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Contralto

Louise Homer, American Dramatic Contralto

By June 13, 2024No Comments

Louise Homer was an American opera singer, one of the leading operatic contraltos of the first quarter of the 20th century.

In 1895 she married the composer Sidney Homer. After study in Philadelphia, Boston, and Paris, she made her debut in 1898 in Vichy, France, as Leonora in Gaetano Donizetti’s La favorita. She appeared at Covent Garden, London, and at the Royal Opera in Brussels, and from 1900 to 1919 and in 1927 she sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She joined the Civic Opera Company in Chicago (1920–25) and subsequently sang in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The recordings that we have of Homer are more than 100 years old, and they were, for the most part, recorded on wax cylinders. Consequently, we really don’t have a good representation of what she sounded like in the hall. However, what we do have evidences a beautiful, rich voice with very impressive technique. By this, as I keep on saying, I mean that the voice is free. There is no drag on the voice that would be caused by the clenching of the swallowing or throat muscles. This was truly am impressive voicel.

Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, “Che farò senza Euridice”

Che farò senza Euridice
Dove andrò senza il mio ben.
Euridice, o Dio, risponde
Io son pure il tuo fedele.
Euridice! Ah, non m´avvanza!
più socorso, più speranza
ne dal mondo, ne dal ciel.

Gluck, Orfeus and Euridice, “What shall I do without Euridice?”

What shall I do without Euridice
Where will I go without my beloved.
Euridice, oh God, answer
I am entirely loyal to you.
Ah, it does not give me
any help, any hope
neither this world, neither heaven.

Händel, Xerxes, “Ombra mai fù”

Frondi tenere e belle
del mio platano amato
per voi risplenda il fato.
Tuoni, lampi, e procelle
non v’oltraggino mai la cara pace,
nè giunga a profanarvi austro rapace.

Ombra mai fù
Di vegetabile,
Cara ed amabile
Soave più

Handel, Xerxes, “Never was a shade” (also known as Handel’s Largo)

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion

 

Handel, The Messiah, “Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion”

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
Get thee up into the high mountain
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
Get thee up into the high mountain
Get thee up into the high mountain

O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem
Lift up, thy voice, with strength
Lift it up, be not afraid
Say unto the cities of Judah
Say unto the cities of Judah
Behold your God
Behold your God
Say unto the cities of Judah
Behold your God
Behold your God
Behold your God

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
Arise, shine, for thy light is come
Arise, arise
Arise, shine, for thy light is come
And the glory of the Lord
The glory of the Lord
Is risen, Is risen
Upon thee, Is risen
Is risen upon thee
The glory
The glory
The glory of the Lord
Is risen upon thee

There are cuts, most likely due to recording constraints.

Bellini, Norma, “Mira o Norma”

[Adalgisa:]
Mira, o Norma: ai tuoi ginocchi
Questi cari tuoi pargoletti!
Ah! Pietade di lor ti tocchi,
Se non hai di te pietà!

[Norma:]
Ah! Perchè, perchè la mia costanza
Vuoi scemar con molli affetti?
Più lusinghe, ah, più speranza
Presso a morte un co non ha!

[Adalgisa:]
Mira questi cari pargoletti
Questi cari ah!  Li vedi, ah!

[Adalgisa e Norma:]
Mira, o Norma, a’ tuoi ginocchi,
(Ah! Perché, perché la mia costanza)
questi cari tuoi pargoletti,
(Vuoi scemar con molli affetti?)
Ah! Pietade di lor ti tocchi,
(Più lusinghe, ah, più speranza)
Se non hai di te pieta!
(Presso a morte un cor non ha!)

[Adalgisa:]
Cedi! Deh, cedi!

[Norma:]
Ah! Lasciami! Ei t’ama.

[Adalgisa:]
Ei già sen pente.

[Norma:]
E tu?

[Adalgisa:]
L’amai. Quest’anima
Sol l’amistade or sente.

[Norma:]
O giovinetta! E vuoi?

[Adalgisa:]
Renderti i dritti tuoi,
O teco al cielo agli uomini
Giuro celarmi ognor.

[Norma:]
Sì. Hai vinto. Abbracciami!
Trovo un’amica, amor..

[Norma ed Adalgisa:]
Sì, fino all’ore estreme
Compagna tua m’avrai.
Per ricovrarci insieme
Ampia è la terra assai.

Teco, del fato all’onte
(Teco, del fato all’onte)
Ferma opporrò la fronte,
(Ferma opporrò la fronte)
Finchè il tuo core (Finchè il tuo core)
a battere (a battere)
Io senta sul mio cor (Io senta sul mio cor)

Battere lo senta sul mio cuor, sì!

Bellini, Norma, “Look, oh Norma”

[Adalgisa:]
Look, oh Norma: at your knees
There are these, your beloved children!
Ah! May pity for them touch your heart,
If you don’t have pity for yourself!

[Norma:]
Ah! Why, why do you want to weaken
My resolve, with tender affection?
Kind illusions, ah, any hope
Can’t be had by a heart that is almost dead!

[Adalgisa:]
Look at these beloved children,
These darling ones, ah… See them, ah!

[Adalgisa and Norma:]
Look, oh Norma: at your knees
(Ah! Why, why do you want to weaken)
There are these, your beloved children!
(My resolve, with tender affection?)
Ah! May pity for them touch your heart,
(Kind illusions, ah, any hope)
If you don’t have pity for yourself!
(Can’t be had by a heart that is almost dead!)

[Adalgisa]
Give up! Oh, give up!

[Norma:]
Ah! Let me be! He loves you…

[Adalgisa:]
He’s regretting it already…

[Norma:]
And you?

[Adalgisa:]
I loved him. This soul
Only feels friendship, now.

[Norma:]
Oh, young girl! And what do you want…?

[Adalgisa:]
To give you back your rights,
Or with you, from both Heaven and men,
I swear that I’ll hide forever more.

[Norma:]
Yes. You’ve won. Hold me!
I find a friend, love…

[Norma and Adalgisa;]
Yes, until the final hours
You’ll have me as your companion!
To shelter the both of us
The earth is wide enough…

With you, before the trials of fate,
(With you, before the trials of fate)
Steadfast, I will hold my head high,
(Steadfast, I will hold my head high)
As long as I feel (As long as I feel)
Your heart beating (Your heart beating)
Over my own heart (Over my own heart)

Beating over my own heart, yes!

Handel, Messiah, “He shall feed his flock”

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

He shall feed his flock like
A shepherd
And He shall gather
The lambs with his arm
With his arm

He shall feed his flock like
A shepherd
And He shall gather
The lambs with his arm
With his arm

And carry them in his bosom
And gently lead those
That are with young
And gently lead those
And gently lead those
That are with young

Louise Homer
April 30, 1871 – May 6, 1947

Contralto Louise Homer enjoyed a long career singing many of the grandest roles in the Italian, French and, later, German repertories. Her somewhat placid temperament was offset by a large, nearly flawless instrument that stood up well in ensemble to such contemporary artists as Caruso and Gigli. She was a key singer at the Metropolitan Opera from 1900 to 1919. Married to the well-known American composer, Sidney Homer, she sang a number of his songs in recital and found the time to be the devoted mother of six children.

Born Louise Dilworth Beatty, the singer was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who founded the church to which he ministered in Shadyside, near Pittsburgh, PA. Homer began her vocal studies early, making her public debut in Philadelphia with an oratorio performance at age 14. Advised that her voice warranted serious training, she continued to study privately before entering the New England Conservatory of Music, where she enrolled in a course instructed by Sidney Homer. Homer accompanied his promising student to a performance of Faust by the visiting Metropolitan Opera. So impressed was the young singer by hearing her first opera that she resolved at that moment to become an operatic artist.
When the growing affection between teacher and student led to marriage in 1895, Sidney Homer was insistent that his wife should study in Europe, and the pair left for Paris where Louise worked with Paul Lhérie and Fidélé König. When an acclaimed concert program in Paris suggested that the time for an operatic debut had come, Homer appeared in Vichy as Leonora in La favorita. Her success there led to other engagements in France and Belgium and, in May 1899, at London’s Covent Garden. Her triumph there resulted in a request for a Royal Command Performance. A season at the Théâtre de la Monnaie found her appearing in more than 100 performances.

Engaged by the Metropolitan Opera in 1900, she made her first appearance with the company in San Francisco that September. She first trod the New York stage on December 22 as Amneris, winning only guarded reviews for her ample, but “hard” voice and shortage of temperament. Only with the arrival of a new director, Hans Conried, in 1903 did Homer’s opportunities increase. She met the new challenges with a greater measure of histrionic involvement and a voice that was becoming a truly impressive instrument. With Wagnerian roles such as Fricka and Brangäne, Homer won new respect and, in 1904, both her Laura in La Gioconda and Ulrica in Ballo in Maschera were considered excellent interpretations, authoritatively sung. The rising trajectory of her artistic progress took a significant upward leap when Homer was cast as Orfeo for Toscanini’s revival of Gluck’s opera in the 1908 – 1909 season. Critic Richard Aldrich wrote of “nobility, dignity and plastic grace for the eye, and of full-throated and beautiful song for the ear.” Homer had been on stage at the Metropolitan, too, for the first performance of Parsifal outside Bayreuth, and for the debuts of Caruso and Toscanini.

Following the 1918-1919 season, Homer retired from the Met, but sang for several seasons at the Chicago Civic Opera before returning to the Met for two celebrated guest appearances in 1927 and 1928. In her recital repertory, Homer included some early songs of her precocious nephew, Samuel Barber.