Christa Ludwig, reigning mezzo-soprano of the opera stage, dies at 93

“They weren’t helpful for the rest anyway,” she wrote years later in a memoir, “In My Personal Voice” (1994). “Not one of the troopers ever guessed what I used to be sporting.”

From these beginnings, Ms. Ludwig, who died April 24 at 93, went on to one of the illustrious careers in Twentieth-century opera. Her loss of life, though no different particulars, was introduced by the Vienna State Opera, the place Ms. Ludwig sang for many years. Music critic Donal Henahan, writing within the New York Occasions, as soon as described her as “the Lotte Lehmann of her era,” a reference to the acclaimed German-born soprano who died in 1976.

Ms. Ludwig carried out on European phases together with Milan’s La Scala, the Paris Opera, London’s Royal Opera Home at Covent Backyard and the Bayreuth Competition in Germany and collaborated over time with influential conductors together with Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.

On the Metropolitan Opera in New York Metropolis, she gave 119 performances in 15 roles between 1959, when she debuted there as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” and 1993, when she gave her remaining Met efficiency as Fricka in “Die Walküre,” the second installment in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. She retired the subsequent yr.

Appreciations of Ms. Ludwig famous that her repertoire spanned the works of the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, who was born within the sixteenth century, to these of the Twentieth-century 12-tone composer Alban Berg. She additionally ranged from the mezzo-soprano to the upper soprano register. However Ms. Ludwig grew to become particularly recognized for her interpretations of Mozart and Wagner.

In Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” she performed each the Marschallin and her younger lover Octavian (a trouser position, like Cherubino, wherein a feminine singer represents a male character onstage). She sang Leonore in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and mentioned she felt a specific affinity for Kundry in “Parsifal,” Wagner’s story of the hunt for the Holy Grail.

One among few recitalists who additionally excelled on the opera stage, Ms. Ludwig was additionally celebrated for her interpretations of the lieder, or artwork songs, of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler. “Many singers don’t perceive that [lieder] can’t be sung with out flesh and blood and emotion,” the New York Occasions as soon as quoted her as saying at a grasp class. “It’s like an opera in two or three minutes.”

A selected achievement on this style was her efficiency of Schubert’s tune cycle “Winterreise,” or “Winter Journey,” primarily based on texts by the German poet Wilhelm Müller. The cycle was historically carried out by male singers — though Lehmann was a notable exception — earlier than Ms. Ludwig supplied an interpretation that critics got here to treat as definitive. One among her seminal recordings, made for Deutsche Grammophon, was a efficiency of “Winterreise” with piano accompaniment by James Levine, the longtime music director on the Met.

“I feel that ladies can sing the cycle with nice empathy for the wanderer,” Ms. Ludwig wrote in her memoir. “It’s a journey of the soul,” she continued, “which carry us, consciously or unconsciously, a bit nearer to our objective, no matter we select to name it, and from which there is no such thing as a turning again.”

Ms. Ludwig was born in Berlin on March 16, 1928. Her father, who had sung on the Metropolitan Opera, grew to become the stage supervisor on the opera home in Aachen, Germany, the place her mom additionally sang.

By the warfare years, the household lived within the metropolis of Giessen. After their house was destroyed in a firebombing, they moved right into a depressing residence with a piano that troopers had used as a rest room.

“Cleansing it was a horrible expertise,” Ms. Ludwig wrote, “however we didn’t care. We had a piano, and that was the necessary factor.”

She wrote that her father had belonged to the Nazi Social gathering and, after the warfare, was not permitted to work till his denazification. Her mom supported the household for a interval giving voice classes, additionally mentoring her daughter as Ms. Ludwig launched into her musical profession.

“My mom by no means had time actually to show me, however she overheard me on a regular basis. She would inform me one thing I used to be doing fallacious on her solution to the kitchen to see if the potatoes have been burning,” Ms. Ludwig informed the Occasions in 1981.

However when Ms. Ludwig debuted in Frankfurt in 1946 as Prince Orlofsky (one other trouser position) in Johann Strauss’s operetta “Die Fledermaus,” her mom “packed her baggage and got here with me,” Ms. Ludwig recalled. “She lived with me and got here to each rehearsal. And he or she nonetheless helps me.”

Via the cautious cultivation of her voice, Ms. Ludwig maintained a singing profession that lasted practically half a century. Reviewing one in every of her remaining performances, Martin Bernheimer of the Los Angeles Occasions wrote that her voice had “misplaced astonishingly little, and the mezzo-soprano makes use of what she has with unusual suavity. She by no means stoops to exaggeration, by no means succumbs to mannerism, by no means betrays a touch of expressive distortion.”

Ms. Ludwig’s first marriage, to Austrian bass-baritone Walter Berry, led to divorce. In 1972, she married Paul-Emile Deiber, a French theatrical and opera director, who died in 2011. Ms. Ludwig and her first husband had a son, Wolfgang Berry, however an entire checklist of survivors was not instantly accessible.

Ms. Ludwig joked that she was “too lazy” to be a prima donna and mentioned she discovered a measure of reduction in her retirement from the stage.

“I all the time lived previously, within the textual content, with the poems of useless poets, with the music of useless musicians,” she informed the Occasions. “And it’s good residing previously. However I by no means had an actual life. I noticed actual life via the tv display screen, or via the home windows of the lodge rooms.” In her retirement she remained engaged with music by giving grasp lessons, immersing herself in her previous operatic roles and others, educating younger singers learn how to make them their very own.

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