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McLean County Vocalists

Talented McLean County vocalists have entertained locally and regionally. A few have found themselves on the international stage.

Marie Eugenia von Elsner’s (1856-1883) powerful voice brought her fame on both American and European stages. Her father, a trained musician himself, recognized Marie’s potential at a young age and made sure she had the proper training.

By the age of 14, Marie was performing across the United States. Soon after she was training in Europe.

In 1878, at the age of 22, she made her Paris debut using the stage name Marie Litta. Why would Marie change her name?

Marie’s new stage name hid her German background. At the time Parisians had strong anti-German feelings due to France’s defeat by the newly-formed German government during the Franco-Prussian War. Additionally, “Litta” was Italian and endeared her to Italian audiences.

Marie Litta

The response to Marie’s European debut was overwhelming.

Ladies stood up in their boxes and burst their gloves clapping . . .Elegantes threw upon the stage bouquets they had brought with them.
— John M. Scott, 1897

Brass and rhinestone tiara worn by Marie Litta, circa 1880

Donated by: the Estate of William Dimmett
1953.01

Marie continued to perform for European audiences, her fame growing with each concert.

The media called her the “Queen of Song” and the “Reigning Musical Star of America.”

When she returned to the U.S., Marie formed her own company — the Litta Concert Company. Eager to please her fans and to keep those working for her employed, she continued to add new dates to her already busy schedule. At the time she was earning $75,000 annually (equal to $1.5 million in 2016).

Marie Litta

Marie Litta’s opera glasses
Circa 1878

A Bloomington native presented these opera glasses to Marie on the night of her Paris debut in 1878. She later gave them to James S. Ewing.


Donated by: Katherine Spencer Ewing
727.99

In the spring of 1883 Marie grew ill and collapsed after a concert. Adoring fans gathered at the station to see her board the train headed back to her Bloomington home to recover. A few weeks later, on July 7, 1883, she died in her parents’ home. She was 27.

Over 12,000 citizens and fans attempted to enter the First Methodist Episcopal Church, where Marie’s funeral was held.

Bloomington Pantagraph, July 9, 1883

Bloomington Pantagraph, July 10, 1883

Marie Litta performance dress fragments, circa 1877-1883

View this object in Matterport

Marie’s family cut up her beautiful performance gowns and gave the pieces to friends and family members as mementos of her life.

Donated by: Mr. & Mrs. R. Morgan Evans
834.21.63 - 72

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