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Classical 101

Louise Homer

When I was growing up I had a near neighbor named Mrs. Curtis.  She was a choir director in a local church, and lived in a big, Victorian House on Maple Street.  I didn't know her but I knew about her. When I found out that she was Louise Homer's granddaughter I wanted to know her better. I never did. I don't think there's been anyone like Louise Homer since the lady died in 1947. She was a nice, well brought up daughter of a proper family in Pittsburgh. Her sister was the mother of composer Samuel Barber.  It was Aunt Louise who premiered a lot of young Sammy's music. Louise Homer possessed an astonishing contralto voice. A very elderly mentor of mine, since gone to heaven, told me it was seamless and beautiful to over three octaves. She had rumbling, dark low notes and a soprano high C. She nearly gave up more than once.  Her husband, Sidney Homer was a fine teacher of music and a minor composer — he provided the emotional support. Later as her career blossomed, Louise provided the brass necessary to support Sidney and their six children. Her daughter Anne wrote Louise Homer and the Golden Age of Opera. In opera, her voice type was most appropriate for repertoire completely unlike "her own dear self."  She made endless concert tours, and her daily letters home fret over Sidney, colic, grade school and six new pair of shoes. Louise Homer's colleagues included Caruso, Toscanini, Geraldine Farrar and Rose Ponselle. She gave her final concerts just as radio was perfected. Her many recordings date back to 1901. I don't think the glory of her voice was ever captured. And some of her performances "recall very prim Boston maids indeed" wrote critic Peter G. Davis. I have always wanted to go back in time to hear Homer and Caruso together in Samson and Delilah, which they sang at the Met the night the armistice was signed in 1918. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEVLj8jArug As glorious as she was as the seductive Dalila, her career was assured with Gluck's Orpheus, sung at Toscanini's behest. I suspect Louise Homer would find Gluck and Handel more representative of her life than Verdi or Saint-Saens. http://youtu.be/-oN2rExne8g Go look at the portrait of Louise Homer as Orpheus, hanging to this day in the Metropolitan Opera House. There you will see the serenity and beauty the old recordings try to capture.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.