A Documentary Biography
By Beaumont Glass
(Bolded text is either reinstated, updated, or new text that did not appear in the original 1988 publication.)
That Something Extra
Let Lotte Lehmann herself give the prelude to her long love affair with Vienna:
The year 1916 was a rather important one in my life; I left the Hamburg Municipal Theatre for what at that time still bore the proud name of “Royal and Imperial Court Opera” at Vienna. The clouds of war, however, had by now cast their long shadows over the once gay city, and the Emperor’s throne was manifestly doomed. Thus I never really came to know the glamour of Old Vienna about which I had heard so much—flower parades in the Prater or the procession of brightly resplendent carriages in the petal-covered Hauptallee. This to me was already part of the past, a glorious fairy tale; for the Vienna I came to know looked very different indeed. We lived in modest circumstances, with no more food than our regular ration cards entitled us to, and I still vividly remember suffering from acute hunger for the first time in my life. My fairly substantial income proved of scant help in the matter, because what one needed in Vienna was “contacts”; we knew no one and had no access to sources for butter, eggs, and milk outside the city. I shall never forget the kindness shown me by the singer Richard Mayr. When I once confessed that I was hungry and simply did not know how to go about finding more than my allotted ration, he immediately began to have food sent to us regularly from his farm, and life brightened considerably. I have often blessed him for his generosity.
Lotte’s official debut as a regular member of the Vienna Court Opera took place on the traditional opening night of the season, the Emperor’s birthday, August 18, 1916. The opera was Der Freischütz. The reviews were magnificent for Lotte:
…The first evening introduced a new member of the company: Fräulein Lotte Lehmann as Agathe. That was a case of “she came, she conquered,” a total victory! Fräulein Lehmann, of winning appearance, is poetry incarnate and her singing is poetry too, as is also the simplicity of her acting, free of any artificiality. The glorious soprano of the young artist must have been trained by a master. Seldom has one encountered such vocal culture, faultless in every way, which, transmitted through a voice saturated with beautiful sound, is permeated as well with an artistic sensibility of the noblest kind. And to crown the whole, Fräulein Lehmann is mistress of the most model enunciation of the text one can imagine. Many great singers will be placed in the shade by the young artist through that quality alone. Fräulein Lehmann was stormily and most heartily applauded after her first aria as well as repeatedly during the performance and at the end of the acts. It is now understandable that she was the darling of Hamburg and that they let her go with deep regrets. The Vienna Court Opera has made in her, that can well be said today, a major discovery…. (Sch–r., Deutsches Volksblatt, August 19, 1916.)
…A singer with magnificent resources, an actress full of feeling and taste…. Her smooth voice, which carries in all registers and is richly colored, adapted itself with equal perfection to Weber’s sentimental cantilena and to the lively rythms of his dramatic melody. She unfolded the big aria in the second act with heart-warm tones and built up the ending to a climax of warm-blooded, genuine joy. Especially lovely was the prayer. Through the velvety registers of her voice she conjured up all its dreaminess, its child-like naïvety. As an actress, she glided past all the weaknesses in Agathe’s overly delicate virginality with an adroitness that revealed the thinking artist…. (Neues Wiener Journal, August 19, 1916.)
…Today, on the Opening Day of the Court Opera, we would like to be able to give praise, and fortunately a welcome occasion to do so has been offered, for an excellent new member, Fräulein Lehmann, sang the Agathe with the greatest success. Besides Frau Jeritza, the thrilling temperament of our opera stage, Frau [Lucie] Weidt, the heroine of noble interpretations, and Frau [Selma] Kurz, the grande dame of our Court Opera, dripping pearls of coloratura, Fräulein Lehmann can quickly become a darling of our opera audience…. (Die Zeit, August 19,1916.)
…Yesterday she took the public by storm. Lotte Lehmann has every prospect of becoming a Vienna favorite. Such she was, by the way, in Hamburg, where they were not glad to let her go. It is quite an accomplishment to literally electrify a sleepy audience with Agathe’s prayer…. (another Viennese paper, unidentified in the clipping.)
Other roles followed swiftly: Elisabeth, Antonia and Giulietta (the latter new), and Micaëla. The reviews were favorable, the audiences were enthusiastic, fans were starting to gather at the stage door, the claque wanted bigger fees as her star climbed higher; and yet Lotte sensed that something was missing.
The Vienna Opera…was alien territory, and whereas in Hamburg I had been everybody’s spoiled darling, in Vienna I was merely one among many. Great stars reigned in individual splendor among the soloists…and though I did have some gratifying success, I seemed to lack that something extra which would put me in a class with the others….
Then came the “something extra,” the needed sensation.
Lotte was assigned to the second cast of a Strauss première, the new version of Ariadne auf Naxos. In its original form, the opera had been conceived as the climactic final scene of a Molière play (Le bourgeois gentilhomme), adapted and translated into German as Der Bürger als Edelmann by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The combination of play and opera proved to be unwieldy, and highly impractical for most theatres. Hofmannsthal fashioned a prologue to replace the play. The opera thus became an opera within an opera. Strauss was fascinated by the challenge of setting quick, realistic conversation to music, without the loss of musical interest characteristic, for example, of the old secco—dry—recitative. Certain conversational scenes in Der Rosenkavalier had suggested the possibilities; now he was keen to exploit them and refine them. The key role in the new prologue was that of the “Composer.” Strauss, over Hofmannsthal’s original objections, had conceived of the role as a trouser role for a soprano (or high mezzo-soprano) playing a young man, another Rosenkavalier, so to speak. And the performer he had in mind was Marie Gutheil-Schoder, a brilliant singing-actress, who had delighted him as Octavian in the Viennese première. Gutheil-Schoder, of course, was chosen to “create” the role. Lotte was, in effect, her understudy. She would no doubt have sung some performances eventually, long after the glamour of the première. She fell in love with the part and worked hard to master it. Then fate stepped in. Gutheil-Schoder had to miss an important rehearsal because of a cold. Strauss was there. The rehearsal could not be canceled, the performance was only a few days off.
Lehmann was called. Expecting nothing, she was not even nervous. She threw her whole heart and soul into the beautiful role she had been studying so long and with so much love.
Strauss was enthralled. He asked her to come to a solo musical rehearsal that afternoon. Franz Schalk, the conductor, and Hans Gregor, the Intendant, were also present. After another run-through Strauss made up his mind. Lotte Lehmann would sing the world-première.
Lotte objected. Marie Gutheil-Schoder had always been one of her idols. She was upset to think that such a great artist should be hurt on her account. Strauss, Gregor, and Schalk told her this was their business and she would do as she was told. Later, in his memoirs, Schalk wrote that this was the only time in his experience when one singer had turned down a juicy role for the sake of another. Lotte, in telling the story, always disclaimed any right to a halo: when they insisted, she was very quick to overcome her compunctions.
Gutheil-Schoder never held it against her. She graciously claimed that Lotte’s performances as the Composer were among her loveliest memories of the Vienna Opera. (But she never spoke to Intendant Gregor again.)
Among Lotte’s mementos there is a touching note from one of the great Wagnerian tenors of the day:
Dear Fräulein Lehmann,
I was at the dress rehearsal today [of Ariadne]. Your singing was wonderfully beautiful. I had to tell you that.
Best greetings. Your devoted colleague,
The première took place on Wednesday, October 4, 1916, starting at 7 p.m. Maria Jeritza sang Ariadne, Selma Kurz was Zerbinetta. They were two of Vienna’s top favorites.
“At 7:40 all Vienna knew who Lotte Lehmann is.” So wrote Ludwig Karpath, a leading critic. That tells it all. It was the sort of sensation necessary to launch a really great career.
Now that “all Vienna” knew who Lehmann was, she was in demand everywhere, especially for charities (the Red Cross, disabled soldiers, breakfasts for school children, etc., etc.). She fulfilled an enormous number of such requests, and made several special recordings for the war-effort. Furthermore, all the agents were jostling each other out of the way to sign her up for guest contracts.
After one of Lotte’s charity concerts, the critic who signed himself H. W. nearly burst into song:
…Lotte Lehmann, the newest star of our Court Opera—I mean the word “star” in its purest sense, without that slightly ironical connotation which would not apply to this God-gifted artist—became a tumultuously applauded darling of our concert audience, entirely through the heartfelt, nobly natural rendition of a few songs, with which she won all hearts. At the same time her glorious, youthful tones rang like the bells that welcome spring in May, effortlessly, as the song of the lark ascends to blue heights, and penetrated to the most intimate depths of our hearts like the first ray of sun in spring. Now we have again a singer in Vienna such as we have not had since [Bertha] Ehnn [a Viennese favorite in the 1870s!].
There were of course numerous interviews, and the following excerpts from one of them give us an idea of how Lotte Lehmann the woman impressed the Viennese:
…She had enjoyed unusual popularity in Hamburg, not just through her magnificent voice and her noble artistry; she also quickly won all hearts through her gracious and friendly nature with its simple unpretentiousness that is nevertheless capable of enthusiastic flights of feeling…. Since I had the pleasure of spending an hour in stimulating conversation with the artist at her home, I felt the winning magic of her personality, which lies in the simplicity, naturalness, and almost child-like sincerity of her character. In an unadorned and unaffected way she told about her beginnings on her way to the stage…. (Paul Wilhelm, WWZ, October 29, 1916.)
The star did not yet feel at home in the Viennese heaven. A letter to Baron Putlitz gives vent to her nostalgia for the North. Though written before her success in Ariadne, it expresses what she continued to feel about her new environment for a while longer:
I am not happy here. Vienna is a great disappointment to me. Everything about life here, it seems to me, is calculated for outer “effect.” Editors of scandal sheets, photographers, members of the claque…I find all of that frightful. I yearn for Hamburg, for pure sea air—here it is dusty and all purity is stifled in an atmosphere that robs me of breath. Perhaps I am being sentimental. My calling, after all, is not to be happy but to go forward. And that is happening. I’m sure that I shall overcome my home-sickness….
On November 21, 1916, Emperor Franz Josef died. The theatres were closed and no one knew when the new emperor, Karl I, would order their reopening. Lotte longed to accept offers of guest performances in Hamburg but permission was not granted. She lost her temper over all the red tape, stirring up quite a storm. The unfortunate recipient of her wrath was Secretary Lyon (later assistant director)….
Lyon suddenly became very serious. He picked up the telephone and asked to be put through to Prince Montenuovo.
Then I got thoroughly frightened.
“Herr Lyon, I didn’t really mean it…your’re not going to report me, are you?
“That was lèse-majesté,” he said, as solemn as a judge, and related word for word through the telephone what I had said….
In those moments of fear I simply couldn’t imagine what the consequences of my thoughtless words might be. I didn’t see that with his other hand Lyon was pressing down the receiver so that the line was dead, and it was only when he said: “What was that, Your Excellency? I’m to send for a mental doctor and have Fräulein Lehmann taken away in a straitjacket?” that I noticed it had all been a joke, and breathed again….
To celebrate the first official appearance of the new emperor and empress, a Gala Concert was given (at the Konzerthaus). Along with Maria Jeritza, Selma Kurz, Lucie Weidt, Leo Slezak, Richard Mayr, and Alfred Piccaver, Lotte Lehmann was asked to sing. She happened to overhear some snide remarks about her dress.
It simply hadn’t occurred to me that this was an evening to which one must come “in all one’s grandeur”—clothes just didn’t interest me and I wore some old thing that had originated in Hamburg—so I probably did look like Cinderella among my colleagues. But it was a lesson to me. Never again would I stand among the others looking like an interloper….So I went the very next day to a great salon and ordered something expensive and grand.
As far as public and press were concerned, it seemed as if the new favorite could do no wrong. Backstage, things looked a little different.
All in all, I felt rather out of place in Vienna, being myself terribly German in those days, utterly Prussian in my background and so alien to the natural geniality of the Viennese that I mistook for hypocrisy what I later learned to appreciate as a charming and graceful way of life….
The general manager received a great many complaints about me, and I rather suspect that in those days he must have found me downright obnoxious….At rehearsals he used to drop sarcastic remarks about both my musical abilities and my ill-mannered behavior toward my colleagues….one day our [stage] director, Wilhelm von Wymetal, took me aside to inquire if I could not possibly indulge my colleagues’ hankering for somewhat more elaborate formalities. “For instance,” he pointed out, “all you ever say is a simple `Good morning’ instead of `Good morning, Frau Kammersängerin.’ Furthermore, what would it cost you to add a `How do you do?’” With devastating candor I replied that it would not cost me anything, but that I saw no reason for asking, since I really was not, after all, the least bit interested in how she was or was not doing. Wymetal had to laugh in spite of himself, wondering out loud what he was going to do with such an obstinate and confirmed Prussian.
Yet things did not always end in good-natured banter, and I was to discover time and again that a touch of charm and graceful diplomacy tends to oil the wheels and pay off in the long run.
Lotte’s outspoken informality got her in trouble more than once. In January of 1917, only a few months after her engagement had begun, she was briefly suspended and, for a while, incredibly, dismissal was a definite possibility. The following report appeared in the Neues Wiener Journal on January 20:
…Fräulein Lotte Lehmann had to submit to an official disciplinary investigation which ended in a verdict of guilty. This verdict is not so tragic, however, for the sentence is not likely to have exceeded a fine or a reprimand. The occasion for this penalty was a little affair, in which Fräulein Jeritza is said also to have played a part, in a dressing room of the Court Opera. During the course of a somewhat vehement scene Fräulein Lehmann, who calls a spade a spade in good North-German fashion, is said to have made a remark which Director Gregor took personally, after it had been repeated to him, by “good friends” of course. He ordered an official disciplinary investigation according to the regulations. Now everything is all right again. Fräulein Lotte Lehmann, who during the proceedings against her was not permitted to sing at the Court Opera, is now singing again….
Another version was reported by Siegfried Jelenko as he remembered the incident years later in an article for one of the Hamburg papers. That he took credit for the satisfactory conclusion appears to have been typical of “Jelle.”
…I was on a business trip to Vienna and was really looking forward to seeing her there. A funereal voice answered my telephone call: “Oh God, how good that you are here! I am terribly upset and must speak to you as soon as possible.” We agreed to meet the next morning at nine at a coffee house near the opera. And there she came, looking like a wilted lily, a weeping willow, which gave me quite a start. What had happened? She had had to take over the role of Elisabeth for a sick colleague. While dressing, on the evening of the performance, she sent for Assistant Director Lyon because of some quite minor matter that was bothering her; and since he couldn’t comply right away, she made use of some authentic Lehmannisms against him and the institute, in the presence of the wardrobe mistress and the hairdresser. Lyon made an official complaint to Director Gregor and now she was to be punished with disciplinary action, possibly even with immediate dismissal. My first thought was: “Hurrah, then she’ll come back to us!” (Shame on me!) Then, however, I said to her: “Director Gregor used to act under my direction at the Helden Theatre in Berlin, years ago, in the Saxon dialect. I’ll go to him and try to get rid of this conflict.” And I succeeded too. Needless to say, he received me warmly. As I introduced my concern, he put on his official face: [the following in broad Saxon dialect] “No, listen, that just doesn’t go here, such a lack of discipline at our institute, that’s never yet been seen here. Poor Lyon was totally out of his head! No, and furthermore in front of witnesses, and he told me officially there would have to be a trial!” I tried to calm him down and little by little I managed it. “Yes, but she must get a punishment. She’d better report to me. No! At such an institute!” I thanked him and hurried away to impart the result to the poor delinquent who was waiting all-a-tremble near by….
Paul Schwarz, one of Lotte’s early colleagues at the Hamburg Opera, later remarked about “Jelle”: “This curious gentleman liked to cast himself in the part of the Promoter of Lotte Lehmann’s Promising Talent, without in fact ever having lifted a finger for her.”
By the end of her first season Lotte had sung twenty-one roles in Vienna, including, among the new ones, Mignon, Manon (one of her favorites), Marguerite, Frau Fluth in The Merry Wives of Windsor (a promotion from her early Hamburg Anna), and, from her former repertoire, Pamina, Elsa, and Octavian (besides the Agathes, Evas, Elisabeths, Antonias, and Micaëlas already mentioned above). In the spring a pair of one-act operas by the Viennese boy wonder, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, was premièred. Lotte sang Laura in Der Ring des Polykrates (though not in the first performances) and Jeritza had the lead in Violanta. One wonders how anyone could have studied, memorized, and rehearsed so many major roles in such a short time!
Of her Laura in the Korngold piece one critic wrote: “She is delightful. Pure sunshine on the stage.”
Lotte sang two roles more than any other that first season. Ariadne auf Naxos was, of course, the new sensation, thanks partly to her personal success in it. She sang the Composer twenty times. Next in frequency and popularity came Manon, which she sang eight times. It was the role she eventually sang more often by far than any other in Vienna, sixty times during the next twenty years, missing only one season. Vienna adored her in the role. Her first Des Grieux was the Hungarian tenor Béla von Környey; but the definitive partnership was formed when Alfred Piccaver took over the role. He and Lotte became a beloved team.
Here is an excerpt from My Many Lives:
Memories of the Viennese production of Manon come to me so vividly that I must speak of them… It was not easy to sing Manon there—on a stage on which Marie Renard, the most capricious Manon before my time, had triumphed. Of course, I had not heard her, but I knew her very well and was bound to the old lady through a warm friendship. She must have been nearly eighty but she was still beautiful and piquant. I can imagine how enchanting she was in the days when she set Vienna afire with her charming Manon and Lotte in Werther.
And yet Vienna loved my Manon. It was a standard opera in the repertory and was always certain of a sold-out house. Alfred Piccaver was Des Grieux. I shall never forget his heavenly voice which had the quality of velvet! There are voices which are so beautiful that they make you oblivious of everything but their quality so that you don’t even think of considering whether the singer is a good actor. Such a voice was Piccaver’s. The more lyrically he sang the more unearthly the pianissimo in which he reveled, the more enchanting was the sound of this divinely blessed organ. The fact that he never made a world career was entirely his own fault: in spite of being English by birth he belonged absolutely to Vienna and never wanted to leave it. The wide world held no allure for him, and whenever, yielding to the pressure of his friends, he dared an expedition into the surrounding world he had only moderate success. He was only at home in Vienna, he only sang beautifully in Vienna. What a divine voice! I still revel in the memory of it!
Lotte mentioned elsewhere that he was the only colleague who always thanked her after a performance.
Lotte’s successes only intensified the animosity of her leading rival. Maria Jeritza used her influence in court circles to maneuver Lotte out of—and herself into—two of the most popular Lehmann roles, Manon and Octavian. Strauss himself advised Lotte to swallow her pride and bide her time. She agreed to show her ensemble spirit by accepting some less than starring roles, such as the fifth Flower Maiden in Parsifal and the second Rhine Maiden, Freia, and Gutrune in the Ring. She was determined to give her best even to the least glamorous parts. That attitude paid off. She won the gratitude of the management and the respect of her colleagues.
Richard Mayr, the incomparable Baron Ochs (Lehmann: “He succeeded in portraying this basically repulsive character with so much charm that one could never really be angry with him”), gave Lotte some tips for the role of Octavian. “You play the part of a young man really well,” he said, “but you need a little more caprice. Remember, we’re in the era of rococo. That calls for flirting, playfulness, making eyes.” So Lotte lightened her approach. But in her own way. She didn’t want too much “rococo powder”; naturalness was her goal.
When Mayr brought her sausages, vegetables, and eggs from his farm, he told her with a chuckle and a wink that Jeritza could expect only some carrots from him.
Lotte’s second season in Vienna brought new successes as “Lotte” (Charlotte) in Werther, as Sieglinde, as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, and as Margiana in The Barber of Bagdad, as well as in concert:
…When she sings, be it something familiar or something new, one feels that each aria, each song is radiating new colors, new flashes of light. Her ever-blossoming talent carries the magic of the most modest simplicity. To the stage or to the recital platform she brings the same utter naturalness and credibility, along with human warmth and emotions that spring from deepest musical understanding. One hears and sees in her an artistic talent gifted with six senses. The sixth: a most pure, inborn musicality, refined and easy in the execution, delicate and poetic with rare subtlety. She feels and lives her renditions with high culture and nobility. On the stage her role becomes a living being; and our hearts and our ears surrender to her songs. That bell-like, silvery voice sounds forth from a deep-feeling soul. That voice bears a piece of her heart. The pure, noble, soft poetry of that singing, the legato line, the delicate sentiment of that dreamy, warm voice, are very rare phenomena. Lotte Lehmann has beyond a doubt one of the most beautiful female voices we have ever heard…. The whole evening was one great jubilation over the beloved and celebrated artist…. (a. e., Wiener Fremdenblatt, January 14, 1918.)
…and rapturously received guest performances in Hamburg:
…Once more the opportunity to listen to the nobly lovely art of our Lotte Lehmann…and as she lent to the little songs her captivatingly sweet, wonderful voice, a jubilation, a thundering ovation broke loose such as never yet has shaken these walls. Again and again we are forced to ask: was there really no way to keep this artist here? Must Vienna possess what rightly belongs to Hamburg? For us no golden cage could have been precious enough for this nightingale with the radiant voice…. (Neue Hamburger Zeitung, August 6, 1917.)
In May of 1918 Lotte enclosed a number of clippings in a letter to Baroness Putlitz:
Here—at random—are some reviews, Vienna and Hamburg all mixed together. All the others Papa pasted into an album. That is an encouraging book! When I leaf through it I often feel it isn’t I about whom all those beautiful things were said. How grateful I can be. And how happy and proud, that these successes are like a precious bouquet that I can offer to you as thanks for all that you once did for me.
In those days, when Lotte was not singing herself, she was in the artists’ box, high up in the third gallery, listening to the others. That was an era of great singers.
For years, in Vienna, I lived in the opera house….I went to almost every performance there because I felt that I couldn’t breathe without absorbing the atmosphere of the opera….I wanted to hear every one, and see everything and decide for myself what I liked and what I didn’t like — and wanted then to close my eyes and ears and with complete independence do what my feeling drove me to do….without wanting to copy—perhaps even without being able to copy: for imitation is a talent in itself—a dangerous talent which I fear almost more than a lack of talent [written in reference to her students].
Lotte Lehmann had the humility and the good sense to study the work of all the other great artists of her time, to draw the best of each into her inner self, and then to go her own way. Her art, like her voice, was totally individual and born out of her very individual personality and her very deepest feelings. Some reviewers referred to her “flawless” vocalism. But Lotte herself constantly disparaged her own command of technique, and—as she put it—relied on “the wings of emotion” to carry her safely over any technical hurdles. As long as her emotional response to the music and her artistic instincts were guiding her, she could forget about technique and give herself completely to the musical moment. If, on the other hand, something that had seemed to come easily to her was thoughtlessly pointed out as being difficult, she would be in danger ever afterwards of a sudden attack of stage fright as that “difficult” note drew near.
For example, as the Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos I had to sing a lovely little song [“Du, Venus’ Sohn, gibst süssen Lohn“]. I had always sung it with great ease and freedom….One day a former singer said to me: “It surprises me again and again to see with what delicious ease you sing that difficult and exposed little song, as if it had no difficulties for you at all. And it is so very tricky….” I was very much astonished. “But it really isn’t so difficult,” I answered, more amazed at the moment by my technical surety than was my hostess. “But that is just what is so charming, Fräulein Lotte: you don’t realize it at all.”
I had forgotten the conversation—but my subconscious mind recalled it at just the wrong moment: in the next performance of Ariadne I sang this lovely song miserably and was never again able to sing it really well….
Psychology plays an enormous part in singing.
Because she felt her roles so vividly, Lotte was always in love with her stage lover—but only on stage and never (well, hardly ever!) in private life. Perhaps handsome Karl Aagard-Oestwig, her dream-Lohengrin and Bacchus (after 1919), was an exception. As Manon she loved Alfred Piccaver. As Lotte Lehmann she adored his “heavenly” voice. And she considered him handsome. But when his mother and her mother tried to make a match between them, Lotte rebelled. She was not at all interested in him as a man, only as one of her very favorite singers. On stage, no matter how foul a tenor’s breath or how ungainly his girth, she saw only Siegmund (for instance), never the singer.
Nevertheless, Francis Maclennan had clearly made an impression on her in Hamburg. And much later, there was Fritz Wolff, her Lohengrin in London in 1929, her Walther in London and Berlin.
As for the ladies, there was trouble with only one, and that trouble lasted for decades. Fritz Lehmann put it very picturesquely: Maria Jeritza was forever throwing red-hot coals in front of Lotte’s feet. Lotte, without mentioning names, put it like this:
I was quickly pushed to the front, and one uncrowned queen of the Opera didn’t like that….For the first time in my life, I believe, I encountered veiled hostility. I learned that the way upward can also be an ugly and obnoxious competitive struggle, a struggle in which I must always be worsted, for when I am forced to fight I fight with open visor….In my heart I have never had much sympathy with the idea of the prima donna assoluta….There is room for so many….One should get new corroboration and consolidation of one’s own personality from others….There is something undignified about this petty fighting for oneself.
In general, artists are a great army fighting under one flag; ready to help one another, understanding, good comrades.
Jeritza and Lehmann shared a number of roles at the Vienna Opera, including Agathe, Elsa, Elisabeth, and Sieglinde (later many more, including Tosca, a famous “Jeritza role”).
In her books, Lotte wrote often and with sincere generosity about her admiration for many aspects of Jeritza’s art—the thrilling way she turned her back to the audience to greet the Hall of Song at the climax of her entrance aria in Tannhäuser, her moving characterization of Santuzza, her glorious singing as the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten—but privately there was bitterness and hurt. Because they were for years the two top stars in Vienna, each with an enormous following, and because Vienna loved to watch the sparks fly on their opera stage, they were often cast together in the same opera. Carmen and Micaëla. Brünnhilde and Sieglinde. Ariadne and the Composer. Later, the Empress and the Dyer’s Wife, Octavian and the Marschallin. Because of feuding fan clubs, they used to enter the house through different doors, flocks of partisans waiting at each entrance. Jeritza, it has been said, was every man’s dream of a glamorous mistress; Lehmann his ideal of a warm-hearted wife.
Lotte never knew when Jeritza’s lightning would strike; but she could be fairly certain that if she had a soft, sustained high-note to sing, Jeritza would find a way—as if it were a part of the staging—to nudge Lotte off balance. Once Lotte asked the wardrobe department if she could borrow, for a guest engagement in London, a cloak that had been part of Elsa’s costume in Lohengrin. Jeritza would be singing the role during Lotte’s leave of absence and everyone in Vienna knew that Maria had recently added a magnificent cloak, all cloth-of-gold, with a spectacular long train, to her Elsa costume. The wardrobe mistress was sure there would be no need for the old costume and was about to pack it in a trunk for Lotte to take to London. Somehow Jeritza got wind of it and suddenly materialized at the scene. “Put that back!” she ordered, “I might just get a whim to wear it.”
In June 1918 Lotte traveled to Constantinople to sing for the Sultan. She was much relieved when the war ministry requisitioned a private compartment for her on the over-crowded train (this was still World War I). She sang four concerts in three days, including two matinées (one for the ladies of the Sultan’s harem!). Lotte was fascinated by this other, exotic world, but ready for a restful vacation with her mother by the beautiful Königssee in the Bavarian alps, not far from Salzburg, where she hoped none of the Backfische—bless their hearts—would be able to find her.