UltimateDisney.com > Interviews > Mary Costa, the voice of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty

Mary Costa Interview

The Voice of Sleeping Beauty's Princess Aurora Discusses
Her Beloved Film, The Five Ds, Pink, Blue, and Working with Walt

By Renata Joy

Fifty-five years ago, there were just two Disney princesses. Snow White and Cinderella had each captured audience's hearts and asserted the animated feature as a significant art form. Then came Sleeping Beauty, which Disney and his studio had been considering for film treatment for many years.

What helped move the project from development to production was the discovery of Mary Costa singing around the piano at a dinner party.
Mary Costa appears in front of a bank of colorful concept art. Costa voiced Princess Aurora in Disney's 1959 animated classic "Sleeping Beauty."
Singing had already brought Costa success at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, on Edgar Bergen's radio show with Charlie McCarthy, in commercials, and in UCLA concerts with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. But being picked by Walt Disney himself to play Princess Aurora would secure the 22-year-old Costa a place in cinema history. Though Costa would go on to a long and successful career as an opera singer of international renown, perhaps her biggest claim to fame has remained her vocal performance as the radiant songstress friendly to forest creatures.

That credit has been in the public eye a lot this week, since Disney has released Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition on DVD and Blu-ray. As is typically the case, the studio's lavish home video treatment of one of its animated classics spilled over to various press and public relations opportunities. UltimateDisney.com recently had the opportunity to conduct a substantial interview with none other than Sleeping Beauty herself, the sweet and enthusiastic Mary Costa. While her operatic career has taken her all over the globe for various performances and accolades, Costa would be the first to recognize the special enduring appeal of her Disney movie. The night before this interview, Costa participated in a discussion panel as part of the opening night ceremonies for Sleeping Beauty's three-week engagement at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre.

UltimateDisney.com: How familiar were you with Disney films prior to making Sleeping Beauty?

Mary Costa: One of my very first movies when I was six years old was Snow White and, oh goodness, I loved it. I paraded around my house with bath towels like a cape until my mother made me a royal blue velvet cape that was, to this day, my favorite present ever received. I just adored that. I had no idea that I would ever grow up to be a Disney princess, but that was my first touch with Disney. Anything that came out by Disney I always saw.

How did it feel to be invited into the princess canon, with Snow White and Cinderella already being such beloved characters?

It was absolutely marvelous. But you know,
if I had not been at a dinner party the night before I auditioned and hadn't been heard singing around the piano, they might have shelved this project. They had been looking for a voice for Princess Aurora for three years. And so Walt was really going to shelve the project if he didn't find a voice very soon. I'm so very honored and thankful that I was available.

Do you have a favorite part of the film?

Well, I really love so many parts of the film. I love when they're making the birthday cake and the dress. I adore that. And I love Diablo the bird -- I get so fascinated by that bird. Probably the scene that makes me laugh is in the woods when Aurora is so dreamily talking to the Prince and he wants to see her again. And she says "No, never", and he says, "Never?!", and she says "Maybe someday", and he says "Tomorrow?" and she says "No, this evening!" (laughs) I love that. I think it's very feminine, particularly if you have a crush on somebody.

Maybe my very favorite part is the first bird call in the woods. When I went into my audition and met [composer] George Bruns, he was trying to relax me before we started recording. He said, "Do you do bird calls?" And I said, "Well, if you have another bird here, maybe I do." And we laughed, but he said, "Let me play this melody for you and you kind of do a bird call in a high voice on this melody." I did that and he loved it right from the beginning. And we recorded it. That scene in the woods starts and it gives me chills down my back.

I got to be such friends with the godmothers and Maleficent. And the Prince [Bill Shirley] --
Get 4 Disney Movies for $1.99 Each, Free Shipping!
he was so shy and we all had just genuine crushes on that Prince. He was really cute.

Did you get a chance to work with them much while recording?

I did. They all had such a funny sense of humor. We all loved to hear Maleficent [Eleanor Audley] record because she wasn't that tall but when she was using that voice in front of a microphone it was like 9 feet tall.

Did you have a background in opera yet when you recorded Sleeping Beauty?

You know, I didn't really have very much vocal training. Everything was natural, because that was my first major part. I talked to Walt Disney on the phone so long because he didn't want to be influenced by my personality and person. He gave me so many directions and I got to know him and he would tease me and everything. One day I said "Would you tell me please why you chose my voice? I know you've heard many beautiful voices. Why did you choose me?" And he said, "Because your voice was like an extension of speech. It was not puffed up and you didn't put extra color into it. You just sang with a warm tone from your heart. It intrigued me because it was like you just stopped talking and started taking it at a higher register. It was like an extension of speech."

Walt said to me one day, "Has it always been your dream to be a singer?" And I said, "Yes, it has been." And he said, "And a dream starts with a D." And I said, "Yes, a D." And then he said, "You know what you have to add? 3 more Ds. You have to have Dedication, Determination, and Discipline to wrap it up." And that's what he had in all of his films, in everything he decided to do. He was meticulous, a perfectionist.

The reason I'm telling you this is because [Sleeping Beauty] started a work ethic for me that traveled through my entire career. I had not heard many operas when I started singing in Los Angeles for the Guild Opera. And I sang The Bartered Bride with full orchestra, staged and everything, for 6,000 schoolchildren.
Mary Costa appears in this undated black and white headshot. Costa voiced Princess Aurora in Disney's 1959 animated classic "Sleeping Beauty."
When I did that, I knew that that was meant for me to do. I heard only one other person before I began to sing a lot - Leontyne Price sing the Dialogue of the Carmelites. But I had learned through Disney that you should be in no competition with anyone else, only with yourself. Because if you imitate, that's poor. Everyone has a God-given gift and if you've been given the gift of singing, you must do it the best you can do it. You must not be a copy of anyone else.

So I was sitting in the audience last night and thought, you know, the 5th D would be Disney himself, Walt Disney himself. Because he really established that work ethic and it traveled with me throughout my career. I sang 44 roles and never heard anyone sing any of the parts that I did. So that was what I could do with myself.

Looking back on your amazing career, does it ever get to you that you are most well-known for playing Aurora?

No, it doesn't. If it had been a different part... But when I saw it last night and I heard it, I was extremely pleased. And when I am called to the great beyond, I'm glad that people will remember me this way.

One of the main reasons I love it is because it keeps me in contact to motivate children. I go into classrooms and they say, "The voice of Sleeping Beauty is going to come!" I just absolutely love it because they are really warm with me. I play the Singing Lady with them and have them sing their questions to me and I sing back to them.

This has been marvelous. I stopped singing in 1986 as far as performances. [Back then], I felt like I was always having to protect my voice and couldn't speak a lot or have personal relationships. Now because of Sleeping Beauty, I can do that and talk to children and work for charities and everything. So Sleeping Beauty has kept me going, whereas for a lot of people when they stop their operatic career, it's gone.

Princess Aurora is often considered a passive heroine. Do you agree?

I feel that she is a very, very strong character. She has been put with godmothers who are very colorful and you know they have talked to her about many things. She plays with all the animals and has a vivid imagination, dreaming of a prince.
I think she is a beautiful personification of femininity. She's very strong -- she absolutely wanted to come back into the cottage and tell them that she had found the love of her life and that she was going to go with him. So it's a very layered character. I love all of the princesses, I think they're all different, and if I had to choose, I would choose her.

I had a wonderful thing happen last night. It's happened to me about four times before, but I sat in the audience and when I walked out, people were asking me to sign some things. I went behind the table to sign and this lady who was about 35 came over and said, "Ms. Costa, you won't remember me, but I came and talked to you when I was 5 years old and I want you to meet my daughter." And she had her daughter who was 5 years old behind her. She said, "I want her to know Aurora, so I brought her tonight." I just think it's a very healthy character for young people to see.

What is your favorite part of the new DVD?

I am excited about everything that they have offered. If there is something you want to see or see again, you can stop it and it's focused right on there. Then if you want to sing along, they have the words on the screen. And you can play that game - I love that. There are so many things.

I couldn't wait to be in the audience last night to see it done on the big screen. One thing I think is absolutely gorgeous is that they have included the full Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé. I love that. And I know the young people will love all these fast-moving things and wild things they've got with the dragon and going through these almost chamber of horrors (laughs). You'll love it!

Continue >>
On Page 2, Mary discusses Sleeping Beauty's legacy, her phone-based
relationship with Walt Disney, and singing at John F. Kennedy's memorial

Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition is now on DVD and Blu-ray
Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition DVD cover art Read our review

Buy the DVD from Amazon.com

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon.com

Disney Villains Collectible Halloween Village

UltimateDisney.com | Interviews | DVD Reviews | Disney Animated Classics | DVDizzy.com: New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Search

Search This Site:

Published October 10, 2008.