Leider, Frida (1888–1975)

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Leider, Frida (1888–1975)

German soprano who was a leading interpreter of Wagnerian roles. Born on April 18, 1888, in Berlin, Germany; died on June 4, 1975, in Berlin; daughter of a Berlin doctor; studied with Otto Schwarz; married Rudolf Deman (the violinist).

Made debut in Berlin (1915); was a member of the Berlin State Opera (1923–40); appeared at Covent Garden (1924–38); appeared at Bayreuth (1928–38); made debut at Metropolitan Opera (1933); appeared at the Paris Opéra (1930–32); taught voice following her retirement after World War II.

Frida Leider was born in Berlin in 1888, the daughter of a doctor. Initially, she studied medicine, before studying voice with Otto Schwarz. In order to support her ambitions as a singer, Leider worked as a clerk in the Berliner Bank; few of her colleagues suspected she would become famous as a singer of Wagnerian opera. After a series of small roles beginning in 1915, Leider was engaged by the Berlin State Opera. Performances at the Teatro alla Scala, in Paris, Vienna, Munich, Amsterdam, and Brussels soon followed. Each year, from 1924 to 1938, she was a guest artist at Covent Garden, and from 1928 to 1938 one of Bayreuth's greatest guest stars. Her performances as Brünnhilde and Isolde made many feel she was the most important Wagnerian soprano of her generation. In 1928, Leider appeared with the Chicago Opera Company as a principal, remaining for four seasons. On January 16, 1933, she made her debut as Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera, where she remained through 1934.

Despite her fame as the quintessential Wagnerian soprano, Leider experienced professional problems in Germany because her husband, the violinist Rudolf Deman, was Jewish. The concertmaster of the Berlin State Opera, he was forced to flee to Switzerland in 1940. At that point, Leider ended her career in Berlin and joined her husband. They were able to survive the war in exile thanks to the generosity of their good friend, tenor Lauritz Melchior. After the war, Leider and her husband returned to Berlin, but she did not return to the stage. She directed the Berlin State Opera's voice studio and in 1948 accepted a professorship at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. When Leider died, her obituary summed up her career:

In the early morning hours of June 4, 1975, the Berlin Kammersängerin Professor Frida Leider, honorary member of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, died. She was one of the most important personalities in the music history of the first half of our century. Without her the Wagner repertoire during these years would not have been possible. Seldom has the fusion of text and music, seldom the art of phrasing and dramatic expression celebrated brated such triumphs as the years that this great soprano was gracing our opera stages.

The Nazis temporarily terminated Frida Leider's career, but they were unable to obliterate it.


Leider, Frida. Playing My Part. NY: 1966.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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