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Lilli Lehmann

Birth Nov 24, 1848 in Würzburg, Germany                     Death May 17, 1929 in Berlin

German singer Lilli Lehmann was regarded by many critics and opera mavens as the greatest soprano of her day, not least because of her command of an unbelievably wide range of roles -- 170! She started her career as a coloratura soprano, but gradually took on dramatic roles of heavier character, especially in Wagner's operas. The power, steadiness, and versatility of her voice were given many testimonials by critics from both the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But what may be most astonishing about her career was that while Lehmann was in semi-retirement after 1900, she sang in concerts until 1920 (when she was 71 years old), generally still garnering critical acclaim.

Lehmann was born in Würzburg, Germany, on November 24, 1848. Raised in Prague, she was given vocal lessons by her mother Marie Loewe, a respected professional singer in her own right and a harpist as well. Young Lilli was regarded as a less promising talent than her sister Marie, who would also become a successful, though less-renowned soprano.

In 1865 Lehmann made her debut in Prague portraying the First Boy in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Soon, however, she graduated to the role of Pamina, and then quickly ascended to the highest circles of the operatic stage, appearing at the Berlin Hofoper (1869), Bayreuth (1876), London (1880), Vienna (1882), and at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1885, where she was signed on as a member of the company.

There she impressed critics and audiences with a clutch of varied roles, but especially with her Wagner: she appeared in the New York premiere of Tristan und Isolde (1886) and later in the first American Ring cycle (1889). From 1890 to 1900 Lehmann was in her prime, dazzling audiences not only at the Met, but in Berlin, Bayreuth, and Covent Garden, where she appeared in 1899 in Wagner (Isolde, Sieglinde), Mozart (Donna Anna), and Bellini (Norma).

While she still appeared in certain operatic roles and on the concert stage after 1900, her appearances became increasingly infrequent. She helped create Mozart festivals in Salzburg beginning in 1906. That same year -- at the age of 58 -- she made her first recordings, and after 1907 made no more. Her recordings have been highly praised and are still available from a variety of sources today, including the English label Nimbus. Lehmann completely retired from all performance activity in 1920.

From http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lilli-lehmann-q82881/biography

Lilli Lehmann, born Elisabeth Maria Lehmann, later Elisabeth Maria Lehmann-Kalisch (November 24, 1848 Würzburg - May 17, 1929 Berlin) was a German operatic soprano of phenomenal versatility. She was also a voice teacher.

The future opera star's father, Karl-August Lehmann, was a singer (Heldentenor) while her mother, Maria Theresia Löw (1809 - 1885), was a soprano of Jewish origin. Her first lessons were from her mother, who had been a prima donna under Spohr at the Cassel opera. After singing small parts on the stage, Lehmann made her proper debut in 1870 in Berlin as a light soprano in Meyerbeer's Das Feldlager in Schlesien. She subsesequently became so successful that she was appointed an Imperial Chamber Singer in 1876.

Lehmann sang in the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876, singing in the first complete performances of The Ring Cycle as Woglinde and Helmwige. She performed in London in 1884, and appeared at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1885-1890. Together with her Met colleagues Fischer, Alvary, Brandt, and Seidl, she helped to popularise Wagner's music in America. By remaining in America beyond the leave granted her by the Berlin Opera,
she faced a ban following her return to Germany. After the personal intervention of the Emperor, the ban was lifted.

She appeared at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1899 and sang in Paris and Vienna in 1903 and 1909 respectively. In 1905, she sang at the Salzburg Festival, later becoming the festival's artistic director. Lehmann was also renowned as a Lieder singer. She continued to give recitals until her retirement from the concert stage in the 1920s.

Her mature voice, of splendid quality and large volume, gained for her the reputation of being not only one of the greatest Wagnerian singers of her day but also an ideal interpreter of Bellini's Norma and the operatic music of Mozart. She was considered unsurpassed in the rôles of Brünnhilde and Isolde but sang an astonishingly wide array of other parts. Indeed, across the span of her career, she performed 170 different parts in a total of 119 German, Italian and French operas. She was also a noted voice teacher. Among her pupils were the famous sopranos Geraldine Farrar and Olive Fremstad.

In 1888, she married the tenor Paul Kalisch.

Lehmann founded the International Summer Academy at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 1916. The academy's curriculum concentrated on voice lessons at first but it was extended later to include a wide variety of musical instruction.

The Lilli Lehmann Medal is awarded by the Mozarteum in her honour. Her voice can be heard on CD reissues of the recordings which she made prior to World War I. Although past her peak as an operatic singer when she made these records, they still impress.


Meine Gesangskunst. Berlin: 1902. 3rd Edition, 1922.
How to sing. New York: Macmillan, 1902. 3rd Edition, 1924, republished: Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 1993. (English version of Meine Gesangskunst) Translation: Richard Aldrich.
L. Andro, Lilli Lehmann (Berlin: 1907)
Lilli Lehmann, Mein Weg. Autobiography. (Leipzig, 1913); English translation by Alice B. Seligman, My Path through Life, New York: 1914).

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilli_Lehmann

Music: Heroic Female Figure

During the 26 years that Richard Wagner brooded over The Ring of the Nibelung, no one character caused him greater anguish than his heroine Brünnhilde. Time & again he flung down his pen and paced the floor. He recalled in his autobiography that once "my courage failed me completely, for I could not help asking myself whether the singer had yet been born who was capable of vitalizing this heroic female figure"....
The first Brünnhilde was not easy to find, for most prima donnas impressed Wagner as being "silly, fastidious schoolgirls." He finally chose Amalie Materna, a big-chested Styrian with a grand manner and a zooming voice. At that first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 one of the Rhine maidens was a pretty young Jewess named Lilli Lehmann. Wagner wanted to adopt her but her mother, who knew the master well, objected. Lehmann was a light coloratura then and no one, least of all Wagner, suspected that she was soon to cultivate dramatic rôles and sing Brünnhilde.

What Lehmann accomplished with the rôle has long been legendary. She sang it in the first Götterdämmerung given in the U. S. in 1888 and therein set a standard which no other singer has ever quite achieved. Vocally she was a match for Wagner's mighty orchestra. Dramatically she was the "heroic female figure" that Wagner imagined. Those who heard her have never forgotten the horror in her voice when she turned on Siegfried, the fury she became when she swore the piercing oath on the spear....

From Time Magazine, March 11. 1935 

Because of the superb quality and volume of her voice, German operatic soprano Lilli Lehmann became famous in the Wagnarian roles, but she was also a noted Mozart interpreter and sang other selected repertoire. She was coached by Wagner himself in the first performances of 'The Ring' at Bayreuth, and later became the greatest Isolde of her day.
From http://www.hbdirect.com/album_detail.php?pid=587901

"Living Past"

Lilli Lehmann sings part of Wagner's Die Walküre (38 seconds)

The renowned composer Richard Wagner, who inspired Hitler's career, and who wanted to adopt the Jewess Lilli Lehmann


Here lived since 1891

Soprano and Singing Pedagogue,
since 1870 of the Berlin High Opera,
from 1886 to 1890 Metropolitan Opera, New York.
Famous Wagner- and Mozart singer.
1901 co-founder of the Salzburg Festival.
One of the first inhabitants of the
Grunewald Mansion Colony

This plaque is on a wall at Herbertstraße 20, in the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.
The Grunewald neighborhood has been rather exclusive for over a century, and contains the embassies of a number of countries.

Duchy of Saxony-Coburg-Gotha, Medal for Arts and Sciences, 1882

Duchy of Anhalt, Order of Sciences and Arts, 1896

Rumania, Medal of the Order of "Bene Merenti": Civil Medal instituted by Charles I (when he was still only prince of Romania) was Medal Merenti Bene. It was established by Royal Decree. 314 on February 20, 1876. The medal was inspired by a similar award instituted by the Princely House of Hohenzollern in 1857.

Bene Merenti Medal is awarded for merit in the arts, science, industry and agriculture. It was rarely granted. Medal have two classes (Class 1 - Class 2  gold - silver) and may be granted to Romanian citizens and foreigners.

From http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ro&u=http://dictionary.sensagent.com/ordinul+bene+merenti/ro-ro/&ei=hkQsT9uoIePpsQKOsfjEDg&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CDMQ7gEwAg&prev=/search?q=Ordinul+"Bene+Merenti"++"carol+i"&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=MF6&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&biw=1600&bih=679&prmd=imvns

Telephone  773-539-5751      
FAX            773-304-0131
Postal address
P.O. Box 300791, Chicago, IL 60630, USA
Electronic mail
General Information: buynobel@sbcglobal.net
Prices available upon request.

Prices available
upon request.

Prussia, certificate for memorial badge for Kaiser Wilhelm's silver wedding anniversary, with envelope in which it was sent, 1906. Permission to wear the Swedish Arts and Sciences Medal, 1879.

Rumania, Medal of the Order of "Bene Merenti", 1st Class,
with royal Prussian letter permitting wear of this medal, 1893

Lilli Lehmann, and her grave in Dahlem Cemetary, Berlin

The D.N. Pritt Fighter vs. Fascism Archive

40 page booklet,
published 1942

Memorial badge for the Kaiser's silver wedding anniversary:  award
certificate for the royal chamber singer
Lilli Lehmann, 1906