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Eleanor Steber (1916 - 1990)


Steber grew up in a musical family: her mother, an expert amateur singer, taught her to sing and to play the piano, took her to concerts and encouraged her to sing both in school and in local public performances. She entered the New England Conservatory, Boston intending to major in piano; but her voice teacher, William Whitney, who gave her both a very strong technique and great musical curiosity, encouraged her to concentrate upon singing instead. Although she did not graduate until 1938, she made her operatic stage debut in 1936 as Senta / Der fliegende Holländer with the Commonwealth Opera in Boston and continued her studies during 1939 in New York with Paul Althouse, whom she greatly admired.

During the spring of 1940 Steber won the Metropolitan Opera ‘Auditions of the Air’, which offered a contract with the company. Erich Leinsdorf suggested that she make her debut as Sophie / Der Rosenkavalier, in December 1940. After continuing with small parts such as the Woodbird / Siegfried, Woglinde / Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and a Flower Maiden / Parsifal, Bruno Walter heard her sing Mozart in a hotel concert: he cast her as the First Lady / Die Zauberflöte (1941) and then the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro (1942), after which Steber was clearly established as a leading member of the Met company – while simultaneously also in demand on radio, which paid extremely well.

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