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Mary Lida Bowen, operatic soprano, dies


Graveside services for Mary Lida Bowen, who had a distinguished career as an opera singer, will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Parkwood Cemetery.

Miss Bowen, who was 78, died in her sleep of heart failure Saturday at the Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson, which was her home for the past 13 years.

For about 10 years in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Miss Bowen, a soprano, sang as prima donna with the Baltimore Civic Opera Co.

She performed with such Baltimore opera stars as John Charles Thomas, Robert Weede and Elwood Gary.

She also sang with the Philadelphia Opera and the National Symphony.

In 1941, the National Concert and Artists Bureau of the National Broadcasting Co. signed Miss Bowen for a national tour.

Miss Bowen's concerts in many parts of the country drew praise from critics.

The Sun's Weldon Wallace, reviewing Miss Bowen's first solo recital at the Lyric in 1941, called her "a serious young soprano who has accomplished much. She has a voice that is dulcet in quality and fresh and warm in timbre."

A year later, Miss Bowen made her New York City debut when composer Walter Damrosch chose her to sing the leading role in his one-act Broadway production, "The Opera Cloak."

In a 1942 interview, Miss Bowen told of meeting Mr. Damrosch at his New York home, where she sang several arias.

Afterward, he handed her the score of his new comic opera and asked whether she'd like to sing it, she said.

"I was astonished; I was surprised," she said. "He played the score through for me. Then, he said he wanted me for the role and I accepted."

Around 1945, partly because of ill health, Miss Bowen returned to Baltimore.

In 1949, Miss Bowen returned to the Baltimore stage to sing the lead soprano role in the Baltimore Civic Opera Co.'s production of "Faust."

For many years, Miss Bowen sang as a soloist in several Baltimore-area churches.

The opera singer began her vocal training at age 16 with Eugene Martinet, head of the Baltimore Civic Opera Co.

She was coached in New York by Giacomo Spadoni, a well-known New York teacher, and in Easton by John Charles Thomas, the noted baritone who lived on the Eastern Shore.

She had sung minor roles with the Baltimore Civic Opera Co. as early as 1935, but her major career break came in 1937. The 24-year-old singer, then a church choir soloist working as a secretary, won first prize at a young artists contest sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs.

"More than anything else, I want to keep on learning to sing and to do the very best singing that lies within my power," Miss Bowen said after winning the prestigious award.

"I'm in no hurry, because I think that if you really have the goods, you're bound to get someplace," she said.

Miss Bowen is survived by a brother, E. Arthur Bowen Jr., and a niece, Judith Bowen Glennon, both of Timonium.

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