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Anna Russell obituary
The Telegraph (UK) ^ | 10/21/2006

Posted on 10/22/2006 5:44:11 PM PDT by dighton

Anna Russell, who died in New South Wales on Wednesday aged 94, trained at the Royal College of Music and hoped to become an operatic diva; instead she turned her talents to comedy, becoming famous as “the Queen of Musical Parody”.

Anna Russell bore a striking resemblance to Hermione Gingold in both her appearance and in her deadpan manner; her personality was once described as that of a “flamboyant society hostess in which stirs the soul of a fishwife”.

But her comedy was based on a thorough familiarity with her raw material, enabling her to capture the idiom of a variety of musical styles with deadly precision. There were few forms of vocal expression that she did not tap for their comic possibilities, be it madrigal, Lieder, folk, hey nonny no, French chanson or blues; but in particular she looked to grand opera.

Anna Russell’s most famous set piece was a 30-minute comedic distillation of Wagner’s 20-hour Ring Cycle, an affectionate but brutal exposition of the plot, punctuated with musical excerpts and her catchphrase, “I’m not making this up, you know!” (also the title of her autobiography, published in 1985).

Among other passages, the sketch featured Anna Russell delivering a fortissimo snatch of Brunnhilde’s entry aria “Jo-ho-to-ho”, after which she would observe laconically: “As you can hear, it was obviously not her day.” Birgit Nilsson recommended Anna Russell’s sketch as an ideal introduction for anyone daunted by the real thing.

Anna Claudia Russell-Brown was born at Maida Vale, London, on December 27 1911 into a musical upper middle-class family. One of her grandfathers had won the VC in the Indian Mutiny; her father, a colonel in the Royal Engineers, was an accomplished amateur classical pianist.

A gawky, unattractive child, Anna was nicknamed “Toad” and suffered from her mother’s hostility towards her. The chief influences in her life were a cast of eccentric godmothers, great-aunts and grandmothers with whom she was often sent to stay. Perhaps the most colourful was her paternal grandmother, who had moved from her native Australia to Nice, where she took unjustified pride in a mastery of the French language. She made pronouncements such as “Je me couche entre deux matelots” when she meant mattresses; or ordering “un gateaux le mème que ma derrière” in a café.

Her most famous flight of fractured French came when she was being driven in a fly (a horse-drawn carriage): thinking that the spring had broken, she ordered the coachman: “Cochon, Cochon! Descendez de votre boîte. Le printemps de votre mouche est cassé.”

Anna’s favourite female relation was a godmother who encouraged her interest in music, and noted her comedic talent. This godmother informed Anna’s mother: “She turns out pages of ridiculous verse all the time, sets them to tunes and sings them to a ukulele. “

Anna was educated at St Felix School at Southwold, Suffolk, at Harrogate College and in Brussels and Paris. As a teenager she had a good singing voice until someone hit her with a hockey stick and broke her nose, leaving her with a “tinny” timbre in her middle register which she could never shake off. Refusing to be deterred from her ambition to become an opera singer, she spent five years at the Royal College of Music, studying singing, piano, composition (under Vaughan Williams) and cello.

Although she was the despair of her tutors (the director of the college, Sir Hugh Allen, suggested after a particularly dismal vocal performance that she should audition at the London Palladium), she spent several unrewarding years as a soprano on the concert circuit, giving folk song recitals on the BBC and touring with small opera companies.

Though forced to concede that she would never make the grade, she woke up to the comic possibilities of opera seria after tripping over on stage during a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana, bringing the set — and the house — down.

When war broke out, Anna went to live with relatives in Toronto, where she sold hamburgers and worked in a chorus line. “But I knew I didn’t look good in tights and got out,” she later recalled.

Her career in musical comedy began after she was invited at the last minute to speak at a music teachers’ convention. Her hastily prepared, intentionally humorous talk on the art of singing was a success, and she was soon giving music “depreciation” classes on the stand-up comedy circuit. Anna Russell’s first one-woman show as a parodist was sponsored by the Toronto Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire in 1942, though it was the Canadian conductor Sir Ernest MacMillan who really set her on her international career as a “musical cartoonist” when he invited her to take part in his annual burlesque Christmas Box Symphony Concert in 1944.

Soon she was touring the United States, making her Carnegie Hall debut in 1947 and later appearing on Broadway in Anna Russell’s Little Show (1955) and All by Myself (1960). Her recitals — until 1953 usually accompanied by John Coveart — continued into the 1980s with tours of North America, Britain, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia. A concert at the Albert Hall in 1957 was a sell-out, and she made return visits on several occasions in the 1960s and 1970s.

Apart from her Ring Cycle routine, audience favourites included Introduction to the Concert by the President of the Women’s Club; Wind Instruments I Have Known, in which she would bring out an “undressed” bagpipe and ask the audience — after a suggestive pause — to guess what it was; and How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, a sketch based on the premise that, since G&S wrote to a formula, anyone else could do it too.

Anna Russell continued to make occasional appearances in mainstream opera and operetta, for example playing the Witch in a San Francisco Opera production of Hansel and Gretel in 1957.

This year Anna Russell was the subject of All the Right Notes, Not Necessarily in the Right Order, a Radio 4 profile by Rainer Hersch.

Anna Russell was twice married, first to John Denison and secondly to Charles Goldhamer. Neither marriage lasted, and in her Who’s Who entry she described herself as single.

In old age she moved to Sydney, Australia, where she lived with her adopted daughter, Deirdre Prussak, author of Anna in a Thousand Cities, a memoir of Anna Russell’s life.

TOPICS: Australia/New Zealand; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: annarussell; classicalmusic; gilbertandsullivan; music; obituary; opera; parody; wagner
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1 posted on 10/22/2006 5:44:13 PM PDT by dighton
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To: dighton

I have her CD! "I'm not making this up, you know."

2 posted on 10/22/2006 5:45:11 PM PDT by EveningStar
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To: sitetest; Borges; Republicanprofessor


3 posted on 10/22/2006 5:45:54 PM PDT by EveningStar
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To: EveningStar

I have the CD, too. It's one of the best analyses of Wagner's "Ring" operas anywhere. (I thought she was already gone.)

4 posted on 10/22/2006 5:48:24 PM PDT by Publius (A = A)
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To: EveningStar; dighton

I saw her perform live in LA back in the late 70's. She served up the Wagner sketch as an encore.

5 posted on 10/22/2006 5:53:55 PM PDT by Publius (A = A)
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To: dighton

May she rest in peace.

6 posted on 10/22/2006 5:53:56 PM PDT by fieldmarshaldj (Cheney X -- Destroying the Liberal Democrat Traitors By Any Means Necessary -- Ya Dig ? Sho 'Nuff.)
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To: dighton

7 posted on 10/22/2006 5:57:53 PM PDT by knarf (Islamists kill each other ... News wall-to-wall, 24/7 .. don't touch that dial.)
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To: Publius

I remember one of her albums from a few decades ago. Very funny. She did a parody with an opera called "Anemia." LOL.

8 posted on 10/22/2006 6:13:13 PM PDT by TNCMAXQ
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Comment #9 Removed by Moderator

Comment #10 Removed by Moderator

To: dighton

A delightful woman. I never had the pleasure of hearing her in a live performance, but if anyone is interested in seeing a DVD of many highlights from her career, Netflilx will rent you one.

I had thought her gone long ago.

11 posted on 10/22/2006 6:44:49 PM PDT by Fatuncle (Of course I'm ignorant. I'm here to learn.)
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To: aculeus; lambo; AnAmericanMother; MozartLover; nopardons; Senator Bedfellow; Billthedrill; ...
“And sure enough, there’s dirty work afoot, because Hagen gives Siegfried a magic potion that makes him forget all about Brünnhilde and fall in love with Gutrune Gibich, who by the way is the only woman that Siegfried has ever come across who hasn’t been his aunt.”


“I’m not making this up, you know.”

12 posted on 10/22/2006 7:25:37 PM PDT by dighton
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To: dighton
The "Ring" bit is a classic. It stands absolutely alone.

All three parts available. Part one here.

What a great lady! I'm sure she has St. Peter in stitches.

13 posted on 10/22/2006 7:26:28 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother ((Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment)))
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To: dighton; lambo; AnAmericanMother; MozartLover; nopardons; Senator Bedfellow; Billthedrill
“I’m not making this up, you know.”

If she did nothing else she deserves immortality for that line.

14 posted on 10/22/2006 7:58:03 PM PDT by aculeus
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To: EveningStar; 1rudeboy; 31R1O; afraidfortherepublic; Andyman; Argh; aristotleman; baa39; Bahbah; ...

Dear EveningStar,

Thanks for the ping!

Classical Music Ping List ping!

If you want on or off this list, let me know via FR e-mail.



15 posted on 10/22/2006 8:00:33 PM PDT by sitetest (If Roe is not overturned, no unborn child will ever be protected in law.)
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To: dighton

It's always sad when we lose people who made us laugh. A rare and precious talent. She will be missed.

16 posted on 10/22/2006 8:01:29 PM PDT by Panzerlied ("We shall never surrender!")
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To: dighton

Poor lady. She probably would have given anything to have had her mother's love. RIP.

17 posted on 10/22/2006 8:09:34 PM PDT by ladyjane
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To: aculeus
As a teenager she had a good singing voice until someone hit her with a hockey stick and broke her nose...

When life plays a nasty joke on one back. God bless you "Toad."

18 posted on 10/22/2006 11:18:15 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: dighton

The Victor Borge of opera. A very funny lady.

19 posted on 10/22/2006 11:33:17 PM PDT by skr (We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent.-- Ronald Reagan)
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To: AnAmericanMother

Thanks for the link. I just ran through all three part; I never saw it before.

20 posted on 10/23/2006 12:04:58 AM PDT by ER Doc
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