NY: Operas, Radio, TV

At age 24, Miss Mayer won the Metropolitan Opera contest in Chicago and was selected for live broadcast on the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in New York City.

C Williams and M Mayer - Debuts NYCO 5-5-46

Margery Mayer’s New York City Center Opera debut as Suzuki in Madame Butterfly on May 5, 1946, was paired with the debut of Camilla Williams in the title role.

In 1946, Mayer débuted with the New York City Center Opera Company in an historic production of Madame Butterfly, singing the role of Suzuki opposite Camilla Williams, soprano, as Cio-Cio San, the first black woman to be cast by a major US opera company. During the next ten years Mayer became one of the leading contraltos at the New York City Center.

Her repertoire spanned some 40 operas including many highly acclaimed performances of Carmen, Aida, and Il Trovatore. Her Carmen was especially well received by the New York critics, e.g., “the finest hereabout.”  She also began singing on radio shows, in New York—WOR’s Serenade to America, the WOR Opera Theatre and NBC’s Let’s Go to the Opera.

Margery Mayer in the title Role of Bizet's Carmen. Photo: DeBellis, N.Y.Source: DeBellis, N.Y.

Margery Mayer in the title Role of Bizet’s Carmen. Photo: DeBellis, N.Y.

Miss Mayer was featured in the first American performances of Pizzetti’s Murder in the Cathedral at Carnegie Hall; the NYCO Company’s productions of Tchaikovsky’s Golden Slipper, Wolf-Ferrari’s The Four Ruffians and Prokofieff’s The Love for Three Oranges. Miss Mayer, a renowned oratorio singer, sang many performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah, and Verdi’s Requiem; and performed with leading symphony orchestras including those in New York, Chicago, Buffalo, Houston, Fort Wayne, and Kalamazoo.

Among her many interpretations of contemporary works were ten Broadway performances of The Medium, as Baba, with composer Gian Carlo Menotti directing; Amahl and the Night Visitors, as the Mother, at the New York City Center Opera; and Die Junge Magd at Chicago’s Symphony Hall with the composer Paul Hindemith conducting.

In addition, Mayer appeared in one of the earliest presentations of opera on television, the 1951 NBC-TV production of Puccini’s Il Tabarro. In 1957 she performed in the NBC-TV Opera Theater’s presentation of War and Peace, Prokofiev’s operatic adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic. In same year Mayer sang in the Douglas Moore opera Ballad of Baby Doe for ABC television. Later she sang six performances as Augusta with Beverly Sills as Baby Doe at Musicarnival, Cleveland.

A woman of prodigious energy, Mayer also sang for more than twenty years in a quartet for weekly Friday and Saturday Shabbat services at the newly formed Riverdale Temple in New York City where the first rabbi, Charles Schulman, came from the Glencoe, Illinois, synagogue where she had sung early in her career.


1950 – 1951 Radio City Music Hall – center stage in title role of a showcase on the opera ‘Carmen’  and, for two seasons, featured soloist in the ‘Glory of Easter’ Pageant.

"Margery Mayer sang Amneris with such opulence, conviction and assurance that her protrayal stood out as the most artistic and praiseworthy of the night." - The New York Journal American

"Margery Mayer who sang the title role ('Carmen') for the first time here is the most satisfying newcomer in the part to be heard in many a year.

Her voice fits the song, which is to say that it is warm and luscious in tim- bre, flawlessly produced, with an innate refinement in the phrasing of the immortal Bizet melodies. Miss Mayer's perfect singing dominated the performance with ease." -Glenn Dillard Gunn, Washington Times-Herald

"A voice of rich and sensuous beauty. Miss Mayer shone especially in songs requiring emotional surge. Add to this excellent musicianship and artistic phrasing." - Chicago American

"Her dramatic contralto im- parted wonderful resonance and tonal contrast to every note. Here is a grand voice, always gauged to the music, and well controlled in every phase of emotional expres- sion. Certainly Miss Mayer has one of the best contralto voices in the busi- ness." - The Pittsburgh Press, 2/1954

"The mercury has risen on Miss Mayer's impersonation of Carmen since she first sang this role two years ago. Fiery pace has shar- pened and the tones throw off more heat. Phrasing and style were on a high level last night and so was grasp of mood. Miss Mayer's Carmen is one of the best in town - at any price." - Louis Biancolli, New York World-Telegram

"Miss Mayer sang beautifully, almost as if her voice matched the viola that is Hindemith's chosen instrument." - Claudia Cassidy, Chicago Tribune, 12/1945

"Miss Mayer Splendid: ... To sing such difficult and polytonal music so impeccably was an outstanding feat." - Sun-Times, 12/1945

Within the first week of the 1943 tour, Margery Mayer was cast to appear in 7 operas in 7 days, leading off with her début in the role of Amneris in Aida and culminating with another début in the role of Azuchena in Il Trovatore.

The company's impresario, Fortune Gallo, had known Miss Mayer from the Chicago Opera where he had just finished the season as Artistic Director. Conjecture might be that these two debut's bookending five other operas under fire were both an initiation and a test before assigning her the title role of Carmen.

As a sign of the confidence this clever showman had in the 25 year old singer, he reserved her début in this title role to be sung in front of the high profile New York audience and critics at the Broadway Theater. By the end of this tour, Miss Mayer had sung 7 Amnerises, 5 Azuchenas and just one Carmen ( title role).

Based on her success, the following year, on a coast to coast tour of the United States and Canada, Gallo entrusted the three roles to Miss Mayer exclusively on the next years eight month tour for a total of 47 performances (see Map 2).

"Miss Mayer was what made last night's Carmen different. She has a lush contralto voice which has been excellently trained and which she used with consistent merit. It is one of really beautiful timbre, has ample power and range, and Miss Mayer made effective use of it both vocally and dramatically." - San Francisco News (Editor's comment: thawing out from Canadian winter, Carmen burns bright and hot in Frisco as per excerpt from review of 1/8/45)

In the coming decade, while Miss Mayer had become a regular member of the New York City Opera, Mr. Gallo secured her services on four occasions for another 3 Carmens and four each of Amneris and Accucena for a total of 71 performances across the three roles, with more than 50% of these in what was to be her signature role, Carmen.

"Margery Mayer made the most of her opportunities as Suzuki .." (In her NYCO debut with Camilla Williams) - The New York Times, 5/1946

"The outstanding perfor- mance was that of Margery Mayer as Amneris." - Boston Herald

"The role of Azucena was sung by Margery Mayer with superb effect." - Washington Evening Star

"...the work we did in class laid the groundwork for my understanding and appreciation of the works we saw performed. The class is scheduled to attend a rehearsal of Verdi's Falstaff, in which work Margery Mayer starred as Mistress Page and Dame Quickly, with the Montreal Opera and the New York City Opera. Miss Mayer communicates her love for the opera, as well as her grasp of the material at hand, as she performed the roles herself." - Quote from student enrolled in Prof. Mayer's graduate level course: 'Exploring Opera in New York' at Wagner College, 1975.

Mayer as Amneris in 'Aida'. Photo: G. Nelidoff, Chicago