x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Marzieh, popular singer of Persian lyrical poetry

The Iranian singer thrilled audiences from her debut, but decades later alienated many former admirers with her vehement protests in exile against the country's post-1979 regime.

As outspoken offstage as she was lyrical on it, the Iranian singer Marzieh thrilled audiences from the very moment of her debut performance as the beautiful Shirin in the famous Persian operetta Shirin and Farhad. Decades later, she alienated many former admirers with her vehement protests in exile against the country's post-1979 regime and her alliance with the controversial Mujaheddin opposition movement.

Marzieh, born Ashraf os-Sadat Morteza'i, was the daughter of a learned cleric, who defied religious convention in encouraging his daughter to sing, and an artistic mother. She first hit the Iranian airwaves in 1942 and as the principal singer on Tehran Radio's Gulha (Love) programme in 1954 established a loyal following. Composers and poets begged her to sing their works and her repertoire grew to boast 1,000 songs, mostly classical. She was especially noted for songs that came to be known as Tableaux Musicale, which popularised classical Persian lyrical poetry for a modern audience.

As successful as she was, fame could not protect Marzieh from the political tensions within Iran and the increasing religious conservatism under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. When solo female voices were prohibited from the radio, she all but disappeared for 15 years. At her house in the Niavaran district north of the city she "went into the desert and sang for the birds, the trees, the river, the passing clouds and stars", she said.

When restrictions on female singers were relaxed minimally after Khomeini's death, she was told she could appear before audiences of women only, but she was not interested. Instead, in 1994, while visiting Paris and in the company of Maryam Rajavi, whose brother and sister had been executed in Iran and who had been elected by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as the president-elect of a future multiparty democratic government, she defected.

Joining the NCRI, she lived for several years in Iraq, where the Mujaheddin-e Khalq group had a training camp. There she performed occasionally, dressed in military fatigues, perched atop a tank.

In later life, she resumed her earlier career performing live. She gave her last performance in Paris in 2006, at age 82. "I sing mostly love songs," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1995. "Love is incarcerated and killed in Iran."

The daughter of her first marriage predeceased her, as did her second husband. Their son survives her.

Born 1924. Died October 13, 2010.