This presentation is designed to illustrate and illuminate numerous aspects of Lotte Lehmann’s art and life with photos, videos, and especially audio examples of her singing.
I am a lifelong admirer of Lehmann the singer, the teacher, and the person. When I met her in 1961, she had already enjoyed an international opera career, pursued a second calling as a Lieder specialist, and had retired from over a decade of teaching at the Music Academy of the West. Finally, she taught privately at Orplid, her grand home in Santa Barbara, where she also entertained luminaries of the classical music world such as Bruno Walter, Risë Stevens, and Dalton Baldwin.
Lehmann, at 73, was a woman with vast knowledge and experience, whereas I was a naïve double bassist of 20. That she admitted me into her life at this time was something of a surprise to me. I wasn’t a singer or piano accompanist, but merely the friend of one of her students, Katsuumi Niwa. Still she honored me with many letters, interviews for my New York City radio programs, and an unrequested, but much appreciated, letter of recommendation that allowed me to audition for German orchestras. She was always kind, understanding, and encouraging in our years of correspondence.
This is not the life story of Lotte Lehmann. I am not a historian, nor did I ever hear her perform in her prime. For a well-researched biography, I recommend the book by Beaumont Glass, someone who witnessed her performances, and worked with her professionally. His Lotte Lehmann: A Life in Opera & Song (1988) is enjoyable to read and biased only by his affection and respect for Lehmann. I provided the discography for his book.
Lotte Lehmann: A Centennial Biography (1988) was written by Alan Jefferson, a music critic and historian. Not adulatory, it is a complete and accurate account. This book includes a scholarly discography by Floris Juynboll. Jefferson’s Lehmann biography is also available in German translation.
Next is a true historian’s account, Never Sang for Hitler: the Life and Times of Lotte Lehmann (2008), by Michael H. Kater. In spite of his limited knowledge of the classical vocal world, Dr. Kater’s meticulous research revealed a lot of hitherto unknown material.
Finally, consider Lotte Lehmann in America: Her Legacy as Artist Teacher, with Commentaries from Her Master Classes (2012) by Kathy H. Brown. She studied with Martha Longmire, a Lehmann student, and thus absorbed a lot of background. The book contains excellent biographical information, but concentrates on Lehmann’s teaching.
I cannot endorse the two Lotte Lehmann books by Berndt W. Wessling, which are compromised by many factual and judgment errors, as well as by sheer fantasy.
The goal of this illustrated Lotte Lehmann presentation is to immerse you in the riches of her recorded legacy and thus share with you the pleasure that I’ve come to savor after carefully listening to her recordings. And I must also admit to having been greatly impressed by the books that she wrote. Yes, besides being a singer of enormous gifts, Lehmann was also a vivid writer, able to express both her personal feelings, and background information on opera roles or Lieder texts, as you’ll discover from the passages I quote in the chapter called “Last Word.”
You may also want to explore the contents of the Appendix. It offers the Bibliography which includes a listing of books written by Lehmann, as well as books, magazine articles, etc. about her. I provide some comment on some of the books. There you’ll also find the Discography and a section listing Lehmann roles and song repertoire. In Volume II you can find the Lehmann Chronology, as well as the chapters: Misconceptions, Lehmann’s Conductors, The Lehmann I Knew, The Lehmann Others Knew, Her Legendary Marschallin, Dichterliebe (with her paintings, speaking, and singing as experienced in this volume’s Winterreise), What Critics Wrote, Tributes, Music Academy of the West, Frances Holden, Enduring Fame, and Lehmann Meets Goering.
May you find joy, fascination, and finally an appreciation of Lotte Lehmann’s artistic legacy.