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Death of Hollywood star adored by classical musicians

Deanna Durbin, who made two dozen movies and recorded a hundred songs, has died at the age of 91, her family has announced.

Little was heard from Deanna after her fourth marriage in Paris, in 1950, after which she settled into discreet French society. Requests to play the original Eliza in My Fair Lady were politely rebuffed.

In the 1940s, she was an icon to young girls. Her picture was on the wall of Anne Frank’s hiding place.

She was one of the first worldwide stars. Among her greatest fans were Mstistlav Rostropovich, who pursued her films as a boy, and Kiri te Kanawa’s music teacher in New Zealand, who trained all her pupils to sing the Deanna way.

Music programmes from 1940s Los Angeles feature full-page ads by several maestros, each claiming to be Deanna Durbin’s only teacher.

Here’s why:
deanna 3
deanna 2
deanna 4

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  1. John Soloninka says:

    Norman…how would you compare Deanna Durbin and Kathleen Jenkins? To a non-singing musician, it seems they are quite similar…yet Deanna D is not attracting the criticism this blog and posters direct at Jenkins.

    Durbin seems more polished….but the recordings seem heavily edited (ie that the singing was recorded in studio conditions and the filming was done later, with the voice dubbed.)


    • John Soloninka says:

      Sorry…should have been Katherine Jenkins!

    • No comparison, John. DD never called herself an opera singer.

    • Ms. Durbin was well-trained and had superb technique. Ms. Jenkins has neither of those. Ms. Durbin also was magnanimous, serious and studious.

      Ms. Jenkins could never be an opera singer, but calls herself one. Ms. Durbin could have been an opera singer, but did not call herself one.

      As Norman said, there is no comparison.

  2. WE were always sorry her parents didn’t register her Canadian birth because the Canadian government refused to give her status as a citizen. She is still very popular in Canada. The mistake of her parents is still used as an example for Canadians with children born abroad. Ann

  3. Gerald Martin Moore says:

    Absolutely no comparison whatsoever. Deanna had a beautiful voice with a gorgeous legato and also left Hollywood at 26, so all her recorded work was done from teenage years to that age which makes her singing all the more remarkable. I have been a huge fan for years, as are many classical musicians and singers including Renee Fleming and Marilyn Horne. Also all movie stars recorded their singing in the studios and dubbed later, that was hardly unusual and continued throughout movie history, until les Miz, and you can hear the results of that. Also, the studio conditions on the 1930a were not able to autotune and flatter voices in the way they can now, and editing was not subtle, so most of her songs were done in long takes, and not editied bar by bard as they can be nowadays.

  4. robcat2075 says:

    To elaborate on the Hollywood production technique… most studio movies were shot with one camera so if you wanted close-ups, long shots, reverse angles, reaction shots, cutaways… you had to set the camera up for each one separately and redo the action for that new vantage point. In a musical situation the only way to make those cut together as if they were all from the same performance is to do every retake in synch to one previously recorded stretch of music.

    Also the acoustic realities of the Hollywood sets where the movies were shot were often poor for recording music. Prerecording the music in a more advantageous environment solved that problem.

  5. James M. Frase-White says:

    I only know Deanna Dubin from a picture on sheet music from childhood in the 50′s. I don’t recall the song–it was definitely not operatic, but a pop-tune. I just thought she was the most beautiful lady I’d seen, and played the romantic song on the piano, dreaming of her. With her death, she has become a full person, and a voice, much more accomplished than my youthful daydream. What fun it has been listening to these videos, with Nessum Dorma washing away the imbedded tenor voice, at least temporarily. Thank you for these tributes bringing this favorite of Anne Frank, Winston Churchill and a little farm boy from Maryland back to life.,

  6. jaan Salk says:

    She was a very kind an gracious person – very unlike a typical Hollywood star. For many years, long after she retired, she and I exchanged Christmas cards. When I ran a film society years ago, I showed several of her best films. Miss Durbin was noted for almost never giving interviews. Yet she wrote some letters to me regarding specific films of hers that we showed, and even had her husband, Charles David, send me a note regarding the one film of hers that he directed. This correspondence was naturally included in our film program notes. After her retirement, she did all of her written interactions personally. She typed every letter and card by herself. Anyone who was fortunate to correspond with her treasured her very personal and heartfelt touch.

    Whenever I hear or see today’s Jackie Evancho, I see many similarities between the two of them: in their effervescent personalities, singing styles, and natural interaction with their audiences.

    She will always be missed by her dedicated fans and admirers.

  7. Deanna Durbin had a lovely unforced voice and a pleasing personality and she never claimed to be an opera singer. To give Katherine Jenkins her due, I don’t think she has ever claimed to be an opera singer either. It is the newspapers who insist on describing her as an opera singer.

    At one time singers like Deanna Durbin and Katherine Jenkins would have been called “straight” singers as opposed to crooners like Bing Crosby, Anne Shelton, Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra. Nowadays there are many “celebrities” described as singers who cannot actually sing! What should we call them?

  8. Could it be that Nessun Dorma got its start being sung by women with Deanna? At least she sings it in very understandable English somewhat removed from its operatic context so it makes more sense. Not only that, but she raised the bar by singing it higher and in full voice not thin floated tones! The last note was a crowning High C – a hard act to follow even for tenors!
    The Vissi d’Arte is really up there with the best of them. Maybe she didn’t become a formal opera singer since the tastes in the 50′s and 60′s were moving towards mega voices.
    Fascinated, I tried to search up evidence of her teachers. There is one name however, Andrés de Segurola, her coach at Universal Studios who was born in 1874 and was around singers such as Geraldine Farrar at the turn of the XX century. So this might explain the origin of the sweet, endearing quality that he probably would have favored and taught.

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