Steber, Eleanor, 1914-1990

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Eleanor Steber was born in Wheeling, West Virginia on July 17, 1914. She was the daughter of William Charles Steber, Sr. (1888–1966) and Ida Amelia (née Nolte) Steber (1885–1985). She had two younger siblings – William Charles Steber, Jr. (1917–2002) and Lucile Steber Leslie (1918–1999). She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1940 and was one of its leading artists through 1961. She was known for her large, flexible silvery voice, particularly in the high-lying soprano roles of Richard Strauss. She was equally well known for her lyrical portrayals of Mozart's heroines, many in collaboration with conductor Bruno Walter. Beyond Mozart and Strauss her repertoire was quite varied.

She was noted for success in the music of Wagner, Alban Berg, Giacomo Puccini and also in French opera. Steber sang the lead in the world premiere of the American opera Vanessa by Samuel Barber. She was also featured in a number of Metropolitan Opera premieres, including Strauss's Arabella, Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Berg's Wozzeck.

Outside the Metropolitan her career included a 1953 engagement at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, where her performance as Elsa in Lohengrin was highly acclaimed and recorded by Decca Records. She sang with Arturo Toscanini in his 1944 NBC Symphony broadcast of Beethoven's Fidelio. In 1954 at the Florence May Festival she sang a celebrated performance of Minnie in Puccini's La fanciulla del West with conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos. With Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra she sang the world premiere in 1948 of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a work which she commissioned.

Beyond the opera, Steber was popular with radio and television audiences in frequent appearances on The Voice of Firestone, The Bell Telephone Hour and other programs. Her extensive recording output included many popular ballads and operetta tunes in addition to arias, art songs and complete operas.

In 1973 she recorded a live album of arias and songs for RCA Red Seal at the Continental Baths in New York City where a young Bette Midler was then a regular performer. At the same time she was still heard in recital at Carnegie Hall and sang a noted late-career performance of Strauss's Four Last Songs with James Levine and the Cleveland Orchestra.

While she was known as an artist of the highest standards, her musical life was often disrupted by marital discord and alcohol. Upon retiring from singing, she taught on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Juilliard School and maintained a private voice studio. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (1938), she also coached a limited number of students (vocal performance majors) there in a "master class" format at least in the years 1975-1977. She established the Eleanor Steber Vocal Foundation with an annual contest to assist young singers in launching their careers. Her many recordings are still available, as are audio and visual tapes of her radio and television broadcasts for The Voice of Firestone.

Steber struggled at times with asthma and alcoholism. She was married twice. Her first husband was pianist Edwin Lee Bilby. Her second husband was Colonel Gordon Andrews, whom she married in 1958, at the time she created the role of Vanessa at the Metropolitan Opera. Andrews managed her career and started the STAND record company, a joint venture that produced numerous recordings of Steber's performances. They were married for nine years. She had three stepchildren: Marsha Andrews, an opera singer who studied with her at the Cleveland Institute of Music and in New York and who also sang at the Metropolitan Opera for 12 seasons; Gordon Andrews Jr., retiree from GM, now deceased; and Michelle Andrews Oesterle, a choral conductor, singer and founder of the very successful Manhattan Girls Chorus. She died on October 3, 1990, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, following heart valve surgery, and is interred at Greenwood Cemetery, Wheeling, West Virginia.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Rodgers, Richard, 1902-1979. Collection of musicals and interviews [sound recording], 1926-1980. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn The Frederick and Rose Plaut Papers, 1907-1986 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library
creatorOf Bodanya, Natalie. Let's go to the opera radio broadcast collection [sound recording] New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Greenway, Lauder. Opera and recital collection [sound recording], 1901-1972. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Plaut, Frederick, 1907-1985. The Frederick and Rose Plaut papers, 1907-1986 (inclusive). Yale University, Music Library
creatorOf Steber, Eleanor. Correspondence with Eugene Ormandy, 1977-1979. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Bowman, Robert, 1925-. Robert Bowman collection of music recordings from radio broadcasts [sound recording], 1952-1963. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Plaut, Frederick, 1907-1985. The Frederick and Rose Plaut papers, 1907-1986 (inclusive). Yale University, Music Library
referencedIn Jan Peerce collection of sound recordings, 1932-1983 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Lucille Lortel papers, 1902-2000 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Edward and Clara Steuermann Collection, 1922-1981, (bulk 1930-1980) Library of Congress. Music Division
referencedIn ARS Audiotape Collection, 1900-1991 Archive of Recorded Sound
referencedIn Nicolas Slonimsky Collection, 1873-1997, (bulk 1920-1990) Library of Congress. Music Division
creatorOf Steber, Eleanor,. Interview conducted by Oliver Daniel, May 10, 1978 [sound recording]. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Photographs of the Metropolitan Opera [graphic] / Harry G. Schumer, ca. 1945-1965 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Richard Rodgers collection of musicals and interviews [sound recording], 1926-1980 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
creatorOf Philadelphia Orchestra. Transcription of WFLN radio broadcast [sound recording], 1962 April 20. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Eleanor Steber collection Houghton Library
creatorOf University of Michigan. University Musical Society. Correspondence with Eugene Ormandy, 1977-1984. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Bowman, Robert. Collection of music recordings from radio broadcasts [sound recording], 1952-1963. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Conlogue, Barbara Ann, 1928-1995. Barbara Ann Conlogue Collection of Eleanor Steber Photographs and Clippings, circa 1935-1990. SUNY at Buffalo, University at Buffalo
creatorOf Philadelphia Orchestra. Transcription of WFLN radio broadcast [sound recording], 1970 January 17, 18, 19. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Robert Bowman collection of music recordings from radio broadcasts [sound recording], 1952-1963 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Sommer, Ray. Ray Sommer concert programs, 1929-1960. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn Let's go to the opera radio broadcast collection [sound recording] The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Koussevitzky, Serge, 1874-1951. Serge Koussevitzky Archive, 1920-1976 (bulk: 1924-1951) Library of Congress. Music Division
creatorOf Bodanya, Natalie. Let's go to the opera [sound recording], 1946. New York Public Library System, NYPL
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750. person
associatedWith Bowman, Robert. person
associatedWith Conlogue, Barbara Ann, 1928-1995. person
associatedWith Daniel, Oliver, person
associatedWith Frederick and Rose Plaut person
associatedWith Greenway, Lauder. person
correspondedWith Koussevitzky, Serge, 1874-1951 person
associatedWith Let's Go to the Opera (Radio program). person
associatedWith Lortel, Lucille person
associatedWith Peerce, Jan, 1904-1984 person
associatedWith Philadelphia Orchestra. corporateBody
associatedWith Plaut, Frederick, 1907-1985. person
associatedWith Rodgers, Richard, 1902-1979. person
associatedWith Saddler, Donald person
associatedWith Schumer, Harry G person
associatedWith Slonimsky, Nicolas, 1894-1995 person
associatedWith Sommer, Ray. person
correspondedWith Steuermann, Edward person
associatedWith University of Michigan. University Musical Society. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Opera
Occupation
Performer
Vocalists
Activity

Person

Birth 1914-07-17

Death 1990-10-03

Americans

English

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