Born in Australia in 1907, Marjorie Florence Lawrence was a regular soloist in her Anglican church from the age of ten. After training in Melbourne and Paris, she debuted as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at Monte Carlo to critical acclaim and soon became the leading dramatic soprano of the Paris Opera, privately entertaining celebrities like James Joyce. Celebrated in New York in 1935, she spent six seasons performing with the Metropolitan Opera at home and on tour in Wagnerian leads.
The collection of Marjorie Lawrence papers, 1926-1977, offers correspondence, programs, and memorabilia documenting her performance career as well as production material from the Opera Theatre documenting her teaching career. Notable items include manuscript versions of her autobiography, Interrupted Melody, numerous music scores, and recorded performances of Lawrence as well as the Opera Theatre and her Southern Illinois University Summer Opera Workshop. The separate Marjorie Lawrence photograph collection, 1926-1977, documents her stage career.
Known for her beauty and physical grace, Lawrence was one of few in the role of Salome to perform the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils herself. As Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung, she was known for leaping onto her horse and riding it into the immolation flames. Although she maintained a disciplined and ordered life, unaffected by fame, she enjoyed collecting Parisian gowns and hats.
In 1941, while in her early thirties, she was stricken by poliomyelitis, leaving her paralyzed in both legs. In March, 1941, she married osteopath Thomas King, who supported her career with spiritual and physical therapy, even designing a mobile platform that enabled her to perform upright, though she generally performed lead roles from seated and reclining positions. She was praised by Sir Thomas Beecham as 'the greatest living dramatic soprano' when she portrayed Venus from a chair in 1942.
Lawrence toured extensively during and following World War II, entertaining troops in Australia and occupied Europe. France awarded her the cross of the Légion d'honneur in 1946. She later entertained troops in Vietnam and sang at Buckingham Palace and the White House. In 1949, Lawrence published her autobiography, Interrupted Melody, which was developed into a 1955 film. In 1952, she began teaching at Tulane University and taught for an extended period at Southern Illinois University before teaching at University of Arkansas in the 1970s. During the summer, she conducted opera workshops and sponsored children's opera at her home, Harmony Range, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In 1976, Lawrence was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) for her exemplary service to the United Kingdom. She died in Arkansas in 1979, survived by her husband.
Lawrence's students established the Marjorie Lawrence Lincoln Endowment Fund for handicapped people attending performances of the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center, New York. The Marjorie Lawrence Opera Scholarship Fund was created by Lawrence and her husband to provide scholarships for music majors who demonstrate outstanding potential for a professional opera career.
View a newsreel of Marjorie Lawrence in a 1947 performance on the rolling platform designed by her husband, Thomas King: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/marjorie-lawrence-sings
Lawrence, Marjorie. 1949. Interrupted Melody: The Story of My Life. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.