Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Meet the voice of Disney's Third Princess Sleeping Beauty ~ Mary Costa
Meet the voice of Disney's Second Princess Sleeping Beauty
Mary Costa (April 5th, 1930)
Mary Costa (born April 5, 1930 in Knoxville, Tennessee) is an American singer, actress, and Disney Legend. She is best known for playing the voice of Princess Aurora in the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty. She is also a professional opera singer.
Costa was born in 1930 in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she lived for much of her childhood. She sang Sunday School solos at the age of six. When she was in her early teens, Costa's family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she completed high school and won a Music Sorority Award as the outstanding voice among Southern California High School seniors. Following high school, she entered the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to study with famed maestro Gaston Usigli. Between 1948 and 1951, she appeared with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on the Bergen radio show. She also sang with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in concerts at UCLA, and made numerous commercials for Lux Radio Theatre.
In 1952, after meeting people at a party with her future husband, director Frank Tashlin, she auditioned for the part of Disney's Princess Aurora. Walt Disney called her personally within hours of the audition to inform her that the part was hers. In 1958, Costa was called upon to substitute for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at a gala concert in the Hollywood Bowl, conducted by Carmen Dragon. Because of her glowing reviews from that performance, she was invited to sing the lead in her first fully staged operatic production, The Bartered Bride, produced by the renowned German producer, Carl Ebert, for the Los Angeles Guild Opera. Ebert later requested that Mary appear at the Glyndebourne Festival, where she made a debut.
Walt Disney gave opera diva Mary Costa her first professional singing job, playing the voice of Princess Aurora in his 1959 animated classic "Sleeping Beauty." Only 22 at the time, she later recalled, "I really had no experience, but by the time the movie was released, I was singing in the opera. It was a very fast, exciting time for me."
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1930, Mary showed her musical ability at an early age, singing Sunday School solos at the age of six. At 14, she moved to Hollywood with her parents, Hazel and John, and soon won a Music Sorority Award as the outstanding voice among Southern California High School seniors.
While studying for the concert stage, the glamorous blue-eyed blonde performed with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on radio and with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on stage. In 1952, she attended a party with her future husband, director Frank Tashlin, where she happened to connect with the right people, and soon found herself auditioning for the part of Disney's Princess Aurora.
Within hours of her audition, Walt called Mary at home. The lyric soprano, with an agile coloratura range, won the role of "Sleeping Beauty" and her graceful voice helped make "I Wonder" and "Once Upon A Dream" hallmarks of Disney music.
Mary went on to become "One of the most beautiful women to grace the operatic stage," according to the "New York Times." She performed in 44 operatic roles on stages throughout the U.S. and Europe, including Massenet's "Manon," in which she played the title role at the Met, and the lead in "La Traviata" at the Royal Opera House in London. She also appeared with many of Hollywood's big names, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Jack Benny.
Among other highlights of her career, Mary says she was honored when Jackie Kennedy asked her to sing at a memorial service for her husband, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which was telecast throughout the world from the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1963. Nine years later, she starred in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature "The Great Waltz," depicting the life of Austrian composer Johann Strauss. To this day, however, Mary still considers "Sleeping Beauty" to be the finest moment of her career.
"Of all the operatic roles I've performed," she said, "'Sleeping Beauty' is special to me because it's the one that keeps me close to young people."
Mary has dedicated her time to inspiring children and teenagers, giving motivational talks at schools and colleges across the country. She is also an Ambassador for Childhelp USA, which ministers to the needs of abused children.
Costa went on to perform in 44 operatic roles on stages throughout the world, including Jules Massenet's Manon at the Metropolian Opera, and Violetta in La Traviata at the Royal Opera House in London and the Bolshoi in Moscow, and Cunegonde in the 1959 London premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. In 1961, for RCA, she recorded Musetta in La boheme, opposite Anna Moffo and Richard Tucker, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. Among numerous roles sung for San Francisco Opera, she was Tytania in the American premiere of Britten's A Midsummer Nights Dream (1961), Ninette in the world premiere of Norman Dello Joio's Blood Moon (1961) and Anne Truelove in the San Francisco premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Violetta in La Traviata on January 6, 1964 receiving one of the season’s greatest ovations and enthusiastic praise from critics.
Ms. Costa impressed television audiences throughout her career with guest appearances on many shows, such as Bing Crosby’s Christmas Show on NBC-TV. She appeared with Bing Crosby and Sergio Franchi on The Hollywood Palace in 1970. She also appeared on Frank Sinatra’s “Woman of the Year” Timex Special for NBC, where she was honored, along with Juliet Prowse, Lena Horne, and Eleanor Roosevelt, as women of the year. In 1972, Sammy Davis Jr. asked Mary to appear on his first NBC Follies. Among his other guests that evening, were Mickey Rooney and Ernest Borgnine. Mary performed a blues selection with Sammy, backed up by one of her favorite performers, Charlie Parker. Her other television credits include appearances on the Academy Awards, and the shows of Jim Nabors, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Della Reese, Joey Bishop, George Burns, Don Knotts, Dinah Shore, and many others.
Jacqueline Kennedy asked her to sing at a memorial service for her husband, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, from the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1963. She sang for the inaugural concert of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1971. In 1972, she starred in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature The Great Waltz, depicting the life of Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. Additional movie credits include The Big Caper (1957) and Marry Me Again (1953).
Costa has dedicated her later years to inspiring children and teenagers, giving motivational talks at schools and colleges across the country. She is also a celebrity ambassador for Childhelp, a child abuse prevention and treatment non-profit organization. She continues to do promotional appearances for Disney, most recently for the Blu-ray release of "Sleeping Beauty" and the 50th anniversary of the film.
In 1989 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation. In November 1999 she received the Disney Legends Award, and her handprints are now a permanent part of the Disney Legends Plaza at the entrance to Disney Studios. In 2000 she was selected as the Tennessee Woman of Distinction by the American Lung Association. And in April 2001, she was honored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild for Distinguished Verdi Performances of the 20th Century. In 2003 she was appointed by President Bush to the National Council on the Arts, where she served until 2007. In December 2007, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee. On November 2, 2007, she was inducted into the Knoxville Opera Hall of Fame. Earlier she had launched the inaugural Knoxville Opera season in 1978 as Violetta in La Traviata.