Anna Claudia Russell-Brown was
born in Canada in 1911. Six months later, the family had packed up and
moved to London, where Anna was given a fine education, topped off with
studies at the Royal College of Music.
She gave folk song recitals on the BBC and toured England
with small opera companies. But what was supposed to be a serious career
was besieged with comical mishaps. There was her performance of Cavalleria
Rusticana, when Russell twisted her ankle and careened across the
stage with such force that the whole set came crashing down. The orchestra
cracked up, the curtain was loweredand Russell was fired.
Shortly before WWII, she moved back to Canada and appeared
on radio soap operas. But there was no escaping the calamities. During
one broadcast, she was required to call out the name of another character.
Virgil, she bellowed, and did it so loudly that a tube blew,
and for a time the whole CBC was knocked off the air.
Finally, she turned misfortune to her advantage. She
was askedat the last minuteto speak at a music teachers
convention. Her hastily preparedand intentionally humoroustalk
on the art of singing was a resounding success. Soon she was giving music
depreciation courses, take-offs on Wagnerian sopranos, and
lectures on How To Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera.
By the time she turned 40, in 1951, her career as a musical satirist had
The Anna Russell Album?, Sony, 1991.
Anna Russell Again?, Sony, 1998.