On this page you can find articles from magazines such as Opera News, Time, Life etc. as well as newspapers.

The May 2008 issue of Opera News includes the following review of Kater’s Lehmann biography by Rudolph Rauch.

A revisionist biography of diva Lotte Lehmann: Never Sang for Hitler: The Life and Times of Lotte Lehmann, 1888-1976

By Michael H. Kater Cambridge University Press, 400 pp. $35

“Rather than a traditional biography, Never Sang for Hitler is both a descriptive narrative of [Lotte] Lehmann’s life and a fresh look at the interconnections of the artist and society.” So reads the publisher’s note in Michael H. Kater’s exhaustive chronicle of the life and times of one of the twentieth century’s most admired vocalists. Lehmann is the subject, but Kater is conscientious about painting the backdrop against which her long life unfolded. He shows us Hamburg, Berlin and Vienna in the first third of the twentieth century, with side trips to Santa Barbara and New York. We are treated to early cameos of personalities such as Otto Klemperer, Elisabeth Schumann, Bruno Walter and Rudolf Bing, whose trajectories would cross Lehmann’s repeatedly. Kater is not shy about speculating on Lehmann’s sex life and reports diligently on possible pairings with representatives of both genders.

Never Sang for Hitler seems a peculiar title until one reads Kater’s account of Lehmann’s campaign to present herself as a fervent anti-Nazi from the get-go. Files and letters that Kater discovered show that as late as 1934, Lehmann considered a contract at Berlin’s Staatsoper. On April 20 of that year, she boarded Hermann Goering’s personal plane and flew from Dresden to Berlin to discuss a contract with him and the Intendant of the Staatsoper, Heinz Tietjen. That the meeting came to naught was due, Kater shows, not to Lehmann’s scruples but to her terms. The deal-breaker was her refusal to accept Goering’s demand that she sing only in Germany. She soon found herself virtually blacklisted, and a few performances in Bavaria that autumn turned out to be her last in her homeland. Lehmann then launched an effort to find more work in the U.S. – where she had first appeared in 1930, as Sieglinde, in Chicago – and to paint herself as a paragon of principle.

Kater’s debunking of her anti-Nazi persona does not mean that he is hostile to Lehmann. He praises her unremitting industry, which showed itself early: in 1916, her first season at the Vienna opera, she sang twenty-one roles. With that industry went an inexhaustible craving for public recognition; well after she stopped singing, she was still attempting careers in painting and poetry.

Lehmann knew her worth and did not hesitate to haggle over fees. Yet she was chronically short of money, in part because she subsidized less hardworking relatives such as her brother, Fritz, and her husband, Otto Krause. She was also somewhat insecure, and for the first two decades of her career, she fretted constantly about the more glamorous Maria Jeritza, her chief rival in Vienna. During her years at the Met, she resented the success of Kirsten Flagstad, particularly as Leonore in Fidelio, a role in which Lehmann had been the standard-setter.

Never Sang for Hitler has serious flaws. Chief among them is its author’s uncertain mastery of English. Sentences run on, and many leave the reader bewildered. Describing difficulties Lehmann encountered during a London season, Kater writes, “One was that [Bruno] Walter’s habitual proximity to her there meant that he tended to be too expensive as an accompanist in the long run (even though he was not popular with all British critics), and whereas Lehmann did not have to make any decisions regarding his replacement with an English native pianist, she was placed in a musically uncertain situation, apart from not wanting to offend her mentor.” In detailing the beginnings of Lehmann’s relationship with Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schussnigg, Kater speculates, “It is possible that Lehmann met Schussnigg directly after one of her performances, which he sought out with uncanning [sic] regularity even from his nearby office, notably her Fidelio.” Even worse (or better, depending on one’s perspective) is this: “Whereas the work was a comedy, [composer Walter] Braunfels was influenced by Wagner as much as by Berlioz, who after the mid-1920s, along with Humperdinck and Pfitzner, ventured more and more into the mystical and religious.”

There are also numerous misspellings – “Donald Henahen” for Donal Henahan, “Robert March” for Robert Marsh – and a dismaying inattention to dates. Thus, on page 4, we are told that Lotte’s mother, Marie Schuster, was born in 1950 and later (p.59) that by 1925, Lehmann had been at the Staatsoper for “almost twenty seasons,” though Kater has himself told us that she began her long service there in 1916. The accretion of these inaccuracies undermines Kater’s authority. This is a shame, because the vast research that has gone into Never Sang for Hitler has yielded Kater a trove of insight into the complex, often devious character of an artist whose trademark was the sincere projection of emotional truth. 


In the January 2002 issue of Opera News, there is the announcement of the forthcoming Lehmann-tribute recital by Grace Bumbry. Brian Kellow writes:

On February 21, Grace Bumbry pays tribute to her mentor, the great Lotte Lehmann, with a recital at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Her program will include some of the chestnuts of the German song repertory, including Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh” and Strauss’s “Ständchen,” plus Berlioz’s “D’amour l’ardente flamme” from La Damnation de Faust. Bumbry first encountered Lehmann when she was a student at Northwestern University; Lehmann was so impressed with her protégée that she took her along to Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West for further study.

Right away, Lehmann started her new pupil with the Aida/Amneris boudoir scene. “We worked on it for such a long time,” recalls Bumbry. “She was a stickler for repeating, repeating, until you could wake up in the middle of the night and sing it.” Among the first songs they worked on together was “The Doppelgänger.” “I remember so well what she said about that piece,” says Bumbry. “She said that the European public doesn’t see it as a woman’s song. It all depends on how you deliver it. I had a great success with it. My dark timbre helped me a lot to get that devilish sound that she wanted.”

What about a piece that vexed her, for one reason or another? “There are two that I remember, for different reasons. One was ‘Um Mitternacht’ of Mahler. She had me work on it, and I tried and I tried, and I was just getting nothing out of it. I came back to class after two weeks or so, and I said, ‘I don’t like this song. I don’t feel it.’ And she said, ‘Oh, but Grace, it’s such a wonderful song.’ Since she was so determined, I went to the public library and found a recording of KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD singing it with some orchestra. All of a sudden, it dawned on me why I was having such difficulty with it – with a piano, you don’t hear all the colors you hear in the orchestra. She said, ‘I understand. Drop it.’ I thought it was very big of her, given how strongly she felt about the song. The other piece was ‘O mio Fernando’ [La Favorita]. She made me sing it so many times, and I just hated it. I never did sing it in public. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. It was just that I overdosed on it.”


From his April 2000 article for Opera News, Conrad Osborne compiled his Ultimate Fantasing Ring and chose as his Sieglinde, Lotte Lehmann.

I have seen several splendid Sieglindes (Crespin and Rysanek head the list) and heard many others sing it well on records. A few of the acoustical sopranos suggest magnificence in brief excerpts. But I find that when I recall or listen to these others, I miss something from Lehmann, and when I listen to Lehmann, I miss nothing from them. It’s not just familiarity. (Actually, the Ljungberg/Widdop version  pretty good!  first led me into this music.) It’s partly the set of Lehmann’s voice, which is ideal for the role, from its well-supported blend at the bottom (as at the opening of “Der Männer Sippe“) to its freshly soaring top and the way her beautifully formed German is incised into the line. But more, it’s her knack for landing us directly in the middle of her character’s predicament. I refer not only to the passages of transport and terror or discovery, which are all wonderful, but to small situational moments, such as her first nervous explanation to her husband (“Müd am Herd fand ich den Mann”). This ability to keep her character constantly before us, and important to us, is what makes her Sieglinde inimitable.


A very negative article (fraught with factual errors) on LL’s teaching appeared in the April 2004 edition of Opera News as Sieglinde in Santa Barbara.

When Lotte Lehmann retired from singing, she embarked on a teaching career in her beloved California. As some of Lehmann’s prize pupils reveal to DAVID NOH, taking lessons from the diva was rewarding – but it wasn’t always easy.

After her legendary farewell recital at Town Hall on February 16, 1951, Lotte Lehmann retired from singing. California beckoned her, as she had fallen in love with Santa Barbara on her first visit in 1932. She and her husband, Otto Krause (who died in 1939), had spent a beautiful Christmas there, and Lehmann immediately saw it as the perfect setting for her retirement years. “When I have made my first million dollars,” she said, “I will buy myself a house here.” She did exactly that in 1940 [she never bought a house; Frances Holden did]; in 1951, she found herself working in Miraflores, also in Santa Barbara, the new home of the Music Academy of the West. Lehmann had envisioned this as an American Salzburg when she helped found it in 1947. In this bucolic setting, a beautiful estate donated by the Jefferson family, Lehmann, along with Jan Popper, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Fritz Zweig and others, held what are believed to be the first master classes of their kind.

After her legendary farewell recital at Town Hall on February 16, 1951, Lotte Lehmann retired from singing. California beckoned her, as she had fallen in love with Santa Barbara on her first visit in 1932. She and her husband, Otto Krause (who died in 1939), had spent a eautiful Christmas there, and Lehmann immediately saw it as the perfect setting for her retirement years. “When I have made my first million dollars,” she said, “I will buy myself a house here.” She did exactly that in 1940 [she never bought a house; Frances Holden did]; in 1951, she found herself working in Miraflores, also in Santa Barbara, the new home of the Music Academy of the West. Lehmann had envisioned this as an American Salzburg when she helped found it in 1947. In this bucolic setting, a beautiful estate donated by the Jefferson family, Lehmann, along with Jan Popper, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Fritz Zweig and others, held what are believed to be the first master classes of their kind.

Lehmann, who had been Toscanini’s Leonore in Fidelio and the defining Marschallin and Sieglinde of her generation, found deep personal and artistic fulfillment in her Friday and Saturday classes in opera and lieder, which took place before an audience. The idea originated with her companion of thirty-seven years, Frances Holden, who saw the benefit of teaching interpretation, with its oft-repeated basic principles, to many students at once, rather than individually. Lehmann taught at the Academy until her retirement, as honorary president, in 1961.

At the Academy, the finest teachers and musicians of the day were brought together to instruct the best students in a coastal setting of unparalleled beauty. Those were halcyon days, recalls Marni Nixon, Hollywood’s most famous unseen singer (for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), then pursuing a classical career. “It was absolute heaven. All the best teachers would love to go there in summer and bring their families for nice vacations. It was like going to Tanglewood, but a smaller, more relaxed, West Coast version, with the beaches, the weather and the Mediterranean architecture. At lunchtime, they would put up long tables and serve in makeshift places. You’d sit on the lawn, hear people practicing, and you’d run over and grab a pianist – ‘Hey, can you go over something with me?’ Total immersion in music, with this very vital student orchestra, who did these opera performances Lehmann started with the voice department.”

A production of Ariadne auf Naxos brought Nixon to the Academy in 1954. She auditioned for Zerbinetta and got the part immediately. “The conductor was Maurice Abravanel, whom Jackie Horne and I called ‘Abrava-navel.’ We were impossible teenagers, giggling about everything. I did the role and had a ball, and Lehmann said, ‘Please come up any time and join my class in art songs.’ So, as much as I could, every summer I came up, like a guest student. She and Gwen Koldofsky, a fantastic pianist, were a wonderful team, going through the lieder. I became familiar with the repertoire from the inside out. It wasn’t as much about the voice as it was about giving a complete performance, knowing whereof you spoke, all the words, the pronunciation, literal and figurative translations, and the attitude you were singing about. You had to set the songs in an imaginary setting and really follow that line. After Lehmann would get the right kind of feeling – the openness and flow and tone – Gwen brought the music element into the whole transaction.” Lehmann was very supportive of Nixon’s subsequent career: “She would always write me, ‘Marni, you get your ass to New York! They need a coloratura there!'”

Nixon recalls being one of Lehmann’s favorites, but perhaps no one was more favored than Grace Bumbry, who studied with the German soprano from 1955 to 1959. “My entire career is based on what I got from Lehmann in lieder,” she avows. “It made me analyze everything I sang – ‘Why did the composer write it this way?’ And it led me to be more intellectually curious. I went to her initially for lieder, but in my first year they told me I’d also have to take opera courses. I didn’t want them and went in kicking and screaming. After six months, I thought, ‘I like this. I can really sink my teeth into it.’

“I first met Lehmann when I was a student at Northwestern University. She gave a master class I was in, and I was completely overwhelmed by what she was doing. I knew she had the answers to all my questions, and at the end of two weeks she asked if I’d be interested in going to study with her at Santa Barbara, and of course I jumped at the idea. She took a special interest in me, and my whole career was pretty much formed through her teaching. She was the one person who made all the difference in my life.”

Bumbry, who includes spirituals in her recitals, says Lehmann adored them and knew even more about them than she did. Her favorite was “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?,” and she left Bumbry three albums of spirituals by the brothers J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson. Bumbry says, “She also left me something else. I didn’t realize she had put together an immense scrapbook of my career. She kept it from my first performance, in 1958, in San Francisco, until her death. There were letters she had written, and replies, along with everything my mother had collected as well. I was so impressed and moved by that.”

Equally close to Lehmann was Luba Tcheresky, who sports the exquisite Czechoslovakian garnet ring left her by her mentor. In her home hangs an etching Lehmann did of herself as the Marschallin with Tcheresky’s Octavian, as well as a drawing of Tcheresky and Frances Holden, entitled “Two Idiots Playing Scrabble.” Tcheresky says, “When I came to her, I had sung just opera, but, when we started the lieder study, that was what really affected me. Suddenly, opera seemed vulgar to me. Each piece was like a three-act play, and to think you could put such sensitivity and poetry in such a short piece of music really thrilled me.”

Another favorite of Lehmann’s, for perhaps different reasons, was Broadway performer Harve Presnell, who originally intended to pursue a career in opera. “I was this ranch kid who sang and made his way rodeo-ing around and breaking cows and stuff for my family. I remember Mme. Lehmann coming into my first lieder session. I was working on the Dichterliebe cycle, with Fritz Zweig, and the pleasure on her face was extraordinary. I don’t know whether she liked my body or my face or my voice more. She was kind of a horny broad, old and retired, but she still had that lust for life that, I suppose, in her history, had stood her in good stead.

“She wore scarves around her neck, because she was concerned about the wrinkling, but that was her emotional area. You could look at that patch of skin, and if she was red or flushed, you knew she was rather excited or embarrassed. If it was straight and white, you knew she was displeased. I could never figure out this lady. She was always very sweet, never nasty or sarcastic and never made fun of my obvious countrified ways. She was very encouraging and said, ‘God has touched you. You must always remember that your talent is rare,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ I knew I was different but didn’t really know that she felt that way.”

Usually, Lehmann stressed interpretation rather than technical issues. However, she once told another pupil destined for major success, soprano Benita Valente, “You have a veil over your voice” and proceeded to give the fledgling soprano her first complete opera role, Echo, in Ariadne auf Naxos, to help clear it up. Another Strauss opera, Der Rosenkavalier, had less happy results for Valente. She had been promised the role of Sophie one summer but was subsequently told by Lehmann, “I am sorry, but Dr. Abravanel said your voice won’t carry enough over the orchestra.” “I thought, ‘Now this doesn’t sound right to me,'” Valente says. “I got very upset, the years went by, and I’d see Abravanel around, and finally, at Tanglewood, I said, ‘Dr. Abravanel, I don’t understand why you didn’t think my voice would carry over the orchestra to do Sophie when it sits perfectly.’ He looked stunned and said, ‘Benita, it was not me. It was Lotte. She got herself embroiled with some wealthy person who insisted their favorite singer should sing Sophie!’ So there could be money and political issues that would sway her.”

There was, at times, an unmistakably harsh side to Lehmann’s personality. Marilyn Horne had a famously rocky start with Lehmann, who berated her in class for the way she sang in German, saying, “You will never be great, because you cannot master the language!” “It wasn’t the fact that she was criticizing my German,” Horne says. “It was the way she did it, really sticking it to me in public. But again, I learned a great lesson from that – never do that to a student in public. No. Never do that to a student, ever, but especially, don’t embarrass a student in public.” Horne, who has inherited Lehmann’s position as director of vocal technique and performance in Santa Barbara, can laugh about it now. “I never held any grudge against her. She was probably right, my German probably did suck, and, as I said, it was a way of me learning something, too.”

Lehmann’s attitude toward her student did soften. “She did once give me some wonderful advice,” Horne acknowledges. “She asked me what I was going to be singing one year I was in Gelsenkirschen, and I named my repertoire, saying, ‘And I’m going to color my voice this way for this role, and then take another color out for that role.’ She said, ‘You know Jack-ie – she always said Jack-ie – you just understand the character and become the character, and it will come out automatically.’ And boy, was she right!”

Lehmann almost never sang during her master classes – at most, she would transpose things down an octave to demonstrate – but once, Horne recalls, “I was singing Hugo Wolf’s ‘Auf einer Wanderung,’ and at one point, the song goes ‘O Muse,’ and she sang it. And, of course, the entire audience cheered, and I thought I was going to have to leave the stage. They were so glad to get a note out of her.”

Lehmann could be proprietary about her repertoire – she did not want Bumbry to tackle Tannhäuser‘s Elisabeth. And she could be quite inflexible in her ideas about interpretation. “How do you say ‘No’ to Lehmann?” Tcheresky asks repeatedly. “Especially when she would try to impose her view on students, which, as much as I loved her, I always found wrong.” Nixon remembers, “This gal performed a Brahms song, and it was pretty good, but Lehmann was mad – because she didn’t sing it the way Lotte Lehmann had thought it through. Yet it was a perfectly viable performance, and she was sticking that person into her way of doing it, like a puppet. That made me mad, because she wasn’t letting that student discover it for herself. I remember her doing that a couple of times.”

Lehmann could be somewhat aloof and businesslike with her students at times, then at others, she would take a deep, mischievous interest in them. Tcheresky recalls, “She would love to sit before class and get all of the gossip about romances and such from us, with those electric blue eyes of hers, twinkling. One night, this certain soprano had been seen in the dormitory, leaving the tenor’s room, naked, which we passed on to her. Well, the poor girl had to sing that very day. Before she began with her, Lehmann turned to face us, sitting on the stage, with an impish smile. After she had finished, Lehmann said, ‘Vot is the matter vit you, dear? You sing as if you are soo tired, like you have been up all night … making loff!'”

But if Mme. Lehmann, as she was always called, liked you, her support was unstinting. Valente relates an anecdote that evokes the Marschallin. “Whenever she would leave us after class, she would always say, ‘Goodbye, children.’ In those years, it was very easy for me to say, ‘Goodbye, mother,’ and she used to smile and look at me with those electric blue eyes. One day, we had a gathering in someone’s home, and when she left, she turned back to us from the doorway and said, ‘Goodbye, children.’ I didn’t answer, because I thought we were in company, and not with students, and she looked at me and mouthed the words, ‘Goodbye, mother.'”

Here are some of the letters attempting to correct and clarify the above article that Opera News ran in September 2004.

Lotte Lehmann’s Words
I was saddened to read the article about Lotte Lehmann, “Sieglinde in Santa Barbara,” in your April issue – saddened by the underlying negative tone that emerged from the reminiscences of a few of Mme. Lehmann’s former students.
Here is an excerpt from a letter that Mme. Lehmann wrote to Bruno Walter: “We are rehearsing Act II of The Flying Dutchman. The young baritone, Harve Presnell, is absolutely astonishing. If he does not become one of the great ones some day, then I understand nothing at all. Up until now it was just a very beautiful voice; but I have managed to awaken him to the realization that singing is not the end, but rather only the beginning. He is overcoming his inhibitions, and today he was so good that I am in seventh heaven.” How crudely he has repaid Mme. Lehmann in describing her as “kind of a horny broad”! Beaumont Glass Camden, ME

I am seriously misquoted on page 46 of your April issue [“Sieglinde in Santa Barbara”]. The quote, “She would try to impose her view on students, which, as much as I loved her, I always found wrong,” leads the reader to think I believed her imposing her teaching views on students was wrong. I never said that!!! The “wrong” was said in the context of relating Lotte Lehmann’s desires to delve into favorite students’ personal lives – and try to help – and that was often wrong; disastrous results can follow in the wake of a student following advice because of fear of saying “no” to a benefactor such as Lotte Lehmann.

Luba Tcheresky
New York, NY

Speaking privately as the past president of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation, and having seen Lehmann teach and known her personally, I feel it is necessary to bring to light some inaccuracies in “Sieglinde in Santa Barbara.”

Marilyn Horne makes reference to a master class she found inappropriate and hurtful. I decided to check the portions quoting Lehmann against a tape recorded at the Music Academy of the West in August of 1952 or ’53. Perhaps because Lehmann was critical, Horne remembers only the stinging words, but in the interest of accuracy, here is a transcription:

LEHMANN: Do you study with anybody German? You sang lovely, but your German is absolutely [word not clear]. You have to study with somebody German. You want to become a very first-class singer, don’t you?

HORNE: Oh, yes.

LEHMANN: You have to learn German. If you want to sing a concert and want to sing in German, you can’t make such abominable (is that the right word?) mistakes as you did. I sat there and cringed. It was very good – the whole concert was, I mean – it is perhaps even ridiculous that I say anything. It was excellent. I was very happy and very proud. But the diction was terrible. So promise me, will you? Look around for a German teacher and learn German.

At this point, Lehmann gives her English translation of “Botschaft,” by Brahms, which Horne then sings. Afterwards, Lehmann tries to get Horne to pronounce the word “Spricht” correctly, with the “sch” sound at the beginning. When Horne finally gets it, even Horne laughs. Lehmann continues to address the subject of diction for all students and returns to Horne with the words “But you have promised to take care of it,” and finally, a little lighter, “Very nice.”

There is no doubt Lehmann could be demanding and even critical in both private lessons and (public) master classes. But she couched her words in diplomatic, considerate language.

Gary Hickling
Kailua, HI


Exit Crying 5 March 1951 (LIFE?) Lotte Lehmann Ends 41 Years of Singing

Thou lofty art, in how many gray hours/When I was caught in life’s wild toils,/You have lit a light of tender love in my heart/And transported me to a better world…/Thou lofty art, I thank you for it./Thou noble art I thank you!

Lotte Lehmann had sung these words of Schubert’s immortal song “To Music” (An die Musik) hundreds of times before, but this time was different. As the statuesque soprano came to the final lines her eyes began to fill with tears. She broke down with a sob and covered her face with her hands. The piano finished alone.

Thus with her own tears and with the tears of her audience, Mme. Lehmann, at 63, ended her 41-year singing career. Stepping forward to the footlights at intermission time at her New York Town Hall recital, Mme. Lehmann, one of the greatest operatic sopranos and by far the finest Lieder singer of her time, had startled her huge audience with an unexpected announcement: “This is my farewell recital…” (“No! no!” the audience cried.) “I had hoped you would protest, but please don’t argue with me. After 41 years of anxiety, nerves, strain and hard work, I think I deserve to take it easy.” Then, citing her most famous operatic role, the aging Marschallin who at last gives up her young lover in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, she said, “The Marschallin looks into her mirror and says, ‘It is time.’…I look into my mirror and say, ‘It is time.’”

Backstage after the concert Mme. Lehmann was kissed, hugged and wept on by more than a thousand of her admirerers who then poured out into the street to cheer her as her automobile drove away. “It is good” she said smiling again, “that I do not wait for the people to say, ‘My god, when will that Lotte Lehmann shut up!’”


Time Magazine Articles

Feb 26, 1951

The audience in Manhattan’s Town Hall one night last week was prepared for an evening of fine lieder singing from Lotte Lehmann. When Soprano Lehmann remained standing in the curve of the piano at intermission, it was clear that she had something further on her mind. Said she: “This is my farewell recital in New York.”

It was a surprise to all but a few of her friends. Some in the audience shouted “No! No!” German-born Lotte Lehmann, handsome, dignified, less than a fortnight away from her 63rd birthday, shook her head. “Don’t argue with me. I started to sing in public in 1910. After 41 years of anxiety, nerves, strain and hard work, I think I deserve to take it easy. You know that the Marschallin [the aging heroine of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier] has always been one of my favorite parts. The Marschallin looks into her mirror and says, ‘It is time’ … I look into my mirror and say ‘It is time.'” She was ready to live year-round in her California home, follow her hobbies (pottery and painting) and do some teaching.

At the end of the program, Lotte Lehmann gave them an encore, Schubert’s tribute to music itself, An die Musik. Before the last note, her voice broke and she covered her face with her hands.


Feb 18, 1935

Bright in the pattern of New York’s history have been the dozens of prima donnas who made news with every utterance, set fashions in food and dress, left vivid memories with every song they sang. Old men still live who remember pious Jenny Lind when she trilled in gaslit Castle Garden, a protégée of that amazing Yankee, Phineas T. Barnum. Adelina Patti was singing at the old Academy of Music on 14th Street when broughams first brought Vanderbilts and Astors to the shiny new doors of the Metropolitan Opera House.

If a prima donna roll-call were taken this week there would be no answers from the great singers of 50 years ago. The last to die, at a rich old age, was plump little Marcella Sembrich (TIME, Jan. 21). Of the living singers no longer singing there remains mountainous Luisa Tetrazzini who in Italy squabbles publicly over money with her 34-year-old husband. In France there is old Emma Calvé, proud with the assurance that her Carmen has never been surpassed. In a walk-up studio in Bronxville (N. Y.), great Olive Fremstad lives grimly surrounded by her operatic trophies. The still lovely Emma Eames divides her time between Paris and Manhattan, occasionally revisits her old home in Bath, Me. Alma Gluck stopped opera-singing in 1912. Concerts and phonograph record royalties made her rich. And she is content to be a New York hostess and devoted wife to Violinist Efrem Zimbalist.

To the brilliant pre-War era belonged Ernestine Schumann-Heink, hardy at 73, broadcasting in Chicago last week for Hoover Vacuum Cleaners and sending flowers to the bewildered Mother Dionne from “Mother Schumann-Heink.” Geraldine Farrar, long the high-spirited pet of the Met, has also turned to radio. Sedately she describes the doings on the stage where once she ruled. Mary Garden was resting in Manhattan last week after her Debussy lecture-recitals and a visit to Sing Sing.

Lacking much of the old-time glamour, the most notable female singers now current on the world’s stages are:

Lucrezia Bori, young and unmarried at 46, lately adored as “Savior of the Met,” gracefully expert in light florid roles.

Amelita Galli-Curci, 45, who still sings profitably in South Africa and India where she has no youthful coloratura rivals.

Maria Jeritza who impressed Chicago audiences this winter but who is no longer wanted by the Metropolitan.

Rosa Ponselle and Elisabeth Rethberg who sing most of the routine Italian roles at the Metropolitan today. Both are capable.

Lily Pons, 30, who made her stir four winters ago and already sounds tired. But she lately signed a fat three-year cinema contract with RKO.

Kirsten Flagstad, 38, a new import from Norway, whose first Isolde won reams of praise last week. Critic Lawrence Gilman of the Herald Tribune called her performance “one of the rarest of our time.” Even Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt stood in her box and cheered.

Gertrude Kappel who, older and more experienced than Flagstad, has been the Metropolitan’s most dependable Wagnerian since 1928.

Frida Leider, whose absence from the U. S. this winter gave Flagstad her job. Leider figured that with the devalued dollar and the short Metropolitan season she could make more money by remaining in Europe.

The singer who has thus far contributed most to the 1934-35 season is a simple, hearty German whose name is Lotte Lehmann.* Lotte Lehmann began her busy season with the San Francisco Opera, later sang in opera in Philadelphia, in Chicago. One of her 24 recitals was in Manhattan last week, when pure German Lieder brought an uproar of applause. Lotte Lehmann’s next stop was Detroit where she sang over the radio on the Ford Symphony Hour. She hurried then to Boston to sing in the famed old mansion which belonged to Mrs. Jack Gardner who had Nellie Melba for her guest there 30 years ago. Back in Manhattan she was then to sing in Lohengrin, her first Metropolitan Elsa. Next week to benefit Mrs. William Randolph Hearst’s Free Milk Fund for Babies she will enact the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, a great and subtle role of which Lotte Lehmann has proved herself the greatest interpreter.

Patti surrounded herself with cockatoos and basked in vanity. The careers of Garden, Farrar and Jeritza have been bright with jewels, racy with escapades. But Lotte Lehmann is just a singer. Her childhood in Perleberg, Germany, was plain. She remembers red plush furniture, a feeble-minded grandfather in an embroidered velvet cap, an understanding mother who on Christmas day played Santa Claus. Her father, a small-town official, was determined that his daughter should be a school-teacher because schoolteachers get pensions. Lotte Lehmann is already assured of a pension—from the proud Vienna Opera of which she is a Member of Honor.

The way to Vienna was hard. Her first real singing teacher dismissed her because she had “no voice” and she struggled for scholarships thereafter, wrote poetry on the side. The first money she earned came from verses submitted to Berlin’s Der Tag. In 1910 she made her operatic debut in Hamburg and there she learned routine. One night an Austrian impresario was in the theatre on a hunt for a tenor. He signed up Lotte Lehmann instead.

In Vienna Lehmann found fame and a stalwart husband, Herr Otto Krause, who travels with her to the U. S., packs her bags and hopes to sell a penny can-opener of his own invention. Lehmann’s ways are unpretentious. She keeps no maid, answers her own telephone, does her own mending. Five years ago she was definitely large. Now 20 lb. thinner, she watches her diet, never orders dessert although she nibbles a bit at the apple pie which Herr Krause invariably chooses.

But all prima donnas have superstitions and Lotte Lehmann is no exception. In her dressing-room she keeps photographs of “mein Vater, meine Mutter, mein Mann und mein Bruder Fritz.” She kisses them all and takes a nip of sherry before she goes on stage. For the rest her entourage consists of three stuffed animals: a brown plush dog, a fluffy white cat which holds a lorgnette, a horrid-looking dachshund made of sea shells. Her enthusiasms in the U. S. are for Greta Garbo’s cinemas and “the rubberneck buses” which go through San Francisco’s Chinatown. She has little interest in clothes, hates social occasions and everything she calls “Kitsch” the German slang for junk, which Lehmann uses to describe everything which is artistically second-rate. Evidence, in part, of Lotte Lehmann’s musicianship are the musical friends she has made. Toscanini attends all her recitals. She is Bruno Walter’s favorite singer. The now wise and settled Farrar invites her to her country home in Ridgefield, Conn. A fan Lehmann uses in Der Rosenkavalier is a treasured talisman. Farrar carried it in her glamorous days.

At her best Lehmann is indisputably one of the world’s few great singers. Her rich voice is always deeply moving. With Lieder her abundant temperament sometimes gets the best of her. Opera suits her better. In Tannhäuser her exuberant Elisabeth dominates the stage. In Die Meistersinger she becomes the youthful ingenuous heroine whom Wagner imagined. As Sieglinde in Die Walküre she has no living peer. Next month Manhattan’s critics will have their first chance to pass on her Tosca.

But just as the late Lilli Lehmann will be remembered for Isolde, Garden for Mélisande, Farrar for Madame Butterfly, so Lotte Lehmann has one great rôle which she has made peculiarly her own. In Der Rosenkavalier her Marschallin has all the wisdom and pathos of Strauss’s music. She loses in love but she never loses dignity. The season’s plume is hers for one scene alone, where she sits before her mirror and realizes sadly and philosophically that she is growing old.


Oct 31, 1938

Less of a glamor girl, more of a conscientious craftswoman, is 1938-model Prima Donna Lotte Lehmann, who last month also published an autobiography.† Though overshadowed in the public eye by the more spectacular Kirsten Flagstad, German-born Soprano Lehmann has, for five years, been rated tops by Metropolitan opera connoisseurs.

A plump, homey individual, as different from Soprano Farrar as Pilsener is from champagne, Soprano Lehmann writes much better. The daughter of a small town bookkeeper who wanted her to be come a respectable stenographer or school teacher, Lotte Lehmann made a very gradual climb to stardom, worked her way laboriously through bit parts at second-rank German opera houses [Hamburg & Berlin are hardly second-rank!]. It was not until the London Covent Garden season of 1923 [actually 1924] that she won international fame. But once won, that fame stuck like well-swabbed glue.

Today, Soprano Lehmann, who acquired three Jewish stepsons by a marriage to a Viennese army officer, is a voluntary exile from her native Germany, and has applied for U. S. citizenship. To her, one of the most impressive things in the U. S. is the U. S. drugstore, where she can buy not only drugs, but milkshakes ”which are very bad for my figure.”


Jan 13, 1958

“How can it really be that I was once the little girl and that one day I will be the old woman?…How can it happen, when, after all, I always remain the same?” So muses the Marschallin, the wise, witty and autumnal beauty in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. For years the part was the special glory of Opera Singer Lotte Lehmann, and its touch of middle-aging melancholy took on a special meaning for her as Soprano Lehmann herself gradually grew too old to sing it (her last Metropolitan Opera appearance in the role was in 1945).

Last week 69-year-old Lotte Lehmann proved to British radio audiences that, in the sense of the Marschallin’s words, she is still the same. In a dozen “master classes” last fall, retired Soprano Lehmann coached 30 students from London’s Opera School and young professionals from the Royal Opera House. The Rosenkavalier classes—tape-recorded and now broadcast over BBC—displayed her old magic and the extraordinary musical intelligence that helped make Lotte Lehmann one of the great singers of her time.

One Is Enough. British radio listeners could hear her remarkable performance, but could not see Teacher Lehmann as she had appeared during the classes on the stage of London’s Wigmore Hall—her grey hair knotted in a bun, her handsome, heavy-jawed face lit with flashes of the passion she once sang into her great roles. She circled the stage gesturing, commenting, coaxing. She was trying, she told the singers, to help them develop individuality, not to turn them into “a dozen other Lehmanns” (“I have always enough trouble with this one”).

With endless patience and dry irony, she probed the motivations of the characters. On Octavian: “He had thought that his love for the Marschallin was eternal—he is very young.” When the Marschallin suggests that she will one day end the affair, and easily, “this is really the last straw for him. [He thinks.] ‘Hasn’t she ever loved me?’ …He doesn’t understand this woman at all.” On the Marschallin: “She has not a drop of sentimentality in her whole makeup, not at all. Always she has this humorous superiority which carries her through everything…She knows that now the hour has come that Octavian will leave her. It has come a little bit earlier than is pleasant for her, but she is master of the situation.”

Occasionally Lehmann interrupted a singer with a general comment (she recalled Strauss’s own advice to her: “Have the courage to stand still”), sometimes spoke delightedly of a favorite passage: “This is one of the wonderful moments that the conductor has to wait for the singer.” Said one of her awed young pupils: “I have learned just by being near her. She must have been a fantastically great artist.”

Gay Goodbye. Back home in Santa Barbara, Calif., Lotte Lehmann coaches only a few singers (“just to keep it up”) during the winter months. But in summer she is active as both teacher and opera producer at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West. She also spends a lot of time painting and making glass mosaics of her own design. Next fall Lotte Lehmann may go to Australia to repeat her teaching series.[this didn’t happen] She will no longer sing, even for friends. The Wigmore Hall classes, though, brought an exception. As one reporter tells it: “She was demonstrating the ironic gaiety with which the Marschallin should bid Octavian goodbye. Suddenly, a sound went up which did not come from either of the very promising pupils of the Opera School. In a second we realized what had happened; Madame Lehmann had forgotten that she had no voice. The applause went on for about a minute while she brushed aside the moment of oblivion with a good-humored wave of her hand.”

Says Lotte Lehmann herself, with a candor worthy of the Marschallin: “My voice is a shadow of itself. I hate to have shadows around me.”


March 26, 1934

In the little German town of Perleberg some 30 years ago a lusty argument went on between a round-faced, pig-tailed girl and her practical, hard-working father. The child was determined to be a singer. The father wanted her to teach school to be sure of getting a pension in her old age. When Lotte Lehmann’s singing days are done she will get a pension from the proud Vienna Opera where she is a Member of Honor. By the time she sailed for Europe this week many a hard-to-please New Yorker was convinced that hers is the most beautiful soprano voice of the day.

In the U. S. this winter Lotte Lehmann has given 22 concerts, made her radio debut as Toscanini’s chosen soloist and sung three times at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her last Metropolitan performance coincided last week with the conclusion of the Wagner Cycle. The opera was Die Meistersinger and Eva who has always seemed a dull heroine suddenly bloomed forth as a charming young person, very much in love. Critics who marvel at the warm eloquence of Lotte Lehmann’s singing, the contralto richness that holds to the highest notes, again complained because they had to wait so long to hear her at the Metropolitan. Chicago had her for a few performances in 1931 and 1932.[actually from 1930] From Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and London have come ecstatic reports of her Leonore in Fidelio, her Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. New Yorkers who had heard her only in Lieder suddenly wanted to know more about this stately youthful person who could act as well as sing. During her first years in opera her father never let Lotte Lehmann forget that school-teaching would have been easier and safer. She studied in Berlin, got a contract with the Hamburg Opera where for many months she did bit parts, studying the big roles by herself. One day the prima donna who was to sing in Lohengrin suddenly fell ill and Lotte Lehmann took her place. In her fright she forgot all the hidebound traditions, the routine gestures. But she was so young and unaffected, her voice so richly expressive, that the Hamburgers wanted to hear her in other big parts. She was singing Micaela in Carmen one night while the Vienna Opera director sat in the audience. He had come to find a new tenor but next day the tenor was forgotten and Lehmann was shakily signing a contract which she never stopped to read.

In Vienna, her headquarters for 18 years, Lotte Lehmann has sung some 50 roles in German, French, Italian.[actually in German] In Vienna also she became Frau Otto Krause. Her husband, a tall important-looking insurance director, travels with her to the U. S., complains only of her tremendous energy. She will get up at 7 o’clock in the morning no matter how late she goes to bed. Herr Krause speaks little English but when he hears his wife’s praises he taps his big chest and says impressively: “Yes. with her it is all from the heart.”

In New York Lotte Lehmann lives simply at the Essex House facing Central Park. She keeps no maid, shops at Macy’s. There last week she bought coffee and stockings to take home to her friends. Two New York friendships of which she is particularly proud are with Arturo Toscanini and Geraldine Farrar. Toscanini, who has small patience with most singers, goes to all her performances. She did not recognize Farrar when first she saw her in the front row at her last year’s concert. The oldtime singer was listening so intently, so sympathetically that Lehmann found herself addressing every song to her.

Because she does not go in for backstage tantrums or lug around pet jaguars Lotte Lehmann rarely makes the news columns. She does not advertise her diet which consists mostly of fruit and vegetables, a glass of sherry before she goes on stage. She keeps dogs and cats in her Vienna home but not in her dressing-room. To every performance she takes photographs of her father, mother, grandmother, brother, husband, kisses them all for luck.

Because her singing has such abundant feeling New Yorkers have wondered if she would not make an ideal Isolde, but Lotte Lehmann knows her limitations, says she would be exhausted before the first act was over. She is more conceited about her horseback riding and her writing than about her singing. Traveling from Buffalo to Havana lately she wrote 3,000 words describing her reaction to the country, the Cuban excitement over new President Carlos Mendieta. Her piece was published in the New York Staats-Zeitung.

One of her books. Verse und Prose, has been published in Vienna. Berlin publishers have the first installments of her autobiography but she doubts if it will ever be released. They want her to add chapters on her U. S. triumphs. Says Mme Lehmann: “I would not feel very intelligent to sit down and write over and over again ‘I am success, I am success. I am success.'”


Dec 10, 1934

The crowds which gathered in Philadelphia last week voted it the finest musical achievement of the U. S. season. The proud Philadelphia Orchestra played in the pit. On the stage was Lotte Lehmann, regarded by many as the greatest singer of the day. The opera, Der Rosenkavalier, was by Richard Strauss who has given the world more eloquent music than any composer now living.

When novices hear their first Rosenkavalier they are impressed by the lilting waltz themes, the glittering pageantry of oldtime Vienna. But Strauss’s comedy, an authentic product of genius, offers more than buffoonery. The role of the Marschallin, sung by Lotte Lehmann, is as subtle a character as any in opera. Here is a woman both beautiful and middleaged. She must be dignified and she must also love a young man ecstatically — while around her whirls the laughter of low comedy.

As the curtain goes up on her regal bed chamber, horns sound exuberantly and woodwinds whisper racy innuendoes. The fun begins. A youth, Octavian, has spent the night with the Marschallin. Trapped there in the early morning, he hastily dons petticoats, pretends to be a maid. Enter a fat old Baron who promptly sets to ogling and tweaking her (him). From then on the amorous Baron is never sure whether his path is being crossed by a lovely maid or a courtly rival. True love, young, starlit and sudden, comes to the stage when Octavian, clad in shining satin and bearing a silver rose, is sent to ask a rich young heiress to marry the Baron. Most operas end tragically but when Octavian and Sophie have finished their duet it is clear love will triumph.

Strauss wrote Octavian’s part for a mezzo-soprano. Last week’s impersonator was Eva Hadrabova, a rangy 27-year-old Czech whose figure is better than her voice. The Sophie was Elisabeth Schumann, longtime friend of Strauss, whose clear thread-like voice perfectly suited the demure fluttery young girl she was supposed to be. Basso Emanuel List made the Baron’s comedy as broad as his beam, as obvious as the tuba which kept tabs on him.

In Europe the role of the Marschallin is considered to be Lehmann’s greatest. Last week was the first time she has sung it in the U. S. Critics could find no flaw. Few will forget her as she sat before her mirror, sadly realizing that youth, for her, was gone.

From the pit the Philadelphia players gave the score all its eloquence. Conductor Fritz Reiner is a masterful Strauss conductor. His clean direct beat kept the framework exact but he brought out all Strauss’s slyness, curved the melodies so that their beauty was bewitching. Said Critic Lawrence Ollman in the New York Herald Tribune: “There has not been heard in this country such an exfoliation of the beauty and the riant comedy of Strauss’s irresistible score.”


Nov 11, 1935

In Cleveland Artur Rodzinski thrust his baton into the air last week, scurried through the sparkling overture to Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and the curtain was up on a performance made memorable by Soprano Lotte Lehmann as the wistful, aging Princess.

In St. Louis, 6,000 people pushed their way into the huge new Convention Hall to hear Maria Jeritza in Puccini’s Turandot.

In San Francisco talk was all of Wagner’s Ring cycle which opened the season there last week.

In the big Chicago opera house handsome Basso Ezio Pinza made a suave, red-clawed devil in Boito’s Mefistofele. The Marguerite was Soprano Edith Mason, oldtime Chicago favorite. Dominant behind the scenes was Italian Paul Longone, with the title of “General Manager.”

It has been a stiff battle to give Chicago opera since the Samuel Insull fiasco in the spring of 1932. Following winter there was no one to pick up the pieces and the house stayed dark. Then up popped Paul Longone who offered to be artistic director, help raise money. Backers for the first reorganized season were Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Co. which controls the building, scenery, lights; the late George Lytton (Hub clothing store); Banker George Woodruff; Lawyer George Haight; Harold Fowler McCormick. who is always a willing patron for opera in Chicago. Deficit that first season was only $12,000. Last year it ran up to $78,000, discouraged everyone but irrepressible Paul Longone. Lawyer Haight announced then that times were unpropitious to undertake another season, withdrew a large part of the support and the name “Chicago Grand Opera.” Forthwith Longone went out for new backers, won the help of Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly, renamed the organization the Chicago City Opera.

Drawback to Chicago’s present arrangement is the short (five-week) season which makes it impossible to maintain a creditable resident company. Makeshift is to pay for a few big names to bolster up a list of mediocres. For his trump cards this season Longone will present Lehmann in Der Rosenkavalier, Prague’s Mila Kocava in her U. S. debut, pretty Helen Jepson as the profligate Thais, the U. S. premiere of Respighi’s La Fiamma, the world premiere of Ethel Leginska’s Gale with John Charles Thomas singing and the bushy-haired composer conducting.


Nov 15, 1937

Once upon a time Lotte Lehmann had her fortune told. The fortune teller’s prediction tickled her (says she) more than the praise and plaudits which operatic fame have since brought her. The seer told her “that a new door was slowly opening for me, a door leading to great success in another branch of art.” At ten the door opened a crack when Mme Lehmann sold poems to Berlin’s Der Tag. In that struggling season she was still being told that she had “no voice.” With occasional articles, a book of memoirs, she managed to keep her foot in the door. Last winter in Vienna Lotte Lehmann wedged her way right through with a first novel.— With her book now in its third edition in Austria, translated into Italian, French and Czech, 35-year-old [49] Novelist Lehmann last week made her debut in the U. S. A love story, in the same vein as Marcia Davenport’s best-selling Of Lena Geyer, Mine Lehmann’s story attempts no coloratura flights, is content to be an amiable romance:

Beautiful, blonde twins, devoted to each other and the ballet, Elisabeth and Annemarie are otherwise very different. Ambitious Elisabeth leaves home, becomes a ballet dancer, marries and divorces a rich nobleman, who thought her hard work as indecent as her scanty costumes. Then she becomes involved with a dope fiend who is a composer. When their mother dies, sweet-tempered Annemarie reluctantly joins her sister on the stage. As the Sisters Vernova they dazzle the world. Still unspoiled, Annemarie goes to pieces on a U. S. tour, but a marriage resigns her to her ruined career. Elisabeth, momentarily depressed, sails for Japan. An English duke soon restores the sparkle to her eyes.

A secondary plot that spreads over half the story is the frustrated romance of a middleaged, icy opera singer, named Aimee Francoise, and a frustrated U. S. billionaire who wanted to be a musician. Once, during an Atlantic crossing, she almost thawed when he kissed her. But when he tried it again, the result was a pathetic sort of wrestling match, with Mme Francoise the disgruntled winner. In a last pursuit the billionaire follows her Europe-bound in his private plane, deliberately noses into the ocean.

First test of U. S. response to Author Lehmann’s literary career came last week when she appeared as speaker before the overflow audience which opened Manhattan’s National Book Fair at Rockefeller Center. The audience begged Author Lehmann to sing.


Jan 28, 1946

The applause went on for two minutes when she came on stage; the house was full, and 100 extra people crowded onto the stage, which was decked with enough floral tributes to do justice to a gangster’s funeral. But tall, ample Lotte Lehmann, one of the greatest sopranos of her fading day, making her 18th annual appearance at Manhattan’s Town Hall, still nervously clutched a handkerchief as she sang Schubert’s Müllerin song cycle. Said she, afterwards: “The first concert in New York is always difficult. The heart goes like that! It is like having again a difficult examination.”

She is now 57—and is annoyed when newspapers, as they often do, call her 60. She has a Perleberg birth certificate dated February 27, 1888, and after producing it last week, added: “It has cost me so many tears, you have no idea. I should wear my birth certificate on a chain around my neck!” She is bubbling with health, and looks somewhat like a motherly Hausfrau, which she isn’t. (“There’s not an atom of Hausfrau in me. It’s really dreadful.”)

In a hillside house overlooking the Pacific near Santa Barbara, Calif., Lotte Lehmann lives with a friend, Frances Holden (former New York University psychology assistant professor). Says she: “We swim every day in the Pacific, even at Christmas time. We are dreadfully busy. She translates my books. I paint. She makes carpenter work. We look like pigs running around.” Lehmann’s fourth book, More Than Singing, is in its second printing, and her paintings (landscapes, portraits, opera scenes) were displayed in a one-man show in November 1944. (“A man called up and wanted to buy one of the paintings. I was so overwhelmed I wanted to give it to him. My friend said, ‘Lotte, don’t be so unprofessional.’ He paid $50 for it, poor man!”)

Lotte Lehmann’s voice is still powerful and still lyric, but she does not dread the day when she loses it: “I will not miss it a bit,” says she, “of that I am quite sure. I like very much to show other sides. Oh, Gott, I have not only one!”

For the first time in twelve years she is not singing at the Metropolitan this winter—although in San Francisco she recently sang her greatest role, the Marschallin, in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. She regrets that Strauss did not oppose Naziism more actively, but says: “Shall one expect that a great artist is also a great person? I know artists with lousy characters. It is strange that the gift is given sometimes to a shell that is not worthy of it, nicht?”

Another grande dame of grand opera packed Town Hall six days later. Busty, strawblonde Frieda Hempel, 60, was history’s first Marschallin (she sang it at Rosenkavalier‘s 1911 premiere in Dresden).

In her U.S. debut, with Caruso, in 1912, critics raved about the “enormous heights” her voice soared to. Last week her altitudes were a little cloudy, but when she settled on the lower musical plateaus, concertgoers could still recognize some of the golden tone that earned Frieda Hempel a million and a quarter dollars in opera, concerts and Red Seal records.


Feb 27, 1950

“One must take things lightly, holding and taking with a light heart and light hands—holding and letting go . . .”

These words of sage advice, sung to her mirror image by the aging Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, are largely ignored by grand-opera stars. But to 61-year-old German-born Soprano Lotte Lehmann, who for 25 years sang them with unsurpassed eloquence, they have long had the weight of dogma.

Although her last singing of the Marschallin at the Metropolitan in 1945 brought her a 20-minute ovation, she decided soon afterward that it was time to “let go.” Two years ago she resolved to give up opera and operatic arias completely, sing only less strenuous lieder. She limited her concert tours to two months a year, spent the remaining ten months at her California home. When she wasn’t singing, she painted watercolors, fired ceramics of her own design in her home kiln, worked on her fifth book, Of Heaven, Hell and Hollywood. [never published]

Last week Lotte Lehmann, in the East for recitals and her first one-man show of paintings, went back on her resolution. To honor her good friend Richard Strauss, who died last summer (TIME, Sept. 19), and to mark her 50th Manhattan recital in a decade, she decided to sing once more the first-act monologues from her most famous role, the Marschallin.

To Lehmann fans the performance in Manhattan’s Town Hall had the air of a religious rite. They sat devout and mouse-quiet while the singer, dressed in sober black, her chestnut hair caught back in a plain bun, leaned gently against the curve of the piano. Without properties, costume or conspicuous gesture, Soprano Lehmann recreated the aging Viennese beauty with her oldtime fire and finesse.

For a minute after she sang her final words of wistful resignation, the audience was silent, then burst into seat-rattling applause. At intermission Lehmann had said, her eyes shining: “Fifty concerts! Aren’t you tired of me?” At recital’s end, the audience answered with cries of “More! More!” They brought her back for three encores.

By week’s end Lotte Lehmann had sung four sell-out recitals, closed her one-man painting show with most of her 63 paintings and ceramics sold. This week she was heading west for concert dates in Milwaukee and Chicago, then back home.


Mar 8, 1968

Trumpeted to dinner by the horn blast from Aida, 232 guests marched into the dining room at the Birnam Wood Country Club in Santa Barbara, Calif., to raise hosannas to Soprano Lotte Lehmann on her 80th birthday. It was the sort of occasion that called forth a telegram of congratulations from West German Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger and commanded the presence of such votaries as Tenor Lauritz Melchior, Actress Judith Anderson and Conductor Zubin Mehta. “I am excited and overwhelmed,” said Lehmann, who retired 17 years ago but still teaches master classes in voice at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It is not everyone who can say, ‘I have lived exactly as I wanted to live.’ ”


Feb 10, 1936

A high spot in any music season is a song recital by Soprano Lotte Lehmann, who makes a program glow with her abundance of feeling, her richness of voice. After a memorable Manhattan concert Mme Lehmann began a tour last week which will take her to the Pacific Coast. Coincidentally, an album of phonograph records was issued to represent a complete Lehmann recital with songs by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Hugo Wolf.* Collectors pounced on it because, mechanically, it was outstanding; vocally, Lehmann was at her best, an eloquent interpreter of a dozen different moods.

*Victor ($7.50).