A Documentary Biography
By Beaumont Glass
(Bolded text is either reinstated, updated, or new text that did not appear in the original 1988 publication.)
Above All, a Woman
For the moment, Lotte’s new family presented no problems. Their mother had left them well-provided for, and there was a well-to-do uncle. The three athletic young men were Ludwig (always called “Pucki”), 21; Hans, 18; and Peter, 17. Manon, named for one of her father’s favorite Lehmann roles, was 20. Lotte hoped to be a good friend to them. When Peter, the youngest, began to call her “mother,” she was proud and very pleased. He loved poetry and music. He soon became her pet.
Lotte always gave herself wholeheartedly to whatever she did. Had she had children of her own, she would have been all mother. Some opera stars have managed successfully to combine motherhood with the demands of a career. But full acceptance of responsibility for the emotional and physical needs of little children would have precluded the kind of career that Lotte had, constantly singing, sometimes every other night, constantly away from home—in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, or on tour.
Now she had a family of young adults, without having to go through the tribulations of parenthood—or so it seemed.
Lotte, who liked a funny story, was never afraid to tell one on herself. She claimed to be a coward when faced with physical pain. Her doctor once told her, so she said, that he was glad she never planned to have a baby. Pregnancy would surely have meant nine months under anesthesia.
She was always a bit afraid of children. When, in her movie, Big City, one of the scenes called for her to hold a baby in her arms, she was nervous and uncomfortable. What if she dropped the baby? What if it bawled its head off in those unaccustomed arms? When the filming was finished, she was relieved that all had gone smoothly. But friends who knew her well had a little chuckle: she had patted and stroked the baby in just exactly the way she would have held and petted one of her favorite dogs.
Lotte had another “family,” even before she became a stepmother. Wherever she went, there was a close-knit group of fans who adored her. It had been like that in Hamburg and in Vienna. Now it was the same story in New York. Most of those fans, like Mia Hecht from Hamburg days and Hertha Schuch (née Stodolowsky) or Friedl Hoefert from Vienna, remained faithful for life. Constance Hope and several of the young people who worked for her were dedicated “Lehmaniacs.” So was Marcia Davenport. These were not the usual groupies who follow after stars. These were mature young women. There were men of all ages as well. But the most eccentric admirer was a white-haired English woman, considerably older than Lotte, who followed her wherever she went. She was adept at worming Lotte’s whereabouts out of managers. Then she would book the adjoining room at whichever hotel that happened to be, claiming to be one of Mme. Lehmann’s most intimate friends. It was not easy for Lotte to secure any privacy at all. In 1940, when the Metropolitan Opera was on tour in New Orleans, Edward Ziegler, the assistant manager of the Met, called Lotte’s hotel to make sure she had arrived for her performance of Tannhäuser. Lotte, anxious to avoid her intrusive fan, had told the desk clerk that if anyone asked for her he should say she was not there. Until Lotte turned up at the theatre, soon after, poor Ziegler was frantic. Another time Viola Westervelt and Frances Holden were delegated to dissuade that same lady from following Lotte to Australia. She said she would cut Lotte out of her will and went anyway. When Lotte heard about it she said she did not want to be in any will. “I cut you out long ago,” was the inconsistent answer. Welcome or not, she never ceased to follow her star. That seemed to give her life a meaning.
Most of the people in a Lehmann audience fell in love with her, at least temporarily. She cast a spell. She radiated love. Each person felt personally addressed. It is no wonder that to many young people, hungry for something beautiful in life, she represented an ideal. They wanted to bask in that beauty. They were prepared to give her in return almost unlimited devotion.
Those in the inner circle would run every sort of errand. They would find her an apartment or a house to rent. They were dedicated to serving her in whatever way they could.
Two became especially close to her. Viola Westervelt was very beautiful—she looked a bit like Marlene Dietrich—but emotionally unstable. Frances Holden was intelligent, deep, and dependable. She could do almost anything and do it well. Once a neighbor who had locked herself out asked Lotte if she could use her phone to call a locksmith. “That’s not necessary,” Lotte told her, “Frahnces will get your door open.” And of course, “Frahnces” did, scaling a wall and scrambling through a little window.
Constance Hope, one of the original “Lehmaniacs,” writes about their informal meetings:
Lotte’s fun-loving nature reveled in the amateur theatricals we staged for her amusement. Once it was the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, with hotel towels as props for the strip-tease.
She really enjoyed being made the butt of a joke. For her birthday we once staged a prophetic skit depicting Lotte’s attempts to enter heaven. St. Peter refused her admission, pointing out that although on a diet she had nibbled Otto’s ice cream, she had broken her pledges of economy and bought a new car, and had reneged on an appointment for publicity pictures.
“Lehmann” interrupted this dialogue with inquiries about each of her friends, and found that one by one they had been sent down to stoke the fires. Even Otto, St. Peter said, had been refused admission.
“But,” our bogus “Lehmann” protested, “surely there could be no reason for refusing Otto, that saint among men.”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” St. Peter replied. “We decided he’d feel more comfortable below for, as the husband of a prima donna, he was already used to hell on earth.”
To serve a diva in mid-career one needs the patience of a saint, the tact of a diplomat, the nerves of a surgeon, and the endurance of an athlete. “Lotte is like the sun,” said Frances. “If you come too close you get burned; but without her you feel wretched.”
Constance had another anecdote up her sleeve:
Lehmann was on Page 1 from coast to coast, thanks to a “Mr. Crawford of NBC.” Awakened at midnight by a telephone call, Lotte had picked up the receiver to hear an irate voice berating her for not being at the studio for a March of Dimes broadcast. It was too late for her to get down to the studio, she was told, but they would pick up her voice right on the telephone and feed it to the network. Frightened and thinking that [her concert manager] Coppicus or I had really promised to have her sing on a charity broadcast, Lotte, lying in bed with the telephone to her lips, hesitatingly sang the words of “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” sans accompaniment. It was not until the next day that we discovered she had been hoaxed. A telephone call to NBC revealed there was no “Mr. Crawford” nor any infantile paralysis broadcast. Although Lotte was ashamed at first, she finally permitted me to notify the papers so that other artists would be spared the same experience. It was only after the story broke that we learned the hoax had been pulled on our client Gladys Swarthout too.
Believe it or not, the first of a still continuing series of floral tributes from “Mr. Crawford of NBC” arrived the next day. Accompanying them was a note. “Dear Mme. Lehmann,” it said: “The beautiful spirit that showed through your song last night made me very ashamed of my little hoax. It was like you to sing first for a good cause and question afterwards. Please forgive me. ‘Crawford of NBC.’”
The Salzburg Festival of 1936 (the first since 1928 without a Rosenkavalier) was followed for Lotte by some Toscas and Tatianas, another lieder recital with Bruno Walter, and a Fidelio with Toscanini, all in Vienna. Then she sailed with Otto on the Ile de France, arriving in New York on October 6. Her schedule called for forty-eight appearances in the next five-and-a-half months, in recital, concert, opera, or on the air. One of them was somewhat less exalted than the others. She was the happy guest of Bing Crosby on the Kraft Hour, a radio program sponsored by the makers of Kraft cheese. Besides her fee in dollars she received a generous bonus paid in cheese. Later, another of her radio sponsors, the Ford Motor Company, gave her a seven-passenger Lincoln as a token of esteem. She looked forward to Salzburg. Her chauffeur would get his wish. Toscanini’s Emilio would surely turn green.
The dogs went west with Lotte, Otto, and the maid; three adults and two animals shared a drawing room on the train.
However well planned, no tour was ever free of problems, delays, drafts, missed connections, missed rehearsals.
An unfamiliar partner at the piano could spoil a recital:
The accompanist at the concert was a fool, and had luke warm milk in his veins instead of blood. I missed Ernö [Balogh], and dragged this one along with me through the songs, whether he liked it or not. He got even with me, however, in all the musical interludes. It was frightful….
There were also consolations. Once again she was enchanted with her favorite spot in California:
When I have made my first million dollars, I will buy myself a house here in Santa Barbara. It is heavenly…like a fairy tale. Why can’t I always live here?
On her way back east she caught a cold. The critics in Denver were reproachful; they misunderstood her caution and assumed that she considered Colorado provincial and not worth the effort of giving more voice and emotion. Holding back was utterly foreign to her nature, both as woman and as artist; but her schedule was strenuous and she was forced to be careful. A disappointed audience rarely makes allowances for the difficulty of singing with a cold. As it turned out, she had to cancel two Toscas in Cincinnati (Göta Ljungberg sang instead).
The San Francisco season had included the two Walküres with Flagstad, mentioned in the last chapter, and a Tosca.
Lotte’s fourth Metropolitan season started with a Sieglinde on January 16, 1937, a Saturday matinee broadcast. It was only the second time in New York for the role of her successful debut, three years before.
The New York Times had this to say about her performance:
Perhaps the most magical of Wagner’s women is Sieglinde. She is not the greatest, but she haunts us the longest. Like the Iphigenia of Euripides, she is passionate and tender, simple and complex, piteous and wise, strong and weak, heroic and shrinking; and her purity is as elemental as her passion…No singing-actress of our time, I think, has achieved a more telling and veracious Sieglinde than Lotte Lehmann…It gives us the essence of the character, this remarkable and deeply touching embodiment of Mme. Lehmann’s…In certain moments of exceptional exactness and felicity of suggestion, she colors her voice and shapes her gestures with something of the primitive magic and strangeness and wonder of those who were daughters of earth in old, far-off, forgotten times…It was one of the signals of Mme. Lehmann’s achievement yesterday that she was most piercing and most memorable when the music was. Wagner…speaks of the agonizing utterances of sorrow that this score contains—“I have had to pay for the expression of these sorrows,” he remarks parenthetically. Mme. Lehmann’s delivery of Sieglinde’s music in her frenzied scene with Siegmund in the Second Act made us realize with peculiar vividness what Wagner must have meant. In such measures as…“Wo bist du, Siegmund?” she charged the music with an almost insupportable intensity of tragic woe.
Here, from My Many Lives, is Lotte Lehmann’s interpretation of a key moment in Act III of Die Walküre. Sieglinde has just been told that she bears Siegmund’s son in her womb.
The message strikes Sieglinde as though a strong hand has torn the clouds asunder, and she looks upward into the blinding light of the eternal sun. Her face, at first distorted through a superhuman shock, is transfigured with divine joy. Tempestuously she rushes to Brünnhilde: “Save me, daring one! Save my child!”
Brünnhilde hands her the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword and tells Sieglinde that the child she is destined to bear will become a great hero.
Sieglinde has received the pieces of the sword as if they were sacred. She leans her brow against the cold iron, and holding the pieces before her breaks out with the exultant words: “O most sublime wonder, noblest Maid!” The incredibly beautiful and noble music is a flood of harmony over which Sieglinde’s voice soars in radiant purity. It is the intoxicated singing of her soul, a leave-taking from this earth, a union of herself with the gods, whose blood through Wotan, her father, courses through her own veins. The human woman rises into a goddess—and it is a goddess who lays her hand in blessing upon Brünnhilde’s head in her parting: “Farewell! May the woe of Sieglinde be a blessing upon you…” Shuddering, Brünnhilde bows deeply before Sieglinde and receives her blessing. Sieglinde moves away with animated steps and disappears into the darkness of the forest.
Lotte found herself a “re-discovered star,” as she remarked with a trace of ironic bitterness in a letter to Mrs. Bruno Walter. Flagstad continued to be the superstar—though that expression had not yet been coined. Her popularity put every other singer in the shade. Lotte marveled at Flagstad’s phenomenal endurance: on three successive days, for instance, she sang the Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde, Elsa, and Isolde. The score that season at the Met: Flagstad 26, Lehmann 6 (two each of Sieglinde, Elisabeth, and Eva—her last Evas ever).
To make matters worse, Flagstad was angry at Lehmann. Someone named John Hastings wrote a letter to The New York Times, printed January 24, 1937, praising Lehmann at Flagstad’s expense. Flagstad jumped to the conclusion that Lotte had personally instigated an intrigue against her. That ended cordial relations between them, at least for a while. It is a fact that Lotte had nothing to do with the letter. It did her more harm than good. In any case, here are some extracts:
At long last the critics have paid adequate, long overdue homage to one of the few genuinely great artists of the age, Mme. Lotte Lehmann….
The epidemic of idolatry for Mme. Flagstad as the greatest of modern Wagnerians, if not, in fact, for a vast percentage of operagoers the only Wagnerian, is preposterous and entirely out of proportion to her artistic and histrionic, as exclusive of her vocal, endowment. It has been more than a little difficult to understand the general critical agreement on Flagstad’s supposedly limitless imaginative insight and the likewise universal conspiracy of silence toward Lehmann’s interpretive prowess. It seems, at least to this one finite music-lover, that Flagstad’s pre-eminence begins and ends with one bewilderingly simple thing, and that is a great voice perfectly produced and miraculously inexhaustible.
Her acting is straightforward and of refreshingly natural simplicity, which modern opera can well use, but it assuredly exhibits none of the many soaring, mystical qualities of sheer inspired creation which are so frequently attributed to her….One critic [Lawrence Gilman, in The New York Herald-Tribune], when speaking of Mme. Flagstad’s singing of the Liebestod, went to far as to say that “the whole intolerable pathos of the moment is in her singing of the little grace-note before the B on “Freunde,” which bids fair to be a new high in preciosity.
With Lehmann one does not think of such terms as simplicity, naturalness, vocal perfection, or any of the other merits for which one might justly praise Mme. Flagstad, because somehow her vastly inspirational and deeply intuitive art does not lend itself easily to such facile clichés. One might, indeed, almost say of Lehmann that mere vocal perfection is beneath her. [That line stirred another storm!] The absorption in a mood that is exclusively her province is so complete that faultlessness of production ceases to be a criterion. What is more, her acting is predominantly so inspirational and instinctive that naturalness and simplicity, being attributes of a method at all times conscious and preconceived, prove useless as a basis of appraisal.
Her voice is one of ineffable warmth, lustrous and filled with endless variety of shimmering nuances and colors, a voice which, even though not always flawlessly employed, succeeds in conveying undreamt-of revelations and beauties in the music that she sings. Her movements about the stage bear the authentic mark of spontaneity and actual experience of every implication of a role. Who, then, that has seen and heard what Mme. Lehmann can do…can doubt that here is the greatest singing actress of our time?
It is more than possible that the infrequency with which we are permitted to hear her at the Metropolitan has had much to do with the critical unappreciativeness of Mme. Lehmann, at least in ratio to the critical adoration of Mme. Flagstad….
Needless to say, the partisans of Flagstad soon took up the cudgels to retaliate in print. Less prejudiced heads and hearts still found it possible to admire each of those great artists and to be thankful that the world of opera was all the richer for having both of them.
Olin Downes, the critic of The New York Times, had this to say on January 17, 1937, about the “rediscovered” Sieglinde:
…As for this writer, who has been privileged to hear some great Sieglindes at the Metropolitan, and that within no distant date, he would sacrifice them all, great and small, high and low, for the glory, the sweep and the transfiguring emotion of Mme. Lehmann’s interpretation…one of the warmest, most womanly and beautiful enactments of the Sieglinde part we have seen…one sustained sweep of line and surge of feeling….
The same critic, on February 13, lauded her Eva:
…Mme. Lehmann graced the role of Eva, and she draws the portrait of Pogner’s daughter with a girlish impulsiveness and warmth of feeling which represent the most exceptional understanding. The voice itself becomes that of Pogner’s daughter….
Lawrence Gilman was equally enthusiastic in The New York Herald-Tribune:
…And there was Lotte Lehmann’s unmatched Eva, which gives us the spiritual essence of a role that is often slighted….
Yet Lotte had read the report of Carleton Smith, writing of her Salzburg Eva for The New York Herald-Tribune of August 30, 1936:
…The advantage of having a Walther (Charles Kullman) who was young and exuberant was offset by the disadvantage of his being matched with an Eva (Lotte Lehmann) who looked old enough to be his mother….
No doubt Lotte was hurt; but she wisely took the hint to heart. She had learned with the Marschallin to accept the inroads of time with a tear in her eye but a smile on her lips. She decided not to sing Eva again, after the two already-scheduled Meistersingers in the 1936-37 season at the Met. She also began to drop Elsa from her repertoire. At the special request of Bruno Walter, Lotte accepted the role of the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, to be performed in Italian at Salzburg. The Italian version (the original one) was new to her. She planned to learn it during her tour of Australia.
Looking back at the season past and forward to Salzburg, Lotte wrote the following lines to Else Walter, Bruno Walter’s wife, on February 22:
Above all I must tell you that I am looking forward enormously to singing the Countess with Bruno this summer. The second aria, which I was always so afraid of, gives me no trouble at all in Italian. I can see now it was only an idée fixe. In another language the aria seems completely new to me; that proves that my problem with it was purely psychological. I believe I have overcome that now and hope that the Countess will take her place as a worthy companion to my Marschallin, for the part naturally lies well for me (if only through the blueness of my blood!!!).
That I shall no longer sing Eva in Salzburg doesn’t bother me at all. I really do think that a younger singer should be cast in that part and I shall never sing it again. I was recently forced to sing it at the Metropolitan and I had a colossal success with it, but I shall not let that success lead me astray. I still have to sing Eva here one more time. Then no more. There are still several glorious roles in my repertoire which I can sing without hesitation. Why should I act like a bad prima donna who sits on her roles as if she owned them, afraid to let younger singers take them away from her… I am, thank God, a bit too intelligent for that.
My novel has really had a big success in Vienna. I asked the publishers to send you a copy and I hope you have found the time to read it. If you don’t like it, don’t tell me that too clearly. That happens to be my Achilles’ heel; I’d rather that you find I sing the Countess horribly than that I write badly… On the other hand I don’t want you to think that I flatter myself that Goethe was a dog compared to me. I know that my novel is Kitsch, but it’s nice Kitsch….
At the moment I’m writing my memoirs like mad. The book is supposed to come out in time for Salzburg. It is only too bad that I can’t be as frank as I would like to be…. Naturally, dear Else, if you’re hoping for an interesting exposition of my love-life, I have to disappoint you in this book. Since I would not want it to be confiscated by the censor, I have to leave out that charming chapter!! The latest era in my life would in any case be a desert…. I can just hear you saying: “Isn’t Lotte embarrassed to be dictating this letter to her secretary?”
No, not at all. She is smiling a very understanding smile.
Her novel soon appeared in Italy, France, and Holland. The English translation came out in the fall of 1938, as Eternal Flight.
Lotte decided to limit her performances in Vienna to the month of September. That would free her for more lucrative recitals. She needed the money. In spite of his “job”—mostly honorary—with the insurance company, Otto had next to nothing of his own, and his children were accustomed to a certain degree of luxury. He and Lotte were two generous and expansive natures. They spent their money—which means her money—very freely. Concert managers negotiated fees and booked the dates and hotels; the artists themselves had to pay for everything, accompanist, travel with entourage (including pets), publicity, advertising, photographs, taxes, and agents’ percentages. In those days opera stars were expected to provide their own costumes and accessories. In America, especially, concert gowns had to be spectacular, and could never be worn twice in the same area. A famous prima donna had to stay at prestige hotels. Her wardrobe would be photographed, and discussed in the local papers. In Lotte’s case, she rarely traveled alone; whenever possible Otto was with her, often Constance Hope as well, usually a maid, and almost always the accompanist (except perhaps for orchestral concerts). But even with so many concomitant expenses, recitals paid better than opera.
For the record, Lotte’s contract with the Metropolitan Opera Association for the season 1934-1935 (her second) guaranteed four performances at a fee of $700 each and called for her to place at their disposal the following repertoire: Fidelio, Elsa, Eva, Elisabeth, Sieglinde, and the Marschallin in German; Tosca, Butterfly, and Mimì in Italian; and Rachel in La Juïve in French. Someone, presumably Lotte, scratched out La Juïve. Her average fee for recitals during the same period was $1,350. In 1940 the San Francisco Opera paid Lehmann $4000 for three Marschallins (not for each of three, but altogether); in 1943, $675 for each of several.
During the war years, concert fees were considerably lower and bookings far fewer.
In March 1937 Lotte wrote to Bruno Walter that she was now “a concert singer who sometimes sings opera, and surely not much longer.” She promised to have the Countess learned “faultlessly” by her arrival in Salzburg. She urged him to agree to the Dichterliebe, (A Poet’s Love), a cycle of sixteen songs by Schumann, for their Salzburg recital. She had sung the cycle for the first time, and very successfully, in America. Since it was obviously meant to be performed by a man, she hoped for his support in her decision—sure to be criticized—to attempt it in Salzburg. In her letter to his wife, quoted above, she had already broached the now-delicate subject of a group of songs by Richard Strauss. Walter had reasons, personal and political, for refusing to play anything by Strauss. But he nobly agreed, and Strauss songs were included in each of their two Salzburg lieder recitals that summer.
First, however, came a trip around the world, via Hollywood, Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Cairo, and Genoa. For the first time in her adult life, Lotte decided to keep a diary. It overflows with fascinating descriptions of exotic scenery, strange new animals, and curious customs of other cultures, not excluding that of Hollywood. She had set her heart on meeting Greta Garbo, her favorite star. Some mutual friends had arranged to introduce her at a tea. At the last moment Garbo sent her regrets. She had a cold. She was out of town. Lotte, who, in her own words, had been “as excited as a schoolgirl,” was dreadfully disappointed. That little ambition was never achieved. Instead, she met lovely Jeanette MacDonald, then the “Queen of MGM.” Later Miss MacDonald became a Lehmann pupil.
Ernö Balogh could not come to Australia. He was about to get married. Lotte engaged Paul Ulanowsky as her accompanist for the Australian tour and the concerts on the way. It soon became clear that here was the ideal accompanist for her. She felt totally free with him. She could follow a sudden inspiration during a performance, fully confident that he would be with her. She could ask for a last-minute transposition as she was making her entrance, and know that he would carry it off without a flaw. She thought of Bruno Walter as her teacher and was forever grateful for the insights he shared with her; her recitals with him were among the artistic highlights of her career. But she felt more herself with Ulanowsky.
Furthermore, she found Ulanowsky charming as a traveling companion and very witty. He knew how to make her laugh. Sometimes, before a concert, she would be near hysteria with nerves. Everything seemed to be going wrong. A quiet, humorous remark from “Paulchen,” and the sun would come out again.
At first she missed the warmth—the “Herzenswärme“—of Balogh. Ulanowsky was still new to her, and as yet understandably reserved. She wrote to Constance Hope, on May 2, that she would not dream of making Ulanowsky her regular accompanist, much as she loved singing with him; she felt too strongly the bond of friendship with Balogh to allow herself to hurt him, personally or professionally.
Nevertheless, by June 19 it was obvious to Lotte that she would have to make the change, however painful.
Her decision and the struggle it cost her are clear in this letter to Frances Holden:
I found in Ulanowsky an absolutely ideal accompanist….I am determined to try to free myself [from Balogh]. You know that that will not be easy for me. It is cruel, from the human point of view. I must find a way to make myself free without hurting him, and without doing damage to his career. But I see now with Ulanowsky how much easier and more wonderful my recitals will be when I have him at my side. Toscanini was right when he said to me that there is no friendship and no considerateness in the realm of art. But it is very hard for me to do something like that.
For Balogh it was surely a very bitter loss. A world career is rarely made without giving injury somewhere. Relationships are sacrificed along the way, inevitably. But the break was as painful to Lotte as it must have been to him.
She tells about the switch in an article (as yet unpublished) about her accompanists:
…In 1937 I received a contract with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Now Balogh had just got married and would have faced a separation from his wife only with a heavy heart. I was somewhat at a loss. Naturally, if I had insisted that Ernö come with me to Australia, he would probably have done so. But I did not particularly want to take a love-sick Romeo along….So, with Ernö’s blessing and fervent prayers, I searched for another accompanist for Australia—and found him!
Paul Ulanowsky. I stole him, I behaved very unethically: he was accompanying Enid Szantho, the excellent mezzo-soprano, in a lieder recital that I happened to hear. After five minutes I whispered to my husband: “He’s the one, I want to have him!”
When I asked him if he wanted to come with us to Australia, he was equally unethical and immediately agreed, leaving Szantho, who had every right to be incensed.
Blissful and free from any twinges of conscience, however appropriate, I left for Australia with my prey. I must have a very flexible conscience, for I have never regretted my sin….
Lotte, Otto, and Ulanowsky started their South Sea adventure on March 31, 1937. The dogs, by the way, had to stay behind with Marie. Quarantine regulations.
When Marie eventually arrived in Vienna to prepare the house for the Krauses return, people saw a woman with two little dogs riding in Lotte Lehmann’s car and mistook her for the diva herself. Soon rumors were spreading all over town: Lotte had left Otto, Lotte had broken her contract in Australia, Lotte had lost her voice! One of the papers even printed this headline: “Lotte Lehmann hoaxes Vienna.”
Meanwhile, en route to Australia, Lotte had the best intentions to study the Countess’s Italian recitatives every day, for Salzburg and Bruno Walter. But her brain went “on strike,” as she put it in her diary (with two exclamation points). First she felt entitled to a little holiday. Then it was too hot. Then the doors to the salon, where the only piano was, could not be closed. “Against regulations.” Then, in Australia, she was too busy. Result: she canceled the Contessa. Walter was “furious” with her, and his wife even more so. Later, just before her first recital with him in Salzburg, Lotte wrote this to Constance Hope:
Bruno Walter is frightfully angry with me. He wrote me a terrible letter in which he told me, among other things, that he was no longer my friend.
I have a lieder recital with him on Sunday and I hope that I can manage a reconciliation by then, for it would be horrible to have to sing with him in disharmony. Whether I can ever bring Else around, and move her to forgive me my sins, is very doubtful.
The tempo in Australia seemed, if anything, even more frenetic than in America. Interviews one after the other, newsreels, radio talks, speeches galore (with Lehmann in a new role as public speaker), publicity, parties, receptions, all the things she generally hated. This time, through some antipodean magic, she reveled in it all. Relatively speaking.
She confided the following to Constance:
You can not imagine how my day is filled up. You may kill me if I ever again complain that your lust for publicity borders on the unbearable. It is nothing, compared to what they ask for here. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to take my picture in the loo.
I recently said reproachfully to the secretary of the Broadcast Commission: “I haven’t seen my picture in the `funny papers’ yet.” She thought I was serious, looked quite crestfallen, and stammered: “Shall I call for a caricaturist?”
Not only Constance; Francis Coppicus (Lotte’s manager), and all the local impresarios of America were upset that Lotte declined to accept social invitations. She had the quaint idea that her only obligation was to give her very best on the stage or the concert platform. But an artist is also expected to go to a reception and shake hands with all the sponsors and their spouses after even the most exhausting concert. And that Lotte would almost never do. Except in Australia.
I don’t dare tell you what I’m doing here socially. You wouldn’t recognize me. The people here are enchantingly nice. I have the feeling that they really try with all their hearts to make my life here as pleasant as possible. It would be even more marvelous if they’d leave me alone now and then. But their love for me doesn’t extend quite that far, and I am constantly being invited.
It must be because the ocean voyage did me so much good: I “smile” and go out…. I can just see your astonished faces. I hear your cry of indignation: “Why doesn’t she do that here in America?”
I’ll tell you why: I am only here for a very short time. If I started all that in America you could bury me at the end of one season.
The Australian interviewers refused to be satisfied with superficial answers to conventional questions. Lotte was rather clever at dodging the traps.
Interviews here are more exhausting than in other countries. Here they want to know more…not just the names of my dogs, my diet, or my hobbies. Instead they give me a thorough musical examination, probing down to the bones, so to speak….The last one said: “You always say you like everything…German songs, but also French songs, English, but also Italian….There must be some kind of serious music that you don’t care for. It is just not possible that an artist of your intelligence finds everything beautiful….”
I was dead tired and it was not easy to squirm out of that with diplomacy. But I found, thank God, the Ariadne thread I needed to escape from that labyrinth. I answered: “Every kind of serious music has its value. If I do not happen to like a certain type of worthwhile music, that is just a sign that I do not understand it. I have not come to Australia, however, to show my failings; I should rather acquaint you with my virtues.”
Watching the comings and goings of the Lehmann entourage soon became a popular spectator-sport. People would stand outside her hotel and gape in astonishment as a stuffed giant kangaroo, two koala bears, a kookaburra, armfuls of flowers, and masses of luggage were carried by.
Lotte loved flowers almost as passionately as she loved animals. She was shocked to see that florists had thrust wires right through the calyces. After a recital she took the time to free every single flower from its “instrument of torture.” Otto smiled indulgently. Someone asked him what marriage to an opera star was like. “Eleven years in a madhouse,” was his answer.
A certain Miss Clarke was assigned to be Lotte’s guide and assistant. The poor woman was quite overwhelmed in the presence of such a celebrity, and terrified of doing or saying something wrong.
Why is she afraid of me? She has eyes like a frightened rabbit looking straight into the barrel of a rifle… When she has to tell me “bad news”—and she knows that every invitation is my idea of bad news—she looks at me with ghastly expectancy. I am very calm around her—at least I try to be. I would not want her to see me in anger.
But Lotte had to explode when she received the bill for her Australian income tax, the highest she had ever encountered.
I wanted to cancel everything and leave. Miss Clarke stood there, pale and horrified to see the hypocritical angel’s mask fall from my face….But I soon recovered myself—and she said she had never seen anyone so quick to laugh again after so much fury.
There was another problem. It was winter down under. Some of the concert halls were unbelievably cold. There was often no central heating at all, only a few inadequate portable electric heaters. Lotte sang in her fur coat. She could see her breath in front of her at every phrase. Inhaling such icy air while singing was murderous for sensitive vocal cords.
The day after the first and worst of such concerts, she dashed off an angry letter to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the sponsors of her tour. They should not expect her to sing in an icebox. If anything happened to her voice, they would have to take the consequences.
The boat trip to Tasmania was so frigid that even Otto, an inveterate night-owl, had to turn in early, his teeth chattering, to seek a little warmth in his bunk. Lotte’s diary listed that as “a historical moment in his life.”
The trains, too, were freezing. Hotels were noisy. Lotte became so accustomed to the constant racket that when she rented a quiet, secluded villa in Adelaide the deep nocturnal silence almost kept her awake. Ulanowsky offered to hire a couple of workmen to hammer all night outside her window, so that she could sleep again.
In spite of all discomforts, Lotte loved Australia and its people. Her concerts were sold out. She had to sing many extra recitals to accommodate the demand. Her voice was broadcast all over the country and everyone seemed to have heard her and to know who she was. She sang at hospitals and for the handicapped. Everywhere she was warmly welcomed. What pleased her the most was that she was asked to sing only the sort of lieder programs she loved best. They specifically vetoed any second-rate songs in English, of the kind she had so often been asked to sing in America. That made a great impression on her, and she spread the word among her colleagues that audiences in Australia were very discriminating in their musical tastes. The Australians were gratified to hear that. Dame Nellie Melba is said to have told Dame Clara Butt, when asked what to sing in Australia, “Give ’em muck; that’s all they understand.” They found that very hard to forgive.
It was easy to guess that Lotte would fall in love with the famous, cuddly-looking koala bears. The first ones she had tried to hold had been very wild and frightened, and had scratched her as they struggled to get free. But at the zoo in Adelaide the koalas were much tamer. They even fell asleep in her arms. She was blissful.
The Australians are famed for their love of sports. One of the gentlemen of the broadcasting commission taught Lotte to box. He recklessly showed her some knock-out techniques. The next thing he knew he was spitting out bits of tooth. Lotte, who does nothing by halves, had underestimated the power in her punch.
He threatened to hang a sign on her door: “Keep out! Dangerous woman!”
Before leaving Australia, Lotte signed a contract to come back in 1939.
From the cold of Tasmania to the tropical heat of Ceylon! From Port Said and Cairo to the Schnürlregen (drizzle) of Salzburg—the contrasts in climate were too much for Otto. Back in his beloved Austria he became feverish and very ill. Heavy smoking was hardly a help. He developed a persistent cough, and lost a lot of weight. His lungs were infected. His heart was not in order. Lotte was terribly alarmed; he had always seemed so robust, so athletic. By September it had become clear that he could not accompany her abroad, at least not for a while. The doctors demanded that he stay in bed; and when she had to leave for America, he was to go to a sanatorium in the mountains.
In a letter to Frances Holden, Lotte expressed her worries about Otto, and her dread of having to cope alone with all the strains of her American tour—including the confrontation with Balogh—deprived of Otto’s “calming influence.” She saw the children, though, as a positive factor. “With them,” she wrote, “a new world has come into my life, and it is lovely to have so much carefree youth all around me.”
Professional matters were going quite well. The memoirs, Anfang und Aufstieg, had a great success and a second German edition was due in September. Movie rights for the novel were under negotiation. There was talk that Marlene Dietrich should play the double rôle of the dancing twins, and that Lotte herself would portray the opera singer. She was looking forward to that. A producer wanted her also for a film with Richard Tauber.
Although she did not know it then, the Salzburg Festival of 1937 was Lotte’s last. She sang two Marschallins, under Hans Knappertsbusch, and two Fidelios with Toscanini. She managed a reconciliation with Bruno Walter. Their first recital was so “colossally” successful that a second was added. Aulikki Rautawaara, the Finnish soprano who had done the part in Glyndebourne, sang the Countess in Walter’s Figaro. Maria Reining was Toscanini’s new Eva. He had asked Lotte to sing Elisabeth in Tannhäuser with him in 1938. She was uncertain whether to accept. On the one hand, she longed to slow down, to have an easy summer to look forward to. On the other, she suspected that people might be saying already, because of Reining’s Eva, that Toscanini was no longer interested in working with Lehmann. She wrote Constance that “Toscanini is very sweet to me, but I hardly see him.” There was a big reception in her honor after the last Fidelio, at which Lotte was decorated with the cross of an Officer of the French Legion of Honor. She remarked to Constance that her previous title, Chevalier, sounded much more romantic.
In September Lotte opened the Vienna season in Der Rosenkavalier. She also sang Tatiana, Elsa, Sieglinde, and Elisabeth, before leaving for America on the Europa. Otto, of course, had to stay behind, at the Semmering Sanatorium. Lotte hoped he would be well enough by Christmas to join her in New York. His daughter, Manon, would accompany him and stay for a visit, her first in America.
This year Lotte made an effort to sing more “consciously.” For years there had been a tug-of-war between technique and the spontaneous gush of feeling. She had noticed lately that if she gave her heart and soul as an actress to the expression of Leonore’s overwhelming emotions in the great Fidelio aria, the high B (now demoted to B flat) would often suffer. On the other hand, if she kept her emotions on a short leash and concentrated on smooth singing, there would be impeccable high notes and lots of applause—but she would feel that she had somehow cheated the audience, Beethoven, and herself. She was determined to find a solution to that problem, a way of using conscious technique without a sacrifice of spontaneity.
Furthermore, a temporary weakness had been detected in her vocal cords. She had to be more careful.
After one of the first of such experiments, she wrote to Constance from Cleveland, Ohio:
You know, I sang very well—very artistically. But it makes me sick, this conscious singing… I was totally depressed after the concert. It used to be so wonderful, when I could give myself fully to my singing—and I didn’t care a rap whether it was perfect stylistically or not. What I am now doing, anyone can do, with a good technique, and better than I—for I, in my old age, so to speak, am a “beginner” where good technical singing is concerned… Will it always have to be like this?? Always having to sing with “temperament under control?” You are a virgin (silly!) [this was a running joke in their correspondence that year; Constance was in love and engaged to be married] so you won’t understand when I compare the way I am singing now to a night of love between two convalescents, during which one keeps saying to the other: “Don’t get too excited, it could give you a relapse.” Even a virgin can imagine that that sort of rapture is too modified… And that’s the way it is with my singing at the moment. When will I again experience a beautiful night of love in my singing???
Eleven days later she was more optimistic. She had just sung Die Walküre with the Chicago Opera in Milwaukee (her letter to Constance about that performance, with Flagstad in the wings and Lotte’s dressing room practically in the men’s latrine, has already been quoted in another chapter). She described her relief in a letter to Frances Holden:
Yesterday I sang a very good Sieglinde. I have won back my self-confidence. I sing more “consciously” than before, but am still able to let my feelings flow out through that more conscious singing, which is probably the really right way. Sieglinde, with her strong dramatic accents, was a hard test. And I am happy that she did me no harm.
Der Rosenkavalier returned to the Met. It was the second evening of the new season, after an opening Tristan for Flagstad and Melchior. This time Kerstin Thorborg played Octavian to Lotte’s Marschallin. The following review, by Oscar Thompson for The Sun, is typical:
…Lotte Lehmann’s Marschallin is a famous one, and not without reason. But when it was first disclosed at the Metropolitan three seasons ago it fell short of its full effectiveness, as experienced by those who had sat in the spell of her characterization in Vienna, Salzburg, or elsewhere abroad. As had been true earlier of the Baron Ochs of the lamented Richard Mayr, its detail did not entirely register in the extensive reaches of the house [the old Metropolitan, like the new, was almost twice as big as many leading European opera houses]. Last night Mme. Lehmann’s first act Marschallin [the reviewer had to miss the last act to meet his deadline] was altogether charming for those seated fairly close to the stage. How it was further back is for someone else than this reviewer to say. The soprano was continent in the use of her voice and the music benefited thereby. The monologue was fashioned with just the right note of wistfulness. Elsewhere were phrases of haunting loveliness, as in the snatch of Lied, “Du bist mein Bub, du bist mein Schatz,” [“you are my boy, you are my treasure”] soon after the parting of the curtain; and in the high-arched phrase, “Da drin ist die silberne Ros’n” [“the silver rose is inside”], at the end of the act. This Marschallin was an aristocrat, a philosopher, and above all, a woman, which is precisely what the role requires….
In Singing with Richard Strauss Lehmann discusses the question of projecting expression to an audience far from the stage:
An opera singer would be inept indeed if she could not convey by means of facial expressions what is going on inside her. True enough, opera houses are vast, the audiences rather distant from the stage, and one might be led to think that facial expressions would tend to get lost, so that simply sitting still would be bound to seem lifeless. I see this problem in a different light. I believe quite firmly that wavelike radiations emanate from the performer and make their way to the very last row of the house. It may be the power of personal magnetism that holds the audience spellbound; I do not know enough about these things to discuss them authoritatively. But I do know that the secret of “personality” goes deeper than a fleeting and momentary effect upon a receptive audience. Just as some people can tame wild animals by the mere look in their eyes, so certain performers can captivate an audience by their power of expression, whether it be quelling a disturbance or overcoming a lack of attention. When I sense a commotion in the audience, a certain disquiet, the shuffling of feet, coughing, rattling of paper, and the like, I never blame anyone but myself. The fault is mine; I have failed in my mission. There is no such thing as an inferior audience; the only element is the artist incapable of holding his audience. This he must be able to do even on the stage of a vast opera house, and the spell which he casts must be felt even if the performer’s features cannot be perceived in minute detail. Furthermore, tension is conveyed by stance and attitude; the body is so subtle an instrument for the expression of thought and feeling that it would seem almost difficult not to communicate what is so plainly self-evident.
[A personal note by the author: I remember how shocked I was, in the first intermission of a Met Rosenkavalier, to hear a standee, whose place had been at the rear of the house, grousing about Lehmann’s singing. “How did that woman ever get hired by the Metropolitan Opera? She’s no good at all!” I, who always preferred to stand as near the stage as possible, so that I could see the singers’ expressions, had been enthralled by that same performance. I shall never forget the look in Lehmann’s eyes as she sang “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding,” or a thousand other nuances of tone and look combined. Clearly, one’s viewpoint did play a role. Of course, Lehmann was fifty-five years old at the time and her voice lacked the freshness of youth. But what she could do with it was still incomparable.]
But back to the season of 1937-1938. Lehmann sang seven performances at the Metropolitan, and one on tour in Boston. Her roles were the Marschallin, six times, and Elisabeth, twice. Flagstad sang thirty-two performances that season at the Met, not counting the tour. Rethberg did her usual eleven.
On March 13, 1938, came the Anschluss. Nazi Germany annexed Austria.
Toscanini had seen it coming. One month earlier he had already canceled his participation in the Salzburg Festival of 1938. The receipts from his March 4 benefit concert at Carnegie Hall had been earmarked for the reconstruction of the Salzburg Festival Theatre, one of Toscanini’s special projects. On February 16 he changed the beneficiaries to the Unemployed Musicians Fund and the Casa di Riposo, the home for retired musicians that Verdi had founded in Milan.
For the second time, Lotte had lost a homeland. First Germany, then Austria.
Otto, who had apparently recovered enough to risk the trip, had come over with Manon in time to spend Christmas with Lotte. Now he had to return immediately to try to settle the affairs of his children. They were half-Jewish, through their mother, and in very real danger, although no one realized yet the full enormity of what might lie ahead. Manon had to go with her father to Vienna, for legal reasons, before they could return to America as immigrants.
After fulfilling her American contracts, Lotte sailed for London, where she was engaged again, after two years, for the season at Covent Garden. The crossing was a rough one. Nature added an unwelcome contribution to the human cause for despair.
Meanwhile, Lotte pulled every string she could to find a way to get Otto’s children out of Austria. She did the same for as many as possible of her Jewish friends and colleagues. She begged her American friends to help by sending affidavits obligating them to accept financial responsibility for the new immigrants. Frances Holden, for instance, sponsored Carl Alwin, a conductor of the Vienna Opera (and ex-husband of Elisabeth Schumann). She had to swear to bosom-friendship, without even knowing if he was married or not.
Otto’s condition worsened. He was sent to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland.
Lotte, naturally, was desperately worried about him, about Austria, about her stepchildren and so many dear friends who were in mortal danger. She arrived in London in a horrifying state of nerves.
At the gala opening performance of May 4, 1938, on stage at Covent Garden, in the middle of the first act of Der Rosenkavalier, Lotte collapsed.