Chapters 4-5 (The bold text is either up-dates that Glass wrote years later, or his decisions on reinstating portions of his text that had been eliminated in the original 1988 publication.)
A Chambermaid in Valhalla
August 25, 1910. First rehearsal: Gerhilde in Die Walküre. Felix Landau, the coach, thundered out the “Ride of the Valkyries” at the piano and Lotte, with a quick prayer and a big breath, let loose a hearty “Hojotoho!” Since there are nine Valkyries in the opera, eight of them often singing at once, it is understandable that Lotte could have been slightly confused as to which one she was trying to sight-read:
I am to sing Gerlinde, one of the Valkyries. Good Lord, is that a lot of shrieking! I can’t say I’m crazy about the part. But it’s quite nice, not at all easy, and one can at least show something.
Lotte meant Gerhilde, though she was later to sing Ortlinde too. It was actually a long time before she sang either one.
Wanting to arrive prepared, Lotte had written to ask which roles she would be singing. She was told she would find out when rehearsals started. A raw beginner could generally count on small parts only; they would be quickly learned in a few coaching sessions.
So much is expected. I had to sight-read everything. Although my heart was beating fearfully, I plowed right in with death-defying recklessness—and even though I sometimes strayed hideously far off the field—it turned out better than I had feared. I was praised with a smile: “Well, at least you have courage.” Yes, that I have. And the happy feeling of hope.
The day before she had ventured bravely into the director’s office, armed with warnings about the casting couch from worried aunts and uncles. Herr Bachur’s “absent-minded look of fatherly benevolence” was a great relief to her. “This was no seducer…my virtue seemed assured….”
He introduced me to the conductor, Gustav Brecher, the assistant general manager, Siegfried Jelenko, and the new conductor, Otto Klemperer. They are all quite friendly and nice. Let’s say: condescendingly kind. I feel a bit like a baby, rather helpless. People are running this way and that, everywhere groups of chattering, laughing theatre people are standing about, nonchalantly staring at me—but they seem to be a cheerful lot.
I sang for Brecher and Klemperer. They found my voice very lovely—but too sentimental. I’ve noticed already that the singers sing quite differently here. They belt it out a bit brutally. Frau Mallinger always insisted that a tone sound beautiful and round. Landau, the coach, said to me today: “You are singing too much. Not so softly. You have to shout against a full orchestra playing ff—so please sing loudly and with a cutting edge!” Well, I’m going to guard against that. I’m not going to force. I shall do it as Frau Mallinger told me to. Something is wrong if you have to try to “shout.”
There were serious financial problems for the family. The apartment where they had hoped to stay rent-free was not available after all. Lotte’s first pay-check (200 marks) would not be due until October. Moving had been expensive. The apartment they found for 160 marks “with central heating” was four flights up, a disadvantage for Mama, who had over-exerted herself and was ill again. Papa had asked for an advance on his pension; it came as a shock to learn that the entire amount would be deducted on the first of October, instead of bit by bit over several quarters. Lotte’s first exciting months in the theatre were overshadowed by constant stress at home. Mama was painfully worried about Fritz, living on his own in Berlin in what she was sure must be great disorder and privation. Papa was in despair about how to pay the bills. Lotte felt that the decision of her parents to move with her to Hamburg had been a great mistake. It was humiliating to have to ask Baron Putlitz for help, but there was nowhere else to turn. The baron came to the rescue with cash for the most pressing needs and a load of potatoes and apples to keep hunger at bay.
Meanwhile each new day brought new experiences at the theatre which Lotte was quick to share with Fritz by letter. The role of her debut was the Second Boy in The Magic Flute.
I’m getting more and more accustomed to theatre routine. Today was the orchestra rehearsal for Zauberflöte. It went very well. Brecher conducted. Everyone was so nice, you have no idea. I hadn’t imagined it like this at all….Incidentally, it is quite helpful to play the child for the time being….They always call me “die Kleine” [the little one]! “Have you heard, die Kleine has never sung with an orchestra before.” I am naturally scared to death and lament to everyone within earshot that I am dying from fear of the orchestra. And I encounter only smiling, kindly faces.
Elisabeth Schumann, who turned out to be one of Lotte’s dearest life-long friends, had been in the theatre for a year already and showed her the ropes. They went shopping for makeup together. “Die kleine Schumann,” as Lotte called her in the letters to Fritz, brought her up-to-date on theatre gossip—Brecher, for example, was the lover of Edyth Walker, the star soprano from America, who indirectly ran the opera house. Lotte was unaccustomed to the free-and-easy ways of her male colleagues at rehearsal. Schumann advised her not to appear to be a prude.
Lotte to Fritz:
You can’t imagine anything more gemütlich than those rehearsals. What a lot of tomfoolery they are all up to!….They act so familiar. If one of them pinches your cheek or puts his arm around your waist it doesn’t mean a thing. If a girl would make a fuss about it she’d be finished.
The great night arrived, September 2, 1910, the debut of Lotte Lehmann. According to the program that has been preserved, Elisabeth Schumann (not Magda Lohse, as Lehmann remembered it years later in her autobiography) was the First Boy, Annemarie Birkenström the Third. Putting on the makeup was a new experience and great fun. Everyone told Lotte that her features were of a type that would project very well on the stage.
The theatre supplied the costumes, but the soloists had to buy their own footwear and rent the wigs, an unanticipated expense for Lotte. She felt painfully self-conscious in her Second Boy’s skimpy tunic; she kept pulling it down to cover as much of herself as possible until the seams nearly split. The tights she had been given were practically worn through; she had had to buy new ones, another irritating outlay. She must have been braver than she later remembered; or perhaps she just wanted her brother to be proud of her courage:
Well, yesterday was the eventful first night! My first debut. It went very well. My part came off without a hitch, Brecher came up after the first act and shook hands with me as he passed by, saying, “very good, Miss Lehmann, keep it up.” The stage director also praised me. Mama and Papa think I “acted wonderfully,” they thought my movements were “so distinguished!” Well, for the Second Boy that’s about all you can do. I felt no trace of fear, we had been joking around so much in the wings. Singing with an orchestra is a great feeling; I can’t understand why the other beginners all groan about it. You wouldn’t believe how nice everyone is. They all came up to me and asked how I felt the first time; naturally I pretended to be in mortal terror, which everyone found very “sweet.” One thing is very good: it is definitely not the custom to go out somewhere after a performance. Everyone goes home. Unless, of course, there is a special occasion. When Caruso comes in October, for instance, there will probably be some sort of banquet to honor him….I looked very good in my makeup. Everyone was surprised how well I made myself up the first time. The costumes are charming, all silk (Egyptian). The decor is really quite magnificent!….Incidentally, there is no envy among the singers of the little roles. Schumann begged me to take over the part of Pepa in Tiefland, which she doesn’t want to sing, and [Helene] Brandes asked me to study Frasquita [in Carmen], which of course I shall do. I will also learn the part of Siebel in Margarethe [Faust], just in case….
Lotte took full advantage of every opportunity to learn by watching and listening. When she was not singing she was generally in the audience, in the artists’ box or in complimentary seats with her father or mother, learning the repertoire. She was thrilled with Edyth Walker’s Brünnhilde:
I tell you, she is not to be described. There is just one word: phenomenal. Yesterday [the evening before the Zauberflöte rehearsal] I saw Die Walküre. It is overwhelming. And what a cast….it was all glorious. And Walker! She is as great an actress as she is a singer. When Wotan cast her out, she screamed and fell. I tell you, such a scream! I feel as if it is still ringing in my ears. It penetrated to the very marrow of my bones; I was all tense with concentration, that’s how it affected me. Horrifying. Simply marvelous. Who in Berlin can duplicate this Brünnhilde?
Lotte was always direct and straight-forward by nature. She generally said what she thought, and that sometimes caused her trouble, later in Vienna among all the Kammersängerinnen, and even here in Hamburg. Frau Hindermann, who sang the Queen of the Night at Lotte’s debut, was a friend of a friend of Lita zu Putlitz. She took Lotte under her wing and tried to keep her from putting her foot in her mouth:
She counteracted a stupidity of mine. I was saying in front of others that Councillor Bachur had held out to me the possibility of singing Mignon. She quickly interrupted: “I consider it out of the question that you should sing Mignon.” Afterwards she took me aside and said: “But child, you have to be more diplomatic. You said that in front of a singer, Frl. Brandes, who has been longing for the part of Mignon for ages. Something like that could do you damage. One has to be very discreet in the theatre.” Often I say something that seems to me utterly harmless and safe—and later I notice: oh, that was careless again! But I’ll learn, all right. Next summer when I come to Gross-Pankow, I shall probably have become quite false!! That may be practical for the theatre—but I would find it horrible if deviousness ever became a habit with me.
Lotte took her work very seriously, and that bothered some of her colleagues. They struck her as a rather frivolous crew, but she was grateful for their friendliness, nevertheless, and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at rehearsals:
I’m simply amazed how jolly they all are. I am used to being so deadly earnest about my work—at Frau Mallinger’s it would have been unthinkable for us to cut up during our lessons. But here! I can’t be quite that merry myself, it’s all too strange and new to me. Recently someone said to me: “This must be your first engagement. Your expression is so naïve and astonished.” One learns unbelievably much at rehearsals. I go to every orchestra rehearsal. The others all say: “Ha, she’ll soon get over her eagerness.” But I won’t….I am so firmly convinced that honest effort will lead me to my goal. All the conductors like my voice—if I only had the chance to sing something that suits me, like Micaëla or Mignon. But I shall train myself to be a heroine of diplomacy, and that means above all: wait patiently. Fatal words! And yet unavoidably necessary. First I have to prove myself in little parts, before they will trust me with bigger ones. Ah, I’m so happy to be here in Hamburg….
Lotte’s second role was all of four words long: “Wolfram von Eschenbach, beginne!” Not even solo; three others shared the line with her. She sang the Second Page in Tannhäuser on September 6th, the first in a series of Edelknaben (pages) for the Inseperable Four, Lotte, Magda Lohse, Grete Schlegel, and Annemarie Birkenström, who were later to perform the same distinguished service in Lohengrin, with twice as many words (eight) for the same fee. As a matter of fact, Lotte almost lost the chance to sing in Tannhäuser; at one of the rehearsals the Second Page made a mistake:
“Wolfram von Eschenbach, beginne!” was a discord—and what a furious look Brecher gave me.
“Give that part to someone else,” he declared categorically.
It was my first painful experience at the theatre. I wept bitter tears. Annemarie comforted me:
“You should be glad,” she said, “that you’ve got out of that silly Page’s part. It’s the sort of part that can stick with you for years. Brecher will soon forget that you went wrong—and you needn’t sing it any longer.”
But I wanted to sing it….I wanted to sing absolutely anything just to learn not to regard the stage as foreign territory. So I waited for Brecher outside the rehearsal room and when he came out I burst into tears and begged him to give me back my Page’s part. He looked surprised and amused. It was certainly the first time a soloist had ever begged for that little part that everyone is glad not to have to sing.
“Very well,” he said, keeping a straight face with difficulty, “if you promise never to sing a wrong note again, I shall let mercy temper justice.”
Every now and then there would be talk of a small solo part, like Flora in La traviata—Lotte arranged to borrow a party gown and some stage jewelry, for it was the custom in those days to play that opera in contemporary dress. But Flora never materialized.
Finally, after being a second boy and a second page, she was cast in a female part that even had a name: her first real solo role, Freia in Das Rheingold, with the great Arthur Nikisch as guest conductor. The performance date was exactly three weeks after her debut. Poor Lotte was torn to shreds in the newspapers:
…Fräulein Lehmann played Freia with touching clumsiness….about the vocal qualities of the young performer, whose throat seemed to be constricted with nervousness, nothing can be said…. (Fremdenblatt.)
…With resignation one had to make the best of the vocally as well as dramatically helpless Freia of Frl. Lehmann…. (Correspondent.)
Another reviewer amused some of his readers with the opinion that among the gods of Valhalla Fräulein Lehmann’s Freia seemed to be a chambermaid.
Such reviews are understandably devastating to a young and insecure performer. But Lotte showed amazing spunk and spirit. After quoting every dismal word in a letter to Fritz, she went on to say:
I am not at all discouraged by the bad reviews, though I was furious at first. I pleased Brecher, that is the main thing. He said I did very well for a beginner and surpassed his expectations….
Lotte’s reign as a goddess turned out to be brief. Soon she was back with the page boys. Her repertoire was enriched with one of the bridesmaids in Der Freischütz (at least a small solo), an apprentice in Die Meistersinger, and a choirboy in Der Prophet (Meyerbeer, in German, of course).
She began to pester the directors, conductors, and coaches—in fact anyone who would listen—for better parts. Otto Klemperer fascinated her.
That is a wonderful human being; he looks like a mad genius. I found him enormously interesting, this thin young man as tall as a lamppost with the mournful, burning eyes and pale cheeks. I invested him with romantic glamour and had quite a passion for him….
Apparently she began to fascinate Klemperer too. Soon she was fighting him off in deserted stair-wells and he was chasing her around the furniture in empty rehearsal rooms. The passion on her part, referred to above, actually came much later, after he was hot on the pursuit of Elisabeth Schumann. Lehmann and Klemperer shared a long friendship, but never a simultaneous passion. In 1910 she may have found him “fascinating,” but his passes were most unwelcome.
This Klemperer is a disgustingly fresh fellow. Yesterday I had a rehearsal with him, with three other singers. I happened to come a bit too early and was alone with him. Naturally he swept me into his arms with that stormy “temperament” of his. I fought him off with all my strength. And then he asked me with deep surprise whether I didn’t love him. I said: “No, Herr Kapellmeister, not the least bit—not at all.” And he simply didn’t believe it. It’s really laughable. Fortunately he does not hold my resistance against me. He was very friendly afterwards.
I could laugh myself sick over Klemperer. He looks so melancholy whenever he sees me. If he were not such a brutal type, for whom a harmless “flirt” is out of the question, it might be very pleasant for me; as it is, he is a much too dangerous human being.
Four weeks later:
Lately Klemperer impressed me very much. He is a remarkable person. As I was looking at the rehearsal schedule one evening, he came up to me and said: “Sing something for me.” I went with him into a rehearsal room. As usual, he tried to embrace me again. As usual, I resisted, for Klemperer is the kind of man against whom one has to defend oneself—he is like a beast. Then I sang the Micaëla for him. He praised many things about it. And then he said: “What do you want now from me? You want the part? And you think I will give it to you without further ado. You overestimate my power. I have nothing to say. I never do the casting for the operas I conduct. I shall propose it, but I cannot guarantee the result.” And he looked at me with something like contempt. Too bad that I have so little to do with him. I must now try to convince him that I don’t want to take advantage of his weakness for me. Though in fact I do. But I like that about him.
There was constant tension back home. Lotte regretted that her parents had ever decided to move with her to Hamburg. They were always complaining and Lotte, already nervous over her work at the theatre, confessed to Fritz that she was ready to “climb up the wall” at the eternal “back to Berlin!” Kindly Mama had become “the incarnation of reproach.” She felt that Lotte had changed.
And I have changed. Do you know, I’m often amazed at the toughness and the energy that keep me above water. I had been afraid that I would lose heart a little. But no, I feel what I am tempted to call an almost frivolous optimism, a goal-conscious certainty. And that is foreign to Mama. She cannot understand that I no longer need to “seek refuge in the bosom of my parents,” weeping and longing for help, as I used to now and then.
On November 18th, members of the Hamburg Opera ensemble presented a concert in Altona, one of the suburbs. Lotte sang Micaëla’s aria, along with lieder by Franz and Reger, and had her first taste of local applause. The word spread around at the opera house, how beautifully she had sung and how enthusiastically the audience had responded. Soon she had a chance at a Sunday matinée to sing a really grateful role, Anna in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor. Anna has a big aria and a lovely love-duet, besides the ensembles and the dialogue. The audience took her to its heart. This time her father describes it all to Fritz:
Dear Fritz! Today Lotte had a great day that will probably be decisive for her whole life. Whereas her vocal qualities as Freia in Rheingold could scarcely be judged, the Anna in Die lustigen Weiber gave her a most beautiful chance to shine. Her success was—to skip to the point—sensational, especially so when one considers the usual attitude of the Hamburg audiences toward newcomers. Lotte looked enchanting, bringing, in her whole personality and her voice, everything to the role that was called for. From her first entrance she seemed to be as sure of herself as if she were a seasoned artist, and without an orchestra rehearsal she made no mistakes, either in acting or in singing…..Lotte passed the test brilliantly. A stone fell from all our hearts. Now I no longer have to worry about Lotte’s future; she has a fine career in front of her.
A rather different view was expressed, years later, by Siegfried Jelenko, the assistant general manager of the Hamburg Opera, in an article he wrote after Lotte Lehmann had become a beloved star:
Finally she was entrusted with the part of Anna….which she sang satisfactorily, but, but — during the aria she continually beat time with her left hand and sang, so to speak, with her legs. It was touching and side-splitting. But the brilliance of her glorious soprano won a triumph.
In spite of Jelenko’s negative impressions, the reviews were without exception very encouraging:
…Frl. Lehmann charmed the eye and the ear equally, with a highly graceful portrayal of Jungfer Anna, born of the spirit of the Biedermeier era…. (Hamburger Fremdenblatt.)
…Frl. Lehmann was a charming Jungfer Anna in every way. As she sang it, the duet with Fenton was a high point of yesterday’s performance…. (Hamburger Correspondent.)
…and Frl. Lehmann as a charming Jungfer Anna, whose loveliness of appearance and refinement and purity of vocalism were equally pleasing…. (Hamburger Nachrichten.)
Nevertheless Lehmann herself often referred to her early awkwardness on stage. Those of us who saw her act, or saw her direct singing actors, can hardly imagine her as ever having been clumsy as an actress. She was often called “the singing Duse.” Yet in 1910 that particular talent was far from evident. Jelenko’s article describes what must have been a real problem at first:
At her audition we were struck by the warm timbre of her bright soprano. She appeared uncommonly unassuming, even timid. Wherever one placed her, there she stuck, with a touching lack of concern or affectation. After the first rehearsals….conductors shook their heads, saying she had no sense of rhythm in her body, and doubting whether she would be adequate even in little roles. The sensuous sound of her voice seduced me; I pleaded for patience….”One can, one must try her out for a year!”
The winter went by, and spring had brought no great progress; her singing was probably more secure, but her acting ability?!—Attempts to infuse a little dramatic life into her would be answered with such an uncomprehending, naïve cheerfulness that one would have been brought to the point of despair, had not the beautiful sound of her voice cautioned further patience.
Even before her successful performance as Anna, Lotte had shared an exciting secret with Fritz. Brecher, the leading conductor at the opera, had promised her the part of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in the première, at which Strauss himself would be present. She was to say nothing to her colleagues but to study the difficult role very diligently. Every day she was given at least one musical rehearsal. It seemed a sure thing. She fell in love with the enchanting new music, and threw herself into the part with enormous dedication and energy.
Dear Fritz! A great piece of luck! I mustn’t rejoice too much—it is so great, that it’s almost unbelievable. I have been given a LEADING role in Rosenkavalier by Strauss….The part is as if it had been written for me. Naïve-sentimental. Captivating. But difficult—madly difficult….I am speechless that I should get such a part. The music is wonderful. Completely delightful. It all sounds colossally playful and elegant. Edyth Walker will play the Rosenkavalier. Imagine that, me with such a partner! The Rosenkavalier is a very young prince [sic] whom I marry at the end….
Lotte did not realize that the role would be double cast; that she would be competing with Elisabeth Schumann for the première; and that everything would depend upon the staging rehearsals scheduled for January. Lotte was generally thought to have the more beautiful voice. But Elisabeth was at that time a much more graceful actress; she also had come to the theatre a year earlier than Lotte and had far more experience, far more “routine.” Jelenko was the stage director, and we know what he thought of Lotte as an actress. Edyth Walker, the Octavian, wanted Schumann as her Sophie and that was that. So Elisabeth Schumann sang Sophie in the Hamburg première of Der Rosenkavalier—a role which she practically owned for the next quarter-century—and Lotte had a crushing disappointment.
At the time, of course, I thought it an atrocious injustice that I hadn’t been allowed to do the first performance. I regarded Elisabeth as the world’s greatest intriguer—a role which, Heaven knows, was quite foreign to her nature—and felt myself misunderstood and ousted from my rightful place….Elisabeth, always a good colleague, was well aware of my unjustified mistrust. She took great pains to be especially nice to me….
That was a very short-lived shadow in a very long and happy friendship.
Back to the pants parts. Max in Fortunios Lied (by Offenbach) and the Sandman in Hänsel und Gretel. Then came Lola in Cavalleria rusticana.
When I was just a beginner I had to learn the part of Lola rather quickly and substitute for a fellow-singer who was taken ill. It was one of the first roles which I had to “portray.” I was so clumsy and so horribly inhibited that I could scacely move or stand on the stage, and the self-assured Lola was the very last person whom I was capable of representing. In deathly fear I stared at the conductor, possessed by the single desire to sing “correctly,” fearing that otherwise I would never be given another role. Why under these circumstances I had any desire for another role is not clear to me, for the tortures which I endured I wouldn’t wish on any enemy. I really must have been something catastrophic, for after this performance even a very good friend advised me to give up the stage for ever.
It is hard to imagine that her acting could have been quite as hopeless as she paints it. Before the end of her first season she was given the chance to sing Agathe in Der Freischütz for one performance in Altona. That was a major leading role for her Fach (voice type) and an important step forward. Her fun-loving colleagues, knowing she would be nervous in her insecurity, did whatever they could to befuddle her backstage. At her last entrance she is supposed to cry out: “Do not shoot! I am the dove!” They pretended to be prompting her and whispered from the wings: “I am the goose, I am the goose.” Dear colleagues! Fortunately she did not fall into their trap.
Like Flying in a Dream
Lotte’s second season in Hamburg was again dominated by page boys, fourteen times in Tannhäuser and ten times in Lohengrin, apprentices in Die Meistersinger (eight times) and a choirboy in The Prophet, plus such new variations as one of the Friedensboten (Messengers of Peace) in Rienzi and—a promotion!—the First instead of the Second Boy in Die Zauberflöte (five times). To the Sandman was added the Dew-Man (Hänsel und Gretel). Petticoats replaced the pants for repeats of Jungfer Anna and Agathe. On October 14th she sang the attractive role of May in Das Heimchen am Herd by Carl Goldmark (based on The Cricket on the Hearth by Dickens), opposite Elisabeth Schumann as “Heimchen,” to quite gratifying reviews, such as: “Frl. Lehmann was a lovely May.”
But the really special event of her second season took place the very next day. Lotte sang Eurydice in Orpheus (Gluck) on a double bill with Caruso in Pagliacci. Caruso stood in the wings to hear her and was obviously very much impressed. He came up to her afterwards, saying, “Brava, brava! Che bella, magnifica voce! Una voce italiana!” At supper later she was seated next to the great divo; he signed his name on her fan and drew her a caricature of himself, later sending her a photograph inscribed: à Mlle Lotte Lehmann (la charmante et jolie Euridice) très sincèrement Enrico Caruso Hamburg 1911. In Lotte’s presence he promptly asked the theatre management to cast her as Micaëla opposite his Don José in the next performance of Carmen. Since she had not yet sung the role and there was no time for rehearsals, that request had to be denied; but when he asked that she be his Mimì in Leoncavallo’s version of La Boheme the following season, the assistant general manager gave his promise (which, by the way, was never kept).
Lotte described her first impressions of Caruso’s art in Midway in My Song:
Unforgettable was that darling of the gods—Caruso. I first heard him as Don José. Thrilling as an actor, quite apart from his singing, he was a revelation to me. Trembling with emotion I followed the destiny that was being enacted before me with overpowering realism. His complete abandonment to his part communicated itself to his audience, breathless under the spell, and I am sure that many who had only come “because one must have been there” forgot about sensation and remembered only Caruso….
…I stood in the wings during Pagliacci, watching and listening to him with all my eyes and ears. I choked for breath when he tore off the clown’s cap with a wild gesture and wiped the paint from his face and sang: “Non sono più Pagliaccio.” Tears ran down his face and at the end of the performance he was exhausted to the point of collapse.
The miracle of this great grace of getting away from yourself and being another person, of being reborn—for hours shaping another strange destiny—and then of emerging unscathed from the whirling vortex of vivid experience into a calmer existence: all this was revealed to me more powerfully, more stirringly than ever before.
I felt that I would find the way to this grace—in spite of all obstacles.
There is a piquant epilogue to Lotte’s contact with Caruso:
The next day I received a telegram from his secretary: Signor Commendatore Enrico Caruso invited me to have supper with him at his hotel after the Carmen performance. I sat with the wire before me, frozen with terror.
I was just a great baby and imagined that temptation had come to me in the guise of the loveliest voice in the world….So I fetched my French dictionary and wrote a polite refusal. Quickly, before I could regret it, I took it round myself to the hotel. On the way there I passed the theatre and heard Hindermann saying to Fleischer-Edel: “Will you be at Caruso’s after the performance tonight?” I stopped and asked whether Caruso was giving a party today. Yes! an enormous dinner at his hotel….Oh, what luck that I had found out in time! So it was not for me alone—my dark yet dangerously alluring presentiments of a chambre separé were quite unjustified. My letter of refusal fluttered to the ground in little pieces!
The part of Micaëla finally did come her way, but only after Caruso had left.
At the end of Lotte’s second season Bachur retired and a new director, Dr. Hans Loewenfeld, took his place, bringing with him Felix von Weingartner as his first conductor. Along with Weingartner came his wife, Lucille Marcel, as star soprano. Brecher and Walker were gone. Klemperer, fortunately, was still there and had persistent faith in Lotte’s voice. Loewenfeld, on the other hand, soon lost interest in her. He was a well-known stage director, primarily concerned with the dramatic side of his productions. As an actress, Lotte failed to meet his expectations in her new role as Martha in Der Evangelimann by Wilhelm Kienzl. Furthermore, he was not particularly impressed with her voice, which he found lovely in quality but not quite big enough. Lotte had already decided to do some work on her voice, having had almost daily lessons with Katharina Fleischer-Edel, one of the singers at the Hamburg Opera whom she most admired. Then she went to a teacher, Alma Schadow, who, though not the artist that Mallinger had been, was noted as a brilliant technician and voice builder. During the summer vacation before her third season, she worked very intensively with Frau Schadow, following her teacher to a lakeside resort, where she took her singing lessons in a bathing suit. Lotte was thrilled with her progress.
Tensions at home had not diminished. It was decided that Lotte would get a room of her own, across the street from the theatre, and that her parents would also move, into another apartment. Mama was sick, as usual; moving was a strain; and again, as usual, there were money problems and messages of distress to Fritz, who always tried to help as best he could, though it invariably meant stinting on his own needs. Lotte asked for an advance on her salary; it was refused. Then she tried to borrow from a bank; but none of her colleagues was willing to co-sign the loan. Once again the baron saved the day. And again he also sent sacks of potatoes, fruit, and vegetables. Lotte, by the way, became expert at sewing her own clothes at this time.
The third season offered another round of page boys (the last!), with five times each in Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. More gratefully, there were also several Annas, Agathes, and Micaëlas (though not with Caruso). Soon a Rheinmaiden, two Valkyries, and the Shepherd Boy in Tannhäuser were added to her chores, the last bringing her some nice reviews. But Lotte was ambitious and yearned for the opportunity to grow as an artist through the chance to perform more challenging parts. Klemperer advised her to try to get an engagement at a smaller theatre, where she would regularly be able to sing the leading roles that belong to her Fach. Since she was under contract, that meant getting a release from Loewenfeld. Lotte suspected he would be only too glad to be rid of her. In rehearsals, he was constantly picking on her. She was scheduled, finally, to sing Sophie in Rosenkavalier, with Elisabeth Schumann as Octavian. Klemperer had arranged for the director of the Wiesbaden Opera to come and hear Lotte in the performance. Her agent also sent her provisional contracts with several theatres (Königsberg, Düsseldorf, Chemnitz, Magdeburg, and Freiburg) and told her she could sign whichever one she preferred. Suddenly Loewenberg, who had agreed to let her go, changed his mind and refused to release her. Unconsciously, she had pulled off an age-old theatre-trick: if you want something from the director ask for your dismissal. No doubt Loewenfeld was impressed that those other five theatres were interested in her. He offered to work on the acting of Elsa with her, and spoke of later giving her Eva as well. Now her prospects began to look a little brighter.
The Rosenkavalier went very well for Lotte, with mostly very decent reviews (though Schumann fared rather poorly in the papers).
…Fräulein Lehmann sang and played “die Fräulein Faninal” very delightfully—the high notes were of an unbelievable lightness and ease, with blinding brilliance…. (Hamburgischer Correspondent)
…The young singer, Frl. Lehmann, stood out all the more sympathetically, who, through the gracefulness of her appearance as well as her clear soprano, gave to the character of Sophie, along with a light hint of cloister incense, all the charm and all the sweetness of her being…. (Hamburger Nachrichten)
There was one negative one too:
…Frl. Lehmann is still too stuck in beginner’s diapers to have grown into a Sophie, in spite of relatively beautiful vocal resources. That was a casting mistake which should be rectified in repeat performances….
And then came THE BREAK-THROUGH!!!
One day Klemperer called me….”Do you think you could manage to take on Elsa’s part? You’d only have a week….we’re in a fix. I’ve persuaded Dr. Loewenfeld to let you risk it. Well—do you think you can do it?”
Did I think I could do it!
I had, of course, studied Elsa’s part by myself and came proudly to the rehearsal. But if I thought I knew the part, I realized my mistake after the first five minutes. Klemperer sat at the piano like an evil spirit, thumping on it with long hands like tiger’s claws, dragging my terrified voice into the fiery vortex of his fanatical will. Elsa’s dreamy serenity became a rapturous ecstasy, her anxious pleading a challenging demand. For the first time I felt my nervous inhibitions fall from me, and I sank into the flame of inner experience. I had always wanted to sing like this—it was like flying in a dream: a bodiless gliding through blissful eternity….But usually one wakens from this lovely kind of dream with the terror of falling. And so I was dragged back from those ecstasies by Klemperer’s voice saying: “No idea of the part. We must work hard if you’re to manage it.”
I managed it.
I sang Elsa in spite of the indignant looks of Pennarini, my Lohengrin, in spite of the producer’s shrugged shoulders, in spite of Klemperer’s discouraging interpolations at the orchestral rehearsal….
Theo Drill-Orridge was singing Ortrud on a visiting engagement, and her eyes grew wider as she noticed at the rehearsal how simply everyone was against me—even Klemperer, who grew furious every time I forgot anything, seemed to lose all confidence in me and shouted up: “What’s the matter? Has the big part gone to your head…?”
Then came the performance. Lotte’s letter to Baroness Putlitz captures her elation:
Now, I believe, much has been reached. The Elsa was such a great and unusual success, the audience applauded in a frenzy and kept calling “Elsa,” there were about eighteen curtain calls! Dr. Loewenfeld, Weingartner, everyone expressed appreciation. Naturally now there is no more talk of any engagement elsewhere. I believe that it was the most beautiful day of my life. It was as if I had drunk too much wine, everything was spinning around before my eyes. Wherever I looked there were hands reaching out to me in congratulation, all I could hear were voices shouting “bravo.” There is something very special about applause.
And that the role was Elsa! I sang with such enjoyment! The nervousness melted away in a few minutes—I forgot the stage and the audience. How remarkable that was, as I was coming down the steps on my way to the cathedral and everyone was singing “Hail to thee, Elsa of Brabant!” That was so festive and so beautiful. It was a great day.
The critics confirmed her success:
…At last an Elsa who was only Elsa and could not just as well have been Ortrud. To many it may have seemed a risk to entrust this great role to the young, inexperienced Lotte Lehmann. And it was a risk; but not an experiment, for the basic prerequisites, which offered at least the possibility of success, were in this case present. The swan knights we have known here have seldom rushed to rescue a more enchanting, more tender Elsa, so touched with romantic magic, as she was outwardly portrayed by Frl. Lehmann. An Elsa without the excesses of the usual prima donna, an Elsa who was all innocence and guilelessness. Artistically too, Frl. Lehmann fulfills her task for the present in a way that is entirely her own. She forgets most of what she had planned and what others have prompted her to do; she gives herself up completely to the impressions of the moment and to the dramatic situation. That is very good, for in that way she keeps for her Elsa a perfect, almost touching unaffectedness; in that way she is not tempted to make what is already complicated appear to be even more so than it really is, and in that way she avoids any farfetched philosophical obscurities and any false theatricality. Perhaps this lovely unaffectedness springs from her ignorance of Elsa’s nature. In that case one would like to wish that she retain such ignorance for a good long time…. (Hamburger Fremdenblatt)
…That new Elsa was Fräulein Lotte Lehmann. Outwardly a picture that could assure sympathy and support for the role she was to portray, through the warmth of her feelings and through the profusion of youthfully fresh, beautiful tones at her disposal, at least as much as through her appearance. A slight nervousness that was noticeable at the very beginning—understandable in the heavy reponsibility of a first appearance in a leading role—was soon suppressed. Thus the careful treatment of the text and that of the melodic line came into their own, no less the agreeable evenness of her vocal resources…. (Neue Hamburger Zeitung)
…When one considers what it means for such a young singer to be suddenly at the center of interest, her performance was of astounding assurance. The voice of Frl. Lehmann has such a pure, heartfelt sound, her emission of tone is so steady and finely cultivated, that the songs of Elsa breathed all the sweetness of youthful innocence…. (Hamburger Neueste Nachrichten)
…An Elsa…of touching grace in her appearance and in her singing….An Elsa so human, so unpretentious, such as one does not often get to see and hear…. They will tell her that this or that must be done differently, they will try to instill in her all the experiences of all the Elsas who ever stood on a stage. If she relies entirely upon her own experiences, she will be the Elsa that Elsa should be and must be…. (Hamburgischer Correspondent)
The next performance of Lohengrin created a sensation of a different sort. It was the day after Christmas and Lotte was again the Elsa. The husband of Elisabeth Schumann was sitting in the first row, directly behind Klemperer, who had just finished conducting the last measures. Schumann’s husband shouted: “Klemperer, turn around!” and struck him across the face with a riding crop so forcefully that he was knocked to the ground. Klemperer picked himself up, turned to the audience, and said: “Herr Puritz struck me because I am in love with his wife.” The incident became a famous theatre scandal. Here is the background, as Lotte reported it to her baroness:
After the performance [Lotte’s first Elsa] Klemperer ran away with [Elisabeth] Schumann! She leaves a splendid position, a nice, kind husband who worships her, to whom she owes her operatic training, who bought her everything, her trousseau, her furniture. She was married for six months and everyone thought that she loved him sincerely. As an architect he had a good social position, earned about 30,000 marks a year. And she takes off into the blue with a man who has nothing but his genius, which however goes hand in hand with a nervousness that borders on madness. He wooed her for a long, long time with stubborn persistence. Three months ago she said to me: “This can’t go on. Klemperer pursues me in a very compromising way. I love my husband and do not want Klemperer to come between us.” And then the day before her flight she said to our mutual singing teacher: “I love Klemperer to the point of madness. I have to leave my husband. Even if I am destroyed, I must go with Klemperer.” I feel so sorry for her that I almost forget her lack of conscience where her husband is concerned….
After a few days Schumann and Klemperer came back together and moved into a hotel.
Her husband then took her away by force, had her committed to a hospital for observation of her mental condition. After fourteen days she was declared to be healthy, released and—went back to Klemperer. Her husband sent him a challenge to a duel, which he rejected.
There follows the story of the notorious Lohengrin incident; then the aftermath:
For me it was an unforgettably horrifying evening. Klemperer has now been dismissed and yesterday evening he ran away with Schumann. She was supposed to be dismissed as well, but at the pleading of her husband her dismissal was changed to four weeks’ leave of absence. He maintains that she is sick. And when she comes back to her senses he wants to take her back!! Whether Dr. Loewenfeld will ever let her perform here again, however, is very questionable. Isn’t it all frightful? I feel sorry for all three in my heart. I cannot condemn Schumann, as so many do. This sort of thing, after all, is not exactly child’s play. She must have honestly struggled against her feelings. Oh, the awakening will be terrible for her.
Fritz’s widow, Theresia Lehmann, recalls a final vignette, as he described it: Lotte, dusting herself off onstage after her final swoon, had heard the commotion out in the audience; she could not resist peeking out to satisfy her curiosity. Fritz (who had been in Hamburg for Christmas) never forgot the sight of Elsa’s blond head, crown and all, thrust between the curtains, nor her look of stunned amazement at the pandemonium that was rocking the opera house.
Baron Konrad zu Putlitz attended one of the performances of Lohengrin. After seeing Lotte on the stage, his feelings for her became less fatherly and she was forced to see him in a different, rather disillusioning light.
To dispel a misunderstanding in Alan Jefferson’s biography of Lehmann, the baron’s grandson, Bernhard von Barsewisch, wrote the following clarification to the Lotte Lehmann Foundation:
When Lotte was singing at the opera house in Hamburg, her earliest triumph was “Elsa.” My grandfather Baron Konrad zu Putlitz had sponsored lessons with Mme. Mallinger which enabled Lotte to start her splendid career. My grandfather, travelling through Hamburg, saw Lotte on the stage and fell intensely in love with her. Lotte desperately tried to convince him that he was infatuated with “Elsa” and not with the human being Lotte Lehmann, but all in vain. When they sat down to dine he gave her a piece of paper with a poem he had written for her and asked her to read it to him. She was so excited that she had to lean her arms against the table to hide how much she was shivering. For her it was as if a god-like figure had descended from heaven and acted like a very mortal elderly gentleman. The only words she could think were “the baron and his protégée”…and Mr. Jefferson made this the title of the poem! No, Lotte found it terrifying that the situation resembled the typical cliché of a wealthy man supporting a young girl. Lotte remained firm, my grandfather returned extremely thoughtful to his home in Groß Pankow, not without sending some love letters to Hamburg. These and the poem had to be burned by demand of my austere grandmother. So the poem is lost, the title remains a mystery forever, but certainly it was nothing so clumsy as Mr. Jefferson had misunderstood.
Brother Fritz stoutly maintained that Lotte was too conservative at that time and far too moral to consider an adulterous liaison, and that her respect for her benefactor and her sense of gratitude outweighed her disappointment in discovering that her all-too-human idol had feet of clay. Nothing should jeopardize her warm friendship with his daughters and the baroness.
The success of Lotte’s Elsa insured that she would generally be cast in grateful leading roles. Besides such smaller parts as the Mermaid in Oberon and Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, for both of which she received very favorable mention in the press, she appeared as Irene in Wagner’s Rienzi, Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann (to use the familiar English title), and Dorabella in Così fan tutte before the season was over. When the Berlin Court Opera suddenly needed an Echo for their production of Ariadne, Lotte was able to “jump in” and save the show.
Besides the success of her own achievements, luck was on her side in another way as well: the woman who had been engaged as “first” young-dramatic soprano had a fiasco. Her failure meant that Lotte could move up a notch. “Thus one rises up over others,” she ruefully wrote to the baroness, “and unlearns compassion and thinks only of one’s own advantage.”
She began to prepare Elisabeth and Sieglinde, two roles that would soon become highlights of her repertoire and remain so throughout her career. She started to accumulate a following. There were requests for interviews, then disappointed reporters who had hoped for something sensational or spicy in her story. But audiences were falling in love with Lotte. Her star was rising. She was most definitely on her way.