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Anna Russell

 

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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 lowered—and 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 asked—at the last minute—to speak at a music teachers’ convention. Her hastily prepared—and intentionally humorous—talk 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 taken off.

The Anna Russell Album?, Sony, 1991.
Anna Russell Again?, Sony, 1998.

 
Anna Russell
   
 
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