ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK -- The Complete Recordings: Vol. I & II
Arias of Meyerbeer, Donizetti, Saint-Sa‘ns, Gluck, Wagner, Gounod, Rienzi, La Clemenza di Tito; songs by Arditi, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Handel, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Nevin, Bond, Chadwick and others
Romophone 81029 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 75:53 & 69:00
ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK -- The Complete Recordings -- The
Victor Recordings (1911-1920). Arias of Saint-Sa‘ns and Verdi; songs of
Schubert, Raff, Harold, Nevin, Bizet, Rubinstein, Delibes, Grieg, MacDowell,
Foster, Lang, Carpenter, Mason, Loewe, LaForge and others.
Those who hear Ernestine Schumann-Heink's incredible performance of the "Drinking song" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia listen in disbelief to her fantastic control and tonal beauty on recordings made almost a century ago. This remarkable contralto (1861-1936) made her debut at age 17 as Azucena in Il trovatore, then went on to major successes at the Hamburg, Dresden, Covent Garden, and other leading opera houses. She sang the Alto Rhapsody for Brahms to the composer's high approval. Schumann-Heink was a favorite at Bayreuth, sang in the complete Ring under Mahler's direction in England (although she didn't get along with him) and performed at the Met for three decades giving her final performance in 1932, as Erda in the Wagner's Ring, at the age of 70! In 1909 she created the role of Clytemnestra in the world premiere of Strauss' Elektra, an event she did not enjoy. After her first and only performance of the role she said, "It was frightful. We were a set of mad women. There is nothing beyond Elektra." She starred on Broadway in 1904 in a second-rate operetta, Love's Lottery, which had a run of about seven months. In this she portrayed a German washerwoman, which suited her fine -- she was totally unpretentious. During the latter part of her career she gave countless concerts throughout the U.S. American troops called her "Mother Schumann" and appeared at numerous fund-raising functions singing "Just Before the Battle, Mother," " The Star Spangled Banner "(having no difficulty whatever with its wide range) and "When the Boys Come Home." She also made guest appearances on a comic soap opera, The Goldbergs and her annual broadcast of Silent Night was a Christmas ritual for millions of Americans.
Her personal life was for the most part gratifying although of her three husbands she was only happy with the second. In 1882 she married Ernest Heink, secretary of the Dresden Opera, a union that lasted only a short time -- he deserted her. In 1894 she married actor Paul Schumann, a union that produced two children, and they had a happy marriage until his death in 1904. Her third husband was a a Chicago lawyer, William Rapp, who soon disappeared. She had seven children (including a son named George Washington Schumann-Heink), and had to raise the first four by herself when Heink deserted her. She became an American citizen in 1908. One of her sons, August, decided to her dismay he would fight for Germany in World War I (he was killed in combat). Three other sons enlisted in the American armed forces, each recognized for their service to their country. Her sizeable fortune was wiped out by the 1929 Depression. She had to work to try to take care of her many dependants even though her remarkable voice was failing. Schumann-Heink even sang Katisha in The Mikado (she had done so very early in her career), and sank as far as singing in movie houses between features, ending up performing four times a day in vaudeville with an outfit known as Roxy and his Gang. In 1935 she moved to Los Angeles, made a film, Here's to Romance, and died the following year of leukemia.
Volume I of Romophone's issue of her complete recordings contains her acoustic recordings the first of which was made in 1900. The set includes arias from Le Prophéte, Samson et Delilah, Mignon, Orpheus und Eurydice, Das Rheingold, Rienzi, Sapho and La clemenza di Tito, as well as folk and popular songs. Some of the earliest recordings are introduced by Mme. Heink, and there is some duplication archival collectors will find valuable -- in particular the Donizetti "Drinking Song," which she recorded four times: in 1903 (two takes), 1906, and 1909.
Volume II contains the Victor recordings made from 1911-1920. Of major interest is a series of 12 recordings made in 1915 in just two days. Repertory is mostly songs and lieder as well as the famous 1913 recording of "Ai nostri monti" from Verdi's Il trovatore, with Enrico Caruso. Hearing all these tidbits (The Robin Sings in the Appletree by MacDowell, Down in the Forest by Ronald, etc. etc.) surely is enjoyable -- she sings them magnificently -- but how unfortunate she didn't sing more of the major works of the contralto repertory. Both volumes display vocal artistry unmatched today, and are highly recommended. Ward Marston's transfers are superb. No texts or translations, but fine notes by Edward Hagelin Pearson about the contralto's life and career. Both sets are highly recommended; most of the vocal fireworks will be found in Volume I.