This is a translation of Lehmann’s typewritten article found in Lehmann auf Deutsch.
This is a difficult chapter – but I must get something off my chest for once, which for all performing artists is a dark cloud threatening their enjoyment of such a wonderful profession. I myself don’t have that much reason to complain, many of them were very well-disposed and only a few just didn’t like me, which you can’t blame anyone for, because if you build your house on the street, you have to put up with the dirt of the road that hits you… At least that’s what an old proverb says.
I have always thought that it must be a terrible task to be a king, responsible for the destiny of a people. But it seems just as terrible to me to be a critic. At least a king has time to make up his mind. He will not immediately sign a death warrant or declare war. But a critic does.
I just want to enumerate a few examples: in Hamburg a young beginner once sang the “Singer” [a role as an Italian singer] in the first act of the Rosenkavalier. The role is enormously high – and some tenors have sometimes made a fool of themselves with it. How not to judge kindly a person who has no routine and is likely to faint with excitement? One would have to criticize the director who gave him this role that was too difficult… The following review was written in a newspaper: “There is a terrible dream, you dream that you should take a role, you stand on the stage and suddenly – realize you can’t do the part and you don’t have a voice at all. That dream became a reality for Mr. X last night.”
Boring, funny. Very cruel. Very unnecessary. What did he help with that? Maybe only the now totally intimidated “Singer”?
The great task of the critic is to help and build up and encourage. Certainly he can criticize sharply, but he must remain within the limits of human goodness.
It also depends on the state of mind in which the critic finds himself when he hears a concert or an opera performance. He’ll probably be friendlier if he’s happy and doesn’t have a stomach ache… The artist himself rises from the worries of everyday life through his art. But the man sitting there in the audience is not there to enjoy what is given, he is there to judge it, to find mistakes, to demonstrate what his knowledge.
Of course, I myself have had my enemies among the critics and have always had the dubious gift of finding the eleventh out of ten good reviews that was bad and I noticed that one and [felt] I was half dead. Sometimes I’ve also thought about whether it wasn’t justified. Sometimes I even thought he was nicer than I could have expected. In this sense, I learned from the critic. I have to admit, not without a whimper…
Someone once wrote that I was a good Marschallin, if you cover your ears. And the same has been said of Toscanini: he should now finally decide what tempi he wanted to take…. So I was in good company… Someone wrote that [when I sang] Eva I looked like Eva’s mother-in-law. Well, that hurt me deeply and I remember saying to Maestro Toscanini, that I won’t be singing Eva next year. The Maestro was so angry with me that I was afraid he would hit me!!! He asked me what was more important, whether he liked me as Eva or this young cheeky guy’s opinion…
Today I was looking for something on the floor of our house in Santa Barbara and books with their reviews got in the way. I sat there in the midst of empty suitcases and old papers and read, fascinated and very happy. I wasn’t that good at all!!! And it’s actually inexcusable of me if I don’t burst into praises, talking well of critics instead of just remembering those who were bad… [Others noticed that…] There was so much beauty through all the years of my singing. I was touched and happy.
But for example [Alfred] Piccaver [a tenor who sang during Lehmann’s years]: he was the absolute darling of the Viennese. His heavenly voice was a bit nasal, but my God, it bothered nobody but the critics. They always found fault with him, but the audience cheered, and rightly so.
I’ve been told that I have poor vocal technique. Of course, that was unfortunately true. And yet I have sung for 41 years with great success and, despite the fact that New York singing teachers once wrote open criticism of me, I have won the great love of my listeners and what is more important – – maintained that.
In summary, I have to say: it’s the same here as everywhere else: good and bad go hand in hand. I’m glad I don’t have to decide what’s more important. Glad I wasn’t and am not a critic.
When I “criticize” my students, it’s much more an effort to help them, to make suggestions that they may or may not accept. But I am always aware that it is not knowledge that leads us to heights, but the original, honest, surrendered feeling of forgetting and loosing oneself [as a singer]. And that’s something that stands above criticism.