Abarbanell, Lina

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ABARBANELL, LINA (1879–1963), star of European light opera and Broadway doyenne. Born in Berlin to a prominent Sephardi family active in the professional theater, Abarbanell debuted as Adele in the Berlin Court Opera's production of Die Fledermaus in 1904, at the age of 15. As a young woman, she toured European concert halls and theaters, establishing a career as a vocalist and actress. She won especial renown in the world of Viennese operetta, where luminaries of the scene, such as Franz Lehar and Oscar Straus, composed works for her. She spent a season in New York with the Metropolitan Grand Opera in 1905, appearing as Hänsel in the American premiere of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. Abarbanell and her husband, Edward Goldbeck, an editorialist and cultural commentator, and their young daughter settled in Chicago soon after, returning to New York after World War i.

In America, Abarbanell introduced the Viennese light musical repertoire to popular audiences and won fame and critical plaudits with starring roles in Lehar's The Merry Widow, among other works. A fashionable, graceful, and vivacious personality, she helped popularize songs and dances of the musicals and light operas in which she appeared. With her husband, she hosted a weekly salon in her Chicago home for European and American artists and writers. Abarbanell essentially supported the family through her theater career, seeing them through bankruptcy in 1921. After the death of her husband in 1934, she transformed herself from performer to producer and director. Her daughter Eva Goldbeck, a fiction writer and reviewer who published in periodicals such as the New Republic, died in 1935 at the age of 34. Abarbanell maintained a close relationship with her son-in-law, the composer Marc Blitzstein (The Cradle Will Rock), for the rest of her life. She established a successful second career as casting director for Blitzstein and others, in theater (Porgy and Bess) and in film (Carmen Jones), and remained actively involved in the theater world until her death from heart failure shortly after her 84th birthday.


E.A. Gordon, Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (1989); "Abarbanell, Lina," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, 1 (1997), 3–4; Variety Obituaries, vol. 5 (1957–63).

[Emily Alice Katz (2nd ed.)]