A Documentary Biography
By Beaumont Glass
(Bolded text is either reinstated, updated, or new text that did not appear in the original 1988 publication.)
The Lioness Was Less Dangerous
What singer has not dreamed of a Metropolitan Opera contract, the sweetest confirmation of operatic success? There are a few great singers who made a name in opera during the past hundred years without ever having appeared at the Met. But they are the exceptions. No other opera company has consistently presented so many international stars. Yet Lotte Lehmann, by 1934 the most famous, most admired leading lady in European opera, had apparently been ignored by America’s leading opera company for a strangely long time:
It is curious, how long it was before the Metropolitan Opera engaged me….I had already been an internationally well-known singer for some time; but it was only after my successful recital at New York’s Town Hall that I received the contract I had longed for for years.
The Metropolitan, like the Vienna State Opera, is the dream of all opera singers. So it was with high expectations that I began my engagement in New York. But the actuality was a sort of anti-climax. All my colleagues there were long-familiar friends from festival performances all over Europe. And I saw right from the beginning that there would be nothing especially different here….
My debut was as Sieglinde with the one-and-only, the incomparable Siegmund: Lauritz Melchior….[Giulio] Gatti-Casazza, the general manager, came to my dressing room afterwards with many flattering compliments. I would have liked to answer: “You could have had all that a lot sooner….”
The Metropolitan was not immune to the Great Depression. Many of its backers had suffered financial ruin in the crash of 1929. The income of the opera company began to drop by a million dollars a year. In 1932 the management asked the leading singers to accept a substantial cut in their fees. Two of the brightest stars, Maria Jeritza and Beniamino Gigli, promptly left the Met. With Jeritza gone, the way was clear for Lehmann. Her Town Hall recital in January of 1932 had created an enormous stir in New York musical circles. Many well-to-do Americans had heard her Fidelio and her Marschallin in Salzburg. It was perfectly clear that Lehmann belonged at the Met.
Her European agent offered the Metropolitan a few Lotte Lehmann guest performances at the beginning of their 1932-33 season, before her already scheduled American concerts. Nothing came of that proposition. But the Met invited Lotte to sing two performances in the following season, for $600 each. Then the dickering began. Lotte had already signed a contract with an American concert manager for fourteen recitals in the USA. The dollar was rapidly falling, and many of the European artists under contract to the Met were demanding higher fees, which the Met was not in a position to pay. Lotte feared that she would lose money unless the Metropolitan were willing to reimburse her for travel expenses to and from Europe. When that was refused, she asked for a third performance. The management agreed.
She was almost forty-six when she finally made her Metropolitan debut as Sieglinde on Thursday evening, January 11, 1934, ten years after Covent Garden, eight years after Salzburg, six years after Paris, three after Chicago. It was high time. Besides Melchior, the cast included Gertrude Kappel as Brünnhilde, Ludwig Hofmann as Wotan, and Karin Branzell as Fricka. Artur Bodanzky was the conductor. Branzell, by the way, suffered an excruciating attack of gallstone pain while she was singing on stage. She clenched her fists and struggled for breath but continued to sing her part. She had to sit down on a rock for the last of her solos, but she managed to finish her role. Her heroism was duly noted in the next day’s reviews. As for Lehmann, the debut was a triumph:
…Never before in the history of the Metropolitan Opera House has there been such a scene as that at the close of the first act of Die Walküre last night….The instant the curtain fell the applause rang out spontaneously; then when Lotte Lehmann came before the footlights it rose in volume, and as her confreres left her alone—something rare on the first curtain call—the whole audience broke into cheering which lasted a full ten minutes.
It was a welcome that must have gladdened her heart, for it came from everywhere—parquette, boxes, and galleries. It was honest and sincere and every bit deserved. In the lobby, after things had quieted down a bit, everybody talked to everybody else and all were saying the same thing—”nothing like it in their lives,” while the oldsters, your scribe among them, are firm in the belief that nothing like it in singing or acting has come from a Sieglinde in the half-century’s life of the Metropolitan.
Lehmann is the very essence of grace and beauty. We knew she could sing, for she gave us a recital last season; but we didn’t know what the great love scene at the end of the first act was like until she showed us, and, rising fully to the occasion, Melchior played up to her and sang up to her as he never has before. She was an inspiration. What a glorious voice she has…. (Charles Pike Sawyer, The New York Evening Post, January 12, 1934)
…To tell the story of her achievement last night is to report a complete triumph of a kind rarely won from an audience at a Wagnerian occasion. The delighted auditors vented their feelings in a whirlwind of applause and a massed chorus of cheers….More expressive, emotional, lovely singing has not been heard from any soprano at the Metropolitan for many a season…. (Leonard Liebling, The New York American, January 12, 1934)
…To those familiar with her lieder singing her finished phrasing, precise in definition yet always plastic, and her crystalline diction were no surprise. Yet even her admirers in the recital field were not altogether prepared for the other qualities she brought to her superb impersonation: the dramatic fire, the capacity to endow the vocal line with a breadth befitting Wagner’s immense canvas yet to retain always the purely musical finish she might have bequeathed to a phrase of Hugo Wolf; her telling restraint and sureness as an actress. At the end of the first act a cheering audience recalled her seven times….But if the first act was of a sort to startle the critical faculty into sharp attention and admiration, her performance in the second had an electrifying quality that swept that faculty away for once and made even the guarded listener a breathless participant in the emotions of the anguished Sieglinde…. (H. H. [Hubbard Hutchinson], The New York Times)
…There has not been such a vital and thrilling first act of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan in years…. (W. J. Henderson, The New York Sun.)
…Rarely has any singer been so uproariously applauded and so often recalled as Mme. Lehmann was at the conclusion of Act I…. (Pitts Sanborn, The New York World-Telegram)
Time had this to say in the January 22 issue:
…If the singer had been an Italian tenor who had spent his last nickel on the claque, the ovation could not have been bigger….[Before the performance] Lehmann was nervous. Her husband knew it. The battered old doll which she kisses for luck each time she goes on stage trembled in her hands. But the audience saw no signs of uncertainty, no lack of confidence….
Some members of the audience mistook Lotte for Lilli Lehmann, who had last sung at the Met in 1899. These remarks were overheard during the intermissions: “How remarkably well preserved!” “How old could she possibly be?”
On that very same evening Arturo Toscanini was conducting his first concert of the season with the New York Philharmonic. The date became an omen. He had heard Lehmann’s Arabella. Soon they would be working together for the first time.
Meanwhile, Lotte dashed about from Buffalo to Cuba and then to Milwaukee, which was having an unusually severe cold spell—quite a shock to Lotte and her accompanist after the heat of Havana! The Milwaukee Leader ran the headline:
WARMTH OF LEHMANN’S VOICE THAWS HER AUDIENCE.
…Lotte Lehmann, who sings lieder as a fine actor reads lines, came to the Pabst Theatre last night. She saw practically the entire membership of Miss Rice’s Music Lovers thaw under the warmth of her performance, and conquered every cold hand in the throng….A glow settled over the audience which mounted into an excited flame as the singer progressed…. (Harriet Pettibone Clinton, Milwaukee Leader, January 30, 1934)
The very next night she sang in Cleveland, to an even more ecstatic audience.
…Somehow this recital revived one’s faith in man and his possibilities….If human beings can create songs such as were presented on the program last night, and if every so often there comes an artist such as Lehmann who can recreate their splendor in such matchless fashion—then this old world is, indeed, a good place to live in…. (Denoe Leedy, The Cleveland Press, February 1, 1934)
February 11, 1934, was a major date in Lehmann’s career. On that evening she sang for the first time under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. For him, too, it was a first: the first time that he had participated in a commercial radio broadcast. It was “The Cadillac Hour.” Before Beethoven and after Mendelssohn the announcer touted as tastefully as possible the advantages of the Cadillac car. Lotte sang “Dich, teure Halle” and Fidelio’s aria. It was a landmark for radio. The response was so favorable that General Motors was moved to sponsor an entire series of classical music broadcasts.
The next day Lotte was back in Town Hall, sharing a program with Myra Hess and others for the Beethoven Society. Shortly before their entrance, she whispered to her accompanist: “I feel quite calm. The program is easy, the audience here is always nice and appreciative, and there’s no Toscanini to make me terrified.” Then she walked out onto the stage and there was Toscanini in the front row. Lotte was so startled that she nearly forgot to sing her first phrase.
Then, on February 24, she sang her second Metropolitan Opera performance. This time the opera was Tannhäuser. Toscanini was in the audience, with Geraldine Farrar. Melchior sang the title role, Maria Olszewska was Venus, Friedrich Schorr the Wolfram, Bodanzky the conductor. Once again Lotte had a remarkable triumph as Elisabeth. Once again the reviews were fantastic.
The road again. Washington, D.C., Montclair, N.J.
March 4. Town Hall recital. Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss. Eight encores. The venerable H. J. Henderson noted in his review that Lotte “held the audience in the hollow of her hand.” That audience included once again both Toscanini and Farrar. Henderson’s review needs to be quoted:
…What might be the secret of the spell she wove? Possibly, first of all, the healthiness of her art. Second, perhaps its revelation of a very fine type of womanhood….When she sings she does so with a conviction you cannot resist. You feel that you are receiving something precious from an exceptional person…. (The New York Sun, March 5, 1934)
No rest. On to Toledo, Minneapolis, Reading. In Minneapolis Lotte took the time to confide her happy feelings to Viola Westervelt, who had returned to France, in a letter dated March 9, 1934:
Up to now everything has been a true triumph for me—I can say that without exaggeration. Never before has a tour been so untroubled, so full of unforgettable impressions, as this year. Everything has gone so well and so beautifully that I often think my good mother must be with me….The Elisabeth was a stunning success—[Lawrence] Gilman wrote that I would have been the fulfillment of Wagner’s dreams if, eighty years ago, he could have had the luck to hear me. On the 4th I had a sold-out Town Hall recital; the people simply went mad and I sang exceptionally well—you know how seldom I ever feel that—but I was as if intoxicated and raised above everything terrestrial by that enthusiasm. The charming Farrar and Toscanini were at the recital from the beginning to the end. Toscanini means to me a very special chapter in my life. This man, before whom everyone that sings or plays for him trembles, is so wonderful to me, that I am quite speechless. After the recital he said to me that absolutely no one compares to me (“une artiste sans égale“) and that no superlative would be too high to tell me how delighted he is. I am so proud—I almost wept for happiness. The reviews are all glorious, except that the critics all write that I often let myself be carried away too much by my temperament and that I then overdramatize. That may well be. But only a block of ice can remain cold—in such a tumult of enthusiasm….The Herald Tribune (a third-ranked critic, so I hear [Jerome D. Bohm]) tore me to pieces. I would have been very upset by that if Toscanini had not said such beautiful things to me. He inscribed his picture to me: “alla cara Lotte con affetto, amicizia e grande ammirazione” [to dear Lotte with affection, friendship, and great admiration]….Dear Viola, the world all around us has gone crazy—caught up in politics and fighting—and yet in me something is singing and ringing. Music is the most beautiful thing after all. Whoever can live in this world of music, and not worry about the other one, is very lucky.
Before very long Lotte too would have to worry about that “other one.” In the year since Hitler had become chancellor of Germany, Nazism had spread its tentacles into every stratum of German life. A ruthless persecution of the Jews had begun almost immediately. A national boycott of all Jewish professions and businesses was in effect since April 1933. The Hitler Youth Movement was indoctrinating the younger generation with Nazi ideology, to undermine any counteracting influence from the family or the church.
Bruno Walter was refused entrance to the Leipzig Gewandhaus when he arrived to rehearse for a concert. He left Germany. Austria was still “free.”
In protest against such treatment of Jewish artists, Toscanini refused to conduct in Bayreuth, where he had been the leading attraction, the guarantee of high artistic standards. Wagner’s stepdaughter, Daniela Thode, made a special trip to Italy to plead with him to change his mind. Hitler wrote him a personal letter, urging him to return. Toscanini was adamant.
In February 1934 fascists and socialists were battling in the streets of Vienna.
Near the end of 1933, on November 19, Lotte had sung a recital in Geneva, for the first time. She sang in the mammoth Palace of the Reformation, where the sessions of the League of Nations took place, because no theatre or concert hall in the city would have been large enough to accommodate the enormous demand for tickets. Germany had withdrawn from the League of Nations just one month before, so she could hardly avoid political questions in her meetings with the press. One paper printed the following statement from her interview with a reporter who signed himself André de Blonay:
I hate politics.
I am an artist, nothing but an artist: I have the marvelous privilege of living in a land where there is only beauty.
I like to sing everywhere, in all countries, before all audiences.
I know the miraculous power of art to unite people, to lift them above themselves, to let them forget their shabby disputes.
In the presence of art, there are no enemies, no borders, no political parties; there are human beings who suffer and look for the light.
Those are very beautiful words, spoken from the heart. Lotte sensed the ugliness that was darkening the land of her birth. But it had not yet touched her personally. Her eyes were not yet opened to the full reality of it.
She was not alone in that.
While Hitler was perverting and distorting Wagner’s message for his own ends, Lotte was helping to hymn the greatest of Germany’s treasures, immortal art, which, as Wagner wrote at the end of Die Meistersinger, will outlast any earthly empire. In My Many Lives Lehmann has this to say on that theme:
In these days it seems doubly thrilling to recall this speech [of Hans Sachs]. There will always be masters, who will hold high the greatest gift which mankind can offer, wherever it may have been born; there will always be masters to remind the world that one thing is eternal, that one thing stands supreme above all others: Art.
On March 15, 1934, she sang Eva in that opera, as her third performance at the Metropolitan. Friedrich Schorr, a very great Hans Sachs, was her partner, along with Max Lorenz as Walter. Lotte’s Eva was another revelation to New York. No one before her had ever given that character so much personality and life, either at the Met or anywhere else.
One of Lotte’s first friends at the Met was the assistant manager, Edward Ziegler. She liked to surprise him now and then and asked Constance Hope for something “typically American” to say to him. They settled on “Hi, Toots!” (which she spelled “Tutz,” as if it were a German word). From then on she was always “Toots” to him too.
That was Lotte Lehmann’s first season at the Metropolitan Opera, three performances, one each of three roles. Strangely few, in view of all the acclaim. Most of the subscribers never got to hear her at all and there were many complaints. She sang Sieglinde in one of five Walküres (sharing the part with Göta Ljungberg, Grete Stückgold, and Gertrude Kappel); Elisabeth in one out of five Tannhäusers (Maria Müller and Elisabeth Rethberg having sung the other performances); and Eva in one out of four Meistersingers (versus Rethberg, Müller, and Editha Fleischer). Nevertheless, those few appearances rated as highlights of the season.
Two days later, on March 17, Lotte sang a recital at Columbia University. Toscanini was again in the audience. Something happened between them that night. He never forgot that special date.
One of his biographers, George R. Marek, wrote beautifully about Lehmann in connection with her relationship with Toscanini:
He at once recognized her unique quality. If there ever existed the artistic personification of what is lovable in a woman, if there ever existed in real life the sweetness of Cordelia seasoned by Portia’s wit, it was she. She was one of those artists who prove an irritation to those who have not heard them, because those of us who have heard and seen her compare subsequent impersonators of the roles she played to our ideal, annoying those born too late. Off the stage she was a plain enough woman, not conventionally comely; but on the stage she was whatever she wanted to be, her face as expressive as her voice, a soaring Sieglinde, a Marschallin filled to the fingertips with charm, an Elsa who could imagine the miracle. It was she, too, who showed in her lieder recitals how beautiful the German language can be….
With this concert began a close friendship. [The reference is to the Cadillac radio broadcast of February 11 (Marek misremembered the year as 1935 instead of 1934)]. Toscanini was then almost sixty-seven [age corrected], but he fell in love with her with the fervor of a young man….He used to phone her almost every day wherever she was…and he sent her orchids several times a week. She traveled, he traveled, but there was always the phone, and wherever he might be he thought of her and there were long confidences to be exchanged.
Toscanini was terribly jealous of Otto. Lehmann loved her husband and suffered from a deep feeling of guilt. But she was in love with Toscanini.
They were both remarkably successful at keeping their affair a secret. Lehmann never talked about it. But there were hints in the inscriptions on the photos she had framed: “To my dearest Lotte,” “To my unforgettable Lotte in remembrance of March 17 (the baptism) and May 15 (the confirmation), the old Maestro.”
After Toscanini’s death a mutual confidante managed to find Lotte’s letters to him before his family could do so, and she sent them to Lotte, who burned them. As for his letters to her, Lotte tore them into four to six large pieces each and tossed them into the fireplace. But there was no fire burning and she did not have the heart to strike a match. Lotte had a habit of throwing away letters, and her friend Frances Holden, with a historian’s instinct, had a habit of retrieving them. The fragments were rescued from their bed of cinders and stuffed into a secret compartment behind a file cabinet drawer in the den. There they remained, unread and forgotten, until very recently, when odd bits of them happened to fall into the files. Soon many pieces were found that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. But there were frustrating gaps at some of the most interesting points. My long, thin arm and flexible fingers finally managed to dig out the last remnants from the depths of their very inaccessible hiding place. At least the most crucial lacunae could finally be filled. There are passionate love letters, postcards, inscribed photos, and an astonishingly indiscreet telegram to a London hotel where Lehmann happened to be staying. All were fascinating to decipher. Almost nothing was dated; but it was generally possible, from internal evidence and knowledge of Lotte’s whereabouts, to reconstruct an approximate date for each item. Frances Holden, Lotte’s only heir, decided that the reassembled Toscanini letters should be sealed for a certain number of years.
Much of the content illuminates the close emotional bond between two supremely great artists whose inner lives would seem to be of legitimate interest to the world. What obviously began as a tremendous passion for both of them, ripened—eventually—into a deep and lasting love. It was one of the very few deeply-rooted relationships in Lehmann’s life, the others being those with her mother, father, and brother; with her husband, whose love continued to be precious to her, if in another way; and with Frances Holden, the companion of her later years.
Since Lotte did not speak Italian and was not yet fluent in English, Toscanini wrote to her in French. In the following letter he starts to address her with the formal “vous,” but soon—at the words “I love you”—shifts to the intimate “tu.”
My dear — my divine Lotte — I feel as if I’m going mad… I am very, very tired — and every day I have rehearsals that crush me and give me no single day of real rest….I cannot speak to you on the telephone since there is always someone listening. I’m going mad, believe me, my adorable Lotte….and I would like to have you in my arms at this very moment….It seems that since this passion which almost drives us mad is not legitimate, we are having to expiate that sin that is so dear to us before committing it!…
Tomorrow I have a rehearsal (11:30 until 2 in the afternoon). Wednesday morning — rehearsal. In the evening — concert at Hartford. Thursday — rehearsal in the morning — concert in the evening. That is my life — dear Lotte — I am dying of desire to see you. To speak to you — I have so many things to say to you — I have almost never spoken with you — it seems as if I do not know you yet and yet I love you like a madman… Yes, yes, I love you, Lotte — I love you. You are like a dream in my spirit. And what a beautiful dream!! Do not stop writing me those beautiful letters full of love and of enthusiasm. Pursue me — when you will be far from me — with your letters and save me from the emptiness of my heart. Good night, dear Lotte — my love — I kiss you on your eyes and on your lovely mouth — Oh, how beautiful you are! I love your portraits — but I would like to have smaller copies of them — to carry around with me always — in my pocket. Do you understand?
Mille baci lunghi — infinit — deliranti [a thousand long kisses, infinite, delirious]
(The surviving fragments, like the photos, are signed “Maestro,” which is what nearly everyone called him in those days.)
How Lotte felt can be gleaned from several letters to her confidante, Mia Hecht:
[March 6, 1934, from Toledo, Ohio (on tour)] I had a wonderful letter….He wrote that he was suffering “comme un chien” [like a dog] and “je vous aime, oui, oui, je vous aime…” [I love you, yes, yes, I love you] well, I am totally out of my mind….
[later that month, from Reading, Pennsylvania] Mia, I am half crazy. These ever more intense letters are killing me. I gave him two postcard-sized pictures of me…and he wrote me, quite madly, that he keeps them next to his heart at night and kisses them like a madman and is dying of desire for me, etc., and laments that there is no chance to be alone together! He seems—or so it looks to him—to be constantly watched. He wrote “quelle vie de chien…” [what a dog’s life.] It is good that we are sailing soon; my nerves are destroying me totally. It also seems that people are talking already. We were recently at [Olin] Downes’ party [then the leading music critic of The New York Times]…and he said: “What is this about you and Toscanini? I think your husband must take care of you…” It was a joke—but it’s strange nevertheless, isn’t it?
[March 21, New York] The thing between T. and me has taken on unforeseen and unwanted dimensions… It is good that I am leaving—I can’t take any more, I am at the end of my strength, my nerves are finished… Otto is sad, he feels everything—he said yesterday that I no longer seem to be living at his side, but rather in some other world, since I met T…. I could not even deny it… Now I don’t know what will happen….
Lotte had to leave New York all too soon, first for a recital in Boston; then, March 22 on the Berengaria, to return to Europe. On that day Toscanini wrote her an ardent, rather touching letter. Adoratas and divinas are underlined two and three times. He and Lotte shared a common partiality to multiple exclamation marks.
Mia cara — adorata — divina Lotte [“my dear, adored, divine Lotte”; “adorata” is underlined twice, “divina” three times!], I am like a madman!!! I cannot believe that you have left… The reality is killing me… Lotte, what a miserable, unhappy life mine will be now that I have no longer the hope of meeting you somewhere — of hearing now and then your divine voice which so sweetly soothes my soul, my ears, and all my being!!! Oh, how far away you are from me by now!! It makes me weep… [A mutual friend] told me that you telephoned at 9 o’clock and that a woman’s voice had answered… Certainly someone gave you the number of my wife’s room, not my number; for I was waiting for you with fever in my soul. I didn’t fall asleep until 7 in the morning — I read almost all of your letters while waiting for your sweet call — then, I believe, I was overcome with sleep — but I dreamed and in my dream I heard your voice — I answered, saying… Lotte darling, I love you — sending you a kiss through the telephone, which was near me under the bedclothes, and I embraced it as if it were my dear Lotte… When I woke up, the dream and reality were confused in my head. [The rest of the letter, if there was another page or more, is missing.]
There was a new role to study on the way to Europe: Tatiana in Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. Bruno Walter had cabled that she should arrive with the part completely learned. There had been no time for study during her concert tours….
And so on the trip back to Europe I sat at the piano in the dining room of the ship, every day after lunch, learning the Tatiana, while the stewards with much clatter cleared away the tables around me. It was the only “undisturbed” time to use the piano. But I did it and knew my role when I arrived in Vienna.
Paris came first. A joint recital with Heinrich Schlusnus, himself a famous lieder singer, had been announced. But he was ill and Lotte sang alone.
Then she returned to Vienna. But with Mama gone it no longer seemed like home. “Home is where I hang my pictures,” Lotte told an interviewer. Yet she now thought of herself as Viennese. “Yes, I am Viennese,” she had told the reporter in Geneva. “Not by birth—Franz Schalk used to say that that must have been a mistake—but in my heart.” She and Otto resumed their early-morning rides in the Prater. There were rehearsals with Bruno Walter for Eugene Onegin. Lotte fell in love with Tatiana; it turned out to be her last new role. The première took place on April 10, 1934. Six days later, from Budapest, she wrote to Viola Westervelt:
On the 10th I sang Tatiana in Eugene Onegin in Vienna under Bruno Walter. It was for him and for me a colossal success. I was given an ovation—minutes long!—on the open stage. Ah, here I am being a real “prima donna” again, bragging about her triumphs. I can just see you wrinkling your pretty nose.
Every review was a rave. Tatiana turned out to be one of the perfect “Lehmann roles.” It was almost miraculous how convincingly Lotte at forty-six could play a teen-aged girl.
One week later she and Bruno Walter gave another of their lieder recitals together. The critics reached for new superlatives:
…Working together with Bruno Walter seems to lead the artist even beyond herself and to draw her up to unimagined heights. How those two up there on the concert platform, music-possessed, make music together—that verges on the miraculous. No one thought any more about the singer or about her guide at the piano; rather, the two had become fused into one sounding unity; and what one heard was not lieder sung with genius and incomparably accompanied, but simply music itself….Inimitable, with what a sure instinct Lehmann grasps and interprets for us the emotional world of each individual composer….No wonder that the two artists were jubilantly cheered and that there was no end to the ovations…. (H. E. H.)
The very next evening she was singing in Dresden. And there, finally, politics caught up with her.
Heinz Tietjen, then the general director of all the Prussian state theatres, had already called her in Vienna to tell her that Hermann Göring, Hitler’s Minister of Education, was personally inviting her to come to Berlin for a few guest performances at any fee she should care to name, and that she should cancel her première and come right away. Lotte answered that such a cancellation would be out of the question, but that she would be in Germany later, on a recital tour, and could speak with him then.
On April 19, in the middle of her lieder recital in Dresden, Göring tried to reach her on the telephone.
Lotte tells the whole fantastic story in her article, “Göring, the Lioness and I.” The following excerpts may give some idea of her precarious experience and, perhaps, a hint of the black humor with which she described it.
During my recital, in the middle of a song, I suddenly sensed a curious unrest in the audience. It irritated me immensely, and I attempted, by closing my eyes, to regain my concentration. But the unrest only grew worse. I opened my eyes, and saw, right in front of me, a man, an official of some kind, who was desperately trying to interrupt me in mid-song. Little did he know me! I again closed my eyes, and sang to the end, disregarding the mounting unrest all around me. When I had finished my song, I bent down to the interrupter and whispered: “What’s the matter? Why are you interrupting me?”
He looked at me with pleading eyes, and I noticed with astonishment that he was shaking with nerves from head to foot. “His Excellency, the Minister of Education, is on the telephone. He wishes to speak to you.”
I laughed in his face. It must have been a tremendous shock for him when I said: “First I shall complete my group of songs. How dare you interrupt me like this?”
I finished the group of songs. No applause. The audience sat paralyzed. Only later did I realize why. They must have thought that I had fallen into disfavor, and expected me to be arrested at any moment….
Lotte was informed that Göring was sending his private plane to bring her to Berlin. She was blissfully unaware of any danger.
I have always lived for music. Especially so during the time when the Vienna Opera was my real home, and the whole universe seemed to me merely a backdrop for the stage….I had never taken any interest in politics, and, unsuspecting, had assumed that the Nazi régime would mean nothing more than an unpleasant temporary change of government in Germany. Not for one moment did I realize that it meant the beginning of a world-shattering struggle between good and evil. I knew next to nothing about Hitler, since I read only those parts of the paper that dealt with music and the arts….Of course, as I write this I realize that I was behaving like an idiot….I was saved from making a hasty decision that might have landed me unwittingly in a trap leading straight to my destruction. Of one thing I am certain: had I been foolish enough to stay in Germany I should have ended up in a concentration camp. I can never keep my mouth shut and, once I grasped the whole frightful situation, I should have said things which, during that terrible time, could have meant only my end.
The Director of the Opera was waiting for me at the aerodrome. He was a changed man. He looked thin, and his face seemed tired and anxious. In the car on the way to Berlin he tried to explain to me that the times had changed drastically. “Above all, do be careful, and please think before saying anything,” he whispered, nervously watching the chauffer who could certainly not hear a word through the dividing glass.
“Why are you whispering? He can’t hear a thing.”
“Oh, one can’t be certain. When we arrive let me do the talking, it would be much better if you said nothing.”
“You’d have to kill me to achieve that.”
He looked at me in horror. I didn’t understand. “Don’t joke about such things,” he said, and his voice was trembling.
He told her that Göring wanted her not only as a guest artist but as a permanent member of the Berlin Opera.
“You can make whatever demands you like, and they will be granted. Understand me aright: whatever you ask, literally. Name a figure, it is yours. Make any conditions you like, mention any personal wishes, they will all be granted.” I didn’t understand.
“Has everybody gone mad here?”
…”Yes, perhaps that’s what it is. But you can profit from this state of affairs. Only be careful, and don’t blurt out everything that is in your mind. His Excellency is very sensitive, you must never make him angry. You understand? Never!”
…We drove to the Ministry of Education. Soldiers everywhere. Swastikas everywhere. The “Heil Hitler” greeting everywhere. It all seemed to me like rather third-rate theatre, and I said as much, which produced a very heavy fit of coughing from the Director of the Opera….It was Hitler’s birthday, and there was a huge parade at which, of course, Göring had to make an appearance. But he had left a message that we should make ourselves at home. Feel at home! Hardly likely, since every time I opened my mouth the Director of the Opera looked at me as if I were about to pronounce my own death sentence….
After exercising his horse, Göring came over to meet Lotte. He carried a riding crop and wore a wide knife in his belt. Soon they were having luncheon with him. He used that knife to cut his food.
Göring came straight to the point. “I read about your success in America,” he said, between mouthfuls, “and you caused me a sleepless night. Yes. I thought of your future. You had earned a good deal of money, and you are likely to pay it into a bank in Vienna, where the Jews will deprive you of it.”
“Nonsense, my money would be perfectly safe. Anyway, I don’t need other people to lose my money for me. I spend it fast enough myself….”
…He placed the knife and the riding crop on the table, looked at me smiling, and said, in quite a friendly manner, “Let’s forget about Vienna for a moment. Let’s talk about your contract!”
“I am not in the habit of discussing contracts between a knife and a whip.”
Göring proposed an enormous fee that left Lotte speechless. Then he offered her a villa, a pension for life, and a horse. Did she not have a special wish? Laughing, she asked for a castle on the Rhine. What was meant as an ironic joke was soon the talk of Germany.
Of course Göring also had a few wishes: he expected me, as a matter of course, never to sing outside of Germany again. “You should not go out into the world,” he said dramatically, “the world should come to us, if it wants to hear you.”
“But an artist belongs to the whole world. Why should I limit myself to one country? Music is an international language, and as one of its messengers I wish to sing everywhere, all over the world.”
Blushing furiously Göring looked at me with icy contempt. “First and foremost, you are a German. Or perhaps not?”
Lotte could not seriously believe she would ever be prevented from singing outside of Germany. It seemed, at the moment, that it would be sheer madness to refuse such an incredibly advantageous contract. She tentatively agreed.
Göring said with a curious smile: “And in Berlin you will never get bad notices!”
“Why? I may give a bad performance, and not deserve praise.”
“If I myself think you are singing well, no critic will have a different opinion. And if he dares, he will be liquidated.”
This sounded so absurd to me that I simply laughed….He gave the impression of being a perfectly harmless and amiable young man. He even had charm, however strange that may sound….How could I suspect the horrors that lived beneath that smooth brow?
Enter Göring’s pet lioness.
I was standing by the window. The lioness came over to me, and put her paws on the window sill. And she, Göring, and I looked out of the window….”The fearless German woman” between two wild beasts, of which the lioness was the less dangerous.
Lotte went on to sing a recital in Leipzig. After Leipzig came London, where she again opened the season, with Fidelio. Sir Thomas Beecham was the conductor.
Lotte was feeling unwell, depressed by her impressions of the “New Order” in Germany. Sir Thomas heard that she was nervous. He invited her to come to his dressing room shortly before the performance. She was surprised to find several members of the orchestra already there with their instruments, most crucially the horns. Beecham guessed she would be anxious about the big aria. Very thoughtfully, very gently, he took her through it, conducting it as he would in the performance. She was relieved and reassured.
That was the famous performance—which was broadcast—in which Sir Thomas turned to the noisy audience during the overture and shouted: “Shut up, you barbarians!” Some radio listeners understood “buggers” instead of “barbarians.” The story was played up sensationally in the popular press.
The next stop for Lotte was Paris for Meistersinger with Furtwängler and a rendez-vous with Toscanini, the “confirmation” referred to in the inscription on that special photo.
When she returned to Vienna, she found the Berlin contract waiting for her signature. But it was not at all the same contract that had been discussed. There was not a trace of the fantastic promises. Lotte wrote a frank letter to Tietjen, the Director of the Opera, expressing her reservations, along with some typically outspoken opinions. The letter was intended for his eyes only; instead it was shown to both Göring and Hitler.
The result of all this was that I was forbidden to sing in Germany. The Führer is supposed to have thrown a fit when he saw my letter, and, as they say that whenever he was in a rage he would throw himself on the floor and chew the carpet through, my remarks may well have cost the German Reich a rug. Göring himself dictated a reply to me. It was a terrible letter, full of insults and low abuse. A real volcano of hate and revenge poured over me.
That was the end of Germany for me. Hitler’s Germany! Later, they tried to get me back with promises. Everything would be forgiven and forgotten and I would be welcomed with open arms. But by then I knew better. My eyes had been opened to their crimes, and nothing could have induced me to return.
Hitler may or may not have damaged a rug; but he is said to have smashed every Lotte Lehmann recording in his collection.
That letter from Göring, according to Lotte and two eye-witnesses, called hers “the soul of a Jewish shopkeeper,” not that of a “true artist.”
Viorica Ursuleac, who was not present at the meeting and whose information must have come from Göring’s mistress, the well-known actress Emmy Sonnemann, a close friend of hers, claimed that Lehmann had demanded exclusive rights to three roles, Chrysothemis, Arabella, and Sieglinde; and that, when she heard that Ursuleac’s contract included those parts, she “had a fit of hysteria” and “walked out of his office.” The reference to Chrysothemis alone is enough to drastically reduce the credibility of that story, since that was not a role that Lehmann wanted to sing (as discussed in one of her letters to Baroness Putlitz, already quoted). Nor was Arabella a favorite, after the associations with her mother’s death.
In any case, Göring had offered Lehmann a special title, Nationalsängerin. And before the year was out he had issued a Reichsbann, forbidding her engagement by any German theatre. State Commissioner Hans Hinkel made the following deposition: “Despite the proven German descent of Frau Lotte Lehmann, I must judge her political and national reliability to be zero.” A few years later, in April 1940, a German composer, Paul Graemer, criticized Lehmann for having sung music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who was Jewish), in order to become “popular.” “Now,” he continued, “Korngold is finished and so is her popularity; we are once again German and pure.”
The Nürnberg Laws were still a year away, those infamous decrees which deprived Jews of German citizenship, prohibited intermarriage, and forced those Jews who left the country to forfeit their property and most of their belongings. Otto’s four children were Jewish, through their mother, but they seemed to be safe in Vienna. There was as yet no persecution in Austria; nevertheless, disturbances were already starting. On June 10, 1934, a performance of Die Walküre at the Vienna State Opera—with Lehmann as Sieglinde—was held up for over an hour because a Nazi threw a tear gas bomb into the auditorium (most of the Viennese newspapers ignored the story in their reviews, except for one that mentioned an “insignificant incident”; only an English-language report gave the facts).
On July 25 the Austrian Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, was assassinated by a group of Austrian Nazis, disguised in army uniforms, as they seized the Chancellery during the so-called Putsch (coup—fortunately an unsuccessful one). The opening of the Salzburg Festival, with Lehmann in Fidelio, originally scheduled for July 28, was postponed for a day because of the Dollfuss funeral. In honor of the murdered chancellor, Clemens Krauss conducted the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony before the performance of the opera.
German artists were forbidden to participate in the Salzburg Festival of 1934, partly in retaliation for Toscanini’s refusal to conduct again at Bayreuth. His stand against Hitler had led to the banning of his recordings in Germany. Salzburg was presenting Toscanini for the first time, in two orchestral concerts, one with Lotte Lehmann.
For the second year in a row, the Nazi government imposed a border tax to discourage Germans from attending the Salzburg Festival.
Richard Strauss was to have conducted the opening Fidelio but was forced to withdraw, since he too was forbidden to make any official appearance in Salzburg. Special honors planned for Strauss’s 70th birthday celebration had to be canceled. He came anyway, though unofficially, and even went up on stage to congratulate Rose Pauly, publicly, after her performance as Elektra, something he could not have done in Nazi Germany, since Pauly was not of “Aryan” blood.
The Nazi vise was tightening. But artistically the Salzburg season was another great success, thanks particularly to Lehmann, Bruno Walter, and Toscanini. Lehmann sang Fidelio and the Marschallin, an all-Wagner concert with Toscanini, and a lieder recital with Bruno Walter. Walter conducted Tristan und Isolde, Oberon, and Don Giovanni. There was a Strauss cycle, conducted by Clemens Krauss, who was also in charge of The Marriage of Figaro. All the operas were by German and Austrian composers. The audience came from many lands, but not from Nazi Germany. That had been verboten, not just for performers!
The correspondent for the Musical Courier sent back a glowing report of the opening Fidelio:
…Lotte Lehmann thrilled the audience in the title role. She was not only the loving and suffering wife, but she seemed to symbolize in her playing and singing the suffering and deliverance of all mankind…. (Paul A. Pisk, September 15, 1934)
There was a problem in the concert with Toscanini; Lotte was accustomed to singing the Wesendonck group in an unusual order:
Mme. Lehmann, in bad voice and exceedingly nervous, contributed Elisabeth’s Greeting to the Hall of Song and later the three most familiar Wesendonck songs. She created momentary confusion by obliging Mr. Toscanini to break off in the middle of the introduction to one of these, because she had expected to sing another first.
Musical America had this to say of the Lehmann-Toscanini concert:
…It was uncanny how high a degree of intimacy and facility of expression the singer and the orchestra achieved…. (Dr. Paul Stefan, September 1934)
During the spring of 1934, Toscanini’s letters had become more and more passionate, less and less discreet. On April 23, from New York, he actually cabled the following message to her—in French as usual—while she was staying at the Hyde Park Hotel in London:
Thanks your letters are the true joy of my life stop they are terrible but I adore them stop crushed by work I cannot write to you stop certainly I shall look into the eyes of my darling with voluptuous feelings when she swoons stop I am in unison with you in all the beautiful things kisses caresses as on 17 March Maestro
On another occasion, this message was scribbled on the back of a photo of him:
I love your mouth — with those terrible kisses!… There is not another woman in the world who can please me as you do — I wait for your letters with impatience. I adore you….
In Paris, where Lotte was singing Eva in two performances of Die Meistersinger conducted by Furtwängler, there was also a crucial rendezvous. The affair that had been “baptized” on March 17th was “confirmed” on May 15th.
Toscanini was at the Hotel Prince de Galles, eagerly waiting for her:
My divine Lotte — My wife leaves Paris on Saturday — I shall stay here alone — I wait for you with open arms open mouth open heart full of love and desire… I love you Lotte I am mad about you Come — come — quickly quickly — Kisses Caresses — long ones — I want to see you tired out and conquered!!
In July, before their reunion in Salzburg, Toscanini wrote to her from his “Isolino,” his little island in Lago Maggiore.
Never in my life have I loved a woman more intelligent, more childlike, wilder, sweeter, more adorably woman than you. Oh, my Lotte, how could you love me? Still today I ask myself how Lotte Lehmann, who must have had young adorers—handsome and intelligent—could be content with Arturo Toscanini!!!
Toscanini was all too conscious of his age.
On the back of a postcard he wrote:
Keep your mouth for me — I am jealous — Kisses over the whole length of your body….
Lotte was concerned that their correspondence might fall into unsympathetic hands….
My wife has never read any of your letters written in German (which she does not understand). Perhaps she was able to read some of those you wrote to me in French…. I recall that the most compromising phrase was “Maestro, I adore you”… No, my dear Lotte, no one knows your terrible letters or your terrible kisses except Lotte and the Maestro….
On July 28th he was in Trento, undergoing treatment for his failing eyesight, and for the chronic pain in his right arm and shoulder that often made conducting an excruciating ordeal.
My dear Lotte….Is it true that there are troubles at Salzburg because of the assassination of Dollfuss? They say that on account of defective telephone and telegraph connections it is difficult to form an exact idea of the situation. I am uneasy—write me something. Oh! You accursed Mussolini and Hitler, you are the cause of this tempest of barbarism!! A spirit of violence is in the process of submerging old Europe. An entire people, the Germans, have lost the sense of our old civilization and no longer obey our moral codes. And not only in Germany and in Italy but in France too the spirit of violence is penetrating little by little!! I have received all of your dear letters, including the last one with the two photos….I am in the sixth day of my cure—a very painful cure!… I cannot read—I stay in my room in complete darkness. I think—oh! yes—I think of you—of you whom I love more and more. Oh! Lotte! Leave your husband and come to Trento. I will adore you on my knees…. Will you? I want to possess you—you alone—not other women.
But that summer in Salzburg Toscanini was constantly surrounded by family and an enormous entourage of hangers-on. Once again Mia Hecht became Lotte’s only confidante in the affair with “T.”:
[August 31, Grand Hotel de l’Europe, Salzburg] I feel rather miserable. It is beyond my strength, this waiting that wears me down, this living in the same hotel—and yet as if an ocean were between us… I do not understand him at all. He was with me on the 28th, after I had written him a letter very full of doubts and sadness. He was infinitely tender, kept reassuring me that he loves me, and was again like a young man of eighteen…. The next day, he went to the Rosenkavalier performance. They tell me he was beside himself with delight and constantly repeated that there is just one artist [“Künstlerin”] in the world… The concert yesterday was marvelous, perhaps you heard it on the air. Today he is leaving with his family. I wonder if I will be seeing him. I am waiting….. I must tell you that I am glad that he is leaving. I cannot bear this any more.
Toscanini and Lehmann gave an all-Wagner concert in Vienna on October 10. Besides the Wesendonck Lieder, Lotte sang the Liebestod, Isolde’s Love-Death, from Tristan und Isolde. As usual, in concert performances, it was preceded by the Prelude. The last notes of the prelude are very low, in the double bass, and very soft. The singer’s first note, also very soft, seems to come out of thin air. Lotte was afraid she would not find the pitch.
For me too he was one with music—and when I sang Isolde’s Liebestod with him in a concert in Vienna, the waves closed over me—and in the words, “Ertrinken, versinken” [from the closing phrases: “To drown, to sink, unconscious, highest bliss!”], I felt nearer to him than ever before. To him, the great Maestro, the beloved friend, the sorcerer, whom the world will never forget….
But even that unforgettable musical experience had its humorous side. After the Prelude the singer of Isolde must enter out of nowhere. I was afraid of that entrance, where there was nothing to help me, and I was sure that in my nervousness I would not find the right pitch. So, in the rehearsal, I whispered to my friends, the dear members of the Philharmonic: “Please, someone give me the tone….” Naturally the Maestro had to hear that. He called me a “stupida,” which I accepted without protest. Then he said that he himself would give me the pitch, which was certainly very especially nice of him, the Merciless. But—there is a big “but”—vocal talent was not the Maestro’s outstanding gift. Thanks to all his screaming during the rehearsals his voice had turned into a peculiar croaking rasp. And during the concert he kept “singing” my tone, over and over….He seemed to be more nervous about it than I was. Unfortunately, however, his thoughtful efforts were no help to me at all: I could not hear the tone I was seeking in his hoarse whisper. Thanks to a kindly providence, I found it by myself….My guardian angel must have put in overtime!
After the concert, Maestro asked me if he hadn’t been a great help to me, inspite of my being such a “stupida.” And he was quite offended when I told him he had only confused me. I must admit I was more truthful than tactful….
The morning after the concert with Toscanini, at an official breakfast, Lotte Lehmann was decorated with the State Gold Medal of Honor, First Class, for her services to Austrian music.
There was tension in the air in Vienna. In the musical world it centered around Clemens Krauss. Among other things, it was well known that there were serious differences between the director of the opera and his leading soprano star. When the new chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, ostentatiously presented flowers to Lotte Lehmann on stage at her first Fidelio of the season in Vienna, many saw in that a slap at Krauss on the part of the government. When Toscanini declared his intention to conduct Falstaff at Salzburg in 1935, the first time that an opera by Verdi would be presented there, Krauss promptly announced a Vienna production, in German, in direct competition. That was interpreted as a challenge to see who would have the upper hand at Salzburg. No director of the Vienna Opera ever had it easy. Baiting him, whoever he may be, is practically the Austrian national sport. Krauss was admired as a musician; but his contract was not renewed. When, in December 1934, Furtwängler resigned as director of the Berlin State Opera, in protest against the Nazis’ treatment of Paul Hindemith, a distinguished German composer whose works had been banned as “degenerate,” Krauss was glad to leave Vienna for Berlin. Several of his favorite singers went with him.
Lotte sailed to America on the Ile de France to start another busy season. There would be, as usual, an extensive concert tour; she would make her debut at the San Francisco Opera; America would meet her Marschallin; Fidelio was planned for her at the Met; and—astonishingly!—the Chicago Opera had announced a production of Tristan und Isolde with Lauritz Melchior and Lotte Lehmann.
She never sang in Germany again.