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Music: Culinary Contralto

2 minute read

Manhattan playgoers last week saw Vickie (by S. M. Herzig; produced by Frank Mandel) do a bad job with a good idea. A satire on U.S. women’s war activities, it attacked the funny bone by way of the eardrum, failed as farce because it was never funny.

More interesting than anything else in the play was the appearance in a bit part (an opera-singing cook) of Margaret Matzenauer—one of opera’s fallen giants. For Contralto Matzenauer, who had been a diva in the days when Caruso and Toscanini were fellow Metropolitan headliners, Vickie might be a comedown. But it was made to order: Vickie’s author, Hollywood Scripter Sid Herzig, got most of his ideas about opera singers at the age of eight when Contralto Matzenauer, newly arrived from Europe, lived in the Herzig family’s Manhattan home. Vickie’s ex-diva was written with Matzenauer in mind.

For 19 years (until 1930) Margaret Matzenauer was one of the most experienced and versatile singers who ever appeared at the Met. A born trouper (daughter of a Hungarian opera conductor), she was able to switch from Carmen to Ortrud or Amneris to Delilah at the drop of a spear. An exception among opera singers (most of whom have to have their parts drilled into them by coaches and conductors), she could sit down at the piano and teach herself the most taxing roles. Always a robust Brünnehilde, Matzenauer became one of the most prodigious (203 Ib.) singers ever to prance the operatic proscenium. She married and divorced three husbands. The last of them (a California chauffeur named Floyd Glotzbach) she once fondly described as “100 per cent a man.” Margaret Matzenauer sternly disapproves of the career of her daughter, Adrienne Matzenauer, who sings blues and torch songs at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. But of her own Broadway debut last week, Mother Matzenauer was as proud as a debutante soubrette. Said she: “I’m just branching out. I want to try everything.”

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