FARMINGTON — Jane Parker knows people today can find it tough to relate to Lillian Nordica, an opera singer from Farmington who attained global fame more than a century ago.

To help them appreciate Nordica’s talent, she’ll ask young students to think of their favorite musicians, with the children naming pop stars like Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.

Parker, a 65-year-old retired teacher, encourages the comparison, however broad the similarities may be between pop stars and a classically trained opera singer, she said.

Just like the contemporary stars, Nordica had worldwide name recognition, performed to sold-out concert halls and stood out as a fashion icon, according to Parker.

“People would come from miles around just to see what she was wearing,” she said.

Parker delivers this history lesson during her frequent visits to schools to teach children about Nordica, who the educator said is fast becoming a lost footnote in Maine’s history.

“Very few people that I’ve met know who she was,” Parker said.

Hoping to get more people to discover the famous soprano, Parker said she helped plan a concert series that kicks off this weekend, celebrating the Farmington native’s family, history and music.

Members of the Nordica Memorial Association are sponsoring opera performances this summer in Farmington, according to Parker, who is vice president for the historical group.

The concerts start Friday, with five other performances set before the final show on Aug. 17, which is the day that will mark the centennial anniversary of Nordica’s last performance in her hometown.

She performed the last of her three hometown concerts on that date in 1911, and the shows brought people from miles around to Merrill Hall at the nearby college campus, which is now the University of Maine at Farmington, according to Parker.

The auditorium was named Nordica Auditorium after the singer, and is one of the venues for the centennial celebration concerts.

Parker’s group also manages the Nordica Homestead Museum, where some of the treasurers from the singer’s life are displayed, she said.

The first concert on the museum’s grounds, on farmland just outside of downtown Farmington, will be Sunday, when a pianist and baritone will perform in the family’s old barn.

Parker said her group planned the concerts to tell Nordica’s story and promote the museum, which has seen its number of visitors drop off significantly in recent years.

“We just thought we should do something special to enhance the awareness of who Lillian Nordica was and get some more interest in the museum,” Parker said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Nordica plays an key role in how entire generations of Mainers discovered opera, as well as music in general, according to Parker.

The memorial group started an annual $1,000 scholarship for aspiring musicians in her name, and some of the past recipients will be performing at the concerts this summer, she said.

Bonnie Lander, the caretaker at the Nordica museum, said an entire world of music and history opened up when she began studying the opera singer.

Lander, 62, grew up in Farmington and didn’t really hear about Nordica until taking the job as caretaker in 2009, she said Tuesday.

The museum caretaker, who manages the homestead along with her husband, studied the singer’s life and soon became an expert on her history.

Lander can talk at length about Nordica’s birth in 1857 at the homestead, where she lived until age seven when the family moved to Boston.

Lander reels off details about the singer’s education at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

Then the caretaker gives insight on Nordica’s years spent touring the world, performing in famous operas at renowned concert halls.

Lander knows the story of how the singer changed her last name while living in Italy, from Norton to Nordica, and can talk about the impact on opera when the singer died in 1914 from pneumonia.

But Nordica’s biggest influence on Lander was introducing her to opera, a style of music that the caretaker said she never quite understood before starting at the museum.

“I know the dates and the places, but I’m still learning about the beautiful music,” Lander said.

David Robinson — 861-9827

[email protected]


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