Edvina and Michael Aspinall

Edvina and Michael Aspinall

Marie Louise Edvina
A pot of gold indeed innocently found in Cecil Court in London as a Christmas Gift for an old friend Michael Aspinall ………..I said it might be of interest and had he ever heard of her ……..here is his quite unique reply:
Marie Louise Edvina
She was born Marie Louise Lucienne Juliette Martin, in Montreal on the 28th May 1878. She latterly claimed to be descended, through her mother, from Pocahontas. She had a convent education and her beautiful voice was noticed by the nuns, who encouraged her to sing. The nuns indulged her even to the point of allowing her a glass of port on days when she was due to sing in church, “for the good of her voice”. In 1898 she married an Englishman who died suddenly the following year. In 1901 she married the Hon. Cecil Edwardes, brother of Lord Kensington. It soon became apparent that her husband was rapidly losing money through bad investments; to save the family fortunes Marie Louise decided to capitalize on her vocal talent, and went to Paris to study with the great tenor Jean de Reszke, leaving her two children with her husband’s family. De Reszke, a very expensive teacher, did not charge her for her lessons as a compliment to Lord Kensington.
Mrs. Edwardes made her Parisian début as Marie Louise Edvina in concerts conducted by Reynaldo Hahn, and her operatic début took place at Covent Garden on the 15th July 1908, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust with an all-star cast: Alessandro Bonci (tenor), Mario Sammarco (baritone) and Juste Nivette (bass), conducted by Ettore Panizza. It was a success, though she would soon achieve much greater things and more rapturous criticisms. During the next five seasons at Covent Garden she rapidly advanced to becoming one of the best-loved artists of her time. Lady Howard de Walden wrote in a private letter in 1972: “She was…the first opera star with a good figure who dressed beautifully and acted properly…” In 1909 she triumphed in the first performances at Covent Garden of Charpentier’s Louise, which she also sang at the Opéra-Comique, Paris in 1910, and in Boston and Chicago. Charpentier himself conducted her in the opera in Paris in 1915 and was enchanted with her. She studied Pelléas et Mélisande with Debussy and sang it for the first time at Covent Garden in 1910. In 1911 she added Massenet’s Thaïs, which she repeated in Paris, Brussels, Monte Carlo and Covent Garden again in 1920. Her next rôles were in Otello, I gioielli della Madonna, and Tosca, which she first sang in Paris – at first the critics were unenthusiastic, but she worked hard on her interpretation and it became one of her greatest successes.
She was now referred to as “Society’s prima donna” and her family friends included all the influential men and women in the London musical scene. Despite this, she maintained her celebrity status by outstandingly lovely singing and a gracious onstage manner and was equally successful in America. In 1912 she crossed the Atlantic and appeared as Louise in her native Montreal, followed by Faust and Tosca. She appeared at the Boston Opera House in two seasons, 1912 and 1913, making her début there as Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann; Boston heard her in most of her rôles and in 1913 she made her only two appearances as Madama Butterfly there and in Washington. In April 1914 she sang in Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re at the Champs-Elysée theatre in Paris, repeating the work at Covent Garden together with Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini.
During the 1914-18 war Edvina dedicated herself to concerts and charity work: her husband joined the army and the pair separated. It appears that while singing for the troops at the front in 1915 she badly strained her voice, which was never the same again In 1915 she sang at the Chicago Opera and then in November made her one and only appearance at the Metropolitan, New York, substituting for Geraldine Farrar in Tosca, with Enrico Caruso. The audience liked her, but the critics were unenthusiastic. In 1916 she made a concert tour of Canada, then sang Faust and Thaïs at the Paris Opéra.
In December 1916 Edvina sang again at the Chicago Opera, then appeared in concerts in New York in January 1917. After her husband was killed in action in France in 1917 she retired for a long period. Edvina returned to Covent Garden for Sir Thomas Beecham’s first post war season in 1919, singing Manon, which she had sung before the war in Brussels but never, so far, in London, Thaïs, Tosca and Louise. In November 1919, at the age of 41, she married Major Nicholas Rothesay Stuart Wortley, who was 27, and had fallen in love with Edvina across the footlights at Covent Garden. The bride was given away by her former brother-in-law, Lord Kensington. She interrupted their honeymoon to give performances of Thaïs in Brussels. She repeated her most popular parts at Covent Garden in the 1920 season, returning in 1924 for two last performances of Tosca, her unannounced farewell to opera. She had appeared at Stockholm in 1923 in I gioielli della Madonna, Tosca and Faust.
Her operatic career had an unusual sequel: in June 1926 she starred in an operetta, Hearts and Diamonds, music by Bruno Granichstädten and words by P.G. Wodehouse, at the Strand Theatre, London; it was not a success. Edvina and her husband then opened an antique furniture shop in Cannes, but shortly after Christmas Major Stuart Wortley died from complications of diabetes.
Marie Louise spent the rest of her life on the French Riviera, looking after her shop. Her husband had left her a rich woman, so she was able to indulge her habit of refusing to sell the objets d’art in her shop that she was particularly fond of. In the ‘twenties her daughter Marie Edwardes had suffered a mental collapse and spent the rest of her life in a sanatorium in Switzerland. When the Second World War broke out, Edvina moved to Switwerland to be near her. Her other daughter Lumena, after heroic work in the resistance movement in Malta, died in 1944.
Marie Louise Edvina died of cancer in London on the 13th November 1948.
Recordings: Edvina made a few records for His Master’s Voice towards the end of her career, in 1919 and 1921 Despite some little trouble with the highest notes, her singing is very beautiful and of exemplary elegance, typical of the de Reszke pupils (of whom Maggie Teyte is the best remembered).
DB 547 Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons (Debussy)
Phidylé (Duparc)
DB 548 Louise (Charpentier): Depuis le jour
Tosca (Puccini): Vissi d’arte
DA 447 Thaïs (Massenet): Qui te fait si severe?
L’amour est une vertu rare
DB 547 with Percy Pitt, piano; DB 548 & DA 447 with orchestra conducted by Percy Pitt

Michael Aspinall final appearance after forty years on the boards

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