A Documentary Biography
By Beaumont Glass
(Bolded text is either reinstated, updated, or new text that did not appear in the original 1988 publication.)
One Does See the Garden
January 7, 1932, was a major new landmark in Lotte Lehmann’s career. It was the date of her first New York recital, at Town Hall, and the beginning of a long series of such recitals, a series that made musical history. Success in New York is essential to success in America, at least for a singer. Lotte knew that, and she was understandably nervous. Unfortunately, Otto had not been able to accompany her on this crucial trip. She thought of a young lady whom she had always seen in the front row at her recitals in Paris, a young lady whose lovely, receptive expression had put her at ease and inspired her to give of her best. Now, if ever, she needed the encouragement of that familiar face.
Shaken with nerves and only half-conscious, I stepped from the threshold of the artists’ room onto the platform of the Town Hall.
I was greeted, quite unexpectedly, by welcoming applause that lasted for several minutes.
Lots of the people in the hall must know me, many must love me and be glad to see me in New York! And I had thought I was going to appear before an audience that expected “someone new.”…And there—in the front row—was the lovely face of my unknown friend! Suddenly I was no longer alone….The storm of applause had delivered me from the bonds of fear, and I sang the whole evening through as if I were drunk with happiness, ecstasy and jubilant triumph! Oh, and it was a triumph! I have no intention of bragging about my successes in this book, but this first New York recital was tremendously important for my whole career in America, and I simply can’t pass over it in two words. The audience became as ecstatic as myself—there was a constant give and take—and it was only after many recalls and encores that I had at last to make an end….
The “unknown friend,” whose name was Viola Westervelt, soon became a part of Lehmann’s inner circle, the nucleus for the ever-growing group that was soon to be known as the “Lehmaniacs.” Another new friendship was also made that night. Geraldine Farrar, Caruso’s most popular partner during their years together at the Met and, earlier, Lotte’s great idol in Berlin, was there in the audience, applauding enthusiastically. Later, when Lotte sang Tosca at the Metropolitan, Farrar gave her the spectacular spray of flowers that she herself had carried onto the stage as Tosca, at her first entrance, to decorate the statue of the Madonna.
Here is a condensation of the review by Olin Downes, then the leading music critic of The New York Times:
…The audience that gathered in Town Hall last night to hear Lotte Lehmann’s first song recital in this city was not only impressed but thrilled. It has been a good many years—more years, at least, than the writer has spent in this city—since any local song recital has offered such excitements and distinctions. Singing songs by Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mme. Lehmann swept her listeners from their feet. She has a voice of magnificent range and color. Above all, it is an intensely communicative voice, one that stirs with feeling and that immediately affects those who hear it. She herself is a woman of superb temperament and capacity for the expression of great and varied emotions. The moment that the first song, “Von ewiger Liebe,” had ended, the audience knew that a great artist was present. The outburst of applause was a spontaneous and most impressive tribute. This first impression was not lessened but intensified as the concert proceeded. To claim that every song was perfectly sung would be exaggeration. That is a thing which never happens. But in sum the vocal and interpretive gifts of the singer surpassed the highest expectations….There were moments last night when Mme. Lehmann was operatic, and when, as an interpreter of song, her temperament got the better of her and she stepped from the frame. But even when she did…as in the final measures of Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht,” she was so puissant, noble, and impassioned in her style, supplementing interpretation with such vocal resource and such a wealth of nuance, tone-color, and all-conquering sincerity, that if she had sung the song backward it would have been hard to keep cool and refuse to be moved by what she did….She sang songs which have become household words in such a way as to resurrect every wonderful thing which familiarity had caused us to take for granted or to accept as a matter of course. At her height she displayed interpretive genius—nothing less….
Incidentally, Downes told her two years later that after the recital every leading critic in New York had received an anonymous letter stating that Lotte Lehmann was a morphine addict, that everyone in Vienna knew that, that only morphine had made her sing so well that evening, and that her voice would soon show signs of deterioration because of her “addiction.” “Lovely world, isn’t it?” was Lotte’s comment to her friend, Mia Hecht.
Most of the reviewers were highly enthusiastic. Grena Bennett of the Journal-American, for instance, wrote a totally positive rave:
…Mme. Lehmann possesses a voice that glows and glitters; when emitted with full power it resembles the diapason of a great pipe organ; when slightly muted its color and quality are like the dulcet tones of a ’cello. One of the greatest lieder singers of recent years was Elena Gerhardt. Mme. Lehmann has the art and method of her famous predecessor plus a more gorgeous voice….
Kurt Ruhrseitz was her accompanist at that first Town Hall recital. Besides the German lieder (including a Strauss group, not mentioned above), her program offered a group of French songs, by Hahn, Chausson, and Fauré.
The conquest of America seemed to be off to a very promising start.
Chicago came next, Lotte’s second season there. She sang two roles this time, Elsa and Eva, and the engagement included performances by the Chicago Opera in Boston. The critics noted right away that Lotte was twenty pounds slimmer than the season before. She had learned a little about American tastes that time and wanted to look her best for New York. Later Europe, too, took grateful note of her new svelteness—while it lasted. But Lotte felt that the weight-loss was responsible for what seemed to her to be an edge on her voice. It wasn’t very long before she let her waistline lapse again.
It’s strange that I completely lacked vanity as a young girl…. In 1914, when I sang my first Octavian, I never realized that I couldn’t possibly look the part. The mirror was the most useless invention to me…. I knew that my life was on the stage, but I never thought about my appearance until I came to Vienna in 1916.
Some clippings from Chicago:
…Mme. Lehmann challenges all other sopranos, German, Italian, American or what you will, by the utter purity of her tone, the superb distinction of her style, the genuine musical and spiritual beauty of her interpretation.
…She is slimmer [than last season], but her crystal and silver voice has gained in beauty—if that were possible.
And from Boston:
…Her Elsa was at once the most moving and most convincing one ever has heard.
Just before Lotte’s ship was to sail for Europe, literally just before, she gave a second New York recital. It was Sunday afternoon, February 7, and she offered Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, among other lieder….
…The early part was sung with indescribable tenderness, innocence, and happiness, and in this she had the expression of a girl of seventeen; but as the mood changed she seemed actually to grow older before one’s eyes, and the last three songs of the cycle had a depth of passion and grief that was overwhelming…. (Doris Madden, February 12, 1932.)
The concert began at three p.m.; the ship was sailing at six. Lotte sang the program with many a glance at the clock between numbers.
Encore after encore prolonged the recital interminably, and at last I had to say to my audience: “I should like to sing you lots more songs, but my boat won’t wait….”
Lotte went on board “with a contract for a long concert tour” in her pocket. After her sensational New York success, Coppicus, her manager, would surely have no trouble “selling” her to plenty of cities.
Her only worry was that her mother would suffer from too long a separation. At every new parting there were many tears on both sides. Fritz had lost his first wife to cancer the summer before, after ten years of marriage. He spent as much time as he could with Mama, but he was now very busy teaching opera dramatics at the New Vienna Conservatory, and had even set up a little stage in his town house so that he could teach privately at home as well. As for Lotte’s own private life, she had found a most understanding mate in Otto. She respected him and relied upon him for advice and emotional support. She wrote about their relationship, if somewhat indirectly, in Midway in my Song:
After many obstacles and great struggles, I was able to unite myself officially to the man who has become my best and most understanding life’s companion, Otto Krause. It is not easy to be the husband of an artist. It is a life that, with its constant ups and downs without rest or peace, its ambitions and torments of depression alternating with ecstatic joys, demands, even more than an equable bourgeois disposition, a great deal of patient forbearance from one’s life partner….It indeed demands of him a great deal of self-denial, consideration, understanding and forgiveness. And the artist who can say: “This was and is the right husband for me,” has more reason to be grateful to her fate than the majority of women….I know it only too well.
To an interviewer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lotte said of Otto:
To me he is like a rock to which I can cling and be safe from drowning in the turbulent, tempestuous seas that swirl around almost every international prima donna.
After a brief reunion with Mama, Lotte’s career called her again to foreign climes. First, in March, to Marseilles, a new destination. There were many empty seats; but those who had stayed away could learn the next day from the papers what they had missed:
…For the sake of all those who have not yet had the good luck to hear her, let me say that the recital of the celebrated singer Lotte Lehmann was a prodigious revelation. And those who were absent…missed an artistic satisfaction of the first order….She truly touches the highest summits of her art, and her program was one long, continual rapture [“ravissement“]….
But the same reviewer expressed regret that Lehmann sang only three French songs—especially since he found her French “very correct”—and that the rest of her program was in German, a language neither liked nor understood in Marseilles:
…If we found a very real joy in listening to the eight songs of L’amour et la vie d’une femme in their original language, it was because our comprehension was aided by that veritable mirror of the soul which is Lotte Lehmann’s face…. (Jacques Dordet.)
Another critic had no reservations whatsoever, despite linguistic chauvinism:
…It seems as if for her, uniquely for her, the art of bel canto, deserting the balmy skies of Italy, has consented to cross the Rhine. Certainly the German language, above all to French ears, does not naturally lend itself to that sweetness of accent which seems to be a privilege confined to the Latin tongues. Nevertheless, Lotte Lehmann has achieved the miracle of usurping that privilege; and, perhaps for the first time, we have enjoyed the charm of a German song in its original text, so well has this admirable singer been able to soften its harshness with the caress of her heavenly voice…. (Ch. Varigny.)
Paris, more cosmopolitan than Marseilles, was happy to hear Frauenliebe und -leben in any language.
Next stop was Italy, her very first visit. There she sang four concerts in ten days, three in Rome and one in Florence. In between, to fill a few empty seconds, she visited Naples and Venice!
The first recital, on April 1 in Rome, was “an absolutely sensational success….The audience applauded through the entire intermission.” The program consisted entirely of German lieder. One critic wrote:
…Eighteen German lieder, all sung in the original German. Monotonous recital? Not on your life! Signora Lotte Lehmann is such a brilliant, versatile interpreter that she easily holds the attention of the audience….Although expressing herself in a language that, in Italy, is familiar to very few people, she was able to make herself understood—at least in a general sort of way. Even those who knew nothing of German were listening with lively interest and obvious joy….It was an authentic success, one hundred per cent…. (Alberto Gaseo, April 26, 1932.)
Two of the three concerts in Rome were at the Augusteo by the glorious ara pacis of the Emperor Augustus. There she first sang the Fidelio aria, three Strauss songs (with orchestra) and the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, with “Träume” as an encore, to “un delirio d’applausi.”
Here is the reminiscence of a man who heard her Liebestod there:
…Lehmann came on, before the Prelude, gracious and beautiful in a wine-colored dress, and stood immobile before us while it was played. During those twelve minutes or so, as the music gradually moved to its climax in that tremendous crescendo of passion, we saw Lehmann visibly becoming Isolde, so that when the orchestra made the quiet modulation into the Liebestod and she began, as if in a trance, “Mild und leise wie er lächelt,”she was Isolde. It was the most astonishing metamorphosis of the kind I had ever witnessed and I realized what immense artistic discipline it must have required. Lehmann held us all so spellbound that the lack of volume at the huge climax passed almost unnoticed. Few Isoldes have ended the Liebestod with such an exquisite high note—“höchste Lust”—as she gave us. This was indeed “highest bliss.”
The concert was so successful that she was asked to add another at the Augusteo, this time singing arias from Oberon and Tannhäuser and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. No one would leave at the end. She sang “Elsa’s Dream” and “Morgen” by Strauss as encores. Still no one left. Lehmann explained that no other music had been rehearsed with the orchestra and no other parts were available even for sight-reading. A lady from the audience came up with a vocal score of The Marriage of Figaro. The accompanist of Lotte’s earlier recital happened to be in the hall. A piano was wheeled into place. And Lotte endeared herself to everyone there by graciously singing the first aria of the Countess, “Porgi amor.”
The Florence recital was in the Pitti Palace. Lotte’s program of twenty lieder, with many repeats and many encores, was accompanied by composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
In Venice Lotte was particularly impressed with the Palazzo Vendramin, where Wagner died, and the Casa di Desdemona. And it was fun to have flocks of San Marco pigeons eating out of her hands.
April had her hopping back and forth across the map: from Venice to Vienna (Marschallin and Fidelio), then to Paris for a recital (Le Figaro reported that nearly every number had to be repeated), then a recital in Hamburg, an orchestral concert in Dresden, and back to Vienna for an Elisabeth and a birthday concert for Josef Marx.
Hamburg was more critical than usual. There were mild complaints about “too many Männerlieder.” She was scolded for too much rhythmic freedom and advised to check her intonation in the upper register. Someone felt she was depending more upon the text for inspiration than upon the music.
Dresden was another story. Besides the aria from Oberon, she sang a group of Strauss lieder and, as an encore, Wagner’s “Träume.” The critic Heinrich Chevalley wrote: “She showed herself to be a magnificent lieder-singer, one of the finest interpreters of the Lied that we possess today.”
Her Elisabeth in Vienna inspired the usual hymns:
…A peak of incomparable artistic enjoyment….The ideal type of Elisabeth….She draws out of this noble role all its magnificent depths, which she fills with the breath of the spirit and the drama of the soul. Lotte Lehmann stands at the zenith of world fame, the Vienna State Opera can be proud….The entrance aria was a powerfully thrilling experience; the prayer floated, a deeply inner, blessed revelation, into the most blissful regions of infinite art…. (A. M. P.)
A few days later she was in the cast of a rather unusual performance of Otello. There were two Iagos. The first one, Karl Hammes, was too sick to continue after the first act. Alfred Jerger, who had the reputation of being able to do anything, was quickly summoned. He did not know the role, but that hardly mattered. Several copies of the score were placed on stage at strategic points, hidden among various theatre props, such as a pile of musty books on Otello’s desk. Jerger, a resourceful actor, simply sight-read the part as he moved about the stage from score to score.
Lotte’s Desdemona aroused new raptures:
…Poetry itself is on the stage when Lehmann sings….
…Her every appearance upon the stage is like a sunrise….
…Her acting and her singing have been refined to a point of simple, classical greatness and most ideal perfection. Her Desdemona, like her Elisabeth, can be designated as a most faithful re-creation, the highest achievement that the art of the stage can offer…. (A. M. Pirchan.)
Jeritza was back in town.
…Lehmann is a genius of feeling, as Jeritza is a genius of demonic theatricality [Theaterteufelei].
May meant London again, this time with Sir Thomas Beecham instead of Bruno Walter. Lotte had so much trouble following Beecham’s beat that she smuggled another maestro, Robert Heger, into the wings to conduct her. (Later, Kirsten Flagstad, too, was baffled by that notorious beat, claiming that Beecham had conducted an entire performance of Tristan und Isolde with nothing but horizontal strokes of the baton.)
Lehmann loved to repeat a typical Beecham anecdote: somewhere some Arabs were shooting at a car in which a rival conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, happened to be riding; Sir Thomas, hearing about the incident, remarked: “I hadn’t known the Arabs were so musical.”
Die Meistersinger opened the 1932 season, with Friedrich Schorr as Sachs and Lotte as Eva. The newspapers noted that “four gallant ladies” had waited twenty-four hours in the rain to buy their tickets. One review was particularly amusing:
…Eva usually goes about in a dream, and Lotte Lehmann—the Ellen Terry of the operatic stage—woke her up….
Two more reviews are worth noting:
…It was whispered that Sir Thomas Beecham does not like the opera [Meistersinger], and certainly the way he conducted it suggested an impatient desire not to dwell on its intricacies….The adorable Lotte Lehmann, distinctly slimmer, actually elevated the part of Eva into something dramatic as well as lovely….
…The Eva of Mme. Lehmann is familiar, but not her appearance. Last year she was handicapped by the conventional embonpoint of the grand operatic heroine. This year she is as slim as a film star and her lovely voice is, if anything, better than ever….
Lotte sang two Elisabeths and two Sieglindes (“sheer beauty from first to last”), besides her four Evas. A few hours before one of the Meistersinger performances, she sang at a socially glamorous Aeolus Concert at the home of Lady Cunard. Vladimir Horowitz shared the program with Lotte. The Aeolus series was created “to provide real music lovers with first-rate concerts in private houses.” The guest list of “real music lovers” read like a digest of Debrett’s Peerage.
June included a particularly memorable Sieglinde in Vienna….
…Lotte Lehmann lent to Sieglinde all loveliness, all poetic magic….An ideal creation, a poem, the essence of romantic grace, captured from the world of German fairy-tales and legends. The image of the musical idea becomes visible to the eye, held fast in the lovely appearance, in the expressive movements of the body….
Here, from My Many Lives, is Lotte Lehmann’s interpretation of a key scene from the role which she felt was closest to her own impetuous, passionate nature:
Siegmund, drawing Sieglinde down upon the bear-skins beside the hearth, sings the lovely and ever-new song of spring. Sieglinde lies half leaning against him. From the fervent embrace which ends the song she raises herself, looking up at him with delight. She tells him how she has always longed for him. Everything around her has always seemed strange to her. But he is deeply close to her; he is no stranger, he is like a part of herself. Embracing him, pressing herself against him, she discovers in his face the “sacred light, which falls from his eyes and face and stirs her senses so sweetly.” As if overcome with passion she half sinks against him—he draws her to him, looking into her face, enchanted. Her hands encircle his brow, she smoothes back his hair with a tenderly questioning gesture—she wants to absorb the wonder of this face as closely as possible. The wonder! For is it not a wonder? Like distant, half-forgotten memories, images return to her out of the buried past. Hasn’t she seen him before? When? Where? She has seen this face before. And when he says that it may have been a dream, a dream of love in which he has seen her and she him, she denies it, looking into the distance with absorbed concentration. No, it was not a dream. It was reality…. And now as she remembers, her eyes are lowered as if she sees before her the running brook whose waters had mirrored her face: and it was his face! It is the same face, hers and his—they are one…. Siegmund remains absorbed in the lovely dream in which he has sensed her presence: “You are the image which is concealed in my heart.” But with a sudden movement she seems to want to hold fast the sound of his voice—her whole being drinks in his words. Yes, as a child—didn’t she know this voice as a child? Or is she confused—does the echo of her own voice resounding from the forest blend with the sound of his? Memory becomes more vivid—she presses against him, peers feverishly into his eyes…. These eyes—didn’t the same flame glow from the eye of the father, of the God who came to her in her saddest hour and plunged into the tree trunk the sword which will now free her?… And a name comes to her—didn’t the strange old man mention a name? Was it only an inner voice which whispered the name he bore, the name which she will perhaps hear from the mouth of this stranger, who is her own, strange and yet a part of her as nothing else on earth? Turning violently to him she asks with trembling voice: “Is Wehwalt your true name?” But he, completely hers, wants only to bear the name which she will give him—what is a name if it does not come as a gift from her hands? Sieglinde wants to know. The name of your father—tell the name of your father. Was it really Wolfe? Siegmund remembers: Wolfe he was called by his enemies—yet his name was Wälse….
With a cry Sieglinde springs up: Wälse! That is the name which glows in her heart like the sign of a God, to whom she belongs, as Siegmund belongs to him…. Wälse! What gives her the certainty that Wälse was the name of the aged man who came to her? She knows it, she knows it: Wälse is her father, he is the father of the stranger, they are both children of one father…. And the sword which he drove into the tree trunk was destined for his son, for the Wälsung who will be victorious with this sword. Exultantly she now gives him the name which he shall bear, under the protection of which he shall fight and conquer: “So let me call you, as I love you: Siegmund—so I name you.”
With one bound Siegmund has leaped upon the table and gripped the hilt of the sword. The hour of greatest need has come—the promised sword seems to tremble under his touch. With great strength he tears the sword from the trunk, the sword to which he gives the name “Nothung”—which means: found in need.
Sieglinde has watched Siegmund with breathless excitement—her bearing is one of concentrated passion, of glowing expectation. Bending forward, she sinks slowly to her knees. This is a gesture which until now was foreign to her: she has never kneeled down before. It is as if the primeval woman kneels for the first time, driven to her knees by the superior power of her passionate belief. Now she springs up, utters a cry, and as if in an ecstatic dance reels across the stage. Her arms are outstretched, her whole body vibrates in the triumph of her victory. She sinks to the ground beside the table, her flaming eyes fixed upon Siegmund.
Siegmund has but one thought: he will take the sword and with Sieglinde will leave the house of her ignominy. Not another second shall she remain here—out into the forest, out into freedom, into the fresh stormy spring! And tomorrow he will fight and win, and will make Sieglinde whom he has won through love his forever.
Sieglinde throws herself into Siegmund’s arms as, leaping down from the table, he clasps her to him in blissful oblivion, swinging the sword above her. Reeling, torn between laughter and tears, she calls to him: “Are you Siegmund whom I see here—I am Sieglinde who longs for you—your own sister have you won with the sword…” Doesn’t he realize that it is his twin sister, whom he believed lost, whom he holds in his arms, the sister with whom he shared his first years of life, whom he had thought dead?
His sister? And both united by love? What is the law of blood to them? The law of mankind? Wotan’s wild blood flows in their veins, the blood of the father who detests the law, who knows no bounds, his blood rages in their untrammeled hearts. What do brother and sister mean? You Sieglinde, I Siegmund—and outside rage the tempests of spring. Out into freedom! Away from the narrow confines of human habitation with its rigid laws? Wotan’s children are united.
They storm out into the spring—and amidst the wild tumult of the music the curtain falls.
In August 1932 Lotte returned for the first time since 1914 to the Forest Theater in Zoppot to sing Elsa in three spectacularly staged open-air performances of Lohengrin. There was a tragic aftermath: her Ortrud, Gertrud Bindernagel, was shot by her jealous husband after her return to Berlin. It was the second time that one of Lotte’s colleagues was killed by a suspicious spouse: Trajan Grosavescu, often Lotte’s tenor partner in Vienna, had earlier been shot by his wife, cutting short a very promising career. He was only thirty-three at the time.
Next for Lotte came Salzburg, for Rosenkavalier, Fidelio, and Die Frau ohne Schatten, two of each. The Fidelio was conducted by Strauss, the others by Clemens Krauss.
It was the first time that Die Frau ohne Schatten was presented in Salzburg. In those days the “Big” Festival Theatre had not yet been built. The theatre now known as the “little” one was really much too small for the sort of extravagant production that Strauss’s most elaborate opera demands. It took all the ingenuity of the stage director, Lothar Wallerstein, to suggest the many magical events in a reasonably convincing manner. At the dress rehearsal everything went wrong. Everyone was ripe for a nervous breakdown. Just before the first performance, Wallerstein made the sign of the cross. “I’m a Jew, of course,” he explained, “but I thought it couldn’t hurt and it might just possibly help.” According to Lotte’s account, it did.
Lotte’s fans were able to paste a few more pages of praise into their scrapbooks:
…There is really only one Marschallin, and her name is Lotte Lehmann….
(One can imagine that Viorica Ursuleac, who sang two of the four performances, was not overjoyed to read that review. She was soon to become a thorn in Lotte’s side, especially in Vienna.)
…The Fidelio of Lotte Lehmann stands on dizzy heights, a last perfection, an unsurpassable achievement, filled with truly Beethovenesque transcendence….
…Lotte Lehmann as Fidelio—something more perfect, more beautiful, something that goes straighter to the heart, can scarcely be imagined….What Frau Lehmann offers is great, pure, unparalleled art…. (F. K.)
The season in Salzburg was followed by Sieglinde and Elsa in Vienna; a concert with Bruno Walter at the Leipzig Gewandhaus; an Elsa in Munich; recitals in Munich, Graz, Paris, and Berlin. But most important were two opera performances in Berlin; the first was in Die Walküre, conducted by Erich Kleiber on September 29, 1932, at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden:
…The sensation of the evening [was] the world-famous Sieglinde of Lotte Lehmann….Her Sieglinde is a full-blooded woman filled with an uninhibited passion that breaks through all the limitations of conventional operatic acting. Her voice is as radiant, as brilliant, as ever. After the first act a hurricane of applause broke loose.
Then, on October 7th, Lotte sang Eva in a new production of Die Meistersinger, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with starry colleagues: Fritz Wolff as Walther, Rudolf Bockelmann as Hans Sachs, Alexander Kipnis as Pogner, Herbert Janssen as Kothner. Lotte was receiving the absolute top fee for her performances at the Staatsoper. Here is a report of that performance, sent to Edward Ziegler of the Met by the Met’s representative in Europe, the agent Erich Simon:
Yesterday a remarkable new production of Die Meistersinger took place here, under the musical leadership of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the staging by Heinz Tietjen. The performance was sublime beyond all praise, and seldom in my life have I been witness to such a tumultuous jubilation as on this occasion. The preparations for this premiere took three weeks of intensive rehearsals, and something unprecedentedly beautiful is the result…. The performance ended at 11:30. Although it was so late, the entire audience rose as one man and remained standing for over ten minutes…. It was an unforgettable evening!
Winifred Wagner, the widow of Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried and reigning queen of Bayreuth, heard Lotte’s Eva and had a talk with her later. In an interview for a Munich paper, Lotte recalls the gist of their conversation:
She told me it was the personal wish of Toscanini that I should sing Eva and Sieglinde next year in Bayreuth. I don’t yet know if I shall; probably I would not be able to participate in the Salzburg Festival if I did.
In Berlin Lotte also sang the Marschallin with her old friend and onetime mentor, Otto Klemperer, at the Staatsoper. Klemperer’s Rosenkavalier was not a success, according to all reports, except when Lehmann was on the stage. Critics missed the Viennese lift in the waltzes, the lightness of touch that other conductors had managed to bring to it. Maurice Abravanel, then a very young man, later a distinguished conductor and—among many other activities—Lotte Lehmann’s colleague at the Music Academy of the West, confirmed that view, recalling that the performance was heavily Teutonic, musically, except when Lotte sang, and then, each time, “it was as if the sun came out.”
Munich had not heard Lehmann since 1926, when she had sung Sieglinde, Eva, and the Figaro-Countess in their opera festival without creating any overwhelming sensation. Now they were “fascinated” with her:
…The way she sings lieder has a fascinating effect. And one can certainly say that each of the songs presented—and many of them belong among the most familiar in the whole literature—was an artistic experience such as a concert hall can only offer on very rare and festive days….
…The voice of this woman alone is like a miracle: one is fascinated by the fullness and clarity of her sound, by the astonishing range both high and low, and by the ineffably noble charm of her timbre. No less enthralling is her phenomenal mastery of that voice, a mastery which seems too natural to have been learned, which seems more likely to have been a gift from heaven….But in the final analysis the determining factor is neither voice nor technique: Lotte Lehmann’s greatest, loveliest gift is rather the art of interpretation. More inspired singing is not even to be dreamed of. The power of passionate feeling and the power of genuine artistic understanding are combined in her in perfect unity. There was not one piece that she did not bring fully to life, down to the last nuance of expression, preserving at the same time the overall line….How amazing it is that she could sing with equal intensity two such totally different pieces, one right after the other, as “Death and the Maiden” and “To be Sung on the Water” [“Auf dem Wasser zu singen”], the one full of deathly fear and darkness, the other all spring and light. And what she makes of a somewhat over-familiar piece like Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht“—how we experience that song anew, how we become conscious, perhaps for the first time, of its inner dramatic vehemence and shattering climax when Lotte Lehmann sings it! So the evening became one great triumph…. (Dr. A. W.)
…We heard the best-known songs of German romanticism and heard them new and fresh, beautiful as on the very first day…. (Dr. W. Sch., October 10, 1932)
The Berlin recital was also her first in that city. She had an enormous success with the public; but the critics were not prepared to capitulate as quickly as their colleagues in Munich (and practically everywhere else).
…Lotte Lehmann is conquering Berlin; the success of her lieder recital has perhaps even surpassed her operatic triumphs of the last few weeks. Yet, fundamentally, Frau Lehmann is no lieder-singer. Dramatic song is her natural domain. She is accustomed [on the stage] to make everything that she sings the expression of definite dramatic characters. With this intention, she characterizes, she dramatizes. And in that way she also dramatizes lieder; if she sings Schubert’s “Serenade,” then a whole stage setting is there, the garden at night, the little house, in front of the house the lover—and that is she herself—who sings his song of longing. It is very beautiful, but it is not quite right; for it is just the difference between lieder and opera that the Lied is not intended to be the expression of a particular person…. (V. Z.)
Mme. Lehmann’s partisans would answer Herr V. Z. that just that is the miracle of her lieder-singing: that one does see the garden, feel the scent of flowers on the evening air, and experience all of the lover’s longing in that living moment! Is that not great art? And she accomplishes that miracle without resorting to any stage effects, without any operatic gesture, without leaving her place in the curve of the piano. She does it with the power of her imagination, with her heart, with her voice, with her expressive eyes, with a deep inner conviction that communicates itself to every responsive listener immediately. As she has said, every poem, every song, was born from an experience. She re-creates that experience, that inspiration, and shares it with her audience. The only negative result is that one is spoiled, having experienced Lehmann; the other school of lieder-singing, however tastefully and musically phrased, however well-pronounced the words, will always seem rather boring in comparison; one can admire the craftsman-like detail, but how seldom one is truly carried away.
Lotte Lehmann herself has this to say about the art of singing lieder:
Devoid of all outward aids, without the illusions which scenery conveys, [the lieder singer] stands alone on the bare platform. His ideal is to create entirely from within himself, within the simple and compressed frame of a short song, the poetry and melody to which he gives the quality of his artistic personality. To present a song so that the audience forgets both itself and the singer and is lost with him in the mysterious depths of something at once selfless and transcendent— that is the goal of the lieder singer.
The Lied is a wonderful interweaving of word and tone. The text must be sung, therefore, as though it were created to be recited and the melody as if it were a song without words. To remain within the limits set by the style of lieder singing and yet to transform the stage into a living scene—that is the great task of the artist. The more he gives of his own feeling the more is he creative in his own right…. No one can be convincing who does not feel deeply. Nevertheless, to remain the master of one’s feeling so that it does not inhibit and hinder the development of the tone is a difficult task. We all strive for perfection, however unattainable it may be. Perfection, however, does not lie alone in technique; this can only provide the instrument on which the artist plays. Perfection requires the awakening strength which comes only from the heart.
When I study a new lieder program I put it aside for a few days after I have mastered it technically and musically. I must not fall into a routine which is the enemy of true art. I want always to experience anew when I sing, and my feeling must not be dimmed or spent. For this reason, for some days before a recital, I do not think at all of my program, but rather sing other songs in order to attain distance. The return to the selected program is then like a rebirth, a fresh and vitalizing experience.
The day after her first Berlin recital Lotte sailed for New York on the Bremen. According to an interview she gave in Leipzig, thirty-five concerts had been scheduled for her. With Otto—on leave from his position as vice-president of the Vienna Phoenix Insurance Company—and Ernö Balogh, her accompanist in America during the next few years, Lotte raced all over the U.S.A. and Canada in a more strenuous concert tour than any she had known in Europe.
Two things one must never say in America, “I am tired,” and “I don’t feel well”….It is a hard business learning that cruel, but at the same time, incredibly self-disciplining expression: “Keep smiling”…. People often ask me what the American audience is like—to which I cannot possibly give a comprehensive answer. It is absolutely different [in different places] and always unexpected: often in smaller towns one comes across an astonishing degree of appreciation of the German Lied, often one has the depressing feeling of singing to bare, dead walls….Then it is always a battle: I vow obstinately to myself that I will conquer them—that I will trap them in the net of lieder I will cast over them….Sometimes I don’t succeed. Then I am as exhausted as if I had been through the hardest physical labor….In many parts of America it is pioneer work, awakening the appreciation of the Lied….Of course I am only speaking of one part of the audience. There are towns with a European appreciation of music, not to mention New York which is, of course, entirely cosmopolitan, very spoiled, and tremendously critical….Meanwhile [on tour] it was hard enough to say with a smile that I felt fresh as a daisy when I stepped out of the train dead tired, and was met by a delegation of clubwomen or managers at the station….It was difficult after a recital to have to sign hundreds of autographs patiently, hurry off to the station in my concert gown, frequently with almost nothing to eat but a sandwich in a drugstore.
That was written for publication; the following immediate impressions were shared with her new friend, Viola Westervelt, in a letter:
I was a driven workhorse, not a human being any more. I sold my voice for dollars, lived in a train or on the concert platform; and the only beautiful time—California—was spoiled by the flu, which made me very miserable and nervous. If my husband hadn’t been with me, I could not have borne any of it at all. Of course, there were individual lovely and artistic highlights: orchestral concerts with Bruno Walter, lieder recitals in New York, Boston, etc. Also Oberlin was nice [where Viola had been married]. An enchanting little city. On its friendly streets I began to realize that there is still some nature left in the world, and not just gasoline stations, neon signs, and movie houses….
Except for that bad case of the flu, California had at least three lovely things to offer: a new friend in Lili Petschnikoff (herself a violinist and the wife of the violinist, Alexandre Petschnikoff); Santa Barbara (Lotte’s future home); and what became known, and was frequently quoted, as “the perfect notice.”
Madame Petschnikoff, who quickly became a very dear friend, was later instrumental in providing a number of distinguished refugees from the Nazi terror with opportunities to find worthy employment in the U.S.A. (not an easy task during the depression and the war), to the great enrichment of America’s cultural life. Lili Petschnikoff gave Lotte a uniquely appropriate gift: a gold pendant with two cameos that had belonged to the original Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Johanna Wagner, Wagner’s niece.
As for Santa Barbara, where the Krauses spent Christmas, Lotte fell in love with that very special spot, and tried to persuade Otto that they should retire there when her career was over. He, however, could not imagine that any place but Vienna could ever seem like home to him.
And here are excerpts from that “perfect notice,” which was written by Redfern Mason for the San Francisco Examiner, December 20, 1932:
MME. LEHMANN RECOGNIZED AS GREAT ARTIST….
It is said that every woman often thinks she is in love. But when it really happens, she doesn’t think; she knows. It is the same with the dear public and artists. They often credit greatness to inferior talent; but, when the real thing comes along, they know beyond the possibility of doubt.
By the time Lotte Lehmann had sung “Von ewiger Liebe” last night [the first number on the program] the audience gathered in the Opera House recognized not merely a singer of unusual merit, but one of the succession of great artists…..Nobody, in my experience, has ever sung the “Erlkönig” with such mastery of characterization….This was magnificent singing and the audience, guided by the infallible instinct of the crowd, was fully aware of it….That heavenly “Ständchen” [Schubert’s]…had a beauty that left folks not far from tears.
And it is not an aloof, distant talent, that of this young German lieder singer: she is not a goddess condescending to humanity; she is a priestess who raises men and women to heaven’s gate….
Lehmann plays on all the stops of human emotion with a victorious sincerity. She can make her voice swell out in ecstatic triumph; yet the tone is never harsh; and always, between her and the audience, there is the feeling of a subtle sympathy, as if the artist were singing not merely her own emotions, but the emotions crying out for expression in your heart and mine.
Which means that Lotte Lehmann is a great artist, one of the uncrowned queens of humanity, uncrowned because her art is nobler than any merely physical crown could be….
Lotte’s American tour included a benefit recital for the Women’s Trade Union League in Carnegie Hall on November 28. Eleanor Roosevelt gave an introductory speech—later she took a keen interest in Lotte’s career and they became friends. In January 1933 Lotte gave three concerts with the New York Philharmonic and Bruno Walter, the first in Philadelphia, the second in Carnegie Hall, the third at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
A major success in New York. Outstanding reviews in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco. Nevertheless, away from those great centers it seemed as if no one had ever heard of Lotte Lehmann. Her accompanist urged her to hire a publicist. America is such an enormous country. Good notices in New York papers are not necessarily read in Detroit or New Orleans or Kansas City. Lotte was horrified at the thought of paying to get her name into circulation. How unworthy of the dignity of an artist! In Europe that had never been necessary. She was famous because of the excellence of her art. Publicity of the American type is still practically unknown in European musical circles. Lotte was adamantly against any such thing. So Otto and Ernö Balogh, the accompanist, decided that a bit of subterfuge was called for. Behind her back, they hired Constance Hope, a brilliantly clever publicist who had recently opened her own business and—partly thanks to her success with Lehmann—soon had most of the great names in the classical music field as clients. The next time that Lotte returned to America she was astonished to find her name everywhere. Sometimes she was not exactly thrilled with what was written about her. Often the Lotte Lehmann of the articles was unrecognizable as herself. She might read about “Lotte Lehmann’s favorite recipe for `brown Betty'” (definitely not a typical Lehmann specialty); her advice on child-rearing (she was actually terrified of children); almost anything that would present her to the American people as folksy, lovable, and down-to-earth. But the name Lotte Lehmann, like the name of a toothpaste or an automobile, was beginning to get reader recognition. Lotte was told that her manager had arranged for the publicity, and that it was he who had hired the charming Miss Hope, who soon made herself indispensable to Lotte, performing all sorts of helpful services not generally included in a publicity contract. By the time Lotte found out the truth—that Constance was on her own payroll—they were fast friends and the advantages of the relationship were totally obvious.
Constance Hope wrote an amusing book about her clients and the campaigns she dreamed up for them. Lehmann heads the list. Here, from “Lehmann for the Layman,” are some excerpts from Publicity is Broccoli:
No one who knows me will be surprised to see that I begin this book with a chapter about Lotte Lehmann. In the first place, Lehmann influenced the course of my business more than anyone else. Secondly, in the case of Lehmann I’m a press agent con amore. As a member in good standing of the “Lehmaniacs,” I’m only reverting to type by opening with Lehmann. And finally, Lotte has become the star salesman for Constance Hope Associates. I got Lehmann, who begot Lauritz Melchior, who begot etc. Therefore it’s logical, if not chronological, to commence with her.
…In spite of the press of business, I often found time to indulge my first love and attend a concert. Thus it happened that I was present when Lotte Lehmann gave her first New York recital. I knew via the musical grapevine that Lehmann was a Prima Donna in its noblest sense in Europe’s most famous opera houses and concert halls. I went with my mother and sat in the very last row, while she sat in the first. At intermission we met and compared notes. My mother was wildly enthusiastic, while I—well, to put it brutally, I wasn’t that impressed. Mother, thinking this must be due to the location of my seat, insisted that we change places for the second half, and immediately I saw what the trouble was. Then and there I made a mental note that if ever I had Lotte Lehmann as a client I would see to it that she had footlights whenever she sang. It’s not only the glorious voice, but the face, mirroring every emotion and mood of the song, that makes Lehmann supreme as a lieder singer.
This same quality has also been of great help in publicizing her, for whenever Lehmann comes face to face with an editor or with those hard-boiled gentlemen of the press, the photographers, it has resulted not only in good publicity, but more often than not, a friendship.
…As an artist, Lotte Lehmann is the most generous and unselfish person I’ve ever known. I don’t believe she has a single ounce of conceit about herself and her work. She is always the first to praise a fellow artist and the last to believe that she herself has given a glorious performance. Jealousy and backbiting among musicians are proverbial, but to this day I have never met an artist who has anything but the highest praise for Lotte Lehmann. And I’ve never met anyone who has heard her say an unkind or spiteful thing about a fellow singer.
…And what I was most grateful for was her marvelous spirit of co-operation. She would pose for pictures and submit to interviews even when she was dead-tired. And she never complained, although, in her own words, I “dragged her through all the hells of publicity.”
…Lotte, bless her, was never quite clear about the purpose of all these stories we released in such profusion…. Lotte has never yet seen why anyone should be interested in what she serves for Thanksgiving or how she decorates the table for Christmas, nor why she should be photographed at a flower show near a prize cactus which has interested her less than anything in the place, or at a dog show near a blue-ribbon mastiff when she prefers the Pomeranians and wire-haired terriers.
…At the end of that first season our efforts in Lehmann’s behalf began to show results, both in clippings and in the pleasant form of advance concert-bookings. Most vivid proof of her introduction to the general public, however, was afforded to Lehmann herself. One day during a shopping tour Lotte spelled her name for a clerk in a big department store. The girl looked at her with renewed interest and asked, “Oh, the opera singer?”
…Moses Smith, then a critic and now musical director of Columbia Recording Corporation…was telling me about a brief meeting with Lehmann and I said I was sorry he didn’t get to talk with her longer. “My dear,” Smith replied, “Lotte Lehmann can do more in fifteen minutes than Du Barry could do in a whole night.”
Lotte had never lost her love of writing. As a schoolgirl she had submitted poems to all the Berlin papers. She sent many of them to her elocution teacher for criticism and advice. Later, in Vienna, she published a little book called Verse in Prosa, dedicated to her parents. She was the author of numerous newspaper articles about her travels in various countries. Now she was writing her autobiography. Some fairly extensive excerpts were printed in The New York Herald Tribune. The first part was published by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig, in 1933 (the expanded form appeared in German in 1937, in English in 1938).
Lotte gave a Town Hall recital in New York on February 1933 before her return to Europe.
She did not sing in Berlin in March 1933—as has been claimed by some—in a special gala performance of Die Meistersinger conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden after which the singers were presented to Adolf Hitler, who is supposed to have disapproved of the brunette Eva and ordered that the singer wear a blond wig in all future performances. The source of that erroneous report is the faulty memory—or sheer malice—of Rudolf Bockelmann, the Hans Sachs of that performance, a known Nazi sympathizer. He had indeed sung opposite Lotte’s Eva in Berlin in 1932. But on the very date in question, March 21, 1933, she was verifiably singing Fidelio in Vienna.
After some precious time with her mother, Lotte returned to Rome and Marseilles for recitals, sang eight of her well-loved roles and several concerts in Vienna, opened the London season with Rosenkavalier again, and performed the Marschallin and Sieglinde in Paris.
The Vienna Philharmonic, at a rehearsal for a concert with Felix von Weingartner, honored Lotte with its prestigious ring. She was thrilled to become the “bride” of the orchestra.
A particularly memorable event in Vienna was a joint recital with Alfred Piccaver at the end of May. “Sensational Concert” was the headline of the following review:
…How Vienna celebrates her favorites and how the Viennese hold art above everything else! That could be experienced anew in this unique concert. Two of the most beautiful voices of our time were united in a joint recital and were frenetically applauded by the enthusiastic crowd that filled the auditorium of the Concert House up to the ceiling. The greatest of all miracles is the singing soul, and that is what our Lehmann possesses; whether she sings lieder or opera arias, the listener always forgets the world around him, for this enchantress ensnares him completely with her great art….
Besides lieder and arias they sang duets from Faust and Tosca. It was a comeback for Piccaver. The fans—and that means most of Vienna—were thrilled.
Lotte was understandably in need of a real vacation. She and Otto went to Fritz’s 160-year old Frisian house, with its picturesque, moss-covered, thatched roof and its tiled inside walls, on the island of Sylt. They went riding every morning. Lotte loved the austere beauty of the rather barren landscape beneath a grey sky. She described her mood in one of her articles. “How wonderful that was for me: far from any ambition, far from any battles to be fought, to lie in the grassy dunes, with a quiet heartbeat and a deep awareness of happiness, and to look up at the sky….”
Something new was introduced into the Salzburg Festival, something so successful that it became a regular feature of every festival there for the next four years as well. Lotte Lehmann sang a lieder recital at the Mozarteum, accompanied by Bruno Walter. The two of them, an unbeatable team, made a sensational impression. Their recitals together were considered highlights of the Salzburg Festivals until the Anschluss put an ugly end to their participation. Lotte wrote to Viola Westervelt: “It was wonderful to make music with him. What marvelous things he told me about those songs! A rehearsal with him is always an experience for me.”
Bruno Walter, in Theme and Variations, has this to say about those recitals:
It was admirable how Lotte Lehmann’s dramatic feeling, to which she had formerly been inclined to yield almost to the point where she did violence to her voice, had gradually become restrained to fit the rendition of songs. Amazing, too, that her impetuous elemental personality should have found the way to the stylistic purity of the song by means of her own almost infallible instinct. The advice I gave her occasionally referred merely to details. She owed to herself the mastery of the essentials of lieder-singing. Her deeply penetrating understanding made her conscious of the beauty of her melodic line as well as of the spiritual and emotional contents of the words. She managed to combine these two elements of lieder-singing in a frequently ideal synthesis, and thus to fulfill the composer’s intentions. And even in those weaker moments from which no instant-bound reproductive artist can escape, the purely vocal demands of a song or an operatic part may have suffered occasionally, but never their poetic essence.
Innate simplicity and tender sensitiveness are the poles of Lehmann’s being. These qualities manifest themselves in her life as well as in her art, charmingly changeful at times, and often harmoniously blended. It is natural that so variously gifted a person—she has a genuine gift for writing poetry and for painting—should reveal certain erratic traits and be frequently guided by impulses. But our friendship, in which she has cordially included my family, has remained uninfluenced by atmospheric fluctuations in her unchangeably young soul, for that friendship had had its source in our essential artistic affinity.
Lotte, over and over again, and in so many of her writings, always gave credit for her eventual mastery of the Lied to Bruno Walter, whom she considered her teacher.
We felt the same heartbeat for the music we had chosen. There was never the slightest difference of opinion. What have I not learned from that loving, kindly, so thoroughly intelligent man, from that genius?…When I glanced at Bruno at the piano, inwardly collecting myself and ready to give him the nod to begin, I often sensed that something sprang between us. A divine spark? There were hours in which the world ceased to exist for us. Of course, the audience was sitting there, breathless and in suspense, already well-inclined to us; but I did not see them. Borne aloft by Bruno, I floated over everything, as if dematerialized. That was a state of most exalted happiness—such as one cannot experience even in moments of the utmost human fulfillment.
So much love, patience, hope, and peacefulness emanated from him, so much knowledge about the fundamental values of art, that it is hard to find words in speaking of this phenomenon.
When Lotte was eighty years old, she once said with a twinkle in her eyes: “I should have married him. But he was an angel. And one doesn’t marry angels.”
Lehmann sang only one other performance that season of 1933 in Salzburg, a Marschallin in the last of three Rosenkavaliers. She had turned down an offer from Bayreuth, and canceled the other Salzburg appearances that had been planned for her, because she felt that she really needed a complete rest that summer. Elisabeth Rethberg sang the only Fidelio that year; Rose Pauly took over the Dyer’s Wife; and Ursuleac did the other two Marschallins. All sorts of rumors were circulating, of course. That Lotte was fatally ill. That she had lost her voice. But she came back from Sylt healthier than she had felt in ages.
Immediately after Salzburg, in September, the famous, heavily abridged recording of Der Rosenkavalier was made in Vienna. Robert Heger conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (the regular orchestra of the Vienna State Opera). The recording, long the only one available at all, preserved at least part of three world-famous interpretations: Lehmann’s Marschallin, Mayr’s Baron Ochs, and Schumann’s Sophie. Maria Olszewska, the Octavian, was particularly admired for her Wagner roles; some find the sound of her voice a trifle too mature for the seventeen-year-old Quinquin.
Incidentally, the voice that sings the Marschallin’s very last line, the famous “ja, ja,” is not Lotte’s at all.
Lotte’s version: after the trio, absent-mindedly forgetting that there was that one more phrase to sing, she simply left the studio. No one knew where to find her and time was running out. So Elisabeth Schumann, the Sophie, sang the Marschallin’s last words. She had sung opposite Lotte so many times that she felt confident that she could catch the special Lehmann inflection. It was some time before anyone noticed.
But the matrix numbers tell a different story. The ending of Act III was the first item on the schedule for the second day of recording (the excerpts were not recorded in the same order as in the opera). Lotte did not leave too early; she arrived too late.
That recording helped to make Lehmann’s Marschallin familiar to music lovers all over the world. The music critic of The New Yorker (February 17, 1934) wrote: “Mme. Lehmann runs away with the album. Her Marschallin is the finest performance of any role that I ever have heard on records, a masterpiece of expressive restraint.”
I can’t resist including an anecdote from At the Piano—Ivor Newton. The author was a friend and neighbor of mine when I lived in London. Through him I met Maggie Teyte, Jussi Bjoerling, and Marguerite d’Alvarez. Later, he accompanied the Lehmann master classes in London. He was a gifted raconteur, full of funny stories. In his memoirs he has just described the sensational success of Lotte’s first Marschallin, in 1924 at Covent Garden. Delia Reinhardt and Maria Olszewska had shared the role of Octavian in those performances of Der Rosenkavalier under Bruno Walter.
Maria Olszewska was less frequently heard in the concert hall than the others, though she still comes to London and stays with her widowed brother-in-law. On a recent visit he told her as he was going out that the window cleaner was expected. “The window cleaner’s always happy if he’s given a cup of tea,” he told her. “And he’s rather unusual—he’s very fond of opera and loves talking about music.”
Olszewska had not made herself ready for the day but was still wearing a favorite old dressing-gown and a scarf about her head when she entertained the window cleaner to his morning tea. Before long he was advising her about the gramophone records she should buy. “Of course,” he said, “if you want Der Rosenkavalier, don’t buy any of the new recordings. Get the old one—it’s a bit hard to get hold of, but it’s easily the best. There’s Richard Mayr as Baron Ochs; the Marschallin is Lotte Lehmann and Elisabeth Schumann is Sophie, and the Octavian is…is…”
“Me.” said Olszewska.
“I can’t remember her name,” said the window cleaner. “I know it’s Mayr and Lehmann and Schumann and…and…”
“Me,” said Olszewska.
“No, I can’t remember her name,” he said, paying no attention to Olszewska’s interjections. The next time he met her brother-in-law, he mentioned the conversation.” Who was that funny old woman?” he asked. “She seems to think she’s an opera singer.”
Strauss had asked Lotte to create the title role in his new opera, Arabella, at the world première in Dresden. It took place on July 1, 1933, without her. According to her statement at the time, “the Austro-German border troubles” made it impossible for her to keep that engagement. Strangely enough, Lehmann, who was never very certain about dates and had little awareness, then, of the complicated political tensions involved, seems to have completely forgotten the reason by the time she wrote her book about the Strauss operas.
“Mephisto’s Musings,” a humor-and-gossip column that used to appear regularly in Musical America, offered the following version—which may or may not contain an element of truth—in October 1934:
…I wonder how many American music lovers noticed in June 1933 that the much admired Lotte Lehmann did not sing in the première of Strauss’s new opera, Arabella, in Dresden, for which she had been engaged?…Fact is that she was engaged for it by Fritz Busch, when he was at Dresden. But with his removal from the scene by Adolf the First [Hitler], Clemens Krauss was called from Vienna to conduct the première….Rumor had it that Krauss insisted that Viorica Ursuleac sing the title role, in fact, he made it a stipulation of his conducting the work. I never printed this, although I had it at the time from an unimpeachable source. [Fritz Busch was not Jewish; he chose to leave Germany in protest against the Nazi régime.]
Lotte, however, was asked to sing the first Vienna performance of Arabella, in October.
She was enchanted with the part and looked forward eagerly to the Vienna première. Her enthusiasm for Arabella, during the period of study, is alive in a letter to Viola Westervelt:
I am learning Arabella as if possessed. The part is glorious, extraordinarily singable and simple in the vocal line, as well as dramatically enchanting. I don’t know how I’ll learn it in time….My whole day is filled with singing and studying! My recreation is an hour in the morning when I ride through the Prater under a shower of floating chestnut blossoms. Then I think: Oh, there is that too—divinely beautiful nature! My work keeps me far from her, and yet near through my longing for her.
That was written in April; in September she had more about Arabella to tell Viola:
You’ll like “Arabella” very much. I am delighted. It is an enchanting role, full of charm and vivacity [Schwung]. I am completely under the spell of this very graceful music.
Later, Lotte’s feeling for the part was soured.
In Midway in My Song Lotte describes the rehearsal period as “one of the most ungratifying recollections” of her entire career. Viorica Ursuleac, who sang the world premiere in Dresden that Lotte thought Strauss had promised to her, was to alternate with Lehmann in the role in Vienna. The two rivals disliked each other intensely. For Lotte, Ursuleac was a disturbing presence at the rehearsals. The conductor, Clemens Krauss, was Ursuleac’s lover, later her husband (in 1944). Lehmann wrote: “I am sure that he would have preferred it if the singer who took my place in Dresden had done the Vienna premiere as well.”
In her 1964 book, Five Operas and Richard Strauss, Lotte shows little empathy with the character, seeming to see Arabella more as she is described in moments of frustration by other persons in the drama than as she really is in her noble and beautiful soul. Subconsciously perhaps, the role became for Lotte inextricably associated with the heart-wrenching circumstances of the première. Lotte’s mother died on October 20, 1933, the day between the dress rehearsal and the first performance.
Clemens Krauss… called at once to say that everyone understood what this death meant to me and that therefore he scarcely dared to ask if I would consider going on just the same. However, I should bear in mind that critics from everywhere had come to Vienna especially for this performance, that of course it had been sold out long before that; as there could be no possible substitution for a Strauss première, the house for the first time in history would have to be closed if I refused. Viorica Ursuleac was due to sing Arabella that same night in Berlin and therefore could not take my place.
Crushed as I was by the burden of my loss, by the death of the person who was to me the best mother in the world, I could react only with a lethargic assent: “I’ll go on.”
It was an experience I shall never forget. No power in the world is greater than that of music. For two brief hours it enabled me to forget my deep personal grief, to be Arabella rather than my own tormented, pain-racked, and mourning self. This, in my opinion, is the highest kind of satisfaction our work has to offer, the magic ability to transform and transcend one’s self, to escape from the grey routine of everyday life into a different and far more fascinating world. Blessed work, after all; and how grateful I was for that première.
Strauss, profoundly touched by my consent to go ahead and sing, wanted to take me out with him to the footlights at the end of the performance, but I had to refuse. I had done all I could, but I certainly did not want to be applauded for having, by the grace of God, passed a test.
Thus Strauss himself stepped out instead and announced that he would accept the thanks of the audience on behalf of Lotte Lehmann.
Toscanini attended this performance and heard me for the first time. Later on he told me how very moved he had been.
H. G. Wells, who attended the premiere, summed up Lotte’s performance with one word: “Arabellissima.”
Lotte wrote a touching letter to Viola:
The day before yesterday I buried my good, old mother, who was released from great pain through a gentle death. It was a lived-out, fully completed life; she was eighty-three years old. But I loved her above everything else, and I am infinitely sad that she is not here any more. She died on the 20th; on the 21st I had to sing the Arabella première, to save the performance. That I was able to, yes, that I was only “Arabella” on the stage, and not the grieving daughter, that is the miracle through which an artist is given grace. I am happy that today I begin a strenuous concert-tour; only work is the best helper and comforter….