Lehmann, Lotte (1888–1976)

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Lehmann, Lotte (1888–1976)

German soprano acclaimed for her Leonore in Fidelio and her lieder recitals. Born on February 27, 1888, in Perleberg, Germany; died on August 26, 1976, in Santa Barbara, California; daughter of Carl Lehmann (secretary to the Ritterschaft, a benevolent society) and Marie (Schuster) Lehmann; attended Ulrich High School in Berlin; studied at Berlin Hochschüle für Musik with Helene Jordan, Erna Tiedke and Eva Reinhold (1904); studied with great Wagnerian soprano Mathilde Mallinger (1908–09); married OttoKrause (an insurance executive), on April 28, 1926 (died, January 1939); children: (stepchildren) Manon, Hans, Ludwig, Peter.

Debuted as Second Boy in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), Hamburg Opera (1910); debuted in London as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Drury Lane (1914); sang with Vienna State Opera (1916–37), where she created roles of Young Composer in Strauss' revised Ariadne auf Naxos, the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau Ohne Schatten (1919) and Christine in Intermezzo (1924); made Covent Garden debut as Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (1924); appeared in Buenos Aires (1922), in Paris (1928–34), in Chicago (1930–37), in Salzburg (1926–37); debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Sieglinde (1934); performed 12 seasons at the Met until 1945; gave recitals until 1951; taught privately and as director of Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara; was an honorary member of Vienna State Opera.

Selected writings:

Verse in Prosa (early 1920s); Orplid, mein Land (1937); Anfang und Aufstieg (1937, published as Wings of Song in English); More Than Singing: The Interpretation of Songs (1945); My Many Lives (1948); Five Operas and Richard Strauss (1964); Eighteen Song Cycles (1971).

Lotte Lehmann was born in 1888, in Perleberg, Germany, the daughter of Carl Lehmann, a secretary to the Ritterschaft, a benevolent society, and Marie Schuster Lehmann . Lotte and her brother spent their early years in Perleberg before Carl was transferred to the Prussian capital, Berlin. There, Lotte attended Ulrich High School intent on a career in teaching. A friend of Marie Lehmann noticed Lotte's superb singing voice and recommended a vocal coach. Lehmann's father, however, insisted that she renounce her ambitions to become a professional singer, and some of her early teachers also discouraged her from pursuing singing as a career, telling her she had no vocal talent. With great determination, however, Lehmann pursued her vocal studies, initially with Helene Jordan, Erna Tiedke and Eva Reinhold at the Hochschüle für Musik in Berlin. In 1908, she began studies with the great Mathilde Mallinger , who had created the role of Eva in Wagner's Die Meistersinger in Munich in 1868, a teacher Lehmann found both inspiring and sympathetic. She was also taken under the wing of a wealthy family, and with their assistance and encouragement was offered her first singing contract by the Hamburg Opera.

Lehmann made her debut on September 2, 1910, performing the role of Second Boy in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in Hamburg. Her first solo role of note was Aennchen in Nicolai's Die lustigen Weibe von Windsor. Persistent, good natured and hardworking, Lehmann's real break came with her performance of Elsa in Lohengrin under a young and demanding Otto Klemperer. She was soon singing more important parts in Hamburg, achieving a total of 56 different roles before she moved to Vienna, the cultured Habsburg capital, at the end of 1916 to take up a contract at the prestigious Vienna Staatsoper. Klemperer was to become one of her great admirers, along with Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter and Franz Schalk.

It was in Vienna that Lehmann made her name as a lyric-dramatic soprano of the highest quality. After only two months there she came to the notice of Richard Strauss, who admired her natural manner and the warm timbre of her voice. When the company's star Marie Gutheil-Schoder appeared lackluster and careless in rehearsals for Strauss' revised version of Ariadne auf Naxos, the composer suddenly offered the new role of the Young Composer to Lehmann. She went on to create the roles of the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau Ohne Schatten (1919) and Christine in Intermezzo (1924, in Dresden) at the composer's request. Lehmann was also given important roles, including Eva and Elsa, in many Wagner operas, and she soon established herself as one of the finest Wagnerian singers of her generation.

Lehmann was perceived as a quintessentially Viennese singer, charming, accomplished, elegant and bright, and her voice was large, with dramatic power. She became much more than just one of the leading lyric-dramatic sopranos of her day: she was one of the greatest voices of the 20th century. During the course of her career, she learned nearly 100 operatic roles and gave over 1,600 performances.

She made her London debut as early as 1914, singing Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier at Drury Lane under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham, but the time of her greatest fame in Britain was the 1920s and 1930s. After her Covent Garden appearance as the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier in 1924, under Bruno Walter, she sang there every season until 1938. Roles included Mozart's Countess and Donna Elvira, as well as Beethoven's Leonore in Fidelio, which she first sang in 1927 at the Beethoven Festival in Vienna. The Marschallin was to become a role with which she was closely associated in opera houses around the world. Alden Whitman wrote that the part "became synonymous with her name," while Harold C. Schonberg asserts that in this role "she was The One: unique, irreplaceable, the standard to which all must aspire." Although she is now thought of predominantly as an interpreter of German roles, Lehmann also excelled at many of Puccini's heroines; the composer himself had a high regard for her Suor Angelica. She also performed Verdi's Desdemona, Massenet's Manon and Charlotte, Tchaikovsky's Tatyana and the heroines of Korngold's Die tote Stadt and Das Wunder des Helianes during her career in Vienna and London.

Lotte Lehmann toured South America for the first time in 1922. Her U.S. debut took place on October 28, 1930, with the Chicago Civic Opera, her Metropolitan Opera debut following on January 11, 1934. In both appearances, she sang the part of the Wagnerian heroine Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Lehmann retained links with Vienna until Hitler's Anschluss, when Germany took over the country. Her professional rivalries in Vienna and her distaste for the Nazi regime and its intolerance led to a severing of ties with both Germany and Austria, and she immigrated to the United States. She sought American citizenship in 1938 and was naturalized some time afterwards, probably in 1945. (Lehmann had

married the Viennese Otto Krause in 1926, but this marriage was short-lived, and the couple had no children.)

Lehmann's beautiful voice, natural theatrical gift and attractive stage personality won her many influential admirers, but she often felt at a disadvantage because of her lack of physical beauty, as well as her lack of political connections. Acutely sensitive to being overshadowed by other singers, and aware of the restrictions of her voice (she had some difficulty with breath control and a lack of body in her top notes), Lehmann could be resentful and insecure around other female stars. She had a series of well-known rivalries with other pre-eminent singers of her day, beginning with Elisabeth Schumann in Hamburg (although they were eventually to become friends) and continuing with Maria Jeritza and Viorica Ursuleac in Vienna. At the Met, Lehmann often harbored resentments over unfair casting, and perceived Kirsten Flagstad to be her great rival for public and critical affections, as well as for preferred roles, despite the fact that their voices were different in almost every way.

After her emigration to the United States, Lehmann continued to appear at the Met with growing success, singing the roles of Tosca, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and the Marschallin, until her farewell performance in that favorite role on February 23, 1945. Her last appearance in San Francisco the following year was also in the role of the Marschallin.

Her concert career had begun in the years following World War I, and she had performed to great acclaim at the Salzburg Festival during the 1930s with Bruno Walter as her accompanist. As Lehmann's opera career dwindled, she performed a growing number of song recitals. She regarded lieder as "the ideal union of poetry and melody." Her repertoire was extensive, with a preference for Schumann, and she enjoyed an easy rapport with audiences. Her recording career, which began in 1917, continued until 1946 and included readings of Goethe and Heine as well as operatic and concert repertoire. A recording was also made of Lehmann's farewell performance in New York's Town Hall on February 16, 1951, a recital that inspired an intensely emotional audience reaction and headlines around the world. "After forty-one years of anxiety, nerves, strain and hard work," she told her fans, "I think I deserve to take it easy." She retired to her home in Santa Barbara that year, giving one other public performance on August 7.

Lehmann, who as a child had literary as well as musical aspirations, published several books, including verses, the novel Orplid, mein Land (1937), two books of memoirs, Anfang und Aufstieg (published in English as Wings of Song, 1937) and My Many Lives (1948), and a book on the interpretation of song, More Than Singing (1945). In 1948, she appeared in the MGM film Big City and, in 1950, held an exhibit of her watercolors at the Schaeffer Galleries in New York. After her retirement, Lehmann taught singing in Santa Barbara and London, enjoying her work with young singers and eagerly communicating to them both her vocal techniques and hard-earned career experiences. As well as giving private lessons and master classes, Lehmann became the director of the Music Academy of the West. In 1962, she co-directed a new production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Met. She was also busy painting and writing, and published Five Operas and Richard Strauss in 1964 and Eighteen Song Cycles in 1971. Lotte Lehmann died in Santa Barbara on August 26, 1976.


Lehmann, Lotte. More Than Singing: The Interpretation of Songs. New York, 1945.

——. My Many Lives. New York, 1948.

suggested reading:

Jefferson, Alan. Lotte Lehmann, 1888–1976. Julia MacRae Books, 1988.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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