This page contains pictures of some of the finest Opera singers from German-speaking countries, Holland or Scandinavia, to be heard on record.
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The celebrated Jewish baritone, JOSEPH SCHWARTZ (1880-1926) was born in Riga but apecialized in the German repertoire, though he also sang other roles such as Escamillo in CARMEN. His records are well sought after and for good reason. This was a great artist.
HEINRICH SCHLUSNUS (1888-1952) was the premier German baritone in Germany for over 40 years, particularly noted for his singing of Verdi. He was also a fine singer of lieder. His records span the acoustic and well into the electric era, throughout the Third Reich and beyond. They are all of the highest calibre.
Two pictures of the celebrated mezzo, MARGARETE MATZENAUER (née Temesvar 1881-1963). After an initial success in Europe, she sang at The Metropolitan for 20 years. Her HMV and Victor recordings are always worth acquiring.
SIGRID ONEGIN (1889-1943) was born in Stockholm to German parents and was one of the finest contraltos of her day, enjoying an international stage career, recording over a long period. She created Dryad in Strauss’s ARIADNE AUF NAXOS.
A very young and still slim ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK (1861-1936) who was one of the very greatest contraltos on record. A friend of Brahms, she was a magnificent lieder singer, but possessed an enormous dramaticvoice which she could nevertheless employ delicately in coloratura music. Moving to the USA, she had to suffer her sons fighting on either side in World War One. She later became rather large and is famed for her rejoinder when told to walk sideways so as not to knock over music stands, coming through the orchestra on to stage. Fool! she is reputed to have said. Can’t you see I have no sideways!? Her records on Victor etc., are simply magnificent. She was still performing into the 1930s.
The picture above is quite rare, for it shows the great singer in her youth.
Fine Swedish soprano SIGRID ARNOLDSON (1861-1943), here seen as Juliette, passed on the torch lit by her compatriots Jenny Lind and Christine Nilsson continuing the tradition of great Scandinavian singing. Her records, made before 1910 are still to be bought at not too high prices if you search a little.
KARIN BRANZELL (1891-), a fine Swedish mezzo, was most known in German repertoire, though here she is seen as Amneris in Verdi’s AIDA. She recorded for a number of record labels, such as Homokord, and she sang opera for a long time in both New York and Berlin.
The great Czech dramatic soprano EMMY DESTINN (née Emmy Kittl 1878-1930). After initial success in Europe she found fame in the USA, though her career was interrupted by being on the wrong side in World War One. Here she is seen in CARMEN (she took part in an historic early complete recording of this opera around 1908), Elsa in LOHENGRIN and Marguerite in LES HUGUENOTS. However, although trained in the German school of singing, she was best known in the USA for her Puccini roles. She created Minnie in his LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST opposite Caruso in 1910 and was held to be one of the greatest in the title role of MADAMA BUTTERFLY.
A very different singer was the German soprano ELISABETH SCHUMANN (1885-1952), here seen as MIGNON. Her unique lyric soprano was perfect for Richard Strauss operas, for instance, as well as for lieder. She was particularly admired in Austria and her HMV red-label records are both easily acquired and instantly recognizable.
The Norwegian KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD (1895-1962), was rather a slow starter but after her debut at the Metropolitan in 1935 was a sensation and deservedly so. She was simply one of the greatest singers of the century. Though best known as a Wagnerian, her powerful dramatic soprano was perfectly capable of all sorts of other music as some of her many quite common records amply demonstrate. She was still singing after the war, her voice as rich and creamily beautiful as ever.
The dramatic soprano OLIVE FREMSTAD, here seen as Isolde, was born in Stockholm, but gained fame in the USA in the decade preceding World War One, mainly as a singer of Wagner. She was also the first to sing Strauss’s SALOME in the USA. Her records can still be found not too expensively.
The fine German dramatic soprano JOHANNA GADSKI (1872-1932), starred at The Metropolitan from 1900 until her nationality killed her career stone dead as the USA came into World War One in 1917, leading to the introduction the following year of Rosa Ponselle. Gadski was equally at home in Wagner and Verdi as well as lots of other music. Her Victor records are easily acquired and of-course she partners Caruso in the Tomb Scene from AIDA.
The celebrated FRIEDA HEMPEL (1885-1955) was perhaps the least German-sounding of German coloraturas. After initial success in Europe her real fame came in the USA, singing alongside Caruso at the Metropolitan and recording often. She can be heard on HMV and Victors as well as on reasonably common Edison Diamond-discs. Hers was a world-class high-soprano voice handled with artistic ease and her 1911 recording of the Queen Of The Night aria from Mozart’s DIE ZAUBERFLOTE being particularly fine. During the 20s she became known for her Jenny Lind concerts.
Here she is with various comrades in ‘JOSEPH IN EGYPT’ circa 1909.
The total artistry and phenomenal voice of the legendary LILLI LEHMANN (1848-1929) was captured on record at the age of almost 60. Her breadth of repertoire was astounding, ranging from the heaviest of Wagner roles, through Beethoven and Mozart (her favourite, Isuspect.) to Verdi. Even at 60 the voice seems unaffected by time. no wonder she has been referred to as a soprano assoluta. In her later years she turned to teaching; a pretty strict unbending teacher, though, one must admit. One of her successful pupils, however, was Geraldine Farrar. The latter of the above pictures shows her live on stage as Donna Anna in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI.
The Jewish-German soprano LOTTE LEHMANN (1888-1976), deservedly sang alongside such greats as Tauber and Chaliapin during the 1920s, but the appearance of the Nazis forced her to move to the USA where she triumphed again for further decade. She was as fine an exponent of lieder and operetta as opera with a warm soprano sound that appealed to everyone. She recorded on Parlophone-Odeon and later Columbia. These records are still easy to obtain cheaply.
The German soprano ELISABETH RETHBERG (1894-1976) starred at The Metropolitan for 20 years after 1922, seemingly able to sing anything from Wagner, through Verdi to Puccini. She was also a very fine Mozart singer and her partnership with Ezio Pinza was renowned. She made many records, mostly easy to find, at first for Brunswick and later for Victor. The above pictures show her in Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FAGARO and Wagner’s DIE WALKÜRE.
During the Weimar republic there was a renaissance of Verdi in German opera houses, together with the tenor Tino Pattiera, the short-lived but wonderful German soprano, META SEINEMEYER (1895-1929) was perhaps the finest singer during this special period. Although often singing in German, she is one of the finest Verdi and Puccini singers on record, and she was perfectly capable of taking on the lighter Wagner roles and even French repertory. Any lover of opera should be encouraged to look out for her purple and black label Parlophones of the late 20s, still available quite cheaply. Tragically, she was a victim of influenza at the obscenely young age of 34, reputedly marrying her conductor Dr. Frieder Weissmann on her death bed. The sadness in her voice and secure upper range made her the perfect Puccini heroine.
The Swedish tenor, JUSSI BJORLING (1911-1960) was the surprizing successor to Caruso and Gigli as greatest tenor in the world. His effortless pure tenor had nobility and ease and his voice seemed never to age. Nevertheless, he succumbed to the family weakness for early death through heart trouble, possibly brought forward by his love of alcohol. Both his father and brothers, all tenors, died young. His HMV and Victor records are ubiquitous but nonetheless very desirable. His was superb singing.
TINO PATTIERA (1890-1966) partnered Meta Seinemeyer througout the Verdi renaissance in Germany in the 1920s. Although he was born in Ragusa and had an Italian father, he was very much trained in the German school. His voice was a magnificent, dark heroic tenor, perfectly suited for roles like Manrico in IL TROVATORE. Thus, although he was an early flat-mate of Richard Tauber’s, (see picture below), they were never really rivals in any way. Although blessed also with matinée-idol looks, his career foundered when the Nazis came to power and today he is half forgotten; very undeservedly so. His records, mainly on Parlophone should be a must in anybody’s collection. He was a truly world-class singer.
Three pictures of the inimitable Austrian tenor RICHARD TAUBER (1892-1948), the first showing him in his early days with fellow-tenor flat-mate, Tino Pattiera (see above). After a somewhat lazy start, he became the leading Mozart tenor of his day, not to mention his skill as lieder-singer and of-course his pre-eminence in operetta. However, let us not forget he was also the first in Germany to sing Calaf in Puccini’s TURANDOT. He recorded prolifically and his common Parlophone-Odeon records, even in musical trifles, have the mark of a true great about them. Heroically, cut down by lung cancer, he gave a faultless performance in DON GIOVANNI at Covent Garden just weeks before his death, virtually on one lung.