I recently read the obituary of Jane Stuart Smith, who died on 14 January at the age of 90. She was an American opera singer who made a career on the Italian stage, including appearing with Maria Callas. Her last official performance was in 1959, as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 1960, when she was at the height of her powers, she became a Christian and left the world of opera. When, later, Jane was asked why she gave up her operatic career she replied, “I gave it up for the Lord. The world of opera is a wicked place. You have no idea about the temptations I faced. My problem was that I loved those temptations.”
Jane knew privilege and success. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1925. Her father, Robert, was president of the Norfolk and Western Railway. As a teenager she served as a page at the White House when Franklin D Roosevelt’s was President. Her father hired the Carnegie Hall for her New York debut. After singing the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at the Detroit Grand Opera Festival in 1951 she was described as “a woman of commanding beauty, both of person and voice”. In Italy she appeared in Milan, Palermo and Cesena, where the stage was carpeted in flowers after her performance; in Venice she arrived for a performance of Tosca on a gondola.
In 1956, while visiting Switzerland, Jane met Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who founded the L’Abri Fellowship in their alpine home near Geneva. Francis and Edith’s home was a place where people could find honest answers to their honest questions and experience practical Christian love. They called it L’Abri, the French word for “shelter,” because they wanted to provide a shelter from the pressures of a relentlessly secular world. Through meeting the Schaeffers, Jane came to know Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour and she joined the L’Abri Fellowship.
Jane’s life was distinctive because she made a definite decision to avoid temptations to sin and so turned her back on fame and fortune. She had found something much more precious; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a life that was real. Jesus told a parable about a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, when he found one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Sixty years ago, Jane made a similar, decisive choice, and now she is in heaven with Jesus, her beloved Lord and Saviour.