Laura Woolwine, born about 1851 in Lebanon Ohio, became a famous opera singer known worldwide by her stage name Laura Bellini.
Woolwine was the oldest of four children born to William and Rebecca Conrey Woolwine in Lebanon.
As a child Woolwine sang in a local church choir and was recognized as possessing great vocal talent.
At fourteen she performed an operatic concert in Lebanon. Afterwards, amazed attendees encouraged her parents to provide for her an advanced musical education.
The family moved to Cincinnati to give Woolwine such an opportunity. There she became a student of Madam Rive. Rive arranged for her to audition for Parepa Rose, a famous opera singer who was appearing in Cincinnati. Rose advised that Woolwine go immediately to Italy for training.
Eventually Mr. Woolwine was able to obtain a job in Washington D.C. which provided the finances to send his daughter, now twenty years old, to Milan, Italy.
There Woolwine became a student of Lamperti and Bellini, both renowned teachers. She stayed in Europe for nine years and took the last name of her favorite teacher as her stage name. Her debut was in the La Scala in Milan, the largest opera house in the world at that time. She sang “Rigoletto” followed by “Iona”.
Hazel Spencer Phillips described Bellini in her May 20, 1948 column, “Our Museum” in the Western Star, a Cox newspaper: “Her success was assured from her first appearance. She was a radiantly beautiful girl and woman…Her voice was that very rare combination of coloratura and dramatic soprano. She had a clear sweet tone with controlled power and an attractive and gracious stage manner that added much to her popularity.”
Bellini toured the major cities of Europe. A Command Performance was given for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Following the concert, the Queen presented Woolwine with a medallion.
After returning to New York City, Bellini became the first to sing “Cavalleria Rusticana” in English. Musicians regard it as the most difficult and arduous role ever written for soprano voice. The notes are exceptionally high and low.
A prima donna who sings the role four times in a week in Europe is considered accomplished. Bellini broke all records by doing seventy-six performances of “Rusticana”. The management of the opera company presented her with a diamond brooch and bracelet on the eve of her seventy-fifth consecutive performance.
Ill health caused Bellini to retire from the stage and to open a studio in New York. After her mother’s death, she returned to Lebanon to live with her father. She had a studio in Cincinnati and some Lebanon students.
Although Bellini is considered one of the really great American singers of the nineteenth century, her later years seem to be ones of limited means. In the 1930 census she had boarders living with her and her total net worth is listed as $6,000.
Woolwine/Bellini died on April 8, 1931 and is buried in Lebanon Cemetery. No gravestone marks the burial site.