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Margot Helmuth Blum

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Margot Helmuth Blum aka Margot Helmuth Blum Schevill (b. 1931) had two careers, as a singer, specializing in opera (in over 43 roles) and classical repertoire, modern and new music; and as an anthropologist and author specializing in indigenous textiles of the Americas, particularly Guatemala, and also Peru, the North Coast and the Southwest of the United States.

Early life[edit]

She was born in Stockton, California, on August 15, 1931, the second child of Ruth Carolyn Zuckerman Helmuth and Gay Frederick Helmuth. Helmuth was an engineer who graduated from Columbia University, and roomed with Lou Gehrig there. He died in an accident when Margot was two years old. Her mother moved to San Francisco, and remarried twice, to Samuel Glichberg, and to Emile Hartmann. She had an elder brother, James (Jimmy) and younger half-brother, George. She recalls singing as a child on her front steps in imitation of Deanna Durbin. [1] Margot began studying piano at age 7 with Janet Graham who taught her how to sightread music. Her mother befriended and brought home jazz musicians.

Career in Music[edit]

She began seriously studying singing while in high school and performed an aria from Samson and Delilah at her graduation. She studied harmony and counterpoint at University of California Berkeley, and won a contest allowing her to enroll in the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, studying with baritone John Charles Thomas (1891 – 1960) and German soprano, Charlotte “Lotte” Lehman (1888-1976) a master of lieder.

In 1951, she began singing weekly as a contralto at Temple Emmanuel's octet for four years. She won the Charles M. Dennis vocal award of the California Music Teachers Association in 1956 and began to give concerts, recitals and had a program on a Berkeley FM radio station. [2] She sang in the Schola Cantorum. a specialized chorale soon after her marriage, first as a chorus member then as soloist. She sang a series of concerts with Arline Whitver between 1952 and 1954, and with pianist Raylene Pierce (later Barone). She sang Madame Flora in The Medium in San Francisco in 1954. She sang in the San Francisco Operatic Quartet from 1955 with Jess Thomas, Ronald Dutro (d. 2006) and Nancy Cronburg coached and conducted by Nino Comel. This group toured the U.S. as well as frequently performing in California and the Northwest. In 1957 she sang the role of Carmen in Carmen at the Redlands Bowl.

While singing in South Pacific in the San Francisco and Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company in 1957, Mary Martin heard her sing at a donor's lunch and advised her to pursue opera. She entered the SF Region Merola Memorial Operatic auditions in 1958 (then called the San Francisco Opera Debut Auditions.) She sang “Una voce poco fa” from the Barber of Seville and was accepted into the Merola program. [3] Kurt Herbert Adler invited her to be in the San Francisco Opera Apprentice program, be in 1958, debuting in Medea, Sept. 12, 1958 and Sept. 18 as a handmaiden, which starred Eileen Farrell. he traveled with the SFO singers to Dallas where she performed with Maria Callas in Medea. She sang Inez in Il Trovatore who was the attendant for Leontyne Price, (September 26, 1958); in Carmina Burana in San Francisco, and in Portland, in Elektra, Manon and Marriage of Figaro. She sang Aida in Seattle, covered Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, toured in Marriage of Figaro, and sang Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto and Mercedes in Carmen. [4]

In 1959, she sang in “Le Comte Ory” with Marni Nixon at Stanford University. With San Francisco Opera she sang in Die Frau Ohne Schatten; she sang Kate Pinkerton in Madama,Butterfly;in Carmina Burana in L’amore de Tre Re, as Margret in Wozzeck (starring G. Evans), in Rosenkavalier. Lohengrin;in La Traviata 25. [5] and Hippolyta in Midsummer Night's Dream.[6]

In Spring Opera ’61 she sang Nancy in Marthe, conducted by Sandor Salgo. The reviewer wrote: “Margot Blum stole the show... She gave it all it would take. Her duets with Malas were marvels of easy song. More important was the communication of two such handsome people."[7] She also sang Romeo's page, Stefano in Romeo and Juliette and in The Magic Flute.

She sang chamber music, duet and solo concerts throughout her career, in the Bach Festival in the Redlands Bowl and Laguna Beach festivals to 1965, frequently with Carole Bogard, James Schwabacher, Milton Williams. With Schwabacher, and Williams she developed an Opera-to-Jazz program. With Bogard, she sang Opera Comique, unique small comic operas She received favorable reviews for concerts in Zurich, Vienna, Basel, and London in 1961 and in 1963 as Madallena in Rigoletto with the Los Angeles Opera Company.

Blum sang and especially liked the music of Berlioz, and new music, and recorded Roger Nixon's “Six Moods of Love,” and Herbert Fromm's “The Crimson Sap,” [8]

In 1967, she returned to Europe and then moved to Providence, Rhode Island after marrying poet/playwright James Schevill who became a faculty member at Brown University. While there she sang with the New Music Ensemble funded by the governor of R.I., taught music in the public schools and returned to college to graduate in the first class that included women at Brown earning a BA in Music and Spanish. She then obtained a Masters in Anthropology and began a second career as a museum anthropologist specialist in textiles.

She continued to sing with the New Music Ensemble and to offer concerts for example, with Tom Greene who accompanied early Spanish, and English with the lute, guitar with Spanish songs and the vihuela with Portuguese. She taught voice lessons notably to WILL ADD.

Transition to Anthropology[edit]

In 1977, Margot visited Guatemala, on her first trip to Central America, and fell in love with the brilliantly colored textiles there. She studied backstrap weaving from the indigenous master weavers of Guatemala, like Rafaela Godinez She received her MA in Anthropology from Brown in 1981. Her thesis was: “The Persistence of Backstrap Weaving in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Sacatapéquez, Guatemala.”

She received grants from the National Education Association in 1984, 1985, 1990, 1995-1996 and from the National Endowment of the Humanities 1991 – 1993

In 1991 she moved to Berkeley, California where she worked for several years with the Lowe Museum, which became the Phoebe Hearst Museum to identify the collection obtained from Guatemala. Then she worked as a curator with the S.F. Airport Museum, and continued to assist, consult and appraise external collections and to publish on textiles, and lecture.


References[edit]

  1. Dorothy Bryant, “Books – Threads of the Life of a Singer-Anthropologist-Author.” Berkeley Daily Planet, April 25, 2006. http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2006-04-25/article/23986?headline=Books-Threads-of-the-Life-of-a-Singer-Anthropologist-Author&status=301
  2. Carolyn Gray,” A Happy Combination: Margot Blum and Music.” Circa November, 1962.
  3. “Margot Blum Schevill - Merola Opera Program’s 60th Anniversary.” Merola Opera Program. November 1, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdURZFXE5Fc
  4. Arthur Bloomfield, The San Francisco Opera 1923-1961 New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Inc. 1961, 228-230
  5. Arthur Bloomfield, The San Francisco Opera 1923-1961 New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Inc. 1961, 230-235
  6. Zuhur, Oral history of Margot Helmuth Blum Schevill, Berkeley, Ca: March 20, 2020.
  7. Rexroth, “A Delightful Spring Opera Season.” San Francisco Examiner, May 14, 1961.)
  8. Roger Nixon’s “Six Moods of Love,” and Herbert Fromm’s “The Crimson Sap,” Music Library 7112 LP


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