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Marilyn Cotlow (born January 10, 1924) is an American lyric coloratura soprano best remembered for originating the role of Lucy in Gian Carlo Menotti's The Telephone. She sang professionally during the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe, performing with such companies as the Metropolitan Opera. After retiring from the stage, Cotlow taught voice at the Peabody Conservatory and currently teaches privately out of her home. Several of her students have gone on to have successful careers, including Alessandra Marc and Jennifer Wilson.
Early life and education
Marilyn Rose Cotlow was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 10, 1924, to Sander and Bernice Cotlow. She had two brothers: William and Phillip. During the Great Depression, her father moved the family of five to Los Angeles in an effort to find work as an attorney. He was an amateur singer, who only allowed his family to listen to classical music or singers of good stature and renown.
Marilyn Cotlow began vocal studies with Hans Clemens, a tenor who had been let go by the Metropolitan Opera in 1937 because he was a German citizen at a time of anti-German sentiment in the United States. Clemens moved to Los Angeles and became good friends with Lauritz Melchior, who lived in Beverly Hills. Clemens organized a vocal competition to discover new talent and to procure students for his fledgling studio. Marilyn Cotlow was 15 when she auditioned, and Clemens appreciated her innate vocal talent and musicality.
Clemens offered her the chance to study six days a week on a half-scholarship. During her first year, Clemens only allowed her to do vocal exercises to make her aware of high forward placement and ensure the correct use of her support mechanism. Clemens learned these exercises while studying with a 90-year-old cantor in Milan, Italy, who was said to sound 25 years old.
Cotlow made her professional operatic debut as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute with a small company in Los Angeles in the early 1940s. The cast also included Brian Sullivan as Tamino, and Johnny Silver as Monostatos. Cotlow also worked as a voice-over artist during the early to mid-1940s for Hollywood musical movies, often performing high notes in songs for artists who had difficulty singing in the upper register. As most high tones above the ledger are indistinguishable from one soprano to another, the studios hired Cotlow to "cut in" the note.
After World War II, she auditioned for the Central City Opera in Colorado. During her audition, the judges asked if she knew the arias of Blondchen in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Marilyn answered, "Why, yes, I know the whole role." After she finished both arias, the judges asked if she knew the arias of Constanze. She answered, "Why yes, I know that whole role, too," and sang all three arias from that role. She was offered a contract to sing Blondchen that summer in Colorado with Eleanor Steber, Felix Knight, and Jerome Hines.
Upon arriving in New York, Cotlow auditioned for several parts and heard that Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Chandler Cowles were producing a double bill of opera on Broadway. The operas were The Telephone, or L'Amour à trois and The Medium by a young Italian composer, Gian Carlo Menotti. The double bill premiered on February 18, 1947, at the Heckscher Theater, and the Broadway production opened on May 1, 1947, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and remained for more than 7 months. A Columbia Records recording was made, and it remains the #1 selling complete operatic recording of all time.
In 1948, Cotlow made her Metropolitan Opera (Met) debut, singing Philine in Mignon after winning the company's Audition of the Air competition. That same season, she sang Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. For the next several years, she appeared in roles with minor houses in the United States and in Europe. In 1952, she joined the company of Theater Basel and stayed there for one year. In 1953, she joined Theater Bremen, where she sang roles for two seasons. She left the company in 1955 to give a concert tour in the Netherlands and sing the role of Amina in La Sonnambula with Wexford Festival Opera.
After Marilyn Cotlow married Eugene Altschuler, in the late 1950s, she retired from her stage career and took up teaching. She taught out of her home for many years and then later at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the Peabody Conservatory Also Catholic University, Washington, DC. She still maintains a home studio in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. One of her most famous students, Alessandra Marc, became her daughter-in-law when Marc married her son Remy David; the couple has since divorced. She has another son, Daniel.