Biography of MARIE LITTA, OPERA SINGER
Her voice was "a beautiful gift of nature", "fresh and pure", with "unusual sweetness and evenness of tone", "clear and true as a flute". Who was this Westerner, this American, winning the hearts of Parisian opera- goers in 1878?
She was born Marie Eugenia Von Elsner in Bloomington, IL, on June 1 1856. Her father was a native of Germany, from a minor noble family, and her mother was the daughter of William Dimmitt, an early Illinois pioneer and one of the first settlers of Bloomington.
Both parents were musically talented, and Marie's father began nurturing her vocal qualities at the age of 4. She sang before President Grant when 12 years old, and began her professional instruction at the Cleveland Conservatory of Music at the age of 16, in 1872.
In 1874 she left for London to continue her training, and debuted at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1876. She moved on to Paris for further training under the leading teachers of the day, and scored a triumphant debut as Lucia in "Lucia di Lammermoor".
This 1878 debut was the occasion for Marie changing her name. Paris in 1878 had not forgotten France's ignominious defeat in the Franco- Prussian War. It was suggested to Marie that the Parisian opera-going public would be more receptive if she had a less German-sounding name. She selected Litta, the surname of a prominent Italian family.
Marie returned to the U. S. and debuted in Chicago in "Lucia" on December 2, 1878. She was often compared to Jenny Lind because of her personality, amiability and willingness to give concerts for the poor. She was held in deep affection by concert goers. She continued her career with the Strakosch Opera Company, and with the Henry L. Slayton Co. of Chicago, and performed throughout the U. S. and in Canada. She was equally at home with operatic arias as well as old favorites.
Although plagued by seemingly minor ailments throughout her career, she was known for her hard work and determination. After what proved to be her final concert in Escanaba, MI on May 9, 1883, she asked to be returned to Bloomington, which she always considered her home. She died at her home on July 7, 1883 at age 27, possibly of cerebro-spinal meningitis. Bloomington had never seen a funeral with so many mourners. (An example of the cult of mourning at the time: scraps of fabric were cut from Marie's gowns and distributed to "the faithful" as "relics" of Marie. The McLean County Historical Society has some of these fragments in its collection.)
Until the emergence of Adlai E. Stevenson II, Marie Litta was considered the only citizen of Bloomington who had ever won world-wide fame. An impressive monument was dedicated to her memory in Bloomington's Evergreen City Cemetery on July 4, 1885, with formal dedication addresses by the Honorable David Davis and Mr. James Ewing. Bloomington still remembers Marie Litta: the Parks & Recreation Department dedicated a small park in her honor in 1991.
Stevenson - Ives Memorial Library, McLean County Historical Society, Bloomington, Illinois