972, Ms. Costa returned to film, and flew to Vienna to star in Andrew L. Stone’s feature film, “The Great Waltz,” singing the role of the wife of Waltz King, Johann Strauss, Jr., for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe.

In November of 1993, Mary was chosen as one of the “Women in the Performing Arts,” an award presented to her in Washington, DC at the opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. In the latter part of the 1990’s, Mary divided her time between personal appearances for the Disney Corporation, which afforded her the opportunity to raise funds on behalf of various charities. In August 2002, Ms. Costa was recognized, along with a panel of other Disney legends and performers, when the newly-digitized Disney classic, "Sleeping Beauty," opened at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre. Rhett Wickham, a critic who covered the event, wrote, "[The panel] delivered some very articulate and often moving observations on the film. Chief among these was Mary Costa, whose true grace makes it seem for all the world like she has some angelic key-light that follows her." On February 5, 2003, Ms. Costa was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve on the National Council on the Arts from 2003–2006. In speaking about her responsibilities with the National Council on the Arts, Mary commented, “Throughout the years, I have had many mentors who helped further my career. Without their assistance, I would not have been able to accomplish numerous goals that were important in my life. I now have the opportunity through the National Council to be a mentor to deserving artists who are seeking to achieve their destiny. This is a wonderful chance for me to return to others a portion of that which was so generously given to me.” In my opinion, Mary Costa is a total class act. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this brief bio of a truly talented lady.

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Viewliner Ltd. said...

I have loved Shirley Temple ever since I first saw one of her movies when I was 10 years old. And after all whats not to love.
Great presentation on Mary Costa, Dave. Obviously a beautiful and talented woman.

Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, that was some essay! I'm WAY too lazy to do anything like that. Nice job, and excellent photos, I especially like the one of Mary Costa in front of all of the Sleeping Beauty artwork, great color!

outsidetheberm said...

Great info, Dave. Thanks.

Off topic, I just wanted to thank you, also, for mentioning the book 'Disneyland: Then, Now & Forever'. I had walked right past this one thinking it was just another 'rah rah' promotional piece. Now I'm glad I bought it. There are some exceptionally rare images in it. Two thumbs up!