The first soloist in the new City Hall Auditorium (now Merrill Auditorium) in 1900 was Maine diva, Nordica (1857-1914). Born Lillian Norton in Farmington, Nordica became a great Wagnerian soprano who performed all over the United States and Europe. She sang for the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1893 to 1907. Called the "Lily of the North," Nordica saw herself as a New Englander and also supported suffrage for women. She said, "Plenty have natural voices equal to mine, plenty have talent equal to mine, but I have worked."
In addition to her singing talent, Nordica was the face of Coca-Cola from 1904 to 1905. The popular "Coca-Cola Girls" advertising campaign, with its calendars and other promotional items, featured divas of the time. Those items which featured Nordica became a hit with collectors of vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia over the years. Nordica died in Java from pneumonia contracted after a shipwreck.
The performance of Annie Louise Carey (1841-1921), a contralto, in Portland's old City Hall in 1870 was such an event that the railroads leading to Portland and the hall itself were overflowing with Mainers eager "to welcome their songbird home." Born in Wayne, she attended Gorham Female Seminary and studied in Boston before she raised enough money to study in Europe where she made her operatic debut. In addition to opera, she was especially known for her performances in oratorios. She retired at the age of 40 after her marriage.
Historic photo of Lillian Nordica courtesey of New York Public Library.