Mario Chamlee


Picture of Mario Chamlee as Marouf
Mario Chamlee as Mârouf

Picture of Mario Chamlee with Aida Favia Artsay &  husband
Mario Chamlee with Aida Favia Artsay & husband

Picture of Mario Chamlee

Picture of Mario Chamlee in Tosca
Mario Chamlee in Tosca
Archer Ragland Cholmondeley Chamlee was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 29th, 1892. He was the son of a Los Angeles physician Mr. Samuel Chamlee (descendent of an immigrant English family that had settled in Tennessee in 1700) and Mrs. Clara Hausteib Cholmondeley.

Like most Americans he was educated in public schools. His musical gift was evident at an early age, but his interest was centered on the violin, which he studied under Schonstein from the age of eight until he was twenty. He continued his studies at the University of Southern California but all this time it never occurred to him that he could sing. His voice was discovered when he stood in for an indisposed soloist while touring with the U.S.C. Minstrels. It was apparent that the young man's voice was of unusual calibre, and encouraged by his friends, on returning to Los Angeles he auditioned for maestro Achille Alberti who had once studied with the noted Italian baritone Antonio Cotogni. He studied voice and repertoire, during five years, with Alberti.

At 23 years old, on January 12th, 1916, he made his operatic debut as Edgardo in "Lucia di Lammermoor" at the National Grand Opera Company (also called "Lombardi Opera Company"). Such was his success that he decided to go to New York for further studies with Gabriele Sibella and Riccardo Dellera. In March 1917, he made a second debut in San Francisco, as the Duke in "Rigoletto". It was also in 1917 that Mario met the soprano Ruth Miller while on tour with the Aborn Opera Company. The company included the baritone Richard Bonelli.

He had to interrupt his career when the United States entered the First World War and served as a member of the 77th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces in France for 18 months (1917–19).

One day, while singing in a church, in France, his voice attracted the attention of some officers who immediately assigned him to sing with the Argonne Players, to entertain the soldiers.

Back in America he started to sing again with some minor companies and also in vaudeville acts in which he sang opera arias. Appearing in his vaudeville sketch, he was heard by Antonio Scotti and engaged for his own touring "Scotti Grand Opera Company". Chamlee made his debut with this company in October 1919 at the Whiting House Theatre in Syracuse as Turiddu in "Cavalleria rusticana" with Florence Easton and Millo Picco. He sang in eight cross-country tours of the U.S.A. and Canada between 1919 and 1922. He added to his repertoire the roles of Cavaradossi in "Tosca", Win-San-Lay in "L'oracolo" and Edgardo in "Lucia" with the Spanish soprano Ángeles Ottein and the Italian baritone Mario Laurenti.

It was also in 1919 that he met again his future wife, the soprano Ruth Miller (1892–1983), who was singing with the Cosmopolitan Opera Company at the Garden Theatre. They appeared together with the troupe, in Detroit, singing "Faust". They married on October 2nd, 1919, though the wedding was kept in secret during a month until the news appeared on the New York Times, in November. (The couple had a son, Dr. Archer Mario Chamlee Jr., born in 1921.)

On reaching New York, Scotti took Chamlee to audition for Giulio Gatti-Casazza. He was engaged on the spot, despite the fact that the Metropolitan was well stocked with excellent tenors: Martinelli, Gigli, Lázaro, Lauri-Volpi, Schipa, Crimi, Hackett, Harrold, Zerola... and, of course, Caruso. He made his Metropolitan debut on November 22nd, 1920 as Cavaradossi in "Tosca" with Geraldine Farrar and Antonio Scotti. He was enthusiastically received and it was instantly noticed that the youthful tenor's voice bore a striking resemblance to the tones of the great Caruso. The following day, the critic W. J. Henderson of the "New York Sun" wrote about his "fresh" voice and "lyric qualities of merit". Pitts Sanborn of the "New York Globe" wrote: "Mr. Chamlee ... revealed a voice which in its purity of timbre, combined with a well recognizable warmth and richness, actually suggested the super-tenor of the great Enrico ... he showed surprisingly good command of his resources, including his breath, and manfully refrained from forcing tones or indulging in sobs and shrieks and other cheap devices for capturing the favor of the thoughtless. He sang sincerely, honestly, musically, and with techinical skill and soundness of taste that became steadily more manifest as the evening advanced ... Beauty of voice, a true legato, a fine respect for the musical phrase were revealed ... the achievement crowned a really very promising debut. Today the most cordial wishes of all lovers of opera go both to Mr. Gatti-Casazza and to his 'young Caruso'."

Chamlee remained for 14 seasons at the Met, singing 23 different roles and a total of 219 performances. A curiosity, his second performance at the Met was not an opera, but the tenor solo in Verdi's "Requiem" with Emmy Destinn, Jeanne Gordon and Léon Rothier. He sang from 1920 to 1928, and his other operas included "Rigoletto", "Madama Butterfly" (with Farrar and Scotti), "Lucia di Lammermoor", Win-San-Lay in "L'oracolo", Christian Brehm in the American première of "The Polish jew" (Der polnische Jude) by Leon Weiss, "Faust" (with Easton, De Luca and Rothier), "Mefistofele" (with Easton and Didur), "Il barbiere di Siviglia" (with Ottein, Ruffo and Mardones), "La bohème" (with Bori, Scotti and Rothier), "Manon" (with Farrar, De Luca and Rothier), "Cavalleria rusticana" (with Maria Jeritza), "La traviata" (with Bori and De Luca), Grigorij in "Boris Godunov" (sung in Italian!) with Fjodor Shaljapin, José Mardones and Margarete Matzenauer), Vasco da Gama in "L'africana" (with Ponselle, Queena Mario, De Luca and Didur), "La Gioconda" (with Rosa Ponselle, Jeanne Gordon, Giuseppe De Luca and José Mardones), "Les contes d'Hoffmann" (with Lucrezia Bori, Marion Talley, Mary Lewis, Giuseppe De Luca, Adamo Didur and Léon Rothier) and Wilhelm Meister in "Mignon" (with Bori, Talley and Whitehill). Then he left the Met, due to differences over repertoire, but returned in 1936.

In 1923, Mario Chamlee sang in Europe at the Deutsches Theater in Prague and at the Volksoper in Vienna in "La bohème", "Tosca", "Rigoletto", "Faust", "Lucia" and "La traviata". The reviewer of the Neuigkeits-Welt-Blatt wrote: "Chamlee is a singer of extraordinary vocal culture, from whose throat float effortless, brilliant sparkling tones which caress the ears of his audience. It was one of those evenings never to be forgotten." Though he did not sing at Covent Garden, he was heard at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1925, when the quality and power of his voice drew enthusiastic response from the press which characterised him as a great singer. After leaving the Met in 1928, Chamlee returned to Europe and made his debut at the Opéra in Paris in the title role of Henri Rabaud's "Mârouf" on 5 April 1929, when the beauty of his voice and the sweetness of his singing and cultured style brought down the house. Less than a week later the tenor made another debut, now at the Opéra-Comique as des Grieux in Massenet's "Manon". He obtained excellent reviews from the French press which thought his singing and acting quite brilliant. Later in the same year, he appeared as "Mârouf" at La Monnaie in Brussels, where a reviewer wrote that his singing "was on parallel in every way with the greatest singers of all time". He also sang in Liége, Lille and Bordeaux.

In America, Chamlee sang during nine summer seasons at Ravinia Park on the shores of Lake Michigan (Chicago). At that time, music critic Edward Moore wrote: "Mario Chamlee has the best tenor voice of any living American." In those summer seasons, Chamlee had the opportunity to sing some new roles, like Lyonel in Flotow's "Martha" (29 June 1927) with Florence Macbeth and Virgilio Lazzari (in Italian); Araquil in Massenet's "La Navarraise" (6 July 1927) with Ina Bourskaya and Léon Rothier; the title role in Auber's "Fra Diavolo" (9 July 1927) with Florence Macbeth, Virgilio Lazzari and José Mojica; the title role in Rabaud's "Mârouf" (1st August 1928) with Yvonne Gall and Léon Rothier; Gennaro in Wolf-Ferrari's "I gioielli della Madonna" (10 August 1928) with Florence Easton and Mario Basiola; Pedro in Vittadini's "Anima allegra" (21 July 1930) with Lucrezia Bori and Florence Macbeth; Jenik in Smetana's "Prodaná nevěsta" (sung in German, in 1930) with Elisabeth Rethberg; and Count Gil in Wolf-Ferrari's "Il segreto di Susanna" (18 July 1931) with Lucrezia Bori. The role of Count Gil was assigned to Chamlee though it is usually sung by a baritone. Of course he also sang his usual repertory: Rigoletto, Cavalleria rusticana, Manon, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Lucia di Lammermoor, Les contes d'Hoffmann, La traviata, La bohème and Tosca.

He sang in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1927, 1931, 1932 and 1934, making his debut in Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" (3 October 1927) with Florence Macbeth, Desire Defrere and Ezio Pinza. The reviewer of Los Angeles said: "Mario Chamlee sings with freedom and ardor. In appearance, Chamlee is no prepossessing Romeo, but histrionically this California artist, too, has advanced so that he could fascinate his audience." During those Californian seasons he was also heard in "La bohème", "Tosca" (with Yvonne Gall and Giuseppe Danise), "Cavalleria rusticana", "La traviata" (with Claudia Muzio and Richard Bonelli), "Prodaná nevěsta" (1934, in German, with Rethberg) and as Don José in "Carmen", perhaps for the first time in his career, with Ninon Vallin and Ezio Pinza (8 and 17 November 1934).

In San Francisco, Chamlee made his first excursion into the Wagnerian field in October 1932 as Lohengrin and as Walther von Stolzing in "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg".

On 15 January 1931 he returned to London singing as a soloist in Verdi's "Requiem" conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

On 27 December 1932 Chamlee sang for the first time at the Chicago Opera, in "Madama Butterfly" with Elisabeth Rethberg. He sang there from 1932 to 1936 and he was also heard in "Cavalleria rusticana", "La Gioconda", "Pagliacci" (probably for the first time in his career), and "La bohème". On 12 November 1935 he sang "Lohengrin" with Lotte Lehmann, Eleonora La Mance, Schiffeler and Chase Baromeo, and on 4 December 1936 he sang "Prodaná nevěsta". His last appearance in Chicago was in a single performance of "Prodaná nevěsta" on 15 December 1939.

In 1936, after an absence of eight years, he returned to the Metropolitan Opera as Jeník in "Prodaná nevěsta" (sung in English) on 15 May 1936 (with Muriel Dickson and Lucielle Browning). On 4 February 1937, he was chosen for the title role in the world premiére of "Caponsacchi" by Richard Hageman (with Helen Jepson, Lawrence Tibbett and Norman Cordon). On 21 May 1937, he sang "Mârouf" (with Norman Cordon), and on 3 March, he took the role of the lover in the Metropolitan premiére of "Amelia goes to the ball" (Amelia al ballo) by Giancarlo Menotti. The opera was sung in English and in the cast were Muriel Dickson, John Brownlee and Norman Cordon (7 performances). His last performance at the Met was in that same opera, "Amelia goes to the ball", on 30 January 1939. He retired though he was only 47 years old.

However, he continued to appear in opera until 1942, when he was last seen in "La traviata" in Seattle with Jarmila Novotná and Richard Bonelli. He also appeared in concert, often with his wife Ruth and Richard Hageman at the piano, and also during the '30s and '40s, he sang frequently on the radio and participated in the "Tony and Gus Radio Talk-Show".

Leaving the stage, he returned to Los Angeles and opened a successful singing academy with his wife in 1940, "Casa Chamlee", from which singers like soprano Mary Costa and baritone Theodore Upmann emerged.

During the Second World War, Mario Chamlee sang for the soldiers as a member of the USO (United Services Organization).

Chamlee received many honours in life, such as "Master of Music" of the University of Southern California (1924) and in 1948 member of the Music Faculty of the same university, where he taught for a time.

He returned to the Metropolitan stage as a guest on two more occasions late in his life. On 20 November 1963 for a gala performance commemorating the 50th anniversary of Giovanni Martinelli's debut at the Met. And on 16 April 1966 for the gala farewell from the Old Met at Broadway and 39th Street.

Mario Chamlee died in Hollywood on October 13th, 1966 at 74 years old. His wife, Ruth Miller, survived him for 17 years and died in 1983.


Mario Chamlee singsDon Pasquale: Com'è gentil

Mario Chamlee singsMartha: Solo, profugo, with Richard Bonelli
In RA format

Mario Chamlee singsFra Diavolo: On yonder rock reclining
In RA format

Mario Chamlee singsPaquita
In RA format

Mario Chamlee sings L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra
In RA format

Mario Chamlee sings Dreams of long ago
In RA format

Mario Chamlee singsLa forza del destino: Solenne in quest'ora, with Richard Bonelli

Mario Chamlee singsMoon dream shore (Lockhart)

Mario Chamlee singsManon: Ah! fuyez, douce image

Mario Chamlee singsTosca: E lucevan le stelle

Notes to the discography by Juan Dzazópulos:
From 1920 to 1928, Mario Chamlee recorded exclusively for "Brunswick" label. His first single-sided records were issued under the name of Archer Chamlee. From 1922, his records had "Mario Chamlee" on the labels. He left a lot more unpublished sides than listed below. They included the "Forza del destino" duet, once with Giuseppe Danise (1922) and twice with John Charles Thomas (1925). It seems this duet was one of Chamlee's favourite pieces as he recorded it five times. It was finally issued in 1928, with Richard Bonelli. The unissued sides also included some unusual titles, such as La favorita: "Spirto gentil", Salvator Rosa: "Mia piccirella", and "La spagnola" by Di Chiara.

Michael Scott (The Record of Singing, Volume Two) writes:"In many of Chamlee's recordings the influence of Caruso is very striking; Barthélemy's 'Triste ritorno', Geehl's 'For you alone' and the Serenade from 'Don Pasquale', for example. It is not simply a matter of copying the externals of the interpretation – tempo, phrasing, rubato and so forth – but the production of the voice itself, the attack, the way of launching ascending phrases and general conception of tone is all amost a carbon print of Caruso..."

I am sure had he recorded for a bigger record company with international distribution, such as Victor or Columbia, his name would be still remembered as one of the greatest American tenors of all times.


Lyric, New York City, 1917
(on the labels, Chamlee appears as "Mario Rodolfi", and John Charles Thomas as "Enrico Martini")
	Martha (Flotow): M'apparì						7101
6111-2	Tosca (Puccini): E lucevan le stelle					7102
6143-1	Elisir d'amore (Donizetti): Una furtiva lagrima				7102
	Pagliacci (Leoncavallo): Vesti la giubba				7103
	Africaine (Meyerbeer): O paradiso					7104
	Forza del destino (Verdi): Solenne in quest'ora (w. J. C. Thomas)	7106
	Carmen (Bizet): Il fior che avevi a me tu dato				7106

Brunswick, New York City, 1920
	Absent (Metcalf)							10001, 10104, 15011
	A perfect day (Jacobs-Bond)						10002, 10104, 15011
	Élégie (Massenet)							10003
	Pagliacci (Leoncavallo): Vesti la giubba				10005, 15007
	Who knows? (Ball)							10006
	Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): O Lola					10008
	Rigoletto (Verdi): Questa o quella					10014
	Martha (Flotow): M'apparì						10016
	Your eyes have told me what I did not know (O'Hara)			10018
	Tosca (Puccini): Recondita armonia					10020
	Tosca (Puccini): E lucevan le stelle					10024
	Thank God for a garden (del Riego)					10026
3889	Santa Lucia (Cottrau)							10030, 10103, A62570, Polydor 590005
	Love is mine (Gartner)							10033

Brunswick, New York City, 1921
	Carmen (Bizet): La fleur que tu m'avais jetée				30018

Brunswick, New York City, May 1921
11475	Dreams of long ago (Caruso)						10040, 10105, A62572
11477	For you alone (Geehl)							10000, 10105, A62572
	'O sole mio (Di Capua)							10042, 10103, A62570

Brunswick, New York City, October or November 1921
	O holy night (Adam)							10045
	Rigoletto (Verdi): La donna è mobile					10049

Brunswick, New York City, 1921 or 1922
	Manon (Massenet): Ah fuyez						50003
	Bohème (Puccini): Che gelida manina					50003

Brunswick, New York City, February 1922
	My dreams (Tosti)							10107, 15023

Brunswick, New York City, March 1922
	Parted (Tosti)								10107, 15023

Brunswick, New York City, October 1922
	L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra (Tosti)				50020
	Triste ritorno (Barthélemy)						50020

Brunswick, New York City, about November 1922
X9329	Agnus Dei (Bizet)							50021, A66578
	Ave Maria (Kahn)							50021, A66578

Brunswick, New York City, December 1922
9355	Lolita (Buzzi-Peccia)							10109, 15037, Polydor 590005
9359	Mattinata (Leoncavallo)							10109, 15037

Brunswick, New York City, 1922 or 1923
	In a Persian garden (Liza Lehmann): Ah, moon of my delight		30103, 50040
	When my ships come sailing home (Dorel)					30103, 50040

Brunswick, New York City, January 1923
	Africaine (Meyerbeer): O paradiso					15040
	Manon (Massenet): En fermant les yeux					15040

Brunswick, New York City, 15 February 1923
	Elisir d'amore (Donizetti): Una furtiva lagrima				50030, A73027

Brunswick, New York City, 15 March 1923
	Faust (Gounod): Salut, demeure						50030, A73027

Brunswick, New York City, 28 March 1923
10205	Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): Viva il vino				15056

Brunswick, New York City, April 1923
10362	Gioconda (Ponchielli): Cielo e mar					15056
	Call me no more (Cadman)						10111, 15051
	Your voice (Quirke)							10111, 15051

Brunswick, New York City, 1923
	Dreams dimly lying (Roxas)						10115, 15065
	The last hour (Kramer)							10115, 15065
	The old refrain (Kreisler)						10121, 15077

Brunswick, New York City, 1923 or 1924
	At night (Rachmaninoff)							10123, 15080
	Tell me why (Chajkovskij)						10123, 15080

Brunswick, New York City, February 1924
12561	Moon dream shore (Lockhart)						10117, 15071

Brunswick, New York City, early March 1924
12622	Out of the dusk to you (Lamb)						10117, 15071

Brunswick, New York City, 5 March 1924
12632	Trovatore (Verdi): Ai nostri monti (w. Onegin)				15093, A70716, Polydor 90176
12634	Trovatore (Verdi): Mal reggendo (w. Onegin)				15093, A70716, Polydor 90176

Brunswick, New York City, 13 June 1924
X13321	On the road to Mandalay (Speaks)					30104, 50046

Brunswick, New York City, 29 July 1924
X13635	O dry those tears (del Riego)						30104, 50046
	Millions d'Arlequin (Drigo): Moonlight shining bright			10121, 15077

Brunswick, New York City, 4 August 1924
	Vagabond king (Rodgers): Only a rose					10124
	My dearest enemy (Rodgers): Here in my arms				10124
	Jocelyn (Godard): Holy Virgin guard, guard her				10126, 15084
	Paquita (Buzzi-Peccia)							10126, 15084

Brunswick, New York City, 14 August 1924
	Marchéta (Schertzinger)							10101

Brunswick, New York City, 19 September 1924
	Memory Lane (Conrad/Spier)						10101

Brunswick, New York City, 30 January 1925
	Dream on (Herbert)							10158
	Me neenyah (Spencer)							10158
	Mother, o my mother (Ball)						10188

Brunswick, New York City, 6 February 1925
X14840	Hosanna (Granier)							30110
X14842	Open the gates of the temple (Knapp)					30110

Brunswick, New York City, April 1925
XE15591	Forza del destino (Verdi): Solenne in quest'ora (w. J. C. Thomas)	unpublished
E15632	Le crucifix (Faure) (w. J. C. Thomas)					A62593
	My desire (Cadman)							10188
	I look into your garden (Haydn Wood)					10201
	Give me one rose to remember (Grey)					10201

Brunswick, New York City, 1925
	Goin' home (Dvořák/Fisher)						10212
	O lieb, solang du lieben kannst (Liszt) (in English?)			10212

Brunswick, New York City, 1926
	Manon (Massenet): En fermant les yeux					15111
	Africaine (Meyerbeer): O paradiso					15111
	Bohème (Puccini): Che gelida manina					50075
	Manon (Massenet): Ah fuyez						50075

Brunswick, New York City, 23 February 1926
E18063	Passion flower (Logan): E'en as the flower				10224
E18066	Pleading (= Bitte) (Kramer)						unpublished

Brunswick, New York City, 3 March 1926
E18173	Pleading (= Bitte) (Kramer)						10224

Brunswick, New York City, 1927
	Fra Diavolo (Auber): On yonder rock reclining				10227
	Bohemian girl (Balfe): When other lips and other hearts			10227
	My dreams (Tosti)							10230
	Parted (Tosti)								10230

Brunswick, New York City, 25 April 1927
	Absent (Metcalf)							15162

Brunswick, New York City, 27 April 1927
	Tosca (Puccini): Recondita armonia					15192

Brunswick, New York City, 29 April 1927
	Dreams of long ago (Caruso)						15161, 10290

Brunswick, New York City, 10 June 1927
	Tosca (Puccini): E lucevan le stelle					15134, 15130
	Pagliacci (Leoncavallo): Vesti la giubba				15134, 15130
	For you alone (Geehl)							15161, 10290

Brunswick, New York City, date unknown (probably 1928)
	Millions d'Arlequin (Drigo): Moonlight is shining			A62577
	The old refrain (Kreisler)						A62577

Brunswick, New York City, 23 March 1928
XE27120	Mignon (Thomas): Elle ne croyait pas					50141, A66789

Brunswick, New York City, 5 April 1928
	Si vous l'aviez compris (Denza)						15178, 15136
	Gioconda (Ponchielli): Cielo e mar					15192

Brunswick, New York City, 10 April 1928
	Lolita (Buzzi-Peccia)							15207, A62573
	Ideale (Tosti)								15213, 10126, 15084

Brunswick, New York City, 25 April 1928
	Paquita (Buzzi-Peccia)							15213, 10126, 15084

Brunswick, New York City, 26 April 1928
	A perfect day (Bond) (w. Young, Readon & Chalmers)			15162
	Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): Viva il vino				15175, A62661
	Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni): O Lola					15175, A62661
	Mon gentil Pierrot (Leoncavallo)					15178, 15136

Brunswick, New York City, 4 May 1928
	Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)							50155, A66869
	Élégie (Massenet)							50155, A66869

Brunswick, New York City, 15 May 1928
	Mignon (Thomas): Adieu, Mignon						50141, A66789
XE27552	Forza del destino (Verdi): Solenne in quest'ora (w. Bonelli)		50142
XE27553	Martha (Flotow): Solo, profugo (w. Bonelli)				50142

Brunswick, New York City, 18 May 1928
	Mattinata (Leoncavallo)							15207, A62573

Brunswick, New York City, 8 October 1928
XE28459	Traviata (Verdi): Parigi, o cara (w. Easton)				50157
	Faust (Gounod): Il se fait tard (w. Easton)				50157

Brunswick, New York City, 19 October 1928
	Don Pasquale (Donizetti): Com'è gentil					15194, 10275

Brunswick, New York City, 28 October 1928
	Rigoletto (Verdi): La donna è mobile					15194, 10275
Sources: Gesellschaft für historische Tonträger, Wien; Juan Dzazópulos

I wish to thank Juan Dzazópulos for the biographical notes and recordings (Dreams of long ago, Don Pasquale, Fra Diavolo, Martha, Paquita, L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra).
I wish to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the pictures (Tosca, private), and the recording (Forza).
I wish to thank Anton Bieber for the Moon dream shore, Manon and Tosca recordings and label scans.

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