Lillian Nordica, 1857-1914

  • Lillian-Nordica-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and MusicWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, NYC Women, Singer, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    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.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * The “Nordica Scholarship” is given annually to a singer who is studying in Maine

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • American Soprano Lillian NORDICA: Three Songs (1910)

    For "meltzerboy" / American soprano Lillian Nordica (1857-1914) / Damon (Stange) / From the land of sky-blue water (Cadman) / Mighty lak' a rose (Nevin) / Recorded: April 29, 1910 --

    Originally Lillian Norton, born May 12, 1857 in Farmington, Maine, she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She gave her first concerts at the age of seventeen. In 1877-78 she travelled with an opera troupe through the United States, England, and on the Continent. She then studied further with Sangiovanni in Milan and made her Milanese debut (1879) as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. In the same year she was greatly admired in Brescia for her Violetta in La Traviata. In 1880 she appeared as a guest in St. Petersburg, travelled through Germany, and was very successful at the Paris Opera. In 1883 she married the American Frederick A Gower and gave up her career. After her husband was killed in a balloon trip in 1885, she returned to the stage. She had great success after 1887 at Covent Garden. In 1888-89 she toured the United States with the Henry Abbey Company, and in 1891 she was engaged at the Metropolitan Opera, making her debut as Leonora in Il Trovatore. She remained a prima donna there until 1909. In 1894 she sang Elsa in Lohengrin at the Bayreauth Festival. In 1896 she married the Hungarian baritone Zoltan Dome, from whom she was, however, soon separated. She was an annual guest at Covent Garden. In 1907 she was celebrated for her performance in the title role in La Gioconda at the Manhattan Opera and she sang the same role in Boston. In that year she contracted her third marriage, this time to the London banker George H. Young. In 1913 she gave a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York and began a farewell tour around the world. The ship on which she travelled was wrecked on the coast of New Guinea; Mme. Nordica was rescued and brought to a hospital in Batavia, Java, where she died. Lillian Nordica, like Llli Lehmann, was one of those universal artists who mastered the entire soprano repertory from coloratura parts to Wagner roles. People marveled at her complete technical mastery and at the dramatic expressiveness of her characterizations. (Source: Kutsch & Riemens Biographical Dictionary of Singers - Chilton Book Company- 1969)


  • Photo credit - Wikimedia