Marni Nixon: Artists will do things for nothing to keep the art alive

The celebrated Hollywood dubbing singer, who died this weekend aged 86, was a classically trained artist who attended classes with Lotte Lehmann and calimed to be among the first on the West Coast to sing Charles Ives.

In an interview with Bruce Duffie, transcribed by Una Barry, Marni Nixon reflects on the future of opera:

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of the opera world?

MN:    [Somewhat sadly]  Yes…

BD:    That was sort of a sad yes

MN:    Yes, it is sad because it’s all on the artists shoulder.  The artists will be the ones who will do things for nothing to keep the values alive eventually.  The people who maybe have been stung or can’t sustain the crazy career lifestyle they put you through will go back to their grass roots community and maybe will start their own little opera companies, or plug in to the community opera that already exists, and will define for that community some kind of excellence.  Eventually the young people will learn from them, and will come around full circle to the big cities and will know more on how to define themselves. 

But it’s all so rough.  If only there were some kind of umbrella organization that could exist, or if there were some kind of subsidy or some kind of training ground.  This is an eternal dream I’m sure in everybody’s day.  But now it’s going so fast that it seems to me all the advocates are going down the drain because they can’t sustain themselves financially.  Television entertainment has deadened our minds, and the singers have no knowledge of literature.  They don’t know history, they don’t know the famous singers, they don’t run around to look at who’s in town. Oh, there’s this singer!  I know this singer and she’s supposed to be a good recitalist.  I’ll do anything to get out of school and cut classes and go to hear this person and then learn these songs.  They want to learn what they’re told to learn quickly, and they have their goals defined now. I’m going to get to this audition.  I’m going to learn these pieces and I’m going to win this audition.  I’m going to get $2,000 and then I’m going to win this next audition, and then I’m going to learn this program.  It’s not defining their whole life ahead of them.

 

marni nixon2

 

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  • Ms Nixon appeared on our local (Baltimore) PBS radio station about 5 years ago. Her thoughts above were similarly expressed with dismay regarding singing arts in the US.

    At least Europe has state funding and the UK gets dosh from the lottery funds.

    A fascinating lady. I had no idea she dubbed so many ‘stars’ for their vocal parts. As a child I was aurally abused by my sister with a steady diet of show and movie tune albums!

    • That’s not ‘aural abuse’ but a treat!! I’ve just read an anecdote in Charles Barber’s book about Carlos Kleiber. One contributor to the book was sitting next to Kleiber on a plane once from Tokyo to Munich and the maestro started looking over this man’s shoulder to see what he was doing (preparing an anthropology lecture). A conversation finally ensued as it was obvious the maestro wanted to talk. It appears that when not talking, or ‘napping’, the maestro spent his journey listening on CDs to the musicals of Stephen Sondheim – and tapping out the rhythm on the arm rest. Kleiber declared Sondheim “a genius”.

      It takes one to know one, I guess.

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