We have an expert appraisal with the music critic Marcia Davenport. Here’s what she wrote in her 1967 book Too Strong for Fantasy. “My fascination with Lotte Lehmann had been reaffirmed in many visits to the Staatsoper when I was in Vienna, and at the end of 1933 she finally came to New York. …The New Yorker [where Davenport worked] had commissioned a Profile of her. The profile took off from the basis that I rated her the finest singing actress before the public, and thirty years later I can add that I have never seen or heard her equal.…When she made her her debut at the Metropolitan as Sieglinde I took my mother [famous opera start Alma Gluck], who reacted exactly as I had done when I first heard Lotte in Vienna…I watched her trying to conceal her own open-mouthed enthrallment….”
We begin with Lehmann’s first success as Elsa in Lohengrin (her debut in a leading role after only two years in the Hamburg Opera) in November 1912:
…At last an Elsa who was only Elsa and could not just as well have been Ortrud [Elsa’s evil nemesis]. To many it may have seemed a risk to entrust this great role to the young, inexperienced Lotte Lehmann. And it was a risk; but not an experiment, for the basic prerequisites, which offered at least the possibility of success, were in this case present. The swan knights we have known here have seldom rushed to rescue a more enchanting, more tender Elsa, so touched with romantic magic, as she was outwardly portrayed by Frl. Lehmann. An Elsa without the excesses of the usual prima donna, an Elsa who was all innocence and guilelessness. Artistically too, Frl. Lehmann fulfills her task for the present in a way that is entirely her own. She forgets most of what she had planned and what others have prompted her to do; she gives herself up completely to the impressions of the moment and to the dramatic situation. That is very good, for in that way she keeps for her Elsa a perfect, almost touching unaffectedness; in that way she is not tempted to make what is already complicated appear to be even more so than it really is, and in that way she avoids any farfetched philosophical obscurities and any false theatricality. Perhaps this lovely unaffectedness springs from her ignorance of Elsa’s nature. In that case one would like to wish that she retain such ignorance for a good long time….(Hamburger Fremdenblatt)
…That new Elsa was Fräulein Lotte Lehmann. Outwardly a picture that could assure sympathy and support for the role she was to portray, through the warmth of her feelings and through the profusion of youthfully fresh, beautiful tones at her disposal, at least as much as through her appearance. A slight nervousness that was noticeable at the very beginning—understandable in the heavy responsibility of a first appearance in a leading role—was soon suppressed. Thus the careful treatment of the text and that of the melodic line came into their own, no less the agreeable evenness of her vocal resources…. (Neue Hamburger Zeitung)
…When one considers what it means for such a young singer to be suddenly at the center of interest, her performance was of astounding assurance. The voice of Frl. Lehmann has such a pure, heartfelt sound, her emission of tone is so steady and finely cultivated, that the songs of Elsa breathed all the sweetness of youthful innocence…. (Hamburger Neueste Nachrichten)
…An Elsa … of touching grace in her appearance and in her singing…. An Elsa so human, so unpretentious, such as one does not often get to see and hear…. They will tell her that this or that must be done differently, they will try to instill in her all the experiences of all the Elsas who ever stood on a stage. If she relies entirely upon her own experiences, she will be the Elsa that Elsa should be and must be…. (Hamburgischer Correspondent)
Gluck’s opera Iphigenia in Aulis opened the 1913–1914 season in Hamburg and here are three reviews of Lehmann’s part in the production, from her scrapbook without attributions:
.…Only the Iphigenia of Fräulein Lehmann stayed entirely within the classical framework. The heartfelt warmth of her dew-fresh voice, the perfectly beautiful tone production, the utterly convincing naturalness in action and gesture together created an unusually enchanting totality.
…Among the performers….Frl. Lehmann, deserved the palm. The talented artist, who still grows with each greater assignment, offered us an absolutely ideal Iphigenia, because here the touching simplicity of a powerful but unforced art again becomes nature….
…Fräulein Lehmann offered as Iphigenia a vocally and dramatically magnificent accomplishment…built upon the appealing line of simple, warm naturalness….
As the Countess in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, this is what Hamburg critics wrote of her:
…Lotte Lehmann…sang the first aria with movingly beautiful vocal quality, with cultivated taste, with genuine warmth. And she also showed her mastery of the second aria, which is very specially tricky, with an assurance that made one forget that she was singing the role for the first time…. (Hamburg critic M. L.)
…The technically difficult aria in the third act was excellently managed by the artist, as if it were a familiar possession of long standing…. (Hamburg critic M.)
With a leap into the future, here is what a London critic had to say about that same aria in 1926:
…Lotte Lehmann sang the aria…in the third act with such fullness of tone and such dignity of phrasing that it was impossible not to realize in what state of musical grace she was abiding…
Back to Lehmann’s final year in Hamburg, this is the critical appraisal of her Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
…Frl. Lehmann portrayed Pamina with winning naturalness, sang the part with her own sort of refined musical conception and with an innerness of tone and expression that make it painfully regrettable that Dr. Loewenfeld was not capable of keeping at his institute for many years to come such an outstanding talent….[Lehmann had already been hired by Vienna.] (M.)
…Fräulein Lehmann is the best Pamina one can imagine. The loveliness of her appearance, the purity of her vocal sound, the warmth of her feeling, and the instinctive accuracy of aim in her musical taste which always dictates the right degree of expression to that warmth of feeling—all that together plus an unblemished singing technique makes a Pamina as one seldom finds her…. (M. L.)
Lehmann was to sing Eva in Wagner’s Meistersinger when she was first to perform in Vienna. While the role was still being prepared, she sang it in Hamburg to the following reviews:
…If in yesterday’s performance this side [the deeper relationship between Eva and Sachs] of the profound Meistersinger—poetry came especially into its own, then the credit must go primarily to Fräulein Lotte Lehmann, who sang the part of Evchen for the first time and who already at this first attempt gave the figure the sharpness of outline that is essential for the goldsmith’s daughter. Eva Pogner is neither lyrical nor sentimental: she is a perfectly healthy daughter of Eve with a slight touch of thoroughly natural sensuality, and she sees things as they are. That of course does not prevent her from projecting individually very differentiated moods from her emotional spectrum, and her feelings towards Sachs are by no means limited to the affection that a niece, for instance, might feel for a friendly, fatherly uncle. She is nevertheless aware of the pain that she causes Sachs, and therefore Fräulein Lehmann is absolutely right when she imbues with all possible warmth that moving passage in the shoemaker’s workshop scene in which Evchen inwardly releases herself from Sachs’s heart with an almost passionate spiritual exultation…. (Heinrich Chevalley in Hamburger Fremdenblatt)
…Frl. Lotte Lehmann appeared in the role of Pogner’s daughter, striking us right away with her grace and clearly establishing her right to undisputed possession of the part. She fulfilled her task with feeling and understanding, with warmly appealing wholeheartedness and sincerity, all qualities that are needed for Evchen. Even the conscious cunning and charming slyness—in worming out of Sachs what she wants to know—found in Frl. Lehmann favorable qualifications. The tone of irritation with Sachs (in the second act) sounded for once like the expression of an upright personality. The excessive impudence and aggressiveness recently noticed here in other interpreters of the role, as well as their tendency to self-dramatization, were this time absent. To the adornment of the part, besides the slenderness of the outward line, were added yesterday the attractive vocal qualities, the naturalness of delivery, and musical tact. Two aspects of the role were extraordinarily well-realized by the new Eva: the delicacy with which she revealed her suspicion of the sorrowful secret that Sachs was hiding in his soul….then the passionate wave of feeling for Stolzing just before the Night Watchman sounded his horn…. (W. Z.)
Having already sung Sophie, Lehmann learned the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier of Richard Strauss. This is what Hamburg reviewers wrote:
…With the musical conscientiousness, with the strong artistic instinct and unerring taste which belong to her, Lotte Lehmann has now taken possession of the part of Octavian as well. Her way, which imitates no model and which no one else will find easy to imitate after her, is far from anything that smacks of routine or conventionality and yet just as far removed from any striving for effect, from any oddity. The simple result of a sure artistic instinct which lets nothing divert it and therefore always finds the right way. Lotte Lehmann has the rare ability, the rare courage, to stand still on the stage—perfectly still, without pose, without the meaningless movements with which “routine” tries to cover embarrassment, without grimaces, without the surrogates of true temperament. And in this simple repose, which is quite natural in life and only strange to the stage, she produces a more genuine, stronger effect, than any pause-filling routine was ever able to do. Quite aside from her vocally brilliant performance, which was only occasionally covered by a too eager orchestra, her Rosenkavalier was dramatically a thoroughly distinguished achievement—independent, full of temperament and high-spirited humor. Furthermore, all that is supported by a dazzlingly attractive outward appearance…. (M. L.)
…In the difficult part of Octavian Frl. Lehmann quickly made herself at home with her brilliant dramatic and vocal talent. She was genuinely convincing in each of her impersonations [as Octavian or “Mariandl”]…. (R. Ph.)
Not every word was flattering:
…Poor Quin-Quin [Octavian’s nickname], you’ll have your hands full with your Sophie. You have at least twenty pounds too many around your hips…. (H. Chevalley)
In 1914 Lehmann made her Vienna Opera debut as Eva to the following reviews:
…Lotte Lehmann from the Hamburg Municipal Theatre appeared yesterday as Evchen…. A more charming portrayal would be hard to imagine. That was for once an Evchen such as Wagner must have pictured: of a pleasing cheerfulness, roguish, childlike and naïve, warm and full of feeling, completely natural. A lovely appearance and speaking eyes assist the artist in her finely detailed characterization, an artist whom one would like to hear in other roles as well…. (“rp,” Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 31 October 1914.)
The Evchen was a charming Frl. Lehmann…gifted with a lovely, pleasant voice and musical sense. A singer new to the Vienna Opera; but with whom one will be glad to meet more often…. (E. B., Neues Wiener Journal, 31 October 1914)
Back in Hamburg, Lehmann sang her first Elisabeth in Tannhäuser by Wagner.
…The Elisabeth was embodied for the first time by Frl. Lehmann. What this Elisabeth has to give us, has been missing here for a long, long time. All the deep, spiritual empathy, the jubilation of a loving heart, the chaste excitement, the nobility of the young princess, the sudden pain of recognition, the fervor of the prayer, all of that vibrates and rings, rejoices and laments in this highly gifted voice, wins three-dimensional shape and touches us wondrously and enduringly…. The acting of the young artist was deeply moving, and revealed again the sure instinct of a talent that penetrates with total accuracy into the being of each of the womanly characters she portrays…. All in all this latest creation of Frl. Lehmann’s arouses again a deep regret that Vienna will take away from us this strong talent…. (M.)
…Yesterday Frl. Lehmann added Elisabeth to her successful Wagnerian impersonations. With the new role she gave again a proof of her rich talent, so capable of development. Frl. Lehmann never offers us cheap theatricality; rather she knows how to surround each of her characters with a halo of true poetry, unfolded from within; and without affectation or anything forced she finds—as if of her own accord—the character and the form that express the inner being and the spirit of Wagner’s art…. (R. Ph.)
…Elisabeth is the niece of a Thuringian Landgrave and not at all related to Brünnhilde, for example. Through tradition, which has accustomed us to Elisabeths of massive sound and massive gestures, that has been forgotten. Lotte Lehmann knows nothing of that tradition. She does not burden her slender voice with trials of strength or her natural feelings with exaggerated pathos and is in spite of that—or perhaps because of that—an Elisabeth as truly Wagnerian as only few others. She settles for simplicity, without simple-mindedness, summons her strength without false heroism for the urgent cry, “Haltet ein!” and builds the prayer through inner emotion to deeply moving fervor…. (M. L.)
…Elisabeth’s declaration of love has never before been heard here with such poetic tenderness…. (M.)
Lehmann’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, 18 August 1916. The opera was Der Freischütz.
…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 Opera has made in her, that can well be said today, a major discovery…. (Sch–r., Deutsches Volksblatt, 19 August 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 rhythms 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 naïveté. 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, 19 August 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, Frl. Lehmann can quickly become a darling of our opera audience….(Die Zeit, 19 August 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 from Lehmann’s scrapbook.]
Lehmann sang the Composer in the revised version of Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss.
As Beaumont Glass wrote in his Lehmann biography: “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 leading critic Ludwig Karpath.
Having claimed the Vienna opera-going public’s attention, Lehmann sang many recitals as well as opera roles.
…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, 14 January 1918.)
When she returned to sing in Hamburg they wrote:
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, 6 August 1917.)
After hearing her Manon Lescaut, Puccini wrote the following letter:
19. X. 23
Dear Signorina Lehman
I want to tell you how happy I am with your interpretation of Manon—your art, full of sentiment, together with your beautiful voice have given to my Manon a great vividness [un grande rilievo] and I thank you cordially and am very happy for the great success you have had.—A rivederci—with best greetings
In Berlin Lehmann sang the double role Marie/Marietta in Die tote Stadt by Erich Korngold who wrote the following:
I cannot leave [Berlin] without expressing, apart from my general thanks to the director, my special gratitude to you for your unique achievement. You were marvelous—enchanting. With all the necessary immorality as required by this role. I would not want one bit more of depravity or “verisimilitude.” Your dramatic impersonation, melodic accents and climaxes, the purity of outline in the death scene—everything was there. Also passion, truthfulness of expression, and devotion to the opera….I thank you a thousand times and with all my heart. In sincere admiration and devotion, your Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
After her first performances as the Marschallin in London in 1924 the following reviews appeared (again from her scrapbook, some without attribution):
…It is impossible to praise too highly the performance of Mme Lotte Lehmann; she was every inch a princess—voice and gesture alike held a dignity that raised the tone of the whole thing….(The Telegraph)
…Lotte Lehmann’s princess moves one as one scarcely expects to be moved in opera….
…The outstanding performance of the evening was that of Mme Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin. Vocally and histrionically finished to the smallest detail, it had a nobility of style and a depth and variety of emotion that made it seem the only ideal rendering of the part one may wish to hear in a lifetime….
Also 1924, but in Dresden, Lehmann created the role of Christine in Intermezzo by Strauss and the critics wrote (from the scrapbook, so some without attribution):
…Lotte Lehmann—vocally and histrionically a sensation. Any man with a heart in his body would be glad to go home to this “Xantippe”…. (Dr. Otto Reuter.)
…In the role of the temperamental, passionate wife Lotte Lehmann offered an unsurpassable achievement of rare truthfulness and naturalness, with a thoroughly sympathetic undertone.
…No praise is too great for her feat….That Frl. Lotte Lehmann was able to portray this complicated figure with such living warmth assures for her a reputation as a singer with unlimited abilities.
While in Dresden to sing Intermezzo, Lehmann also sang many of the roles she sang in Vienna. The following reviews are by Dresden critics.
[Desdemona]…Yesterday the sweetness of Verdi’s music was given to us again through a voice that belongs among the most precious that we have ever heard on the Dresden stage….Already in the entrance duet we were transported from one thrill to another….An intoxication of vocal beauty held us entranced and would not let us go….And upon the foundation of such a vocal talent she acted Desdemona for us, not sweetly, but with the pride of an unjustly offended wife. Instead of bathos, true compassion moved us for the suffering of an unhappy woman…. (Th.)
…As Desdemona [she] surprised us with an abundance of new sides to her highly gifted artistry. In her costume and makeup, as if after a painting by Titian, she gave the figure utterly individual contours. She by no means yielded herself in grief to the treachery of Iago, but rather plunged actively into the drama and fought for her innocence up until the last moment. Her downfall attained the stature of incomparable tragedy. The glorious voice revels in the high-arched, late-Verdi cantilena, a magnificent, dramatically colored bel canto…. (C. J. P.)
[Elisabeth]…On this evening the opera should have been called not Tannhäuser but Elisabeth….[She presented] a natural, girlish Elisabeth, without false pathos of gesture, all moving feeling….[She is] an actress of taste and expressive power….Her soprano [is] of infinitely comforting warmth, her tone full of heartfelt sincerity, and technically mastered with great art. German bel canto in the truest sense of the word.
[Elisabeth]…The voice has the intoxication of youth, bubbling over with the blissful joy of singing. Then there is the great temperament, not just in the acting but also in the voice. Further, the fabulous high notes which soar so victoriously over the ensemble, dominating it effortlessly. It was already a magnificent achievement purely from the vocal point of view; it became even more so through the acting. The appearance alone was enough to win us over. One could believe her to be one of those lovely sculptured figures from the Naumburg Cathedral. But that was the external surface. High above that was what Lotte Lehmann accomplished with her portrayal….Here was embodied humanity…. (Th.)
[Eva]…She turned the evening into an event…. (C. J. P.)
[Mimì]…Yesterday Lotte Lehmann sang Mimì in La Bohème. Those were precious hours that one experienced in the opera house. Hours of inner living.
1927 was the centennial of Beethoven’s death and the Vienna Opera produced his Fidelio with Lehmann in the title role, a role that normally demands a more dramatic voice category. The critics seemed to search for new superlatives. (Lehmann’s scrapbook clippings often cut off the name of the newspaper and critic):
…Lotte Lehmann was an experience as Leonore. That is a Fidelio of whom they will still be singing in the most distant future.
That is perfection.…Lotte Lehmann, who in the last few years has risen to ever higher perfection, surpassed herself as Leonore, which she sang for the first time….
…Lotte Lehmann was simply glorious; more than that, hers was great singing and a moving womanly creation.
…One can hardly imagine another performer of Leonore like Frau Lehmann. Perhaps she lacks heroic volume. But out of her words, whether spoken or sung, the tones sound as if they come from the depths of the feminine heart. So speaks and so sings the purest love, which is infinite in its joy of giving, only giving, and asks nothing, expects nothing in return. That tone, true to nature, unaffected, unadorned with any fancy “nuances,” penetrates movingly to our hearts.
Of this Leonore an unattributed reporter from Paris wrote:
…Mme Lotte Lehmann, who is the purest and most magnificent soprano of the Vienna Opera, absolutely surpassed herself, vocally and histrionically, in her dramatic rendition of Leonore. A delirious audience showered her with unending applause.
Another unattributed critic reported in English:
…Lotte Lehmann, whose talent seemingly has no limitations, as she triumphed recently in two such different parts as Puccini’s Turandot and the Frau Storch of Richard Strauss’s Intermezzo, was an admirable Leonore….
And yet another in English:
…And Lotte Lehmann created just that same indelible impression which she had made here [in England, in other roles]. She was lifted out of herself, it seemed….
Two months later Lotte sang Fidelio in Hamburg to similar acclaim.
…She is one of the few who have realized the mysterious something which this opera contains; she is in tune with the magical things in the Beethoven language, she has come inwardly near to the soul of Fidelio in an astonishing process of artistic travail. For years we have experienced no Leonore in Hamburg who reached so deeply into our hearts….In acting as in song this Leonore was the glowing flame of the evening. Histrionically an accomplishment polished to the last degree, wherein technical mastery could be taken for granted. Feeling was everything, guided vocally by powerful impulses, yet under emotions of the highest kind. A sound-miracle [ein Klangwunder]. (Unattributed clipping)
A Berlin critic was equally ecstatic:
…In a performance filled by Bruno Walter with the spirit of Beethoven, Lotte Lehmann sings Leonore, frees that image of the Ideal from the bonds of tradition. Intuitively conceived out of the fullness of a strong, individual femininity, a Leonore of pure human greatness emerges, to whom conventional operatic pathos and masculinized heroics are equally foreign. A womanly nature of pensive inner simplicity which does not give up its natural manner even in masculine dress, a true heroine of the heart, whose heroism has its source in feminine soul—power and the self—sacrificing love of a devoted wife. This Leonore moves us and stirs us because she alone is fundamentally the genuinely felt Leonore of Beethoven…. She sings her great aria, technically masterfully articulated, with moving sentiment, an outpouring of purest feeling. In the prison scene she finds just the tone of voice, the very gesture for the strongest possible dramatic accentuation. “Kill first his wife!” how deeply stirring that sounds from her mouth…. (No name)
Of Lehmann’s performance as Turandot in Berlin, an unnamed critic wrote the following:
…I confess, I anticipated Lehmann’s high notes with some trepidation. A more pleasant surprise is scarcely imaginable! This unbelievably difficult role, difficult because one has to sing almost constantly in the highest register, was as good as totally conquered by the artist. Unforced, free, clear, warm, her voice purled forth, and one could even understand the words of the riddles—if one knew them. Those riddles are the trickiest part of the role. So brava, bravissima! It was a top performance. And figure, makeup, and acting supported the effect in the best way.
Of the role of Heliane in Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane, the following unidentified newspapers carried the following comments:
…Lotte Lehmann does not act Heliane, she is Heliane. In the incomparable timbre of her voice there is the quiet radiance of a chastity which ennobles her every movement and her standing still and which speaks forcefully and movingly out of every manifestation of her feminine heroism, out of sorrow and compassion, love and self-sacrifice. Lotte Lehmann has deeply understood and captured the nature of Heliane, the magic of a naïve loveliness, an innocence threatened by the sweet torments of erotic arousal. Her first entrance, bathed in light, ethereal in appearance and expression, is unforgettable. The way in which she unbinds her hair, uncovers her feet, her body, that cannot be acted more movingly or at the same time with more purity. The aria in which she later defends herself before the court [the aria she recorded] comes out of burning emotion. It is masterfully expounded, building in intensity of feeling, without pose or exaggeration. The language of the heart, which is as shattering as the aria itself. Lotte Lehmann may place Heliane among her gallery of saints, which extends from Wagner’s Elisabeth to Beethoven’s Leonore.
…Lotte Lehmann, perfection itself, was Heliane. Grandiose in poetic conception, unsurpassable in song….
A second Paris season (in 1929) brought more adulation. Lehmann sang Elsa in German while the rest of the cast addressed her in French. Then she gave a Lieder recital at the Opéra. It created a sensation:
…This admirable priestess of bel canto is perfection itself….(No attribution)
…What power, what articulation in the singing, and what inner flame!…A rare mastery. (No attribution)
The New York Herald Tribune (2 February 1929) reported the following:
…The recital given by Mme Lotte Lehmann at the Opéra on Thursday was not merely a success, but a veritable triumph. It must be said that the art of the great Viennese singer has attained such a point of perfection that…singing becomes, or rather seems to become, so easy that everybody could practice it. But what is Mme Lehmann’s very own is the simplicity of her art. No aiming at effect…Such a soirée is a festival for musicians; it is also a lesson.
In the 1920’s various unnamed London papers carried the following notices:
…Last night the spirit of poetry singled out the Elsa, and rather ignored her supernatural lover [Karl Peron]. This Elsa was Mme Lotte Lehmann, and she will be long remembered. Her singing was lovely. And there was more still—true impersonation, living and touching. Her prayer for a savior in the first act quite transcended the Elsas of convention. It could not have been more beautiful….
…Tonight’s performance was redeemed from mediocrity by Lotte Lehmann, her Elsa being a completely perfect interpretation. This fine singer and actress was at her very best, and her singing of the restrained phrases of the first act, and her wonderful dramatic intensity were an extraordinary illustration and realization of the combined arts….
…Mme Lehmann is an exquisite singer, perfect in phrasing and diction, and her Elsa was inimitable in its tenderness, poignancy and charm.
In 1926, in London, the unnamed writers responded to Lehmann’s Desdemona (in Italian), a Sieglinde, Eva, and Elsa:
.…Lotte Lehmann was a perfect Desdemona, in fact the best I can recall—Albani, Eames, Melba,I have heard them repeatedly in that role, but I place Lehmann first.
…Frau Lotte Lehmann was a surpassingly fair Sieglinde, singing with rare beauty and acting with still rarer charm. One of the thrills of the evening was her great cry of exultation when Brünnhilde announced to her the future coming of Siegfried.
…all the spontaneous impulse of girlhood joined to maturity of voice and style, the Eva of our dreams….
[Elsa] sung and acted as it had not been perhaps for twenty years.
1926 in London Lehmann sang recitals for which she received praise:
…A performance that can be described as the perfection of singing. She is a complete mistress of the almost neglected art of phrasing. The quality of her voice never deteriorates, and she does not sing lieder in the lugubrious manner so much affected by some singers… (J. A. F.)
For her 1927 Covent Garden performance as the Marschallin, the unnamed reviewer wrote:
…Her performances last year and again last week led us to expect great things. But, however well prepared, one does not come in contact with such most admirable art without feeling the thrill and the wonder as of a perfect thing. She sang not a phrase that was not as perfect as a good voice and an unerring taste could make it, and she spoke not a word that was not pronounced so as to carry the full weight and significance it was meant to carry. And how well her histrionic genius filled in those long silences….Such a performance cannot but have its effect on all who share in it….
For 1925 performances of Die Meistersinger with Bruno Walter conducting in Berlin, Lehmann clipped the following reviews without regard to the name of the newspaper or critic:
…The most perfect interpretation of Wagner’s conception. And her precious voice is the consummate expressive medium for every impulse—its bloom, its melting loveliness, the model phrasing, all culminate in the quintet. The soul-filled tone, the full splendor of the fresh, floating sound, rise here to a climax, elevating the extraordinary to the level of the unique.
…She is a magnificent Evchen and leads the quintet—the highlight of the evening—more beautifully than one has ever heard before….
…Lotte Lehmann, the one and only, caught the style, unerringly, with the instinct of genius. This Evchen was the crown of the performance, attractive and lovely to look at, dignified and genuine in every gesture. And what a treat, that glorious voice! A radiation of most golden splendor not only in the quintet; even in the slightest interjections, like those in the second act from the linden bower, every tone “sat,” every syllable was clearly understandable.
Other opera performances of 1925 received the following unattributed reviews:
…Lotte Lehmann as Eva was the triumph of the Meistersinger evening, unequaled in beauty of voice or clarity of expression….
…Lotte Lehmann’s Elsa can be called absolutely perfect, lifted far above the standards of any usual evening at the opera.
…The incomparable Lotte Lehmann [was] Lisa [in The Queen of Spades]….Her great scene by the river is one of the most glorious operatic moments one has ever heard. The music is radiant in her, she lifts it far above its niveau, she colors it in a personal way, so that it becomes triumphant in itself, apart from any drama on the stage, so that in that moment it seems to become a real experience, not a performance but reality itself.
In 1930 Richard Strauss conducted Fidelio with Lehmann in Vienna:
…There one felt the dramatic fire of the composer of Elektra. The tragic storm exploded in lightning and thunder; one felt shivers down the spine. But this scene was brought to a climax also by the magnificent voice of Lotte Lehmann. One experienced something extraordinary. The warmth of this so tenderly human Leonore was transformed into heroic power. The moment became monumental. With every performance the Leonore of Lotte Lehmann becomes more remarkable, more gripping…. (E. B.)
In Vienna Lehmann sang recitals to mixed reviews:
…Then, strangely, from the profusion of available songs by Schubert and Schumann, she chose several which were composed for the male voice, “Der Doppelgänger,” “Der Erlkönig,” “Ich grolle nicht,” and “Frühlingsnacht,” probably more out of vocal considerations than because of the content to be expressed, which would justify sharper accents in these very songs. [It is interesting to note that Lehmann was later criticized for over-dramatizing some of those same Lieder.] But this is just what is so special in Lotte Lehmann’s art: the noble harmony, the lovely evenness of moods, the comforting warmth, which are a part of her temperament and which her singing communicates to the listener in such a lovable way…. (E. B., 10 February 1930.)
…An evening of Lieder by Lotte Lehmann is the loveliest, most precious treat for the ear. Mellifluous sweetness floods over the hearer and one does not grow tired of admiring the divine gift of this voice. Every tone is sent forth in its acoustic perfection with an additional spin from the heart, a sort of soul-vibrato. In such a way, every song becomes a tasty delicacy for the ear, which in turn wants nothing to disturb such egotistical enjoyment. Not even through the fact that any just demand for spiritual [as distinct from sensual], truly Lieder-like interpretation of the individual songs is as good as totally unfulfilled. Meanwhile, the Lehmann voice is an exceptional case, and that must satisfy us. Even then, when everything that is actually characteristic and significant has been taken away from the fever-visions of “The Erlking” or the ghostly apparition of “Der Doppelgänger,”…such honeyed euphony, such cozy singing is welcome, even when, apparently quite inorganically, it is supposed to be coming from the spheres of the uncanny and the demonic…. (Heinrich Kralik, 10 February 1930.)
…The voice of Lotte Lehmann is of such beauty that one should erect altars to it. That voice alone, even without the natural charm of her personality and a singing technique sublimated to the last degree of purity, would have to lead her to the highest summit of international fame. Brilliance emanates from her….Such mastery is hard to reach, harder still to maintain. But in one sense, Lotte Lehmann has it easy: she has only to sing a “Lehmann tone,” a “Lehmann phrase” in an old Italian aria or a German Lied, to let loose a storm. In summary one could say that her way of singing songs is the incarnation of German Innigkeit [warmth, tenderness, sincerity]…. [from an unidentified clipping on the same page of Lehmann’s scrapbook]
Here are some of the mixed reactions of often unidentified London reviewers to her recital in Queen’s Hall, 25 February 1930:
…Seldom, if ever, do we hear a more glorious voice than Lotte Lehmann’s….Unfortunately her operatic trick of clipping her words short, though it can be dramatic enough when accompanied with a gesture on the stage, ill befits the singing of Lieder. Perhaps she is aware of this, for she sang “Ich grolle nicht” badly in this respect, and then in response to the undiscriminating applause, sang it well again. But I wonder why she sang it at all….
…Even such a song as Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht”—essentially a man’s song—was a perfect thing, for the quality of tone and expression leveled all differences….Every song revealed such complete mastery that it might have been mistaken for ease, and it is significant that in an age which prides itself on its cool, practical attitude towards all that stirred most deeply the conscience of the last generation, a simple, sentimental song like Beethoven’s “Wonne der Wehmut” should rouse an audience to enthusiasm. In different ways, every song bore evidence not only of Mme Lehmann’s vocal art and gifts, but also to her genius as an interpreter…. (F. B.)
…The exquisite art of Lotte Lehmann was manifestly enjoyed by her large audience….Listening to her opening group—all overly-familiar, if vocally beautiful solos—one fervently wished that all the budding soprani who meditate including [in their recitals] either (or all) “Caro mio ben,” “Lasciatemi morire,” or “O del mio dolce ardor” might be present to hear how really expressive they can be when beautifully sung, instead of (as generally happens) being converted into particularly dreary, punctilious examples of “the classics”….The spiritual beauty of “Du bist wie eine Blume” still lingers in the memory, like the mystic ecstasy, the crystallization of all that has ever been held to symbolize springtime’s magic which this great singer infused (or rather re-created, for the composer has captured it within his inspiration) into “Frühlingsnacht”….
…The thing one would like to do, if it were possible, would be to coax, cajole, harry, coerce all the bad singers of London—without having to tell them how bad, exactly, they were—into one of Madame Lehmann’s recitals: those, namely, who “know all about” legato singing, messa di voce, the right kind of vibrato, colour, diction, enunciation, pronunciation, temperament, except how to do them; and to let them hear how these things sound when there has been time to forget all about how they are done. Of all these virtues we would take Madame Lehmann’s legato for special commendation….It prevents such an old warhorse as “Caro mio ben” seeming jaded; it binds together the successive floods of ecstasy of such a song as “Frühlingsnacht.”
After March 1930 recitals in Paris, the following unidentified critics wrote the following:
…Ovations on top of ovations for Lotte Lehmann who triumphed at the Salle Pleyel….What tranquil mastery! And how sweet it is to listen to a perfect voice that gives the impression of being a force of nature, which seems born out of the good will of the elements, like the melody of the breeze or of the waves….
…It is always a pure joy, an intoxication, to listen to her! At first one is amazed at the instrumental beauty of her singing. There is not a mediocre note from top to bottom. And what nobility of phrasing! …What caresses in the poems of Wagner! We have, alas! all too few singers in France to place opposite this lady from Vienna. Where has technique disappeared to, here?…Can’t someone send a mission to Austria to recover the principles?…
For her Marschallin in Graz, Austria, one unidentified critic wrote the next review:
…Among the guests, Frau Lotte Lehmann, who was appearing for the first time in Graz, was resplendent as the Marschallin. She portrayed with moving poetry the last glow of a noble woman’s heart. Rococo magic blossomed around her figure. Every gesture, every tone testified to a wonderful mellowness and wisdom. The way in which Frau Lotte Lehmann spins her tones is incomparable. Her Feldmarschallin is one single song of beauty, free of “effects,” and free of any attempt to “shine” in the conventional sense. It is not too much to say that through Lotte Lehmann art becomes ennobled.
For Lehmann performances in one of the Salzburg Festivals, various unattributed critics wrote the following reviews.
…Glorious, unforgettable, transfigured in every respect is Frau Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin. Highest effectiveness, noblest art.
…With Lehmann the ending of the first act becomes one of the purest, most precious impressions which any opera stage can offer today….Lotte Lehmann…a princess in appearance, a queen of song, and as a woman—a human being….
…The nature of this God-gifted woman is humble fulfillment and boundless devotion. In holy exaltation she gives herself to the character she is to portray, serves the idea of the work to be interpreted. Leonore’s tremendous destiny: to have to love, to be able to suffer—idea and impulse, affliction and freedom—can not be embodied more gloriously; her simple nobility: womanly dignity and active faithfulness can not be interpreted more tenderly; the melody of her soul: hope, hope…can not be voiced in purer sound than as it is realized by this great artist. And the triumphant radiance of her voice—truly “it penetrates into the depths of one’s heart” [a quotation from the dialogue of the Fidelio dungeon scene].
…The Fidelio of Lotte Lehmann, a perfection, a probably unsurpassable accomplishment, uplifting and deeply stirring…filled with truly Beethovenesque transfiguration.
For Lehmann’s work at the Vienna Opera, the following undated and unattributed reviews were positive:
…Her singing was a living miracle, more beautiful than in the legend, “The Rose-Miracle of Saint Elisabeth.” The extraordinary, the unique thing about this vision of an artist, her incomparable voice and her genius for acting, can scarcely be put into words. The experience of hearing her and seeing her, as on this Tannhäuser-Sunday, reveals mysterious secrets of eternal beauty, which will remain in memory, inextinguishable, indescribable…. (D.)
…In every respect a perfect accomplishment. The gentle radiance of the wondrously moving voice glows like a halo around her appearance. Lovelier than ever, more heartfelt in power and sweetness, is this blessed voice. The Elisabeth of Lotte Lehmann is a saint with a strong feminine nature, earthly and heavenly at the same time. In her being and in her appearance Lotte Lehmann embodies an ideal form of Wagner’s Elisabeth. She gives poetry to the expression of the words, there is poetry in every gesture, down to the graceful play of her hands. The soul-drama of the loving Elisabeth, full of faith and capable of total self-surrender, is fully revealed in the impersonation of Lotte Lehmann…..
…The Elisabeth of Lotte Lehmann cast a radiance over the whole Tannhäuser performance. Already after her entrance aria there was colossal applause. Of course. But that was just a preamble to what was still to come, which, at the finale of the act, surpassed by far everything of beauty that Lehmann has given us up until now….The Elisabeth of Lotte Lehmann is now the best Elisabeth of all the opera stages on earth…. (R. K.)
Lehmann’s debut in North America took place at the Chicago Opera in 1930:
…Her Sieglinde is perfection itself—perfection of voice and action…(Musical Courier)
…She has one of the loveliest voices ever heard on the Civic Opera stage. It is of a freedom and purity seldom discovered in American singers and employed with an eloquence and artistry that moved the audience to a great demonstration…. (Musical America)
…The texture and the luster of her tone are so distinctive, so quick to reflect each shade of feeling, so potent in moments of Wagnerian orchestral drama, so responsive in the softer expressive inflections, that she must take her place quite unchallenged in the operatic Valhalla….(unidentified source)
…In musical perception, in vocal beauty, in histrionic intelligence, Mme Lehmann was at once a lesson and a reproach to most of her colleagues who specialize in the Bayreuth master’s works. (no attribution)
…Mme Lehmann was the ideal Elisabeth. Her singing is the acme of art, and she gives a more complete picture than any of her predecessors. She invests the character with an individuality that is absolutely new. Here is one of the great artists of the century. (without newspaper or reviewer’s name)
A poetic review from a Paris writer:
…A singer? More than that! A soul that sings! [Une âme qui chante] Song incarnate!…The infinite variety of her singing!… (Paris)
7 January 1932, was a major date in Lotte Lehmann’s career, her first New York recital, at Town Hall. Here is a condensation of the review by Olin Downes, then the leading music critic of The New York Times.
…The audience that gathered in Town Hall last night to hear Lotte Lehmann’s first song recital in this city was not only impressed but thrilled. It has been a good many years—more years, at least, than the writer has spent in this city—since any local song recital has offered such excitements and distinctions. Singing songs by Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mme Lehmann swept her listeners from their feet. She has a voice of magnificent range and color. Above all, it is an intensely communicative voice, one that stirs with feeling and that immediately affects those who hear it. She herself is a woman of superb temperament and capacity for the expression of great and varied emotions. The moment that the first song, “Von ewiger Liebe,” had ended, the audience knew that a great artist was present. The outburst of applause was a spontaneous and most impressive tribute. This first impression was not lessened but intensified as the concert proceeded. To claim that every song was perfectly sung would be exaggeration. That is a thing which never happens. But in sum the vocal and interpretive gifts of the singer surpassed the highest expectations….There were moments last night when Mme Lehmann was operatic, and when, as an interpreter of song, her temperament got the better of her and she stepped from the frame. But even when she did…as in the final measures of Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht,” she was so puissant, noble, and impassioned in her style, supplementing interpretation with such vocal resource and such a wealth of nuance, tone-color, and all-conquering sincerity, that if she had sung the song backward it would have been hard to keep cool and refuse to be moved by what she did….She sang songs which have become household words in such a way as to resurrect every wonderful thing which familiarity had caused us to take for granted or to accept as a matter of course. At her height she displayed interpretive genius—nothing less….
Grena Bennett wrote about that same evening, mentioning Gerhardt, whose rather less-dramatic manner of interpreting was often mentioned as the complete opposite to that of Lehmann.
…Mme Lehmann possesses a voice that glows and glitters; when emitted with full power it resembles the diapason of a great pipe organ; when slightly muted its color and quality are like the dulcet tones of a cello. One of the greatest lieder singers of recent years was Elena Gerhardt. Mme Lehmann has the art and method of her famous predecessor plus a more gorgeous voice…. (Grena Bennett of the Journal-American)
From her U.S. tour of 1932 the following reviews appeared:
…Mme Lehmann challenges all other sopranos, German, Italian, American or what you will, by the utter purity of her tone, the superb distinction of her style, the genuine musical and spiritual beauty of her interpretation. (Chicago, but no further information)
…She is slimmer [than last season], but her crystal and silver voice has gained in beauty—if that were possible. (no names or exact dates)
From the same 1932 tour an unidentified writer concluded with the following:
…Her Elsa was at once the most moving and most convincing one ever has heard.
In New York City’s Town Hall, on 7 February 1932, Lehmann offered Schumann’s ?Frauenliebe und -leben, among other Lieder.
…The early part was sung with indescribable tenderness, innocence, and happiness, and in this she had the expression of a girl of seventeen; but as the mood changed she seemed actually to grow older before one’s eyes, and the last three songs of the cycle had a depth of passion and grief that was overwhelming…. (Doris Madden, 12 February 1932.)
In Marseilles, March 1932 an unidentified writer offered the following words:
…For the sake of all those who have not yet had the good luck to hear her, let me say that the recital of the celebrated singer Lotte Lehmann was a prodigious revelation. And those who were absent…missed an artistic satisfaction of the first order….She truly touches the highest summits of her art, and her program was one long, continual rapture [“ravissement“]….
But the same reviewer expressed regret that Lehmann sang only three French songs—especially since he found her French “very correct”—and that the rest of her program was in German, a language neither liked nor understood in Marseilles.
…If we found a very real joy in listening to the eight songs of L’amour et la vie d’une femme [Frauenliebe und -leben] in their original language, it was because our comprehension was aided by that veritable mirror of the soul which is Lotte Lehmann’s face…. (Jacques Dordet.)
…It seems as if for her, uniquely for her, the art of bel canto, deserting the balmy skies of Italy, has consented to cross the Rhine. Certainly the German language, above all to French ears, does not naturally lend itself to that sweetness of accent which seems to be a privilege confined to the Latin tongues. Nevertheless, Lotte Lehmann has achieved the miracle of usurping that privilege; and, perhaps for the first time, we have enjoyed the charm of a German song in its original text, so well has this admirable singer been able to soften its harshness with the caress of her heavenly voice…. (Ch. Varigny.)
From a recital performed on 1 April 1932, in Rome. Alberto Gaseo wrote the following review.
…Eighteen German Lieder, all sung in the original German. Monotonous recital? Not on your life! Signora Lotte Lehmann is such a brilliant, versatile interpreter that she easily holds the attention of the audience….Although expressing herself in a language that, in Italy, is familiar to very few people, she was able to make herself understood—at least in a general sort of way. Even those who knew nothing of German were listening with lively interest and obvious joy….It was an authentic success, one hundred per cent…. (Alberto Gaseo, 26 April 1932.)
From various unidentified newspapers of 1932 Vienna we read the following words:
…A peak of incomparable artistic enjoyment….The ideal type of Elisabeth….She draws out of this noble role all its magnificent depths, which she fills with the breath of the spirit and the drama of the soul. Lotte Lehmann stands at the zenith of world fame, the Vienna State Opera can be proud….The entrance aria was a powerfully thrilling experience; the prayer floated, a deeply inner, blessed revelation, into the most blissful regions of infinite art…. (A. M. P.)
[Desdemona] …Poetry itself is on the stage when Lehmann sings….
…Her every appearance upon the stage is like a sunrise….
…Her acting and her singing have been refined to a point of simple, classical greatness and most ideal perfection. Her Desdemona, like her Elisabeth, can be designated as a most faithful re-creation, the highest achievement that the art of the stage can offer… (A. M. Pirchan.)
In 1932, London, we can read the excepts of these unidentified clippings that notice Lehmann’s weight loss.
…It was whispered that Sir Thomas Beecham does not like the opera [Meistersinger], and certainly the way he conducted it suggested an impatient desire not to dwell on its intricacies….The adorable Lotte Lehmann, distinctly slimmer, actually elevated the part of Eva into something dramatic as well as lovely…
…The Eva of Mme Lehmann is familiar, but not her appearance. Last year she was handicapped by the conventional embonpoint of the grand operatic heroine. This year she is as slim as a film star and her lovely voice is, if anything, better than ever….
From an unattributed clipping of June 1932 Vienna, we read elegant words of criticism.
…Lotte Lehmann lent to Sieglinde all loveliness, all poetic magic….An ideal creation, a poem, the essence of romantic grace, captured from the world of German fairy-tales and legends. The image of the musical idea becomes visible to the eye, held fast in the lovely appearance, in the expressive movements of the body….
The unidentified critics of the 1932 Salzburg Festival wrote the following kind words:
…There is really only one Marschallin, and her name is Lotte Lehmann….
…Lotte Lehmann as Fidelio—something more perfect, more beautiful, something that goes straighter to the heart, can scarcely be imagined….What Frau Lehmann offers is great, pure, unparalleled art…. (F. K.)
29 September 1932, at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin:
…The sensation of the evening [was] the world-famous Sieglinde of Lotte Lehmann….Her Sieglinde is a full-blooded woman filled with an uninhibited passion that breaks through all the limitations of conventional operatic acting. Her voice is as radiant, as brilliant, as ever. After the first act a hurricane of applause broke loose. (no newspaper or critic named)
This is from a 7 October 1932, Berlin, report of a performance, sent to Edward Ziegler, Assistant Manager of the Met, by the Met’s representative in Europe, the agent, Erich Simon. The cast included: Lotte Lehmann, Eva; Rudolf Bockelmann, Sachs; Gustaf Schützendorf, Beckmeser; Alexander Kipnis, Pogner; Herbert Janssen, Kothner; Fritz Wolff, Stolzing; Karl Laufkötter, David; Margarete Arndt-Ober, Magdalene.
Yesterday a remarkable new production of Die Meistersinger took place here, under the musical leadership of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the staging by Heinz Tietjen.The performance was sublime beyond all praise, and seldom in my life have I been witness to such a tumultuous jubilation as on this occasion. The preparations for this premiere took three weeks of intensive rehearsals, and something unprecedentedly beautiful is the result…. The performance ended at 11:30. Although it was so late, the entire audience rose as one man and remained standing for over ten minutes…. It was an unforgettable evening!
From a Munich performance given in 1932 we can read what the critics felt.
…The way she sings Lieder has a fascinating effect. And one can certainly say that each of the songs presented—and many of them belong among the most familiar in the whole literature—was an artistic experience such as a concert hall can only offer on very rare and festive days….(unidentified)
…The voice of this woman alone is like a miracle: one is fascinated by the fullness and clarity of her sound, by the astonishing range both high and low, and by the ineffably noble charm of her timbre. No less enthralling is her phenomenal mastery of that voice, a mastery which seems too natural to have been learned, which seems more likely to have been a gift from heaven….But in the final analysis the determining factor is neither voice nor technique: Lotte Lehmann’s greatest, loveliest gift is rather the art of interpretation. More inspired singing is not even to be dreamed of. The power of passionate feeling and the power of genuine artistic understanding are combined in her in perfect unity. There was not one piece that she did not bring fully to life, down to the last nuance of expression, preserving at the same time the overall line….How amazing it is that she could sing with equal intensity two such totally different pieces, one right after the other, as “Death and the Maiden” and “To be Sung on the Water,” the one full of deathly fear and darkness, the other all spring and light. And what she makes of a somewhat over-familiar piece like Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht”—how we experience that song anew, how we become conscious, perhaps for the first time, of its inner dramatic vehemence and shattering climax when Lotte Lehmann sings it! So the evening became one great triumph…. (Dr. A. W.)
…We heard the best-known songs of German romanticism and heard them new and fresh, beautiful as on the very first day…. (Dr. W. Sch., 10 October 1932)
From her first Berlin recital of 1932 we can read a, by now, familiar-sounding review.
…Lotte Lehmann is conquering Berlin; the success of her Lieder recital has perhaps even surpassed her operatic triumphs of the last few weeks. Yet, fundamentally, Frau Lehmann is no Lieder-singer. Dramatic song is her natural domain. She is accustomed [on the stage] to make everything that she sings the expression of definite dramatic characters. With this intention, she characterizes, she dramatizes. And in that way she also dramatizes Lieder; if she sings Schubert’s “Serenade,” then a whole stage setting is there, the garden at night, the little house, in front of the house the lover—and that is she herself—who sings his song of longing. It is very beautiful, but it is not quite right; for it is just the difference between Lieder and opera that the Lied is not intended to be the expression of a particular person…. (V. Z.)
Here are excerpts from the “perfect notice,” which was written by Redfern Mason for the San Francisco Examiner, 20 December 1932.
MME LEHMANN RECOGNIZED AS GREAT ARTIST….
It is said that every woman often thinks she is in love. But when it really happens, she doesn’t think; she knows. It is the same with the dear public and artists. They often credit greatness to inferior talent; but, when the real thing comes along, they know beyond the possibility of doubt.
By the time Lotte Lehmann had sung “Von ewiger Liebe” last night [the first number on the program] the audience gathered in the Opera House recognized not merely a singer of unusual merit, but one of the succession of great artists…..Nobody, in my experience, has ever sung the “Erlkönig” with such mastery of characterization….This was magnificent singing and the audience, guided by the infallible instinct of the crowd, was fully aware of it….That heavenly “Ständchen” [Schubert]…had a beauty that left folks not far from tears.
And it is not an aloof, distant talent, that of this young German Lieder singer: she is not a goddess condescending to humanity; she is a priestess who raises men and women to heaven’s gate….
Lehmann plays on all the stops of human emotion with a victorious sincerity. She can make her voice swell out in ecstatic triumph; yet the tone is never harsh; and always, between her and the audience, there is the feeling of a subtle sympathy, as if the artist were singing not merely her own emotions, but the emotions crying out for expression in your heart and mine.
Which means that Lotte Lehmann is a great artist, one of the uncrowned queens of humanity, uncrowned because her art is nobler than any merely physical crown could be….
In Vienna, in May 1933, Lehmann joined tenor Alfred Piccaver for a joint recital.
…How Vienna celebrates her favorites and how the Viennese hold art above everything else! That could be experienced anew in this unique concert. Two of the most beautiful voices of our time were united in a joint recital and were frenetically applauded by the enthusiastic crowd that filled the auditorium of the Concert House up to the ceiling. The greatest of all miracles is the singing soul, and that is what our Lehmann possesses; whether she sings Lieder or opera arias, the listener always forgets the world around him, for this enchantress ensnares him completely with her great art….(no newspaper or critic is named)
Regarding their collaboration in the Salzburg Festivals, when Bruno Walter played piano for Lotte Lehmann, Bruno Walter himself wrote:
It was admirable how Lotte Lehmann’s dramatic feeling, to which she had formerly been inclined to yield almost to the point where she did violence to her voice, had gradually become restrained to fit the rendition of songs. Amazing, too, that her impetuous elemental personality should have found the way to the stylistic purity of the song by means of her own almost infallible instinct. The advice I gave her occasionally referred merely to details. She owed to herself the mastery of the essentials of Lieder-singing. Her deeply penetrating understanding made her conscious of the beauty of her melodic line as well as of the spiritual and emotional contents of the words. She managed to combine these two elements of Lieder-singing in a frequently ideal synthesis, and thus to fulfill the composer’s intentions. And even in those weaker moments from which no instant-bound reproductive artist can escape, the purely vocal demands of a song or an operatic part may have suffered occasionally, but never their poetic essence.
Innate simplicity and tender sensitiveness are the poles of Lehmann’s being. These qualities manifest themselves in her life as well as in her art, charmingly changeful at times, and often harmoniously blended. It is natural that so variously gifted a person—she has a genuine gift for writing poetry and for painting—should reveal certain erratic traits and be frequently guided by impulses. But our friendship, in which she has cordially included my family, has remained uninfluenced by atmospheric fluctuations in her unchangeably young soul, for that friendship had had its source in our essential artistic affinity.
When Lehmann finally made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1934, the critics were ecstatic and wrote very nice reviews.
.…Never before in the history of the Metropolitan Opera House has there been such a scene as that at the close of the first act of Die Walküre last night….The instant the curtain fell the applause rang out spontaneously; then when Lotte Lehmann came before the footlights it rose in volume, and as her confreres left her alone—something rare on the first curtain call—the whole audience broke into cheering which lasted a full ten minutes.
It was a welcome that must have gladdened her heart, for it came from everywhere—parquette, boxes, and galleries. It was honest and sincere and every bit deserved. In the lobby, after things had quieted down a bit, everybody talked to everybody else and all were saying the same thing—“nothing like it in their lives,” while the oldsters, your scribe among them, are firm in the belief that nothing like it in singing or acting has come from a Sieglinde in the half-century’s life of the Metropolitan.
Lehmann is the very essence of grace and beauty. We knew she could sing, for she gave us a recital last season; but we didn’t know what the great love scene at the end of the first act was like until she showed us, and, rising fully to the occasion, Melchior played up to her and sang up to her as he never has before. She was an inspiration. What a glorious voice she has…. (Charles Pike Sawyer, The New York Evening Post, 12 January 1934)
…To tell the story of her achievement last night is to report a complete triumph of a kind rarely won from an audience at a Wagnerian occasion. The delighted auditors vented their feelings in a whirlwind of applause and a massed chorus of cheers….More expressive, emotional, lovely singing has not been heard from any soprano at the Metropolitan for many a season…. (Leonard Liebling, The New York American, 12 January 1934)
…To those familiar with her Lieder singing her finished phrasing, precise in definition yet always plastic, and her crystalline diction were no surprise. Yet even her admirers in the recital field were not altogether prepared for the other qualities she brought to her superb impersonation: the dramatic fire, the capacity to endow the vocal line with a breadth befitting Wagner’s immense canvas yet to retain always the purely musical finish she might have bequeathed to a phrase of Hugo Wolf; her telling restraint and sureness as an actress. At the end of the first act a cheering audience recalled her seven times….But if the first act was of a sort to startle the critical faculty into sharp attention and admiration, her performance in the second had an electrifying quality that swept that faculty away for once and made even the guarded listener a breathless participant in the emotions of the anguished Sieglinde…. (H. H. [Hubbard Hutchinson], The New York Times)
…There has not been such a vital and thrilling first act of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan in years…. (W. J. Henderson, The New York Sun.)
…Rarely has any singer been so uproariously applauded and so often recalled as Mme Lehmann was at the conclusion of Act I…. (Pitts Sanborn, The New York World-Telegram)
TIME magazine had this to say in the January 22 issue:
…If the singer had been an Italian tenor who had spent his last nickel on the claque, the ovation could not have been bigger….[Before the performance] Lehmann was nervous. Her husband knew it. The battered old doll which she kisses for luck each time she goes on stage trembled in her hands. But the audience saw no signs of uncertainty, no lack of confidence….
Also in 1934 Lehmann gave recitals to a lot of praise; The Milwaukee Leader ran the headline:
WARMTH OF LEHMANN’S VOICE THAWS HER AUDIENCE
…Lotte Lehmann, who sings Lieder as a fine actor reads lines, came to the Pabst Theatre last night. She saw practically the entire membership of Miss Rice’s Music Lovers thaw under the warmth of her performance, and conquered every cold hand in the throng….A glow settled over the audience which mounted into an excited flame as the singer progressed…. (Harriet Pettibone Clinton, Milwaukee Leader, 30 January 1934)
The very next night she sang in Cleveland, to an even more ecstatic audience.
…Somehow this recital revived one’s faith in man and his possibilities….If human beings can create songs such as were presented on the program last night, and if every so often there comes an artist such as Lehmann who can recreate their splendor in such matchless fashion—then this old world is, indeed, a good place to live in…. (Denoe Leedy, The Cleveland Press, 1 February 1934)
Then back in New York City the unnamed newspaper reviewer wrote kindly.
…What might be the secret of the spell she wove? Possibly, first of all, the healthiness of her art. Second, perhaps its revelation of a very fine type of womanhood….When she sings she does so with a conviction you cannot resist. You feel that you are receiving something precious from an exceptional person…. (The New York Sun, 5 March 1934)
At the 1934 Salzburg Festival there was more praise for Lehmann’s recitals with Bruno Walter.
…Working together with Bruno Walter seems to lead the artist even beyond herself and to draw her up to unimagined heights. How those two up there on the concert platform, music-possessed, make music together—that verges on the miraculous. No one thought any more about the singer or about her guide at the piano; rather, the two had become fused into one sounding unity; and what one heard was not Lieder sung with genius and incomparably accompanied, but simply music itself….
Inimitable, with what a sure instinct Lehmann grasps and interprets for us the emotional world of each individual composer…. No wonder that the two artists were jubilantly cheered and that there was no end to the ovations…. (H. E. H.)
At that same Salzburg Festival Lehmann sang Fidelio and an American music magazine wrote a review.
…Lotte Lehmann thrilled the audience in the title role. She was not only the loving and suffering wife, but she seemed to symbolize in her playing and singing the suffering and deliverance of all mankind…. (Musical Courier, Paul A. Pisk,? 15 September 1934)
Not everything at the Festival went well, and an unnamed writer was candid in his/her appraisal of a concert appearance.
Mme Lehmann, in bad voice and exceedingly nervous, contributed Elisabeth’s Greeting to the Hall of Song and later the three most familiar Wesendonck songs. She created momentary confusion by obliging Mr. Toscanini to break off in the middle of the introduction to one of these, because she had expected to sing another first.
But of the same concert mentioned above, Musical America had positive words to write.
…It was uncanny how high a degree of intimacy and facility of expression the singer and the orchestra achieved…. (Dr. Paul Stefan, September 1934)
In November 1934 Lehmann sang the roles of Tosca and Butterfly at the San Francisco Opera and critics had a variety of responses.
…Her Tosca had not the sculptured beauty of Muzio; she did not wallow as Jeritza did when she sang “Vissi d’arte.” What she did was to give us a Tosca evolved out of her inner consciousness, and in that scene with Scarpia, she touched a note of beautiful humility which neither Bernhardt nor Muzio ever gave us…. (Redfern Mason, The San Francisco Examiner, 17 November 1934)
…Singing the role of Sardou’s Roman prima donna for the first time in Italian, Mme Lehmann at one blow struck home to San Franciscans the reason why her name is renowned in Vienna, London, and New York.
She is a personality. Her voice, opulent and beautiful, but not necessarily restricted to the charm of honeyed tone, bespeaks a penetrating expressive intelligence. She constructs a role as it should be constructed: with human conviction and with a controlled and flexible sense of its form…. (Alexander Fried, The San Francisco Chronicle)
…Superb actress and glorious songstress is Lotte Lehmann….The German soprano sang the role of the glamorous Tosca…and negotiated the mellifluous Italian phrases as if to the manner born. However, had she sung in Sanskrit it would have mattered not. For the Lehmann voice and the Lehmann dramatic instinct are bigger than nationality or language…. (Marie Hicks Davidson, The San Francisco Call-Bulletin)
…This Butterfly delighted the emotions by approach through the intelligence….Cio-Cio-San, strictly speaking, is not a Lehmann role. By her mastery of the stage and by the penetration of her feeling she makes it her own…. (Fried, Examiner)
…We have been accustomed to the suicide behind a screen….After witnessing Lehmann’s superb acting, her interpretation seems the logical one. She hugged the child in a frenzy of love and despair, shoved him off stage, and then, wrapping a knife in her kimono, committed the dreadful hara-kiri in full view of the audience….It was a shuddery last act, and one we shall not soon forget. Aside from the sheer drama of Lehmann’s acting, there was a quality of voice that spelled agony and death, a kind of declamatory huskiness in minor key that was heartbreak and the will to die…. (Davidson, The San Francisco Call-Bulletin)
In December 1934 Lehmann sang in Der Rosenkavalier in Philadelphia.
…I had heard Mme Lehmann sing this enamoring role in Europe, but I had never known her to re-create it with so probing a comprehension, so sensitive and sure a touch, a truth of feeling and of utterance so steeped in the essence of the part…. (Lawrence Gilman, The New York Herald-Tribune, 1 December 1934)
…So subtly projected was this great lady that for once the conventions of the theatre ceased to exist, and one felt oneself swept irresistibly into absolute identification with an alien soul. It would take a book to enumerate the details of this extraordinary impersonation, its inspired gestures, its perfection of movement, its uncanny vocal revelations, its pathos, nobility, and tenderness. But Miss Lehmann is to do the Marschallin at the Metropolitan this winter, so I shall say no more…for fear of having no adjectives left for that happy occasion…. (Samuel Chotzinoff, The New York Evening Post, 3 December 1934)
In Toronto that same December 1934 we can read what a Canadian critic thought.
…It was a real Wagnerian voice….As she sang, she seemed like the first Frigga, the original Norse queen of the heavens, who was at once so majestic as to rule but so sensitive that she could spin the clouds on her loom….There was only greatness….Her singing of the “Love-Death” from Tristan und Isolde had an ecstasy that was truly sublime…. (Pearl McCarthy, The Mail and Empire, Toronto, 12 December 1934)
New Year’s Day 1935 at the Metropolitan, her Elisabeth in Tannhäuser elicited the following reviews:
…It is difficult to speak in anything but rhapsodic terms of Mme Lehmann’s first appearance of the season in the role of Elisabeth…. (Winthrop Sargeant)
…The Elisabeth of Lotte Lehmann is one of the most moving embodiments to be seen on the contemporary operatic stage…. (Jerome D. Bohm, The New York Herald-Tribune, 2 January 1935)
…The electrifying spark which set off everything at white heat was the superb performance of Mme Lehmann as Elisabeth…. (Henriette Weber, The New York Journal)
Lehmann’s Metropolitan Opera Tosca didn’t go so well.
…Possibly the performance would have been better coordinated if it had not been for the absence of the unfortunate Mr. Crooks. As it was, Mme Lehmann sang brilliantly, at times in a pseudo-melodramatic way. She was a German Tosca, rather heavy, lacking the mobility and the quick light play that Italian or French singers can give the part…. (Olin Downes, The New York Times, 22 March 1935)
…Miss Lehmann, laboring under the disadvantage of some ill-fitting costumes, gave a vivid portrayal of the chaste Roman opera singer and sang with her usual fervor. Yet, somehow, her Tosca did not achieve the reality of her Eva, her Marschallin, and her Elisabeth. It was a stagey facsimile of a hectic lady, melodramatic and rather self-conscious…. (Samuel Chotzinoff, The New York Evening Post)
…Mme Lehmann, looking very beautiful and dashing, reminded us from her first entrance that she is a versatile and imaginative singing actress and can turn from Eva to Floria Tosca as easily as most of us can turn from sherry to champagne…. (Lawrence Gilman, The New York Herald Tribune)
Looking back at the opera season past, Esquire magazine’s unnamed writer had this to say:
…Gatti-Casazza’s final season at the Metropolitan Opera House will probably be remembered chiefly for the rise of Kirsten Flagstad and the recognition of Lotte Lehmann. Through the magic of the first of these two singers, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde actually became the most popular opera of the year, breaking all box-office records for the old building; and Mme Lehmann succeeded not only in establishing the Strauss Rosenkavalier as the masterpiece that it is, but in bringing new life to several other operas that had all but succumbed to the spell of perfunctory routine…. (The Listening Post, Esquire, June 1935)
The 1935 General Motors radio broadcast with Bruno Walter as conductor and accompanist brought forth the following review:
…Lotte Lehmann’s Isolde [she sang the “Liebestod“] contained everything that Wagner wrote into the music; and for the creation of such an Isolde there must be not only a great singer but a great woman….She did [Lieder] in such a way that made us wonder whether all music might not be great music if it only had a Lotte Lehmann to sing it…. (Aaron Stein, The New York Evening Post, 15 January 1935)
Vincent Sheean remembered Lehmann with Toscanini in Fidelio at the Salzburg Festival.
Fame alone, or public recognition, never swayed Toscanini in his choice of a leading artist for any great work. On the contrary, he frequently delighted in excavating artists hitherto unknown and showing what they could do….In the case of Lehmann he was swayed not by her fame as Leonore but by his own ardent admiration, which on one occasion, I was told, led him to declare at the end of a difficult passage in rehearsal: “You are the greatest artist in the world.”
Well, she was. The sheer ecstasy which she and Toscanini between them got into certain passages of Fidelio could not otherwise have come into being….There was an element in this Fidelio at Salzburg which defies technical definition. It was not perfect—not as, for example, Falstaff was perfect or nearly so—because in this Fidelio there were singers who were not physically able to reach the exalted mood in which Lehmann and Toscanini performed. The incandescence of the conductor and the soprano produced the very curious effect of making one pass over these imperfections almost without noticing them….
The central soprano part has long been reserved, in Germany anyhow, for those mammoth voices which otherwise sing only Brünnhilde and Isolde. The general idea is that unless a woman has a voice suitable for a fire engine she cannot sing the part of the faithful wife. I am sure Beethoven had no such notion, and Lehmann supplied the proof—if it were needed—that a richly human voice, warm and full, has far more to offer in this music than any hoch-dramatische goddess….Lehmann was not a sylph in 1935, but her appearance in that ungrateful costume was more convincing than any other I remember, and every note of her voice conveyed the meaning of the part….Blaze is the word that comes to mind most often in thinking of this collaboration between Lehmann and Toscanini. They seemed to take fire from each other; the resulting conflagration warmed all of us for as long as memory can last….
An unnamed writer for The Daily Telegraph wrote of Lehmann’s recital in London’s Queen’s Hall on 28 April 1936:
So exquisite and so poignant can her voice be that at times a single note sufficed to enhance the effect of a whole song. The whole of Brahms’s “Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht” was excellent, but the ravishing softness of its last phrase sealed the success of that performance and made one wonder where and by whom it could ever be equaled.
The unnamed writer for the New York Times had this to say about her 16 January 1937 Metropolitan Opera 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.
The unknown Lehmann fan John Hastings wrote a letter to The New York Times, printed 24 January 1937, praising Lehmann at Flagstad’s expense. This did nothing but damage.
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 opera-goers 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 so 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. 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 [sic] of Mme Lehmann, at least in ratio to the critical adoration of Mme Flagstad….
Olin Downes, the critic of The New York Times, had this to say on 17 January 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 wrote the following of Lehmann’s 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…. (Olin Downes)
…And there was Lotte Lehmann’s unmatched Eva, which gives us the spiritual essence of a role that is often slighted….(Lawrence Gilman, The New York Herald-Tribune)
Carleton Smith, wrote unkindly of the age-difference of Lehmann’s Salzburg Eva for The New York Herald-Tribune of 30 August 1936. She was, after all, 48 years old. I believe that Lehmann was hurt by this review and never sang the role again.
…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….
In 1937 Der Rosenkavalier returned to the Met and Oscar Thompson wrote the following for The Sun.
…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. Last night Mme Lehmann’s first act Marschallin 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 “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 the 4 December 1937 Cleveland Plain Dealer Herbert Elwell wrote:
Predictions of a capacity house for the appearance of Lotte Lehmann at the Cleveland Concert Course at Public Music Hall last night were fulfilled to the letter, adding to one’s perplexity with regard to the apparent capriciousness of the local musical public, who let this celebrated artist sing to a half empty hall at her last recital here but crowded eagerly this time to applaud her in a program fit for the most fastidious taste. One would have supposed that a whole evening devoted exclusively to songs of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf and Strauss would appeal primarily to the vocal connoisseur, as undoubtedly it did. Yet to find it also arousing such deep interest on the part of a much larger public was heartening as well as surprising. There were, of course, some encores in English, but in the main, the famed Austrian soprano stuck to that phase of song literature which is really her forte, the German lied, and won her audience solely on the merits of her exceptional interpretive skill in that sphere.
I have heard Mme Lehmann when her singing was on a more elevated plane than it was last night, when her voice rang truer and communicated something more sincere and more gripping. Yet despite an occasional false emphasis that weakened the authentic romanticism of some of the songs, she frequently rose to very noble heights, especially in the songs of Wolf, the “Serenade” of Strauss and “Ich grolle Nicht.” Her Schumann group was better than her Schubert. And her Brahms group, on the whole, excelled over her Schumann. Thus the program moved progressively to higher attainments, leaving no doubt that here was indeed a mistress of a very subtle and illusive medium, capable at times of making it a source of deep human as well as artistic satisfaction.
Here is an excerpt from Richard Capell’s review in London’s The Daily Telegraph of 11 May 1937. He refers to the “disaster” when Lehmann called an end to the first Act of Der Rosenkavalier, crying out “I can’t go on.”
…A supremely beautiful and affecting performance [was] given by Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin. As if to make up for last week’s disaster, it seemed, she gave a finer subtlety and deeper tenderness than ever to a part which London opera-goers of the last fifteen years must feel to be peculiarly and even exclusively hers. Word after familiar word in Rosenkavalier will be associated, while memory lasts, with Lotte Lehmann’s characteristic enunciation, to say nothing of the charming woman and true princess she represents in her appearance.
Olin Downes, The New York Times critic, called Lehmann’s 1941 Winterreise recital “an achievement which transmitted the very essence of the composer’s spirit.”
During the war it must have been especially difficult for an American audience to appreciate a program of all German Lieder. In The New York Times, 25 January 1943, Olin Downes wrote the following about her Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe:
LEHMANN IS HEARD IN SCHUMANN SONGS
Soprano is assisted by Paul Ulanowsky in Program at Town Hall
Two Cycles are offered
Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe Works Follow the National Anthem
A very distinguished recital of songs and song cycles by Robert Schumann was given by Lotte Lehmann yesterday afternoon in Town Hall. The capacity of the hall was brought out by an exceptionally attentive and appreciative audience days in advance of the event. There was no fuss about that either. The audience was practically all seated when the singer came in. The program began by Mme Lehmann’s inviting the audience to sing the national anthem with her. Then she and her excellent accompanist, Paul Ulanowsky, began their task of communicants with the songs.
These were sung with a matchless simplicity, with an art that concealed an art now fully developed and shorn of every excrescence or superfluity of style, and the interpretation proceeded directly from the heart. Today one wonders if any one could write such songs as Schumann’s, even if he had this unique genius’s melodic gift—if indeed our sophisticated composer wouldn’t be ashamed to write in such a vein as that of the Frauenliebe und Leben cycle. He would be looked upon as a hopeless and unblushing sentimentalist, hardly fit for intelligent society.
Mme Lehmann sang these reveries and avowals with a fineness of style and a sense of proportion that had no slightest savor of exaggeration or less than utter sincerity, and her performance said plainly that if this was sentimental the audience could make the most of it. She believed what she sang. She herself was moved by it.
The Dichterliebe cycle permitted a wider range of expression and a greater variety of color. But the same simplicity, the same warm poetry and perfect proportion remained. Nor are the postludes of the piano to be forgotten. That is to say that there was complete unity of intention between the two performers, and that Mr. Ulanowsky with rare taste and sensibility completed the poetic thought of interpreter and composer.
One remembers those earlier years when Mme Lehmann’s own nature swept her away and this resulted in prodigal and at times explosive outburst of tone, or disproportionate emphasis of phrase. All that is of the past. The thoughtful expenditure and shaping of tone, the maximum of communication with the minimum of effort, an intensity of emotion that requires no noisy heralding spoke more eloquently than any description could do.
Mood was established so completely that there was comparatively little demonstration till the end of the recital. For that matter the two cycles were sung without opportunity for applause between the songs that make them. But it is doubtful if in any case there would have been such a sign. There was the rapport between the artist and her listeners made possible by her achievement and also by the proportions of the hall. At the end the audience was loath to leave. Mme Lehmann wisely refrained from an encore. To the best of her ability she had done a complete thing, and what she had done will long be cherished by those who heard her.
For her 1943 performance of Elisabeth at the Metropolitan Opera she received the following notice.
…Lotte Lehmann, who put herself on record in Town Hall recently as the season’s First Lady of Lieder, just about won the same title for opera with her performance of Elisabeth. Whether heard or seen, the role lived. Every note and line sounded human and needed. Mme Lehmann seemed to forget she had ever sung any other part, even that she was Lotte Lehmann. For three acts she was Elisabeth, ailing and pleading for her hell-bent Minnesinger. Such acting is rare, whether in opera or theatre, and the more brilliant because bound by musical pace. In awkward waits between sequences Mme Lehmann went on living Elisabeth in thought and gesture, not just priming for the next cue. It was a tender and womanly portrait… The notes weren’t just notes, but tokens of feeling growing out of a deep-felt conflict… The audience duly noted the great portrayal set before it…. (Louis Biancolli, The New York World-Telegram, 2 February 1943)
Four days later the same critic wrote an editorial on acting in opera.
…Mme Lehmann’s Elisabeth looked fit to rank with the [legitimate] theatre’s best efforts. The singer fully identified herself with the plight of Wagner’s heroine. From the moment she chanted a greeting to the Hall of Song, she seemed intent on sustaining a complete illusion of life. Down to the last gasp of prayer she remained the saintly Elisabeth. By then you forgot a prima donna was singing a part. Elisabeth was merely being Elisabeth, having miraculously borrowed the art of Lotte Lehmann to make herself understood.
Negative criticisms also exist, such as the following from Jerome D. Bohm’s column, “Singers and Singing,” from The New York Herald-Tribune (mid-October 1942):
Mme Lehmann did not reach the Metropolitan until she was well past her prime. It was not until January of 1934 that the illustrious German soprano’s operatic gifts were first revealed to New York audiences, although Vienna and Berlin had long before recognized her extraordinary abilities.
Mme Lehmann may be said to be a singer who has triumphed despite the handicap of a faultily produced voice. Of course, it must at once be added that the timbre of the voice is highly individual and of exceptional beauty, so that even the obvious faults of production, the nasality, the pinching of the top notes and the spasmodic breathing have not prevented Mme Lehmann from achieving a truly distinguished career.
But Mme Lehmann’s hold on her devotees can be attributed only partially to the entrancing quality of her voice. For had she been unable to make one forget the technical hindrances which mar her vocalism she could not have attained her present distinction. She is one of the very few singers who are equally impressive in opera and recital. Her imaginative gamut is so comprehensive, her musical insight so perceptive, that she can one evening portray with the utmost conviction the sufferings of Wagner’s Elisabeth or Sieglinde and the next night leave the trappings of the operatic stage behind her and convey with equal impressiveness the intimate poetry of the Lieder of a Schubert or a Wolf.
If Mme Lehmann is wise, however, and wishes to preserve as many as possible of the still persuasive aspects of her art, she will in the future eschew the rigors of operatic singing and devote herself exclusively to the interpretation of Lieder, a sphere in which she has few peers. Even when I first heard her abroad some twenty years ago she already experienced difficulty in emitting free, effective top tones. Nowadays Mme Lehmann’s efforts to attain the altitudes of such roles as Elisabeth and the Marschallin are less and less being crowned by success. Mme Lehmann would profit by taking a leaf from the book of Hofmannsthal’s philosophical princess and realize that in opera as well as in love the Marschallins must make way for the Sophies.
After an all-Brahms recital at Town Hall, Luis Biancolli wrote the following notice in The New York WorldTelegram of 22 January 1945.
…Lotte Lehmann’s heart went into each number. You could feel it beat in every phrase, almost as if she had either written the song herself or lived the poem. The personal note was that strong. At times you even felt slightly embarrassed, as if suddenly you were looking into a soul and caught a confidence. Sharing that kind of feeling is probably art’s loftiest reach. There was no sense of illusion here. It sounded too real and went too deep…. Of course, Mme Lehmann has a knack of breathing life into song that few can equal and none surpass. Possibly she does it by the simple process of forgetting herself and becoming the song. Or else through having lived the moment herself at some time…. The real Brahms, the poet of passion and pathos, writer of noble, stirring songs, is a special treat. So special, only the finest seasoned style is equal to it. And every one of these songs was warmed over in the heart, mind, and vocal cords of a great personality….
Lawrence Gilman, the music critic for The New York Herald-Tribune, wrote about Lehmann’s Elisabeth (and some of her other roles) in his book, Wagner’s Operas.
For many New Yorkers, the experience of a closer approach to the greatness of Tannhäuser will undoubtedly be associated for years with Lotte Lehmann’s incarnation of the character of Elisabeth…an embodiment of rare imaginative truth: the product, obviously, of a long and searching scrutiny of the character, and of a skillful synthesizing of its constituent factors, musical, dramatic, spiritual….
When first I witnessed this performance, I found the word “virginal” in my mind and on my tongue; when I turned afterward to Wagner’s own exposition of the character of his Elisabeth, I was not surprised to discover…that he not only used that word, but that he described this noblest of the women of his imaginative world in terms that might easily have been applied to Lotte Lehmann’s re-creation—had Wagner been so fortunate as to witness it.
The difficulty in the role of Elisabeth, is for an actress to give the impression of the most youthful and virginal unconstraint, without betraying how experienced, how delicate a womanly feeling it is that alone can fit her for the task. …That actress alone can satisfy my aim, who is able to comprehend Elisabeth’s piteous situation, from the first quick budding of her affection for Tannhäuser, through all the phases of its growth, to its final efflorescence as it unfolds itself in her Prayer—and to feel all this with a woman’s finest sensibility.
…It is one thing to know what an author wants you to do with his creation, and it is quite another thing to be able to fulfill his wishes. Mme Lehmann accomplishes this unusual feat. She is, for a few enchanted hours, Wagner’s Elisabeth….
After a San Francisco recital, Alfred Frankenstein wrote on 9 December 1946 for an unidentified newspaper:
LEHMANN RECITAL: OPERA HOUSE AUDIENCE AGAIN HEARS PROOF OF THE ARTIST’S GREATNESS
Everyone knows Lotte Lehmann is a great artist and everyone knows why; nevertheless the reaffirmation of a great artist’s greatness is always new and exciting.
So it was last night at the Opera House, when Mme Lehmann gave a recital there. First of all, one records a beautifully chosen program, with strong emphasis upon the German classics in which she excels, but with interesting excursions into the French and Italian repertoires by the way. Secondly, one mentions the most exquisitely perfect ear for pitch, phrase, and nuance possessed by any concert singer in memory. Third in the list is a fresh, supple, and lovely tone.
THING OF SPIRIT
Fourth in the summary is a quality which sums up and transcends the other three. It is partly a product of taste, partly of musicianship, partly of tone, but it is ore than all these. It is a thing of spirit that makes you know, when you have heard Lehmann sing a song, that all of the song is there, that its heart and essence have been completely felt, completely thought out, and completely communicated. This is particularly true of the German lieder and of the more rapturous French things, like the songs of Reynaldo Hahn. The rapturous style suits the murmurous undertones of Debussy less well, but even here one felt a kind of authenticity, too.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Mme Lehmann–who was, by the way, splendidly accompanied by Gwendolyn Williams ([Koldofsky]–is her prefect diction. Every vowel-color is right and every consonant makes verbal sense as well as music.…
After Lehmann’s Farewell Town Hall performance in 1951 the following reviews were written:
…Then began a wild stampede backstage to bid Miss Lehmann farewell. At least two-thirds of the audience joined in the rush that soon jammed the entire stage. For three-quarters of an hour, hundreds kissed her hand, cried like children, and swirled around waiting for a parting glimpse of the singer…. As she entered her car, the vast crowd surged after her, cramming sidewalk and street till all forms of traffic were blocked…. As the car moved slowly toward Broadway, [the crowd] watched silently and wept….(Louis Biancolli’s The New York World-Telegram & Sun)
…In a span of nearly twenty years, and more than fifty recital appearances in New York, Lotte Lehmann taught us something about the singer’s art almost every time she sang. In the latest and unfortunately the last appearance she taught us how a great artist says goodbye to a career…. As she approached the climax of [Schubert’s] hymn to the power of music…neither words nor tone would come…. If anything, these last seconds drew an exquisite line to underscore the joy Lehmann conveyed with her singing by revealing the agony it was for her to renounce it. Artists come and go; the memory of such a human being will remain.(Irving Kolodin,The Saturday Review)
When Lehmann gave a master class in London the actor (and author), Robert Speaight, wrote the following impressions under “Critics’ Columns” in The Tablet of 12 October 1957:
…And now she has made herself into another kind of artist in order to pass on her own experience to the young singers of today. There has been no happier or more heroic fulfillment on the contemporary stage.
The present series of public rehearsals let us into the secrets of her incomparable art and personality, and in doing so they take us into the heart of the music she has chosen to interpret. I was lucky enough to hear her in the first act of the Rosenkavalier—the two duets between the Marschallin and Octavian, and the great monologue. This last she went through for us in full, hardly singing but acting it all with such perfect expression that it was easy, from memory, to fill in the contour and the color of the voice. And it was wonderful to see how it was done, and why. At the end of the afternoon, there came one of the most electrifying moments I have ever experienced in theatre or concert hall. She was demonstrating the ironic gaiety with which the Marschallin should bid Octavian goodbye [presumably just before the arrival of Baron Ochs]. Suddenly, from the rather dingy stage of the Wigmore Hall, a sound went up which did not come from either of the very promising pupils of the Opera School. In a second we realized what had happened: Mme Lehmann had forgotten that she had no voice! The applause went on for about a minute while she brushed aside the moment of oblivion with a good-humored wave of the hand….
Other critics of the London master classes wrote the following pieces.
…It was fascinating and touching for those who had never seen her in the opera, for—leave the singing voice out as we must—she is an actress of the utmost brilliance and charm…. Merely to see the way—as the Marschallin—she chucks Sophie under the chin with her fan is worth going to see. She scattered her wit and instruction over a two-hour class, asked the young artists to regard her as a colleague and not “as someone who stands on a pedestal.”… (Percy Cater, The Daily Mail, 24 September 1957)
Two young singers pallidly embraced each other on the Wigmore Hall stage last night. And a kindly, grey-haired woman watching them shook her head sadly and said: “I have never yet seen young singers play a love scene right. I—an old woman—have to show them even how to kiss!” Lotte Lehmann did just that, with the emotion and fire of somebody fifty years her junior…. She showed them what color of voice to use…where to put their hands…how to sit and stand…how to glance…how the music guides every word and gesture. And as we watched, two youngsters came to life in front of our eyes. Best of all was the way Mme Lehmann described the key character of the Marschallin—her own great role: “She is a woman who must live with dignity, wisdom, courage, and kindliness.” For that is the only description of Lotte Lehmann herself…. (Noel Goodwin, The Daily Express)
…The class was on La Bohème, and watching her sketch, lightly, subtly, magically, the beginning of springtime love in an attic and its decline into winter and mortal sickness was the most ravishing experience in the world. She made new and irresistible and human what one had foolishly thought hackneyed to the last cliché. (The Sunday Times 3 November 1957)
She made the moon rise, I swear it, in the middle of Wigmore Hall, at the end of La Bohème, Act I, with a piano and two young singers without costume, lights, or scenery.
She turned, for a quicksilver moment, into an adorably guttersnipe Musetta, when a few seconds earlier she had been demonstrating the right, the only way to burst into tears because your lover is tired and jealous and your lungs are in a shocking condition.
Perhaps there will be no more Lotte Lehmanns, enchanting, witty, tender ladies, high-romantic yet spiced with irony, elegant yet never artificial, supremely graceful and intelligent, and leaving one in no doubt that they are above all things women…. (Siriol Hugh Jones for an unidentified newspaper)