The atmospheric rooms of this rambling country house used to ring with the dulcet tones of a famous coloratura soprano. Now there’s a chance to add your own voice to the mix of history at this 1920s estate.
Opera star Amelita Galli-Curci commissioned noted country house architect Harrie T. Lindeberg to design her bucolic retreat in 1921 and upon its completion in 1922 christened it Sul Monte (on the mountain). Now on the market, the house at 352 Galli Curci Road near Fleischmans, N.Y. in Delaware County, has enough original character in place that the diva would still recognize it as the getaway where she once trilled away in her rehearsal studio.
While her name may now be familiar only to true opera buffs, Galli-Curci was wildly celebrated in the early 20th century. She had a record contract with Victor Records, her comings and goings were tracked in the press and she performed with opera companies in New York and Chicago in addition to concerts and radio appearances.
Born Amelita Galli in 1882, in Milan, Italy, she made her operatic debut in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in 1909. The next year she married Luigi Curci, Marchese of Simeri and hyphenated her name to Amelita Galli-Curci. She performed with opera companies around the world before making her U.S. premiere in Chicago in 1916.
Her debut in New York in 1918 was proclaimed a triumph by the New York Times in an article quoting music experts on her technique and declaring it “nearly perfect.” You can judge for yourself with digitized versions of her records at the Library of Congress.
America seemed to agree with Galli-Curci. In a 1918 interview with the New York Times, she gushed about New York and its people and proclaimed “New York is home to me.” She divorced Luigi, married her American accompanist Homer Samuels in 1921 and settled permanently in the U.S.
The move certainly wasn’t about retirement. She premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1921 and continued performing there and with the Chicago Opera Company, held concerts, made appearances and put out records. She also popped up in Brooklyn, making several appearances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 1923 she performed there as Lucia in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and the same year she took part in a benefit concert there in support of the Brooklyn Music School Settlement.
Before her second marriage in 1921, Galli-Curci already had plans underway for a permanent home in the U.S., having purchased more than 180 acres of mountainside property between the hamlet of Highmount and the larger town of Fleishmanns in the Catskills. While she continued touring and performing until her retirement in the 1930s the house served as a country retreat from the demands of her career.
In choosing someone to design her dream home, Galli-Curci went with an architect who already had a reputation as a country house expert. Harrie T. Lindeberg had worked in the office of McKim, Mean & White before launching his own practice and netting commissions for the country and suburban houses of the social and financial elite.
In “Harrie T. Lindeberg and the American Country House,” a new survey of his work published in 2017, authors Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker make the case that his homes were “meant less as impressive statements of status and more for comfortable living.” On the outside, they might convey old world-inspired picturesque character. But inside they had practical layouts and amenities to meet the needs of a modern lifestyle.
This character is certainly expressed at Sul Monte, where the exterior is an asymmetrical mix of stone, stucco and half-timbering, steeply pitched roofs and leaded glass windows. In a story about the house in the magazine Art & Decoration in 1924, it was proclaimed that “comfort and simplicity prevail throughout the inside of this home.”
She would only remain at the estate for about 15 years. With the deterioration of her voice and a need for surgery to remove a thyroid goiter in the 1930s, she retired from performing and then sold Sul Monte in 1937. She moved permanently to the warmer climes of Southern California, where she already had been spending part of the year. Apparently, she had quite the taste for architecture as she commissioned another noted architect, Wallace Neff, to design several houses for her. Galli-Curci lived in California till her death in 1963.
The house has passed through several owners since the opera diva’s time. But, at least from the listing photos, it looks like many of the exterior and interior details have survived. According to the National Register nomination for the house in 2010, the house was described as “highly intact” with the only significant changes occurring in the 1940s, when the wood windows were replaced with metal and the open porches were enclosed.
There’s no floorplan in the listing but drawings by Lindeberg show that the house is essentially designed in three sections, the large central space and two adjoining wings.
On the first floor, that central wing holds the living and dining rooms. Lindeberg’s simplicity of finishes meant to create a hand-made quality seems to be intact — there’s some half-timbering, plaster walls and wide plank floorboards. In the living room, it looks like the original mantel survives. Photos from 2010 show that above the brick fireplace is a wooden mantel carved with foxes and Galli-Curci’s initials.
Other than the mantel the only other ornamentation appears to be some carved details above the entrances to the rooms. Lindeberg evidently went so far as to distress the woodwork and make the plaster surfaces uneven to heighten the appearance of age in the spaces.
The dining room is similarly scaled and cozy with a beamed ceiling and the same wide planked floorboards.
The drama comes, fittingly enough, in Galli-Curci’s studio, located in one of the wings off the central section of the house. Lindeberg designed houses with features specific to the needs of his clients, and Galli-Curci required a space for practicing and hosting intimate performances.
Lindeberg created a grandly vaulted space for the singer. He even designed it so that she could make a dramatic entrance if she wished, as the space was accessible via multiple staircases, including one from her master suite upstairs. Here too the finishes survive and even the opulent chandeliers appear to be original.
The remaining wing is dedicated to service spaces, including the kitchen with a bit of vintage charm still intact.
There are six bedrooms in the house, including the master suite located above the studio. The original floorplans show a large space with a bedroom, a dressing room and en suite bath. There are leaded glass windows, arched openings and hardwood floors. Lindeberg’s original plan called for a wall of mirrored closet doors — alas, the listing photos don’t show whether those survive.
There are four full and two half baths in the house, but none are pictured so it is impossible to tell if there are some fabulous 1920s fixtures still in place.
While the surroundings are not as vast as the more than 180 acres that Galli-Curci originally purchased, there are still 61 acres included in the listing — more than enough to ensure a diva’s privacy. Close to the house is a flagstone patio and a pool, part of Lindeberg’s original plan.
In addition to the main house, there’s also a garage, barn, sheds and a guest cottage with four bedrooms and a bath.
The house is listed for $3.25 million by Sherret Chase of Sotheby’s International Realty.
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