V0837. MARY LEWIS: The Complete HMV Acoustic & Victor Electrical Recordings, incl. Songs by Bach-Gounod, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Strauss, Sieczynski, Böhm, Hahn, Szulc, Freire, Rossini, Delibes, Johann Strauss, Bond, Molloy, Moore, Foster, Cadman, etc.; Arias from Nozze, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Manon, Thaïs, Faust, Hamlet, Pagliacci & Le Coq d’Or, featuring six previously Unpublished; also offers one full CD of radio broadcasts. 2-Marston 52047, recorded 1924-28 & Broadcast Performances, 1936-39. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 638335204727
"Mary Lewis would be virtually forgotten today except that she made records, all of which are never less than interesting and several of which are simply glorious….Mary Lewis’ 1928 recording of ‘Dixie’ has long been famous as the best recording of Emmett’s minstrel standard. The listener will be captivated by her delicate charm, as well as her ultra clean diction, in the nostalgic ‘The second minuet’….The [transcription discs made in 1936-39] radiate spontaneity, as if they were live recordings, but with superb sound quality and masterful playing by uncredited musicians from the New York Philharmonic."
- James Camner, FANFARE, March/April, 2006
“…in the 1920's [Mary Lewis] made recordings of a solo soprano version of the so-called ‘Meditation’ from THAÏS that was so successful it was recorded twice by Lewis, 1923 and 1927, and people are still making reference to it. This has come about because the wizardly restorer of old recordings, Ward Marston of Philadelphia, has gone to the trouble to revive and issue, quite successfully, all known Lewis recordings, both acoustic and electric, including two dozen songs transcribed in studios for radio broadcast — these from around 1937, more or less the last moment in Lewis’s troubled career, yet a time when she was still touring in Europe, even singing song recitals at the Salle Gaveau in Paris.
By the early 1920's she was in New York City, receiving some musical training and found herself a star of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 and 1922. Lewis was unusually beautiful and charming…and is constantly referred to as ‘golden haired’ in a time when that was a sure sign of favor, and the many photographs in Zeman’s [Mary Lewis] book often show her as a beauty. During two busy seasons with Ziegfeld, Lewis was well paid and decided to try out for grand opera, so undertook serious vocal training — with a modest measure of success. I suspect that training managed to define her issues, without really resolving them. Nevertheless, she auditioned for Met Opera director Giulio Gatti-Casazza in 1923, and he sent her off to Europe for study and experience….She auditioned at Paris and Vienna and soon was singing in those cities as well as Bratislava and London. In 1924 she took part in and recorded HUGH THE DROVER, in the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ opera. On the continent she was singing big roles such as Gilda — in her mid-twenties, on precious little vocal training and technique
The 1920's was the decade when Gatti-Casazza and the Met were making an effort to create American stars in the wake of the Great War and a short supply of saleable names for the operatic stage to replace retiring Europeans such as Caruso, Scotti and Destinn. At the same time, there was something of a push for nationalization of operatic repertory on American subjects (MERRY MOUNT of Deems Taylor is one of the more successful examples), which would become American casts. Unfortunately, an important lot of fine native vocalists, Nordica, Eames, Easton, Farrar, Mason and others had nearly all gone.
The pioneering glamour girl and diva, Geraldine Farrar a true national operatic, movie and concert superstar, by 1922 was hanging it up — so it was time for a new generation of Americans. New York-born Rosa Ponselle, far too young and under-seasoned for the big time, soon burst upon the Metropolitan with historic success and joined major established figures (Jeritza, Galli-Curci Gigli), and new Americans such as the young California baritone, Lawrence Tibbett, in dominating the Met stage. In the same period, in 1926, a young and unready soprano from Missouri, Marion Talley, zoomed into the galaxy of Met stars, as did Grace Moore of Tennessee in 1928. Mary Lewis, the most beautiful and stage worthy of them all, most observers agreed, also débuted in 1926, after a whirlwind few years of training and singing in Europe, but was finished after 1930, leaving a record of only 25 performances, none distinguished. By 1929 Talley was gone, by 1933 Moore had left the Met to revisit show biz and Hollywood. By contrast, in 1931 Lily Pons, the chic French coloratura assumed stardom that lasted for three decades at the Met. What was going on here? It was exactly what you expected: under-prepared young singers doing too much too soon, a thrice-familiar story unto this day. After a few seasons, Ponselle (who had by far the most beautiful and important voice of the lot), began to encounter vocal limitations and loss of confidence. In little more than a decade, she slowly cut back, her final Met appearances made in 1936. Moore returned to opera in the mid-1930s, for sporadic performances until 1946. But her vocal history was spotty. ‘When everything went right’, as she said, she could turn in a reasonable Mimi or Louise — though her top voice was rarely in generous supply. Moore became a glamorous movie figure and international socialite, limiting her operatic performances to a few roles and only occasional concert appearances. She died in an air crash in 1947.
Marian Talley simply burned out from over-exposure and inadequate training, as did Lewis, who had to be taken off stage as Micaëla in CARMEN as she was too inebriated to continue. Seemingly alcoholism figured, off and on, in her troubled career. A couple of bad marriages did not help Lewis, but in 1931 she married a Standard Oil shipping magnate and ageing stage door johnny, Robert Hague, and took up posh living in the new Ritz Tower on Manhattan’s East Side. Aside from some recital and concert tours, and extended visits to Europe where she was popular, Lewis’s career devolved into that of a radio singer, including a successful nightclub appearance, while her status as a New York City society hostess blossomed in her role as the fashionable Mrs. Robert Hague.
In a bizarre turn of events, as the 1930's rolled by Lewis began to suffer increasing ill-health, never effectively diagnosed or treated. Later speculation focused on her appearance in 1922 in the Ziegfeld Follies in a radium decorated costume that literally glowed in the dark as theatre lights were dimmed. While this was a neat theatrical trick, it probably cost Lewis her life. Mary Lewis died of what is now seen as radiation sickness. She had not sung opera for ten years.
Listening to her sing operatic arias it is clear she was inadequate as both technician and musician for major classical singing. Her beautiful youth carried her for a time, but as the voice never caught hold and personal difficulties multiplied, her vocal career declined. While it was sad, her departure was not a great loss to the world of musical arts, as her records now show. At best, the Lewis voice was a mildly pleasant if thin lyric soprano, of adequate range, but not often well handled, and her lower register remarkably ill-developed.
Lewis’s French diction is wanting, musicality is minimal, tonal quality is inconsistent, there are mistakes in phrasing, errors in notes, and climactic tones are driven, suggesting that by age-30 when the electrical recording of the THAÏS finale was made, Lewis’s voice was already troubled. A decade later, 1937, radio studio transcriptions of various American and European art songs show her more favorably and suggest the musical stage might have been her real home. But even that is in doubt, attempts at movie stardom failed, marriage to the older Mr. Hague ended in separation in 1937; he died the next year. A few years later Lewis’s illness carried her away, at a New York hospital, 31 December, 1941. Lewis was always star-crossed, and was representative of her generation of aspiring but flawed young American opera sopranos.”
J. A. Van Sant, OPERA NEWS, 14 Jan., 2009