Episode 270. Eleanor Steber Revisited

Episode 270. Eleanor Steber Revisited



The Supreme Court has done what to our democracy?

I sat in my apartment in Berlin on the Fourth of July wondering how, after the events of this past Monday, I can possibly pay tribute to our nation as it “celebrated” its birthday. Then it hit me: since I would never in a million years produce an episode of patriotic musical material, why not pay tribute to a great American singer instead? I had already been planning an upcoming bonus episode on ELEANOR STEBER, the singer I consider to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) soprano that our country has ever produced! Nearly two years ago, with the help of my dear friend Michelle Oesterle, who was Eleanor’s step-daughter, I produced an episode dedicated to her; today’s episode will not delve so much into the (still-controversial) person that Eleanor was, but rather offer a cross-section, over the course of more than 40 years, of the wide variety of styles and repertoire in which Steber excelled. Who else could traverse a range of repertoire from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Mozart, Rameau to Wagner, Berlioz to Romberg with such ease and joyful authority? Not only do I explore her longevity, I explore her unparalleled prowess as a vocal technician; as well as her well-documented bad treatment by the Metropolitan Opera and its then-general manager, Rudolf Bing. I also look at the recordings that Steber and her then-husband, Michelle’s father, produced on their own ST/AND label in the early sixties, and then hear Steber sing some quintessentially American music from classic musicals. Along the way, I consider some serious topics, including betrayal, alcoholism, and the power of embedded memory. Finally, I consider the possibility that Eleanor Steber’s celebrated portrayal of Minnie in La fanciulla del West might just offer a possible solution for the divisiveness and political turmoil in which our country currently finds itself. Featured guest singers on the episode include Nelson Eddy, Brian Sullivan, Rosalind Elias, and Jussi Björling; musical collaborators include Dimitri Mitropoulos, Igor Kipnis, Allen Rogers, Fritz Stiedry, and her frequent concert and radio collaborators Howard Barlow and Edwin Biltcliffe.


John Stafford Smith, Francis Scott Key: The Star-Spangled Banner. Eleanor Steber [live New York 1960]

Claude Debussy, Édouard Guinand: L’année en vain chasse l’année [Air de Lia] (L’enfant prodigue). Eleanor Steber, unknown pianist [03.X.38]

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Alleluia (Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165). Eleanor Steber, Robert K. Evans [live Graz 04.VIII.79]

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward: Summertime (Porgy and Bess). Eleanor Steber, David Broekman and His Orchestra [Your Home Front Reporter broadcast, 29.IX.1943]

Steber as Manon

Gioachino Rossini, Cesare Sterbini [after Pierre Beaumarchais]: Una voce poco fa (Il barbiere di Siviglia). Eleanor Steber, unknown conductor and orchestra [01.II.1942]

Giuseppe Verdi, Francesco Maria Piave [after Alexandre Dumas fils]: Ah, fors’è lui… Sempre libera (La traviata). Eleanor Steber, Orchestra conducted by Wifrid Pelletier [1940]

Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Adami, Renato Simoni [after Carlo Gozzi]: Signore, ascolta (Turandot) [sung in English]. Eleanor Steber, unknown conductor and orchestra [live 11.VIII.1946]

Richard Wagner: Drum wolle stets den Zweifel meiden… Hilf Gott, was muss ich hören? (Lohengrin). Eleanor Steber, Brian Sullivan, Fritz Stiedry, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra [live New York 11.IV.1953]

Steber as Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s Arabella

Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Ist mein Liebster dahin? (Die Frau ohne Schatten). Eleanor Steber, Edwin Biltcliffe [live Carnegie Hall 10.X.1958]

Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti: Our arms entwined, my hands in his [Skating Aria] (Vanessa). Eleanor Steber, Rosalind Elias, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Wiener Philharmoniker [live Salzburg 16.VIII.58]

Jean-Philippe Rameau, text after Giovanni Battista Guarini: Charmant Amour, sous ta puissance (Le Berger fidèle, RTC 24). Eleanor Steber, Igor Kipnis Baroque Ensemble [Igor Kipnis, Sonya Monsoff, Lilla Kalman, Bernard Zaslav, Sterling Hunkins] [1962]

Hector Berlioz, Théophile Gautier: Au cimetière (Les nuits d’été, Op. 6/5). Eleanor Steber, Dimitri Mitropoulos, New York Philharmonic [live New York 04.IV.53]

Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Rupert Brooke: Waikiki (Three Poems, Op. 9/2). Eleanor Steber, Edwin Biltcliffe [1961]

Hugo Wolf, Paul Heyse [after Juan López de Úbeda]: Ach, des Knaben Augen (Spanisches Liederbuch). Eleanor Steber, Edwin Biltcliffe [live New York 07.XII.74]

Alfred Bachelet, Eugène Adénis-Colombeau: Chère nuit. Eleanor Steber, Allen Rogers [live Boston 20.IV.75]

Thomas Hastings, Augustus Toplady: Rock of Ages. Eleanor Steber, Edwin Biltcliffe [1961]

Frederick Flaxington Harker: God Shall Wipe Away All Tears. Eleanor Steber, Edwin Biltcliffe [1961]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: People Will Say We’re in Love (Oklahoma!). Eleanor Steber, James Melton, Al Goodman Orchestra [1943]

Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II: Lover, Come Back to Me (The New Moon). Eleanor Steber, Nelson Eddy, Orchestra conducted by Leon Arnaud [1950]

Eleanor Steber as the Mother Abbess in NYCO’s Sound of Music production

Frank Loesser: Lovelier than ever (Where’s Charley?). Eleanor Steber, Pembroke Davenport, New York City Light Opera Orchestra and Chorus [live City Center 04.VI.1966]

Sigmund Romberg, Rida Johnson Young: Will You Remember? [Sweetheart] (Maytime). Eleanor Steber, Jussi Björling, Harold Barlow, Voice of Firestone Orchestra [Voice of Firestone broadcast, 03.I.1946]

Robert Katscher, Buddy DeSylva: When Day Is Done. Eleanor Steber, Al Vann, Barron Smith, Edwin Biltcliffe [1961]

Giacomo Puccini, Guelfo Civinini, Carlo Zangarini [after David Belasco]: So perchè sei svenuta… Tre assi e un paio! (La fanciulla del West). Eleanor Steber, Giangiacomo Guelfi, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino [live Firenze 06.VI.1954]

Calling all cowboys to come to the aid of our country!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.