LEHMANN Opera and Lieder
LEHMANN Music of Offenbach, Wagner, D'Albert, Richard Struass,
Giordano, Lehar, Meyer-Helmund and Ketelby
"THE YOUNG LOTTE
LEHMANN" Music of Wagner, Weber, Gounod, D'Albert, Richard Strauss, Mozart,
Lortzing, Halévy, Bizet, Offenbach, Goetz, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Massenet,
Korngold, Nicolai, Thomas, Massenet, Puccini and Hildach
RCA Victor recordings, 1947/49) including works of Schuber, Brahms, Hahn,
Schumann, Duparc and Strauss
Although born and trained in Germany, soprano Lotte Lehmann became known as "the most Viennese of all singers" because of her many years at the Vienna State Opera. Born in 1888, after studies in Germany she made her debut in Hamburg as Elsa in Lohengrin in 1910; a few years later she began her long association with the Vienna State Opera, making her debut as Agathe in Weber's Der Freischutz. In 1919 she sang the Dyer's Wife in the world premiere of Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, also created the role of the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, and in 1924, with the Dresden Opera, she sang Christine in the world premiere of the same composer's Intermezzo. In 1930 she sang at the Chicago Opera and made her Metropolitan Opera debut four years later as Sieglinde in Die Walkre to Lauritz Melchior's Siegmund, remaining with that company for over a decade. Lehmann was a regular guest at Covent Garden, in Paris, Stockholm, Berlin and Dresden. Although she specialized in the lighter Wagnerian heroines, she was almost as well known for her French and Italian roles, although apparently she sang them in German. Her earliest recordings were acoustic made in 1914; it is fortunate she made quite a few recordings on into the electric era. In 1933 she recorded the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, considered by some to be the definitive interpretation. One of her favorite roles was Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio, which she sang under conductors including Schalk, Walter, Beecham, Strauss, Furtwängler and Toscanini (!!). After 1938 she made the United States her home, giving her final concert in 1951. She lived and taught in Santa Barbara, California until her death in 1976.
Lehmann's voice was characterized by beauty, taste, security and dramatic involvement in everything she sang, always with a sense of feminine vulnerability. In 1988, in their "Great Recordings of the Century" series, EMI issued a CD devoted to Lehmann (EMI CDH 61042, now deleted). German. It was an ideal sampling of her recordings including Marietta's Act III aria from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, and "Ich ging zu ihm" from Act II of the same composer's Das Wunder der Heliane. The latter is among Lehmann's finest recordings and, to my knowledge, it is not available on any other CD. Should you find this deleted EMI CD, snap it up just for the Heliane aria.
In the meantime, Pearl's twin-CD set (GEMM CDS 9234) offers a fine sampling of Lehmann's operatic repertory as well as her famous recordings of the two Schumann song cycles with Bruno Walter at the piano. The same label's single CD (GEMM CD 9410) contains arias of Offenbach, D'Albert, Giordano, and music from Wagner's Die Walküre and Tristan, two of his Wesendonck Lieder, and music from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Arabella as well as five of his songs. The CD is filled out with lighter works of Lehar, Meyer-Helmund and Ketelby. Both of these Pearl sets could have included the Heliane aria -- and didn't - and, unfortunately, both of these CDs are no longer in print; look for them in cut-out bins.
Preiser's Lebendige Vergangenheit series has a full-price 3-CD set (89302) called "The Young Lotte Lehmann" including many recordings not available elsewhere. Of particular interest is a shortened version of the "Letter Scene" from Eugene Onegin of Tchaikovsky, and arias by Puccini from La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Manon Lescaut and Tosca, the latter a "Vissi d'arte" (Nur der Schönheit weiht'i ch Leben) curious for its aspirative sounds in the final pages; perhaps she was too close to the microphone? Playing time for each of the CDs in this set is barely more than an hour. There would have been plenty of room for other treasuresand I will mention once again the Heliane aria!
Performances of lieder always were important to Lehmann. As she began to limit her operatic performances, she focused on songs, beginning about 1935 with a series of recordings for RCA, then for American Columbia from 1941-1943, returning to RCA from 1947-1949. Romophone, which already has issued the earlier Victor set of recordings (81013), here offers the second set, 32 tracks primarily of songs of Brahms, Schubert and Strauss, along with a few French songs and Irving Berlin's God Bless America. Her voice, while not as assured as in the past, still radiates sincerity and a rare ability to communicate with her listeners. Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers are perfection.
All of these are valuable releases. Perhaps EMI will reissue its Lehmann CD, which is the best single-CD overview of this magnificent artist.
R.E.B. (Jan. 2001)