Marie Powers

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Marie Powers had one of the stranger performing careers of any major performer associated with either opera or Broadway, both areas in which she made her mark, both before and after World War II. Born…
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Marie Powers had one of the stranger performing careers of any major performer associated with either opera or Broadway, both areas in which she made her mark, both before and after World War II. Born in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, she aspired to a career in opera from an early age, and went to Italy to study. She sneaked into an audition at La Scala and impressed Arturo Toscanini sufficiently to win a small role in a Wagner opera. Sometime after that, she married an Italian nobleman, an event that opened her social path in pre-World War II Europe -- now a countess as well as a singer, she rose to major roles, including Dalila and Orfeo, in Paris and Monte Carlo, during the 1930's. Her career and personal life collapsed with the death of her husband at the end of the 1930's, however; and with the outbreak of the Second World War, she left Italy for the United States. She arrived back in her homeland with -- according to her own account -- 28 cents to her name. All-but-destitute, she appeared in a recital at Town Hall in New York, and auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera without success -- Powers took what roles she could get, and was earning a meager living with a regional opera company in Seattle when she was heard by a friend of the composer Giancarlo Menotti. At the time, Menotti was preparing a production of his opera The Medium for a run on Broadway. Her eccentricities were already fairly pronounced, including her insistence upon being addressed as "Countess." She was personally tempestuous in her expressions of faith, and impatience -- most especially with herself -- but Menotti was sold on her from the start in the role of Madame Flora in The Medium. Once she was cast in the part, other eccentricities became apparent -- her devout Catholicism motivated Powers to openly offer thanks to a statuette of the Madonna on stage nightly; and she was known for traveling through midtown Manhattan on roller-skates, even on her way to Mass. But she won rave reviews -- as much for her acting as her singing -- and became a Broadway star in The Medium when it opened in 1946, and she owned the role for years after; Powers not only did more than 2000 performances as Madame Flora on stage, but also starred in the movie version as well; her portrayal was also preserved on a Columbia Masterworks cast recording of the work from 1947. Her other stage credits included Menotti's The Consul and as Nettie Fowler in a revival of Carousel in 1957. Powers was popular enough coming off of The Medium that she was actually signed to a recording contract with Atlantic Records in the early 1950's, which resulted in an album of pop standards by the operatic contralto.