Born: May 29, 1892
Died: November 13, 1966
A fine American tenor born in 1892 was a Mario Chamlee.
Born as Archer Ragland Chaul Mendeley. Pronounced Chamlee in Los Angeles.
He studied at the University of Southern California where his musical talents quickly surfaced in the lead in his university’s minstrel show.
That was enough to send him to Alverta, the singing teacher. And it was on the 12th of January 1916, at the age of 24, that he made his debut as Edgardo in Lucia de Lammermoor with the National Grand Opera Company in Los Angeles.
The success of this venture gave him the opportunity of going to New York for further study, with Gabriel Sabella and eventually with the tenor Giuseppe Agostini, who had been America’s first Rodolfo in La Boheme in 1897.
It was Agostini who suggested his stage name of Mario Chamlee.
Agostini at that time was principal tenor with the Milton Abron’s Grand Opera Company. They had used his influence to promote the 24-year-old tenor’s career.
Chamlee watched and studied all his performances and with himself engaged for the 1917 spring season.
The leading baritone with the company was a Richard Bun, soon to become known to the world as Richard Benelli.
And a soprano with Ruth Miller, who adopted the stage name of Francesca Milano.
It paid to have a foreign sounding name in those days.
John McCormick was Giovani Foley in Italy
Helen Mitchell was Melba
Lillian Norton was Nordica
Emily Jaen was Al Bani
And Nelly Kito was Destin, to give some famous examples.
Anyway, they formed a fine trio singing in French and Italian opera.
Ruth Miller herself made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Mozzetta, but sang there for one season only, as she married Chamlee in 1919 and thereafter devoted herself to teaching.
Meantime War had come to America and Chamlee found himself in uniform.
After his discharge his career began to move swiftly forward.
Antonio Scotty engaged him for his grand opera company, the best-known private opera company in America at that time.
Here he met up with some of the stars of the metropolitan, who regularly signed up with Scotti for his tours during the Met Opera season. Scotti recommended him to Gaetti Casazza, the metropolitan manager.
And so it was, on the 22nd of November 1920, that he made his metropolitan debut in Tosca with Geraldine Fahrar and his mentor Scotti.
Here he is in 1923, in Il Travatore with that wonderful contralto Sigrid Onegin.
For the next eight years, Chamlee was one of the leading tenors at the Metropolitan.
Rivalling the popularity of Jemini, Martinelli and Lauri-Volpi. And was thoroughly capable of holding his own in this August company.
He sang in the Italian and French repertoire and his partners included Fahrar, Yaritza, Galli-Curci, Scotti, Deluca, Ponselle, and Vore.
In 1923 he visited Europe and appeared successfully in Praque and Vienna.
During the summer months, he sang regulartly at Ravinia Park, Chicago, all during the twenties.
He was particularly popular in French roles, setting up a popular partnership with Yvonne Gall.
He had a big following in San Francisco which he visited year in year out, again concentrating mainly on the French repertoire.
His favourite partner in this city, being Neno Valin.
He was at the opera comique in Paris in 1929, singing Daguerre in Mano and Fallin with Merouth, a popular French work of the period by Rabo.
After his success, he was in demand in all the French theaters.
Melba, who heard him in Paris, said ‘There is scarcely a better singer, actor in the younger generation of tenors”.
He made San Francisco his headquarters from now on, with regular appearances at Ravinia.
His radio broadcasts had begun in 1929/1930. When all the Puccini operas were presented, in a bridged versions with Chamlee, Valda and Omoto.
And he was to continue broadcasting for many years.
In 1936, he made a triumphant re-entry at the metropolitan in Smetana’s opera the Bartered Bride. And he was to continue singing there until 1939.
He settled in his birthplace of Los Angeles and taught there with his wife for nearly thirty years.
There he died on the 13th of November 1966.
I’ve chosen his 1922 Cielo E Mar for his next record.
It was the aim of all record companies to attempt to get exclusive rights to a singer’s recordings.
When the 1920’s, the HMV Victor partnership had established such a reputation, that they bagged most of the leading singers.
The main competition came from the large Columbia organizations, but they were almost very much second best.
We had a taste of the goings on, when we had a peek at those letters between Charles Hackett and his friend. What chance for the smaller companies.
Well Parlaphone and Odeon had united and got Richard Tauber’s exclusive contract. And he was the most prolifically recorded of all the tenors of the century.
So that was certainly a coo for them.
The Vocalian company which was late into the game, had hoped to get Hackett’s contract, you may remember. But they did manage eventually to get Julio Crème’s exclusively. Who, as we already know, was popular for a short time at the Metropolitan.
The Brunswick company, who specialized in the more popular music, had decided to try and get into the act, by starting their Hall of Fame series.
They did fairly well, recording such stars as Elizabeth Rittberg, Maria Ivogen, Giacomo Laurie-Volpi, Florence Easton, Karen Branzo, Tino Pittera, Michael Boden, Frederick Shaw, and John Charles Thomas. But none of these exclusively.
However, they did manage to get two famous artists on exclusive contracts. One was Giuseppe Denese, one of the Met’s leading baritones and the other was Mario Chamlee.
As a matter of fact, it as their exclusive contracts which are the main reason for Chamlee and Denisse’s names to be less well known today, than they should have been, because Brunswick had practically no European outlets and by the early 1930s, had almost ceased classical production all together.
The probable reason for that, was that they didn’t need them. Because by that time, they had made the biggest scoop of all, the exclusive contract of Bing Crosby.
To finish with, let’s hear our singer then, joining up with his old colleague of his very first season in 1917, Richard Bun, better known of course as Richard Bonelli