Mary Jane Phillips-Matz

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Mary Jane Phillips-Matz (January 30, 1926 – January 19, 2013) was an American biographer and writer on opera. She is mainly known for her biography of Giuseppe Verdi, a result of 30 years' research and published in 1992 by Oxford University Press. Born in Lebanon, Ohio and educated at Smith College and Columbia University, she lived for many years in Italy, and even after her return to the United States in the early 1970s spent her summers in Verdi's hometown of Busseto where she continued her exhaustive research into his life. She died in New York City at the age of 86, survived by three of her five children.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

Oxford University Press Publishing arm of the University of Oxford

Oxford University Press (OUP) is the largest university press in the world, and the second oldest after Cambridge University Press. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the vice-chancellor known as the delegates of the press. They are headed by the secretary to the delegates, who serves as OUP's chief executive and as its major representative on other university bodies. Oxford University has used a similar system to oversee OUP since the 17th century. The Press is located on Walton Street, opposite Somerville College, in the suburb Jericho.



Mary Jane Phillips was born in Lebanon, Ohio to William Mason Phillips and Hazel Spencer Phillips. Her mother was the author of several books on Ohio history and folklore. [1] She grew up in Dayton and acquired her interest in opera as a child from family excursions to the Cincinnati Zoo where the price of admission included a free performance by Cincinnati Opera in the zoo's pavilion. [2] After earning a bachelor's degree in medieval literature and modern European history in the late 1940s from Smith College and a master's degree from Columbia University, she began a 50-year period of contributing to Opera News . [3] She married Charles Albert Matz Jr., a writer and literary historian, in 1950 while still a Masters student at Columbia and published under the name Mary Jane Matz until the couple divorced in 1977. [2]

Lebanon, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Lebanon is a city in and the county seat of Warren County, Ohio, United States, in the state's southwestern region, within the Cincinnati metropolitan area. The population was 20,033 at the 2010 census. The city has a symphony orchestra and chorus.

Dayton, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Dayton is the sixth-largest city in the state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County. A small part of the city extends into Greene County. The 2017 U.S. census estimate put the city population at 140,371, while Greater Dayton was estimated to be at 803,416 residents. This makes Dayton the fourth-largest metropolitan area in Ohio and 63rd in the United States. Dayton is within Ohio's Miami Valley region, just north of Greater Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Opera non-profit organisation in the USA

Cincinnati Opera is an American opera company based in Cincinnati, Ohio and the second oldest opera company in the United States. Beginning with its first season in 1920, Cincinnati Opera has produced operas in the summer months of June and July with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's providing orchestral accompaniment.

Her first book, Opera Stars In The Sun: Intimate Glimpses Of Metropolitan Personalities was published in 1955 and dedicated to her parents. The 1960s saw the publication of two more books, a biography of the philanthropist and arts patron Otto Kahn and Opera: Grand and Not So Grand. The latter was an analysis of the modern opera business which she characterized as "monstropera", contrasting what she felt was its dehumanized, bourgeois approach with its past as a flamboyant yet more human spectacle. [4] During the 1960s and early 1970s Phillips-Matz lived in Venice with her young family. She continued her research and writing and also taught English to the employees of Venice's public boat system. She and her husband became friends with Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound who lived nearby and introduced Pound to Gian Carlo Menotti, another old friend. During this time, Phillips-Matz was also general manager, fund-raiser, and public relations director for Menotti's Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto. [5] [6]

Otto Hermann Kahn American banker

Otto Hermann Kahn was a German-born American investment banker, collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts.

Olga Rudge American musician

Olga Rudge was an American-born concert violinist, now mainly remembered as the long-time mistress of the poet Ezra Pound, by whom she had a daughter, Mary.

Ezra Pound American poet and critic

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an expatriate American poet and critic, and a major figure in the early modernist poetry movement. His contribution to poetry began with his development of Imagism, a movement derived from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, stressing clarity, precision and economy of language. His works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) and the unfinished 120-section epic, The Cantos (1917–1969).

Although she returned the United States and settled in Manhattan in the early 1970s, Phillips-Matz spent part of every year in Busseto, where Verdi spent many of his early years, where she lived in an old rectory rented to her by the local priests and continued her exhaustive research into the composer's life. [2] She was one of the founders of the American Institute for Verdi Studies at New York University in 1976 and served as its co-director with Andrew Porter. Over the years, she was instrumental in helping the institute acquire microfilm copies of correspondence and documents relating to Verdi from numerous collections in Italy, including those at Verdi's Sant'Agata estate. [7]

Busseto Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Busseto is a comune in the province of Parma, in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy with a population of about 7,100. Its history has very ancient roots which date back to the 10th century, and for almost five hundred years it was the capital of Stato Pallavicino.

New York University private research university in New York, NY, United States

New York University (NYU) is a private research university originally founded in New York City but now with campuses and locations throughout the world. Founded in 1831, NYU's historical campus is in Greenwich Village, New York City. As a global university, students can graduate from its degree-granting campuses in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, as well as study at its 12 academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.

Andrew Brian Porter was a British music critic, scholar, organist and opera director.

Her 900-page Verdi: A Biography was published by Oxford University Press in the UK in 1992 and in the US the following year. It has since been published in multiple editions and translated into French and Spanish. The biography won the Royal Philharmonic Society Book Award in 1993 and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in 1994. [8] [9] Edward Rothstein writing in The New York Times called it an "important biography" which "provides us with a more complicated portrait of the man than we have had so far." [10] The new light shed on Verdi's life by Phillip-Matz's book included evidence that Verdi's family roots and his own emotional ties were actually in the Province of Piacenza, rather than Parma, and that far from being poor, his father had owned a substantial amount of land and could read and write at a time when 90% of Italians were illiterate. More controversially, she found evidence suggesting that Giuseppina Strepponi gave birth to a daughter in 1851 while she was Verdi's mistress but years before they married. [10] [11] The child was abandoned at an orphanage in Cremona but then entrusted to the care of a family living near Verdi's estate at Sant' Agata. [12]

Royal Philharmonic Society philharmonic society

The Royal Philharmonic Society is a British music society, formed in 1813. It was originally formed in London to promote performances of instrumental music there. Many distinguished composers and performers have taken part in its concerts. It is now a membership society, and while it no longer has its own orchestra, it continues a wide-ranging programme of activities which focus on composers and young musicians and aim to engage audiences so that future generations will enjoy a rich and vibrant musical life. Since 1989 it has promoted the annual Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards for live music-making in the United Kingdom. The RPS is a registered UK charity No. 213693. It is located at 48 Great Marlborough Street in London.

Deems Taylor American composer, music critic, and promoter of classical music

Joseph Deems Taylor was an American composer, music critic, and promoter of classical music. Nat Benchley, co-editor of The Lost Algonquin Roundtable, referred to him as "the dean of American music."

Edward Benjamin Rothstein is an American music critic.

Biographies of the opera singers Rosa Ponselle and Leonard Warren followed in 1997 and 2000, the latter a commission from the Leonard Warren Foundation. Her last major work was her biography of Giacomo Puccini, published in 2002, although she continued to lecture and in 2005 wrote the text for a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Washington National Opera. Phillips-Matz died at her home in Manhattan, near Verdi Square shortly before her 87th birthday. She was survived by three of her five children. One of her daughters had died of cancer at the age of five, another was killed in a car accident in 1983. [2] [3]

Rosa Ponselle American operatic soprano

Rosa Ponselle was an American operatic soprano with a large, opulent voice. She sang mainly at the New York Metropolitan Opera and is generally considered by music critics to have been one of the greatest sopranos of the past 100 years.

Leonard Warren Operatic baritone

Leonard Warren was an American opera singer. A baritone, he was a leading artist for many years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Giacomo Puccini 19th and 20th-century Italian opera composer

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian opera composer who has been called "the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi".


In addition to the following books and her articles for Opera News, Phillips-Matz also wrote regular program notes for London's Royal Opera House, [3] essays in The Cambridge Companion to Verdi and The Puccini Companion, and feature articles for Playbill . Among the many opera libretti published by the Metropolitan Opera which she translated and annotated were Verdi's Falstaff , Simon Boccanegra , I Lombardi alla prima crociata , and Don Carlos .


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  1. See Phillips, Hazel Spencer 1896-1979 on WorldCat.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Campbell, Mary (13 March 1994). "Verdi Biography Was Long Labor of Love". Chicago Sun-Times . Retrieved 31 January 2013 via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  3. 1 2 3 Fox, Margalit (26 January 2013). "Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Verdi and Puccini Biographer, Dies at 86". The New York Times . Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  4. Kirkus Reviews (28 November 1966). "Opera: Grand and Not So Grand By Mary Jane Matz". Retrieved 31 January 2013
  5. Carson, Anne Conover (2001). Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound: "What Thou Lovest Well...", p. 231. Yale University Press
  6. For details of the meeting between Pound and Menotti see also Matz, Charles A. (November 1965). "Menotti & Pound", Opera News, pp. 14–15.
  7. American Institute for Verdi Studies. "Our History and Mission" and News: Mary Jane Phillips-Matz. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  8. ASCAP. 1994 Deems Taylor Award Recipients. Retrieved 31 January 2013
  9. Royal Philharmonic Society. Book Award: Past Winners. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  10. 1 2 Rothstein, Edward (4 January 1994). "The Furious Man From Busseto", The New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  11. Dyer, Richard (15 January 1994). "A meticulous portrait of Verdi". The Boston Globe . Retrieved 2 February 2013 via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  12. For a detailed account of the affair, see Phillips-Matz (1993). Verdi: A Biography, pp. 289–294.
  13. Bertoncini, Marco (31 December 2012). "Giuseppe Verdi nel bicentenario". Il Corriere del Sud. Retrieved 31 January 2013 (in Italian).
  14. Jellinek, George (January 1998). "Review: Rosa Ponselle, American Diva. Opera News . Retrieved 31 January 2013 via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  15. Dyer, Richard (18 August 2000). "Leonard Warren Biography Revives Thrill of a Voice". The Boston Globe . Retrieved 31 January 2013 via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  16. Tommasini, Anthony (9 October 2002). "Books of the Times: The Procrastinating Idol Of an Opera-Mad World". Retrieved 31 January 2013