Berger, Erna (1900–1990)

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Berger, Erna (1900–1990)

German soprano. Born on October 19, 1900, in Cossebaude, near Dresden; died on June 14, 1990, in Essen; studied with Hertha Boeckel and Melitza Hirzel in Dresden.

Debuted in Dresden (1925), and in Berlin and Bayreuth (1930–33); made debut at Covent Garden (1935) and the Metropolitan Opera (1949); retired from opera (1955); continued to concertize until 1964; taught at the Hamburg Musikhochschule (1959 on); awarded the German Service Cross (1953, 1976);made an honorary member of the Berlin Academy of Arts (1980).

Born near Dresden on October 19, 1900, Erna Berger was working as a stenographer in a local bank when her father, a railroad engineer, decided to move the family to the interior of Paraguay. For a short while, the Berger family lived in a tent, but Erna was sent to study voice and piano in Montevideo. The family returned to Germany by ship in 1924, and during this trip she gave the ship's concert which was an immense success. Many passengers felt the young singer should study further, so on her return to Dresden Berger began taking lessons with Hertha Boeckel and Melitza Hirzel . She auditioned for the Dresden Opera in 1925 and instead of winning a scholarship, she was given small roles, making her debut as the First Boy in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Erna Berger was a member of the Dresden Opera from 1926 to 1934.

In 1929, Toscanini asked her to sing the role of the Shepherd in Tannhäuser at Bayreuth. Her

career continued to flourish with engagements in Berlin and London. Beginning in 1930, she appeared in Berlin which became her operatic home, singing with the Berlin Städtische Oper and the Berlin Staatsoper until 1953. After the end of World War II, Berger was one of the first German singers to perform in London and New York. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1949 where she performed until 1953. Making extensive concert tours between 1946 and 1953, Berger toured North and South America, Australia, Africa, and Japan. A lieder singer of first rank as well as an operatic performer, Berger's voice was regarded as pure and ageless, described by one as a "coloratura like diamonds strung on a silver thread." After her retirement from the opera stage in 1955, she continued to concertize until 1964. Erna Berger remained active in the musical life of Essen until her death at age 90.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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