Florence Kirk Keppel, 90, soprano with N.Y. company, Carroll teacher

June 10, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Florence Kirk Keppel, a lyric soprano who went from New York's Metropolitan Opera to teaching and performing in Carroll County, died Sunday of Alzheimer's disease at Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster.

Mrs. Keppel, who sang under her maiden name, Florence Kirk, had lived in Carroll County since 1954. She was 90.

She was raised in Philadelphia's Germantown, earned a bachelor's degree in music and education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1931 and studied operatic performance at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music.

"The offers started coming, and they were so tantalizing that she left Curtis," said her daughter, Lauren Keppel of Westminster.

On Oct. 24, 1941, Mrs. Keppel made her New York debut with the New Opera Company, singing the role of Lady Macbeth in Verdi's "Macbeth" at the 44th Street Theater.

She was under contract for four years with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Her first performance with the company was in the 1944 production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

One of her more dramatic moments at the Met occurred in 1948 when she dropped by to watch a performance of "Aida," her favorite role, and wound up performing in the final act.

Daniza Ilitsch, a Yugoslavian soprano, began singing the role with a slight case of laryngitis. By the end of the third act, she was advised by a physician to stop or risk damaging her voice.

A Metropolitan official remembered spotting Mrs. Keppel in the audience. After she was found, she raced backstage and had 10 minutes to get into costume and apply makeup.

"As it was, I didn't have time to complete all of my leg makeup. And actually, I went on in two colors. But the last act is so dark, so I guess it was all right," she told The Sun in a 1948 interview.

She liked to dine on a steak and baked potato before going on stage to reprise her critically acclaimed roles in "Aida" and "Don Giovanni.

She sang with the Metropolitan Opera until the late 1940s.

"She was a very beautiful lyric soprano whose voice could be soft and mellow as well as forceful. It had a wonderful range, quality and was technically very proficient," said James C. Cooke, a Baltimore County librarian and opera buff who has researched Mrs. Keppel's career.

In 1948, Florence Kirk married Frederick Paul Keppel, former Metropolitan Opera Company comptroller. She continued to sing abroad until 1954, when the couple purchased a 109-acre farm in Taneytown. Tiring of farm life, they moved to Westminster in 1960. Mr. Keppel died in 1974.

From 1964 to 1972, Mrs. Keppel taught music in Carroll County public schools and performed in community musicals directed by Robert E. Kearsey, former supervisor of music and art for the county schools.

"My first thought was how can this woman who lived in such a different world fit in teaching children?" said Mr. Kearsey, retired acting superintendent of the Carroll County schools.

"They loved her. And she had them eating out of her hands. She brought in her old costumes, played recordings and went to any ends to make sure they had a thorough music education," he said.

Mrs. Keppel was a communicant at Ascension Episcopal Church, 23 N. Court St. in Westminster, where a memorial service will be held at 11: 30 a.m. June 23.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her husband of 12 years, Jerome Stern of Hampstead; and a grandson.

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