This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993
Marjorie Margaret Conley (1931-1959), soprano, was born on 24 June 1931 at Stanmore, Sydney, second daughter of Henry Conley, baker, and his wife Evelyn, née Wightman, both Queensland born. Educated at Mascot and Gardeners Road public schools, Marjorie learned the piano at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent, Kensington. She had sung a great deal at home, and was 'the star turn' at school functions and at recitals by Marjory Robinson's dancing school where she acquired her assured stage presence. Aged 16, she began lessons with Thelma Houston, wife of Roland Foster. At the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, Conley learned singing under Foster, undertook advanced vocal work with Florence Taylor and studied piano. During her student days she regularly sang at the Australia Hotel on Sunday evenings.
From 1950 to 1955 Conley competed annually in the Mobil Quest. In 1952 she won the national vocal section of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's competition and the Sunaria award at the City of Sydney Eisteddfod. Her numerous other prizes included the Bathurst aria contest of 1953 and the Mobil Quest in 1955. These successes placed her in demand as a concert, oratorio and opera singer. She toured widely in 1952 for both the Mobil Quest and the A.B.C. Tall and dark eyed, in 1953 she sang leading operatic roles for Clarice Lorenz's National Opera of Australia (including the first performance of John Antill's Endymion) and in performances with the Conservatorium opera school under (Sir) Eugène Goossens of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, and Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Faust. She also sang under Goossens in 1954 in the première of his oratorio, The Apocalypse.
At St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, on 5 May 1956 Marjorie married the Sydney baritone Geoffrey William Chard. They joined the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust's company for its inaugural Mozart opera season which opened in Adelaide in July; Marjorie sang Pamina (The Magic Flute) and Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte). Although some critics found her performances cool and passionless, others were fulsome in praising her 'golden promise'. The critic Martin Long wrote: 'A porcelain figurine in pink satin called Marjorie Conley who sang in a voice as liquid and slithery as satin and with as fine a finish as porcelain'. After the birth of their son in 1957, Marjorie and Geoffrey left the company and concentrated on radio, television and concert work.
In late July 1959, while holidaying at Surfers Paradise after a 6000-mile (9656 km) Queensland tour, Marjorie collapsed with a cerebral haemorrhage. Survived by her husband and 2-year-old son, she died on 11 August in Brisbane Hospital and was buried in Woronora cemetery, Sydney. The subject of a Brisbane Telegraph placard, Marjorie Conley's early death was a tragic loss for Australian music. If, as she said herself, singing 'enthralled' her, her singing enthralled the public. One of her colleagues said that she 'was a remarkable lyric singer with a serene, classical stylishness, great accuracy and flawless pianissimo'.
John Carmody, 'Conley, Marjorie Margaret (1931–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/conley-marjorie-margaret-9803/text17329, accessed 24 May 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993