Voice of `Sleeping Beauty' still revels in Disney role

Art: The opera singer who enchanted all in the classic will visit an Ellicott City gallery to authenticate sericels based on its animated magic.

May 21, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

When opera singer Mary Costa comes to the Margaret Smith Gallery in Ellicott City on Sunday, she is likely to be greeted by a small army of enchanted viewers of the 1959 Walt Disney animated classic "Sleeping Beauty."

Costa, the voice of Princess Aurora/Briar Rose in the film, will appear at the gallery to sign certificates of authenticity for original art from the film in which the character -- better known as Sleeping Beauty -- appears.

Gallery owner Margaret Smith says she is excited about the visit.

Costa is "such a joy to talk to," Smith says. "I'm ready to adopt her. She could be my grandmother in a heartbeat."

Costa, 69, was a 22-year-old soprano from Glendale, Calif., when she auditioned for the part in "Sleeping Beauty" in 1952.

Walt Disney had been searching for three years to find a singer who could bring a sense of classicism and theatricalism to the role of the Princess Aurora, who is doomed to sleep under a powerful evil spell cast until the kiss of her true love, the prince, releases her.

Costa says she auditioned for the part because she "wanted to meet Walt Disney. I didn't meet him then, and I didn't think that I'd get to play the part."

She later learned that Disney had been present during the audition, hidden by a screen.

"He told me that he didn't want to make me nervous and that he wanted to hear all the colors I had to give on the microphone," Costa says.

Costa returned to a studio periodically to record her songs during the seven years it took to complete the film.

The Knoxville, Tenn., native used an English accent to hide her natural Southern twang and recorded the speaking voices of Princess Aurora and her alter ego, Briar Rose, and the songs.

The classic score is set to the music of Tchaikovsky and was recorded by the Berlin Symphony.

It was Costa's first big professional job, one she says is something of a signature vocal performance even though she went on to sing with the Metropolitan and San Francisco opera companies and helped to create the Knoxville Opera Company.

Costa returned to Knoxville in the early 1980s and mentors music students who attend the University of Tennessee.

The film, which was re-released this year on video as part of its 40th anniversary celebration, has captivated millions and was the first full-length Disney film recorded on Technorama film in a 70 mm wide-screen format.

" `Sleeping Beauty' being re-released has been a dream for me," Costa says. "At age 22, I didn't know the movie would become a classic.

"It seems like the film gives me a calling card to the younger generation. It really connects me with people of all ages. It's truly been wonderful, and I really enjoy traveling around the country to sign certificates when people buy the artwork."

The 12-year-old gallery, which is authorized by several Hollywood movie studios to sell animation art, has original production sericels, production cels and drawings from "Sleeping Beauty" for sale. Prices range from $485 to $4,750.

Sericels featuring "Sleeping Beauty" characters are limited-edition silk-screen paintings on transparent celluloid that were produced for collectors and weren't used in the film.

The gallery also will feature "Sleeping Beauty" background silk-screen sericels painted by Disney animator Eyvind Earle. A similar preliminary painting by Earle from "Sleeping Beauty" sold for $29,000 at an auction in 1991 in Burbank, Calif.

In May last year, singer Jodi Benson, the voice of Disney's "The Little Mermaid," appeared at the Margaret Smith Gallery, which sold sericels and other art from that film.

The event was Disney's most popular art signing of the year, and Smith was invited to be on Disney's advisory board.

Now a Disney preferred gallery, Smith sells cels and production art from Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, "Peanuts" and from other animators.

Mary Costa will be at the Margaret Smith Gallery, 8090 Main St. in Ellicott City, Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Information about the gallery and the "Sleeping Beauty" event can be found at www.margaretsmithgallery.com or by calling 410-461-0870.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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