TV & Radio
Obituary: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 90, dazzling operatic soprano
By Anthony Tommasini The New York Times
THURSDAY, AUGUST 3, 2006
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the renowned German-born soprano and one of the most intelligent and dazzling artists of her time, died Thursday at her home in western Austria. She was 90. Her death was reported by Austrian state television, The Associated Press said.
To her many admirers, Schwarzkopf was a peerless interpreter of Strauss's Marschallin, Mozart's Donna Elvira and other operatic roles. But her luster was tainted in her later years by revelations that she had lied about the extent of her association with the Nazis during World War II.
For a singer of such unquestionable stature, Schwarzkopf's work was controversial. In her prime, she possessed a radiant lyric soprano voice, impressive technical agility and exceptional understanding of style. From the 1950s to the '70s, she was for many listeners the high priestess of the lieder recital, a sublime artist who brought textual nuance, interpretive subtlety and elegant musicianship to her work.
But others found her interpretations calculated, mannered and arch (the "Prussian perfectionist," one critic called her), and complained that in trying to sing with textual vitality, Schwarzkopf resorted to crooning and half-spoken dramatic effects.
Connoisseurs and critics could be surprisingly divided about her basic vocal gifts. Will Crutchfield, reviewing some live recordings of Schwarzkopf in recital, wrote in The New York Times in 1990: "It was always clear that she had a superior voice (a smooth, glamorous lyric soprano) and superior technical command." Yet Peter Davis, writing in The Times in 1981, stated that her extraordinary career was "a triumph of intelligence and willpower over what was basically an unremarkable voice."
The consensus, however, is that in roles like the Marschallin and other Strauss heroines (the title role of "Ariadne auf Naxos," the countess in "Capriccio"), Mozart's Fiordiligi and Countess Almaviva, and Wagner's Eva and Elsa, she could sing incomparably, with shimmering tone and richness, and charismatic presence.
She had light hair and deep-set gray eyes, and she was an uncommonly beautiful woman, despite a visible gap between her two front teeth that she never bothered to correct. For a time in her younger years she pursued a career as a film actress and might have succeeded had she continued.
A hard-working, self-challenging singer, she performed 74 roles in 53 operas, including Anne Trulove in the world premiere of Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress" in 1951. Her lieder repertory included hundreds of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mozart and Strauss, and she was a pioneering champion of the songs of Hugo Wolf, which she sang with insight and affecting beauty.
Olga Maria Elisabeth Frederike Schwarzkopf was born on Dec. 9, 1915, in Jarocin near Poland, in an area that had historically been claimed as part of Prussia.
It was not until after her formal training, in 1938, when she began singing with the Berlin State Opera, that Schwarzkopf came into her own vocally.
During this time she gained a reputation as a soprano fiercely determined to leap quickly from the small roles typically assigned a newcomer into substantive parts. The director of the company, Wilhelm Rode, had won the favor of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. One reason Schwarzkopf later gave for cooperating with the Nazis was that it was incumbent on aspiring singers in the company to support the party.
But until the 1980s, she maintained that she had never officially joined the Nazi party. She denied her membership in three Allied questionnaires in 1945, a time when former party members were usually barred from public performance in Germany during the occupation.
In 1982, however, a music historian at the University of Vienna, Oliver Rathkolb, published a doctoral dissertation that included details of her party membership, based on documents discovered in the Allied Denazification Bureau in Vienna that were subsequently moved to the National Archives in Washington.
In an interview with The Times in 1983, Schwarzkopf denied she had been a member of the party. But when told of these documents by The Times, she admitted that she had joined the party. "We thought nothing of it," she said. "We just did it."
In other interviews, she quoted in her defense the first line of Tosca's famous aria: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore," which translates, "I lived for art, I lived for love."
Her breakthrough had come with the dauntingly difficult coloratura role of Zerbinetta in "Ariadne auf Naxos," which she first sang in late 1940. Her performance won the attention of Maria Ivogun, the soprano who had created the role in the opera's 1912 premiere. Ivogun took on Schwarzkopf as a private student, coaching her in the high soprano repertory, and training her as a lieder singer, which led to Schwarzkopf's being engaged by the Vienna State Opera.
Engagements followed at the first post-war Salzburg Festival in 1947, when she worked with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and in subsequent summers, when she formed a close working relationship with the conductor Herbert von Karajan.
Also in 1947, she traveled on tour with the Vienna State Opera to London, where she performed in "Don Giovanni" and "Fidelio" at Covent Garden. She achieved an enormous success and this led to her being invited to join the newly founded Covent Garden company. She sang with the company for the next five years, performing not just her German repertory, but also Violetta, Mimi, Gilda, and Massenet's Manon, all in English.
Renowned soprano Schwarzkopf dead
Opera giant was 90
Thursday, August 3, 2006 Posted: 2013 GMT (0413 HKT)
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Famed soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the greatest voices of the 20th century, died at her home in western Austria early Thursday, state television reported. She was 90.
Schwarzkopf, ranked alongside Maria Callas as a giant of the opera and concert stage, died about 1:15 a.m. in the town of Schruns in Austria's westernmost province of Vorarlberg, where she most recently lived, state broadcaster ORF said, citing a local funeral home director. No cause of death was given.
Schwarzkopf, who retired in 1975, captivated audiences and critics alike during a career that spanned four decades.
Her leading roles, ranging from Elvira in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" to the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," were immortalized on records and CDs. So were her recitals of lieder -- German songs of a lyrical, often popular character.
After her retirement she admitted having applied to join the Nazi Party in 1939 but she said it was "akin to joining a union" so that should could further her singing career.
Performing with an array of famous conductors, including Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Otto Klemperer, Vittorio de Sabata and Herbert von Karajan, the German-born soprano was a "diva assoluta," an absolute star.
"Perhaps never again will there be a recitalist like her," wrote Andre Tubeuf, one of Europe's most influential music critics and one of her many enthusiastic admirers.
Schwarzkopf was born December 9, 1915, in Jarotschin in what was then eastern Germany, but which became the Polish town of Jarocin in the redrawing of national boundaries after World War I ended three years later.
Her family moved to Berlin, where she became a prize-winning student at the Berlin Hochschule fuer Musik, now part of the Berlin University of the Arts.
A wrong analysis by her first voice teacher, who thought she was a contralto, almost thwarted her ambitions, she recalled later. Her mother recognized the danger and made her change teachers.
Schwarzkopf first was paid to sing as a member of the chorus in a 1937 recording of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham.
One year later, she made her operatic debut at the Berlin Municipal Opera as one of the flower maidens in Richard Wagner's "Parsifal." Given short notice, she learned the part overnight. Two years later she already was singing prominent parts, including as Zerbinetta in Strauss' "Ariadne on Naxos."
Tuberculosis forced her to rest for a year, just after she was signed by the Vienna State Opera. Following recovery in 1944, she could sing only a few weeks in Vienna before Allied air raids sent the curtains falling on all stages.
Renowned soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf dies at 90
Thu Aug 3, 2006 4:33 PM ET
VIENNA (Reuters) - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, among the most renowned opera and concert sopranos of the 20th century, died at her Austrian home on Thursday at the age of 90, local media reported.
The German-born Schwarzkopf sang for a galaxy of famed conductors, including Herbert von Karajan, in a career that originated with training in Berlin during Germany's Nazi era and wound up four decades later in 1975.
APA news agency said she died in the town of Schruns in western Vorarlberg province of Austria, whose Vienna State Opera elevated her to the international stage shortly after World War Two.
After Schwarzkopf retired, a biographer revealed that she had applied to join the Nazi Party in 1940. She acknowledged this but denied having been a committed Nazi, saying she sought party membership solely to advance her singing career.
She recorded signature performances as Elvira in Mozart's "Don Giovanni", the countess in his "Le Nozze di Figaro" and the Marchallin in Richard Strauss's in "Rosenkavalier, as well as renditions of German "lieder", or popular lyrical songs.
Known for her charm and vivacity, Schwarzkopf appeared at the world's greatest concert halls from Covent Garden to La Scala and the Metropolitan in New York.
"She sang with the nuanced phrasing of a subtle actor and the fine colors of a great painter," critic Juergen Kesting wrote. Some critics felt her style was somewhat affected.
The daughter of a Prussian schoolmaster, Schwarzkopf was born in 1915 in what is now Poland.
In 1953 she married Walter Legge, a British impresario who had met her on a talent-spotting trip to Vienna in the late 1940s, and she lived in London for many years.
In 1976, Cambridge University gave her a rarely-awarded honorary doctorate of music.
She moved to Switzerland in later life before settling in Austria. In the 1980s, Schwarzkopf taught singing and her students included internationally prominent baritones Thomas Hampson and Matthias Goerne.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf dies at 90
Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Friday August 4, 2006
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, arguably the greatest soprano of the postwar years, died peacefully in her sleep early yesterday morning at her home in Schruns in Austria, aged 90.
She entered British folk memory when, asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, she chose eight of her own recordings. She was also tinged with notoriety when it was revealed that she had been a member of the Nazi party.
She was known for her matchless lieder singing; in the opera house, she was particularly feted for her Mozart roles.
According to Edward Greenfield, the Guardian's music critic emeritus: "She was one of the very greatest of all singers. She combined every quality you wanted in a great soprano. What made her so special was the unique timbre of her voice and her unique responsiveness to words, particularly German - together with her great charisma and beauty. She was also a wonderful actress." Her unflinching brand of Prussian perfectionism was well-known. Her longtime recital partner, pianist Gerald Moore, called her "the most cruelly self-critical person imaginable", marking her scores with "arrows, stabs, slashes and digs".
She joined the Nazi party in 1938, as a young singer in the Deutsche Oper ensemble in Berlin. However, according to Greenfield: "She said that she was blackmailed - unless she joined the party, she was told, her contract would not be renewed. If that had happened, she would have had to find work in a munitions factory. Her singing career would have been at an end."
After the war, she met Walter Legge, the British record producer, who signed her to the label HMV.
She later made a prodigious number of great records under his auspices. "They had some amazing rows, but it was true love between them," said Greenfield. "He never openly praised her."
Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Soprano Schwarzkopf dies aged 90
Dame Elisabeth was one of the most admired singers of her time
Renowned German soprano Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has died at her home in Austria at the age of 90.