A famous opera singer and suffragist, the first American woman to achieve international recognition during the “Golden Age” of Opera.
Born as Lillian Allen Norton in Farmington, ME, the youngest of four daughters. Her interest in music began at a young age, listening to the sounds of running brooks and singing birds. When she was 8 years old, the family moved to Boston, MA, for the musical education of her sister Wilhelmina. Nordica used to listen to her sister’s practice and imitated her. After Wilhelmina died of Typhoid fever at age 17, the focus turned to Lillian, and she began her formal musical education.
Soon after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Nordica was invited to tour in Europe and decided to stay in Milan, Italy. There, her music coach gave her the stage name “Giglia Nordica” (Lily of the North) as a more suitable name for a diva. After she enchanted the Italian audience, she traveled through Europe, performing in front of royalties and presidents in the greatest musical venues, including The Royal Opera House in London, The Bayreuth Festival in Germany, and the Imperial Opera in Saint Petersburg. She returned for a short time to the US as a member of Her Majesty’s Opera Company, touring across the country.
At age 38, Nordica settled in NYC, where she was a recurring performer at the Metropolitan Opera House for almost 20 years. She was known for her extensive vocal range, able to perform coloratura showpieces as well as dramatic solos. Throughout the years, she performed in many iconic operas, including Aida, La Traviata, Faust, and La Gioconda, but she was mainly recognized for her roles in Wagnerian operas.
Nordica was also a women’s rights advocate, speaking against the paying gap between male and female singers. She gave concerts to raise funds for the woman’s suffrage movement, and in 1911, a day before the vote for the women’s right in CA, she spoke from an open streetcar in San Francisco, encouraging women to vote.
In 1913, after performing in Melbourne, Australia, her ship hit a coral reef and was stuck for a few days. She suffered hypothermia and developed pneumonia. Her health continued to deteriorate, and she died a year later at the age of 57.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She wrote two essays: “Hints to Singers” and “How to Sing a Ballad.”
- There is a rumor at the University of Maine at Farmington that Nordica’s ghost is roaming the auditorium, which named after her.
- Nordica was married three times and never had children.
- At age 48, she became a model for Coca-Cola, appearing on posters and merchandise like trays. She was one of the first celebrities to become a presenter of the company.
- Her childhood home in Farmington, ME, is a museum and historic site.