Good memories never leave us, even though they may be overshadowed by life's successes and new memories from another location. Home is still home, however, and we don't require the myriad of electronic devices to keep them fresh in our minds.
For example, have you taken a long, reflective look at your Christmas tree lately? The ornaments hold generations of memories we hardly notice. Ornaments your parents and grandparents passed on during the past hundred years, or the ornaments you made for them as a child, or bought during your life's travels. Then there are the ornaments that your offspring made for you as children and your grandchildren made for you just this week. Our Christmas trees may hold many memories, if we take the time to look.
We all take our childhood memories with us, whether we let them out again, or not. For instance, there are many talented people who grew up in the Ohio Valley who have attained national and even international celebrity status. Of course not all perform in a venue that allows them to publicly celebrate their home towns. However, some major stars, like Dean Martin, frequently gave his home town of Steubenville a mention. But then he pretty much had free-reign as host of his own variety show for over a decade and usually said what he wanted to, which added to the show's popularity. If you have any doubt how much the City of Steubenville appreciates Dean's loyalty, just ride down Dean Martin Highway to check out a Dean Martin Festival next year.
Realistically, actors don't always have that luxury. They are mostly tied to scripts written by someone else. But occasionally, stars are so proud of and loyal to their home town that they spend their life giving back. Such a person was the internationally famous Metropolitan Opera Star from Wheeling , Eleanor Steber, who gave back to her home town throughout her life.
The little girl from Warwood grew up to become one of the America 's greatest operatic sopranos and graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera stage from 1940-66.
Even though her stage performances offered little opportunity to give her home town a plug, she remained loyal nonetheless, insisting that all her advertising and publicity include the fact that she was from Wheeling, West Virginia. She returned to Wheeling regularly, often donating her performances at various community causes and charitable fund raising events. One of her last Wheeling performances was in 1976 for the Bicentennial at the Oglebay Amphitheater. She also performed in 1980 at the Capitol Music Hall, on occasion of her being one of the first inductees into the Wheeling Hall of Fame.
The statuesque Steber thrived on doing the work she loved and gave 404 performances of 33 roles during a career which began on the Met stage in 1940. In all, she mastered 56 different operatic roles in Italian, German and French. She was also popular with the radio and television audiences and audio and video discs of her greatest performances and albums are available today at Wheeling 's Ohio County Library.
Eleanor's mother, Ida (Nolte) Steber was a dramatic soprano. She started teaching her daughter voice and drama at an early age. In 1932, Eleanor's talent for piano won her a scholarship as a piano major at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Soon after her arrival she was wisely counseled to switch her major from piano to voice, but her piano skills were good enough to support her during seven years study in Boston. History indicates that Steber was very adept at both preparing and positioning herself for success. Competing against over 700 aspiring "divas" she hired legendary voice coach, Paul Althouse, longtime Metropolitan Opera artist and was coached by conductor, Fausto Cleva, for her Met audition.
After another two years of surviving in New York , her big break came. On March 9, 1940, all of Wheeling listened to their radios while "their Eleanor" competed in the finals of the Metropolitan Opera's Auditions of the Air. Her performance of Verdi's aria, "Ernani involami" won her the first of many Metropolitan Opera contracts, a cash prize and a concert date on NBC Radio two weeks later. Wheeling celebrated with an Eleanor Steber Day.
Then, on December 7, 1940, Eleanor Steber of Wheeling made her debut on the Metropolitan Opera stage in the role of "Sofie" in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, which received rave revues. Her co-star Risa Stevens, had this to say of Steber, "Eleanor was the most beautiful of all the other 50 "Sofie's" I sang with. She was absolutely superb. Her phrasing and beauty of tone surpassed them all."
Steber's first performance on the Coca Cola Hour, with Andre Kostalanetz conducting, was pre-empted by the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She spent the rest of the war performing for the USO throughout the U.S. and Canada.
During 1957, Steber realized her dream of visiting people of foreign lands, when the U.S. State Department sponsored a three month, Eleanor Steber tour of 17 countries.
After retiring, she founded the Eleanor Steber Music Foundation to help young professional singers with scholarships. From 1963 to 1973 she headed the voice department at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Eleanor Steber, the Metropolitan Opera star passed away at age 76. She often referred to herself as a "River City Girl, a prima donna with a small town kid inside."
Memories help bind our families, as well as bind us to our roots. Just think what a treat it would be if we could once again celebrate Eleanor Steber's presence on the newly-reopened, 80 year-old Capitol Theatre stage, backed by the 80 year-old Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. Well, two out of three isn't bad--perhaps a holograph?
Phillips lives in St. Clairsville. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org