Sunday, March 29, 2009

Notes on Lotte Lehmann


Music critics have loved her--Toscanini called her the greatest artist in the world—Richard Strauss said her singing moved the stars—and that’s what’s engraved on her tombstone--
She was a smart, outspoken, funny and admirable woman—did everything from having lunch with Hermann Goering (there’s a biography of her called She Never Sang for Hitler) to having a wild affair with Toscanini—while both were married—

When he was 83, Toscanini actually made advances at her—“oh if only we can be alone!” She wrote with 3 exclamation points: “Can you imagine??? 83???”

She possessed a beautiful voice, an expressive voice, and she was an intelligent actress—but as a singer, she sang from the heart, and sometimes didn’t follow the score to the letter—she was once walking on the beach in Calif. with Schwarzkopf, and S, who was scrupulous in following the score, said, Did you enjoy singing? Of course! said Lehmann—I didn’t, said S—I could tell, Elizabeth, said Lehmann—

Germans call not following the score faithfully “swimming”—Strauss himself said, “I’d rather have Lehmann swim through my opera in that inspired way of hers than have anyone else, however precise.” (She had many famous friends—besides Strauss, Bruno Walter)

Born in Germany. As a youngster, she was expelled from music school—she hadn’t worked hard--the headmistress wrote her a long and nasty letter—none of my pupils has ever been a disappointment as you have—urged her to take up a more “practical” line of work”—Lotte kept the letter—

Later, when she had become famous, Goering wanted her to stay in Germany and sing there exclusively—and she refused—Hitler was reportedly enraged and forbade her to ever come to Germany again—
But she was so outspoken that she wrote: Of one thing I am certain: had I been foolish enough to stay in Germany I should have ended up in a concentration camp—by the way her husband’s children by a previous wife were Jewish, and Lotte helped them escape from Germany---

She was almost 46 when she made her Met opera debut—in 1934--

After retiring, she became a teacher—and among her pupils were Marilyn Horne, Jeanette MacDonald, Grace Bumbry, Eleanor Steber, Rose Bampton.

She also made a movie—Big City, with Margaret O’Brien, Danny Thomas, Robert Preston, George Murphy—I can’t get a copy of it, but here’s a song she sings in it (God bless America)—I used to think that Kate Smith rendition was incomparable, but I begin to like Lotte Lehmann’s version more and more—

She and Flagstad didn’t hit it off, altho sometimes they sang together—she praised Flagstad, but said her singing “fails to touch the heart”—
Another singer she didn’t get along with was Maria Jeritza, but no one got along with her—the Terror of Tenors--later, when the were both retired, they were on the radio pleasantly sharing memories—I’d love to hear that conversation—

She wasn’t all that competitive—said one singer sang Turandot better than she did—and after hearing Rosa Ponselle, she went outside to weep onthe stairs-- an admirer of hers—a Lehmanniac--came up and gushed about Lotte’s performance last week—her reply: “How can you say things like that when you have just heard ponselle sing?”

She had a sense of humor. At a party she gave two music critics gifts—a pot of honey and a pen, and a pair of rose-colored glasses--

She was a bit eccentric—Dame Judith Anderson, the actress, visited her and was surprised to see her take a teacake and break crumbs on her head—reason: a bluejay promptly came down and began eating the crumbs off her head—opera singers are sometimes strange—Mary Garden dressed as a man and tried to join the army--

She’s most famous for her portrayal of the aging countess in Rosenkavalier, the Marshallin—

By the way, she was not related to Lili Lehmann—who could have been her grandmother—

Lauritz Melchior sang with her often, and he said, you couldn’t know her without falling in love with her—


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