Teyte’s parents were both enthusiastic amateur musicians: her father, James Tate, a prosperous wine merchant and public house owner, had studied piano with Leschetizky in Germany and her mother had been offered a world tour, which she declined, with the tenor Sims Reeves. One of ten children, Teyte was initially educated locally in Wolverhampton; but the family moved to London when she was ten, after her father purchased the Caledonian Hotel. She studied piano and theory at the Royal College of Music, while also singing at the hotel. In 1903 she took part in a charity concert where she met Walter Rubens who, impressed with her singing, invited her to live with his wealthy family, to which she agreed, her father having recently died. While staying with the Rubens family Teyte met Lady Ripon, who arranged an audition with Jean de Reszke in Paris; this was successful and in 1904 she moved to Paris to study with him.
It was here that Teyte’s first, unpaid, public appearances took place during 1906 in a series of concerts in a Mozart festival organized and conducted by Reynaldo Hahn, with Lilli Lehmann, Édouard de Reszke and Mario Ancona. Her professional debut came in 1907 at Monte Carlo when, alongside Paderewski, she appeared as Thyrsis in Myriame et Daphné, an arrangement by André Bloch of Offenbach’s Daphnis et Chloé. Shortly afterwards she sang Zerlina / Don Giovanni at the Monte Carlo Opera House. In the same year she changed her name to Teyte (to facilitate its French pronunciation) and secured a contract with the Paris Opéra-Comique, making her debut as Glycère in the Hillemacher brothers’ Circé. Having been selected by Debussy to take over from Mary Garden as Mélisande / Pelléas et Melisande in 1908, she was intensively coached by the composer in this role, which she sang nineteen times at the Opéra-Comique; Debussy later wrote that she possessed ‘a charming voice and a true feeling for the character’.
To make her debut with the Beecham Opera Company, Teyte returned to London in 1910 to sing Nuri / Tiefland. This was followed by Mélisande, Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro, Blonde / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Marguerite / Faust, Antonia / Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Hänsel / Hänsel und Gretel and the title role in Madama Butterfly, earning this accolade from Tosti: ‘She is the only singer today who can sing.’
Teyte was a member of the Chicago Opera Company for the 1911–1912 season, making her debut as Cherubino and later singing the title role in Massenet’s Cendrillon opposite Mary Garden as Prince Charming, as well as Marguerite, Antonia and Lygie in Quo Vadis by Jean Nouguès. She repeated Cendrillon with success on tour in New York and during the 1912–1913 Chicago season, when she also sang Mimì / La Bohème and in Goldmark’s Das Heimchen am Herd (The Cricket on the Hearth). The latter was repeated in Teyte’s final Chicago season, 1913–1914, when she also appeared as Butterfly and Hänsel. She then moved to the Boston Opera Company, appearing with it from 1914 until its collapse in 1917, singing Mimì, Zerlina, Butterfly, Hänsel and Nedda / Pagliacci. She appeared as Oscar / Un ballo in maschera and Susanna in Wolf-Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna in a visit by the Boston company to Paris in 1914. Later in New York she created the title role in Henry Kimball Hadley’s opera Bianca at Manhattan’s Park Theatre in 1918. The following year she returned to England, creating the role of Lady Mary Carlisle in Messager’s Monsieur Beaucaire at the Prince’s Theatre.
Following her first marriage (1909 to 1915) to a French lawyer, Teyte married a Canadian millionaire in 1921. She then went into semi-retirement until 1930 and her divorce in 1931, although she did create the role of The Princess in Holst’s The Perfect Fool in 1923. Henceforth her career took on a random character, reflecting the insecurity of the music profession during this period in England. At the Royal Opera House she appeared as Mélisande and Butterfly in 1930, and between 1936 and 1938 as Hänsel and Butterfly again, Euridice / Orfeo (Gluck) and Eva / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. She also appeared in operettas and in variety at the Victoria Palace, London.
Teyte’s career began to revive from 1936 when, at the suggestion of an American record dealer Joe Brogan, EMI engaged her to record with Alfred Cortot and Gerald Moore. Despite her claim never to have owned a gramophone, the resulting recordings were very successful both commercially and critically, including most notably some Debussy discs made in 1936. During 1938 and 1939 she sang Massenet’s Manon in a series of famous BBC broadcasts, remaining in England during World War II and working vigorously for the war effort.
At the invitation of Joe Brogan Teyte returned to New York and critical acclaim in 1946, later singing Mélisande in 1948 with the New York City Opera at the New York City Center, then the company’s home. She appeared as Belinda / Dido and Aeneas opposite Kirsten Flagstad at Bernard Miles’s Mermaid Theatre in London during 1951 and gave recitals until her farewell at the Royal Festival Hall in 1956. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1958 and continued to be active as a teacher, broadcaster and lecturer.
Teyte’s voice was extraordinarily pure and ideally suited to the French mélodie, which she sang with great precision and subtlety, making her recordings of this repertoire indispensable.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
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|TEYTE, Maggie: Vocal Portrait (A) (1932-1948)
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