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Knoxville’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Costa too busy inspiring others to sleep

Mary Costa was renowned in the 1950s not only as the voice of Princess Aurora in the Walt Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty,” but also made commercials for companies such as the Chrysler Corporation.- Photo Submitted
Knoxville native Mary Costa is an internationally acclaimed operatic soprano, who has sung more than 40 roles.

In addition, she has had guest appearances on many television shows, including Bing Crosby’s Christmas Show.

“I enjoyed being a cross-over artist,” Costa said. “Performing on television gave me a better audience, and I made fans for the opera.”

Even though opera has been Costa’s primary profession, she is also the voice behind Princess Aurora in the Walt Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty.”

As a young teenager, Costa was personally chosen by Walt Disney to be the speaking and singing voice of Princess Aurora in the film.

Disney animator Marc Davis patterned the mannerisms of Princess Aurora after Costa.

According to Costa, Davis once berated a fan who mistakenly asked Costa how she enjoyed doing the voice-over for Princess Aurora. “Madame,” he said, “this was not a voice-over. The voices were the ocean of sound upon which we animated.” Davis explained to the fan that the animation was created only after the voice work was done.

Costa said she is thrilled at the resurgence of interest in “Sleeping Beauty,” now on DVD. “I feel like I’m seeing the story for the first time,” she said. “(DVD) truly gives justice to the animators. It is crisp, sleek and extremely impressive.”

While Costa expressed amazement that the hand-animated film can hold its own against today’s computer-animated films, she is not very surprised at the continued popularity of the story of “Sleeping Beauty.”

“It is one of the most beloved fairy tales of all time,” Costa said. “I think a lot of young people are being drawn to this more romantic aspect of life, which is wonderful for child-like hearts of all ages.”

Costa said Walt Disney, one of the greatest mentors in her life, encouraged her to paint with her voice, and to be happy in her profession.

“Walt said, ‘Never be a copy of anyone else.’ He also said when you have dreams you have to have dedication, determination, and discipline to go with them in order to make it all work out.”

Costa took Disney’s advice to heart. She pointed out that for almost 40 years she found herself on a roller coaster of eating, sleeping and performing. “I had to have a great deal of discipline to live like that.”

Her life with Disney was a life she truly adored, Costa said. “He opened the doors to the magical land of make-believe, and child-like hearts will walk through that door for years to come. I feel so honored to be a part of that legacy.”

In addition, Costa was greatly influenced by her mother.

She stopped performing in 1986, to care for her ailing mother, who died in 1993 at 101 years of age.

“She had been such a support to me from the time I was born, I wanted to devote myself to her. My mother had a very, very strong faith. I was so affected by it, and when I was ‘born again’ in 1986 it changed my life totally.”

Since that time, Costa has devoted herself to motivational speaking, which she said has given her a platform to talk about her faith, the foundation of her life.

“Isn’t it wonderful to know you’re on this planet to inspire? I can express myself in a different way and it has been equally satisfying,” she said.

Today Costa finds her motivation in working with young children. She said they must be encouraged in the arts.

She uses her operatic voice when she plays the “Singing Lady” game at schools. Students may only ask questions if they sing them, and she sings the answer back to the students.

“I love seeing the excitement on a child’s face when they create something within themselves,” Costa said. “Inspiring a child to achieve their best, to get them going and excited about the gifts from God that are all their own, that for me is the most important thing.”

Costa said she is happy to think people have been inspired by her performances throughout her career.

“It’s like a ‘Once Upon A Dream’ experience when I look back over my career,” she said. “It is my pleasure to give back.”

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