Lehmann, Lilli (1848–1929)

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Lehmann, Lilli (1848–1929)

German soprano who was famed for her interpretive skill. Born in Würzburg, Germany, on November 24, 1848; died in Berlin, Germany, on May 17, 1929; daughter and student of Marie Loewe; sister of Marie Lehmann (1851–1931, a soprano); married Paul Kalish (a tenor), in 1888.

Made debut in Prague (1865); took part in first complete performance of Der Ring at Bayreuth (1876); was a permanent member of the Royal Opera (1870–85); made debut at the Metropolitan Opera (1885); retired (1892) but continued her career as a teacher.

Lilli Lehmann was born in Würzburg, Germany, in 1848, the daughter of Marie Loewe , with whom she later studied. In 1876, Lehmann took part in the first complete performance of Richard Wagner's Der Ring at Bayreuth. An innovation at the time, this cycle would become an operatic standard in theaters throughout the world and performance at Bayreuth would be reserved for opera's finest singers. Lehmann was a member of the Royal Opera in Berlin for 15 years, from 1870 to 1885. Because recognition came slowly, she broke her contact with Berlin to debut as Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on November 25, 1885. During her first season there, she sang Brünnhilde from Die Walküre, Bertha from La prophète, and Venus from Tannhaüser, among other roles. She also took part in the first American performances of Karl Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba on December 2, 1885, and of Merlin on January 3, 1887. Continuing her role as a Wagner pioneer, Lehmann took part in the first performances of Götterdämmerung on January 25, 1885, of Tristan and Isolde on December 1, 1886, of Siegfried on November 9, 1887, and of the first complete cycle of the Ring in March 1889. On her return to Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II penalized her for overstaying her leave in America; she was not allowed to perform in Germany until 1891.

Lehmann's experience of working directly with the composer in the first production of the Ring cycle gave her interpretation of Wagner's work an authority which was influential in New York opera. She appeared at the Met for seven seasons, retiring from there in 1902 after a final American concert tour. She then appeared at, and was artistic director of, the Salzburg Festival for a number of years (1902–10). Lilli Lehmann became a successful teacher; Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad were among her pupils. She wrote a manual, Meine Gesangskunst (How to Sing), in 1902, and edited arias and songs. Her autobiography Mein Weg was published in Leipzig in 1913.

suggested reading:

Lehmann, Lilli. Mein Weg (My Path through Life), 1913.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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