Mario, Queena (1896–1951)

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Mario, Queena (1896–1951)

American soprano and writer . Name variations: wrote under names Queen Tillotson and Florence Bryan. Born Queena Mario Tillotson on August 21, 1896, in Akron, Ohio; died in New York, on May 28, 1951; attended Ogonta (Pennsylvania) School, 1907–08; attended Plainfield (New Jersey) High School, 1908–10; daughter of James Tillotson and Rose (Carewe) Tillotson; married Wilfred Pelletier (a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera House), on November 23, 1925 (divorced 1936).

The daughter of a Civil War soldier turned Broadway playwright, Queena Mario was born on April 21, 1896, in Akron, Ohio, but later moved with her family to Plainfield, New Jersey. As the result of a family financial reversal, she gave up dreams of becoming an opera singer and went to work as a journalist, writing women's columns and features for several leading New York papers under the names Queen Tillotson and Florence Bryan. Her salary was such that in addition to helping out her family, she was able to indulge her desire to take voice lessons. In 1916, after studying with Oscar Saenger, she auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, but was turned away. She continued her studies with Marcella Sembrich , but a second audition in 1918 was also unsuccessful. Still determined to reach her goal, and with some additional intervention from Enrico Caruso, she prevailed upon Fortuno Gallo, the director of the San Carlo Opera to invite her to join the company. Caruso was reportedly so sure of Mario's gifts that he promised Gallo he would pay the singer's first-year salary out of his own pocket if she did not work out.

In September 1918, Mario made her debut with the San Carlo Opera in Tales of Hoffmann, for which she received excellent reviews. "Her voice has the advantage of youth and freshness," wrote one critic. "It is flexible, but it is also warm in quality." Mario remained with the San Carlo for two seasons, singing the roles of Violetta, Lucia, Gilda, and Juliet, then joined the Scotti Grand Opera Company for two seasons.

In 1922, Mario auditioned for the Metropolitan yet a third time. The singer was about to debut at Paris' Opéra-Comique when she received news of her acceptance by the Met; she was so excited that she immediately booked passage home, canceling her Paris engagement. Mario debuted with the Met on Thanksgiving Day that same year, singing the role of Micaëla in Carmen. She remained with the Metropolitan for the next 15 years, singing over 20 leading roles in Italian, French, and German operas, and committing to memory 25 additional roles. By one account, Mario learned each new role by first whistling it from beginning to end before making any attempt to sing it. The singer's private life also flourished at the Met. In 1925, she married Wilfred Pelletier, then the conductor at the opera house. (They would divorce in 1936.)

Although she received much acclaim for her interpretations of the roles of Inez, Aennchen, Ah-Yoe, and Sophie, Mario became best known for her performance of Gretel in the Humperdinck opera Hansel and Gretel. She sang the role in the first full performance to be broadcast on the radio from the stage of the Met (Christmas Day, 1931), and again at her farewell performance in 1938. During her years at the Met, Mario also made guest appearances with the San Francisco Opera (1923–24 and 1929–30), where she won particular acclaim as the Child in the premiere of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (1930). Following her retirement from the stage, Mario devoted her later years to teaching. Among her more notable students were Rose Bampton and Helen Jepson .

In addition to her operatic career, Mario wrote a successful murder mystery, Murder in the Opera House, which centers around a performance of I Pagliacci at the Met.


Ewen, David, ed. Living Musicians. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1940.

Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Vol 3. London and NY: Macmillan Press, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts