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Wheeling Singer Heard Again

January 31, 2010

A famous Wheeling singer was in the spotlight again last weekend, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera archives.

One of the Met's historic performances was rebroadcast on public radio stations Saturday, Jan. 23. The production was Samuel Barber's "Vanessa," with libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti and starring the late soprano Eleanor Steber in the title role. The Wheeling native had only six weeks to learn the role when another singer dropped out of the premiere production in 1958. As it turned out, Steber had enormous success with the opera, which won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for music.

During a studio segment between acts, the program hosts pointed out that Steber was well acquainted with Barber's work since she had commissioned him to write "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" for soprano and orchestra 10 years earlier, in 1948.

Last Saturday's broadcast of "Vanessa" coincided with a West Virginia Public Radio fund drive. The on-air personalities who were soliciting funds for the public radio station during the Metropolitan Opera broadcast admitted that they hadn't known, until a caller pointed it out, that Steber was a West Virginia native. Shame on them, I thought to myself, that the West Virginians extolling the importance of classical music were unaware of the Met star's Wheeling roots.

The Wheeling community lost one of its most ardent supporters of music and history Sunday, Jan. 24, with the unexpected death of Dr. Edward C. Wolf. The Wheeling resident was well known in musical circles for his 37-year tenure as a professor of music at West Liberty and his 40 years of service as director of music for Edgwood Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Wolf co-authored the Wheeling Symphony's history book that was published five years ago to commemorate the orchestra's 75th anniversary. He also served as treasurer of the Wheeling Area Historical Society and as editor of its historical review. He was a longtime member and treasurer of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation.

Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at:

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