Louise Homer


Born: April 30, 1871 Died: 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 (with no less a figure than composer Vincent d'Indy conducting) 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.