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Treasure 41: Mary Garden Record Collection
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Treasure 41: Mary Garden Record Collection

Historic Documents
Léa Moreau
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Treasure 41: Mary Garden Record Collection
Historic Documents
Treasure 41: Mary Garden Record Collection
We hold a number of original vinyl records in our collections, including those of Mary Garden, a local girl who found global fame as an opera singer in the early 20th Century.

Born at 35 Charlotte Street on 20 February 1874, Mary Garden left her native Aberdeen around the age of nine when the family moved to America in search of better opportunities and a new life.
After a period of uncertainty and several moves, a young Mary accepted a role as a childminder in Chicago, with payment taking the form of singing lessons to further her obvious interest. By 1896, Mary had shown sufficient progress that she accompanied her tutor to Paris in a quest to pursue a career in opera.

Mary's first big break came in 1900, when she performed in the new opera, Louise after the main star became unwell. A series of leading roles followed in 1901, including Thaïs, Manon and Madame Chrysanthème. For the next decade, Mary courted both limelight and controversy as she portrayed leading characters on stage, while being romantically linked to various composers and directors off-stage. Adding fuel to these fires of speculation, Claude Debussy chose Garden to create the title role of his new play, Mélisande, overruling the preference of his own librettist.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Mary attempted to enlist in the French army - but with her identity discovered, she instead turned to nursing at a hospital in Versailles. When she returned to America, she continued to raise funds for the French Red Cross. Her efforts during both war and peacetime generated awards from Serbia and France.

Mary appeared in two silent films - the first released in 1918 - but she found difficulty adapting to the new medium and this separate career never took off. She returned to her first passion and continued to perform in opera until the mid-1930s.
In 1921, Mary was offered the role of director of the Chicago Opera Association, and as she was still performing - undertook both roles with fervour. Under her tenure, the Association took on many new and exciting artists and works.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Mary chose to remain in Paris, until the German invasion forced her to escape, leaving all of her possessions behind. In June 1940, she returned to Aberdeen but the lure of teaching the next operatic generation proved too strong and she once again travelled to America to coach young stars and give lectures in 1949-1950.

By this time, it appears that Mary's memory had started to suffer - evidenced by the 1951 autobiographical publication Mary Garden's Story which was riddled with factual errors. The book received disastrous reviews and possibly led to her decision to reside permanently in Aberdeen from 1954.

Mary died in 1967 in the House of Daviot, a country hospital near Inverurie, aged 92. Fifty friends attended a small ceremony. A small commemorative plaque is located at 41 Dee Street where the Garden family lived, and a small garden is dedicated to her memory in Craigie Loanings.

Although she remains relatively little known in her native Aberdeen, Mary's legacy is considerable in the United States - particularly in Chicago where her stewardship of the Opera Association is still remembered fondly.
Vinyl records
Mary Garden
Aberdeen Local Studies
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