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Mary Morrison (Soprano)

Born: November 9, 1926 - Winnipeg, Canada

The Canadian soprano, Mary (Louise) Morrison, received her Artist Diploma voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto (RCMT) in 1948. She studied in Winnipeg with Doris Mills Lewis (voice 1942-1944) and Mary Bornoff (piano) and in Vancouver with John Goss (voice, summer 1942). In her teens she was acclaimed in her native city for her singing (radio debut 1944) in the CBC's 'Sweethearts' and 'Prairie Schooner' and CKY's 'Music for You,' at the Manitoba Music Competition Festival (where in 1944 she became the only person ever to win, in the same year, the Tudor Bowl and the Rose Bowl, highest awards for grades B and A singers), and in Gladys Anderson Brown's highly regarded Kelvin High School operetta productions.

While Mary Morrison was an RCMT Senior School student she returned from Toronto to sing in one of the Kelvin productions. In the cast with her was a young local tenor called Jon Vickers, whom she helped persuade to move east for further voice study and operatic training at the RCMT. She herself studied there 1945-1948 with Myrtle Rose Guerrero (piano), Ernesto Vinci (voice), and Emmy Heim (Lieder) and was coached in 1948 by Greta Kraus and Weldon Kilburn.

Youthful Toronto debuts with orchestra (Toronto Symphony Orchestra 1947) and in both radio opera (CBC, 1948, as Eurydice in Gluck's Orfeo) and live opera (Royal Cons Opera School in 1949, and Opera Festival in 1950 as Mimi in La Bohème) established her quickly. Her success in these roles and the prestige, in 1951, of reaching the finals in the CBC's 'Singing Stars of Tomorrow' and 'Nos Futures Étoiles' presaged a long and busy Toronto-based career as a freelance artist. For the CBC Opera she was Micaëla in Carmen (1949), Liù in Turandot (1950), Mimi in La Bohème (1948, 1951), Lucie in Arthur Benjamin's A Tale of Two Cities (1954), the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (radio and TV, 1956), and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte (1958). She also was heard as soloist on the CBC's 'Northern Electric Hour,' 'Startime,' 'Sunday Strings,' The Stage series, and 'Showtime.' For the COC she was Marguerite in Faust (1951), Pamina in The Magic Flute (1952), Marie in The Bartered Bride (1952), Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte (1953), Felice in Wolf-Ferrari's School for Fathers (1954), the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (1955, 1960), and Sara Riel in Louis Riel (1967).

During those same years Mary Morrison was a soloist in innumerable symphony and oratorio performances, eg, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra-Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Bach Festival of 1950; the CBC's 80th (1962) and 85th Igor Stravinsky birthday celebrations, conducted by the composer, with the Festival Singers (of which Morrison was an original member and, frequently, a featured soloist); and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra-Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performance of B. Britten's Cantata academica and Spring Symphony (1967). In Winnipeg, she sang the Verdi Requiem (1951) with the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; in New York, Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher (1968) with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; and, in San Francisco, the Bach Magnificat (BWV 243) (1973).

Mary Morrison's particular contribution to Canadian musical life, however, has been her advocacy of 20th-century music. With notable poise and generosity of spirit and with manifest enjoyment of the material, she has contrived successfully to banish its bogies and reveal its not always readily apparent charms. Composers have been quick to appreciate this, and to devise new works for the clear, resilient soprano voice on which it all depends. The list below shows the premieres in which she has sung.

Much of her work in contemporary music has been as a member (with Robert Aitken and Marion Ross) of the Lyric Arts Trio, with which she has toured in North America, Scandinavia, Japan, Iceland, France, Poland, and England. Both as soloist and as trio member she has performed often with the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in Montreal and Ten Centuries Concerts and New Music Concerts (NMC) in Toronto, usually in Canadian works or in Canadian premieres of USA and European works (Luciano Berio, Harrison Birtwistle, Cage, Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies, Globokar, Ligeti, Pousseur, Takemitsu, Xenakis, etc).

Among the milestones of her career Morrison cites the CLComp concert of 1953 (works of Papineau-Couture and Morawetz), the premiere of Somers' The Fool (1956), the Ten Centuries Concerts presentation of Schafer's Geography of Eros (1964), the Canadian Concert (1968) at the Sigmund Samuel Canadiana Building of the Royal Ontario Museum, and concerts with the Lyric Arts Trio at Expo 70 (Osaka 1970), the ISCM festival in Reykjavik and the Musée d'art moderne in Paris (both in 1973), the Warsaw Autumn in 1978, and the Soundstage Canada 1981 performances at the Zagreb biennale and Pierrot Lunaire at the University of Toronto (both in 1981). She gave her final public performance at the University of Toronto in 1985.

Mary Morrison married the composer Harry Freedman in 1951 and is the voice heard in his scores for the films The 700 Million, The Roots of Madness, and The Pyx, and for the ballets The Shining People of Leonard Cohen and Romeo and Juliet.

Mary Morrison was a member 1972-1975 and 1982-1985 of the advisory arts panel of the Canada Council and artist-in-residence in 1976 at Simon Fraser University. She taught singing from 1976 to 1984 at the University of Western Ontario and from 1976 to 1979 at McMaster University, and in 1979 she began teaching in the five-week course at the Academy of Singing at the Banff CA. She also began teaching at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto in 1979. She has taught occasionally 1987-1989 at the Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal. She is in constant demand as a competition juror, festival adjudicator, and examiner. She has served on several boards including those of NMC, the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Awards. She received the Canada Music Citation of the CLComp in 1968, was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1983, and was awarded a medal of service from the City of Toronto in 1985.

Mary Morrison's sister, the Winnipeg soprano Kathleen Morrison Brown (b Winnipeg September 5, 1928), has enjoyed a durable career in Winnipeg as a soloist in oratorio, operetta, and concert, and has been heard often on the CBC.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (Author: Kenneth Winters) 2006 Historica Foundation of Canada
Contributed by
Eduard van Hengel (September 2006)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Ernest MacMillan


BWV 244 [sung in English]

Links to other Sites

Morrison, Mary (The Canadian Encyclopedia)


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