Schumann-Heink, Ernestine (née Rössler)

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Schumann-Heink, Ernestine (née Rössler)

Schumann-Heink, Ernestine (née Rössler), famous Austrian-born American contralto and mezzo-soprano; b. Lieben, near Prague, June 15, 1861; d. Los Angeles, Nov. 17, 1936. Her father was an officer in the Austrian army; her mother, an Italian amateur singer. In 1872 she was sent to the Ursuline Convent in Prague, where she sang in the church choir; after lessons from Marietta von Leclair in Graz, she made her first public appearance there as soloist in Beethoven’s 9thSym. (1876); made her operatic debut at the Dresden Court Opera (Oct. 15, 1878) as Azucena, where she sang until 1882; also continued her studies with Karl Krebs, Franz Wüllner, and others. From 1883 to 1897 she was a member of the Hamburg Opera; appeared with the company on its visit to London’s Covent Garden in 1892, where she sang Erda, Fricka, and Brangäne. She was a regular singer at the Bayreuth Festivals from 1896 to 1914; appeared at Covent Garden (1897–1901); also sang with the Berlin Royal Opera. She made her U.S. debut as Ortrud in Chicago on Nov. 7, 1898, a role she chose for her Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. on Jan. 9, 1899; canceled her contract with the Berlin Royal Opera in order to remain a member of the Metropolitan Opera (until 1903; then appeared intermittently until 1932); created the role of Clytemnestra in Elektra (Dresden, Jan. 25, 1909); made her last operatic appearance as Erda at the Metropolitan on March 11, 1932. She became a naturalized American citizen in 1908. During the last years of her life, she was active mainly as a teacher. Her operatic repertoire included about 150 parts; her voice, of an even quality in all registers, possessed great power, making it peculiarly suitable to Wagnerian roles. She was married in 1882 to Ernst Heink of Dresden, from whom she was later divorced; in 1893 she married the actor Paul Schumann in Hamburg; he died in 1904; she assumed the names of both Schumann and Heink. Her third husband was a Chicago lawyer, William Rapp Jr., whom she married in 1905 and then subsequently divorced (1914).

Bibliography

M. Lawton, S.-H., The Last of the Titans (N.Y., 1928); J. Howard, Madame E. S.-H.: Her Life and Times (Sebastopol, Calif., 1990).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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