“A miracle worker”— “a Siegfried”— “an elemental catastrophe”— “a speeding train”: thus did critics and colleagues greet Gustav Mahler’s ascendancy at the Royal and Imperial Court Opera in 1897. “And now began in Vienna one of the greatest epochs the city had ever known. Mahler was an absolute monarch who held the whole of musical Vienna in thrall, and with his matchless, intrepid energy he managed, in record time, to regenerate not only the entire artistic workforce but also the Viennese public.” Such praise from one of Mahler’s sworn enemies is entirely characteristic of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the city of contradictions; its author is the Austrian composer Franz Schmidt, then a cellist in the Opera orchestra. For all was not well in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To be sure, the 15 years prior to World War I witnessed unprecedented artistic and intellectual ferment: the painters Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl, and Egon Schiele, the architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, the writers Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, Stefan Zweig, and Peter Altenberg, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, all flourished; Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton von Webern were just getting underway.
Yet all of this unfolded under the love-hate dialectic of “the Austrian paradox,” as composer Ernst Krenek would put it: “Vienna... offered splendid potentialities for the highest accomplishments, as well as the most stubborn resistance to their realization.” Thus, not surprisingly, after Mahler’s very first performance at the opera, Karl Kraus, the brilliantly satirical cultural critic of the Viennese magazine Die Fackel (The Torch) would note: “The new conductor is said to have given such effective proof of his energy that intrigues are afoot against him already.” Indeed they were, and would continue.
Since the days of Mahler’s childhood, far more serious paradoxes and incongruities had slowly yet inexorably undermined the Austrian empire. In 1866 when Gustav was a lad of six, Kaiser Franz Joseph, who habitually dressed in military uniform, suffered a humiliating defeat in the Austro-Prussian War. The aftermath entailed an unavoidable constitutional reorganization that spawned the dual Austro-Hungarian “Royal and Imperial” monarchy in 1867. This, however, was an unwilling compromise made by an out-of-touch monarch fond of saying “Ich wechsle nicht gern” (I don’t like to change), who avoided communication by telephone, and who, when told of the publication of Krafft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), responded that he thought it was about time somebody had written a new Latin grammar. Nevertheless, he granted significant concessions to the political liberals of the day: equality before the law and the freedoms of religion and residence were constitutionally guaranteed. These opened the way for the extraordinary flourishing of Jewish intellectuals and artists, including Mahler, at century’s end in Vienna, the city where anti-Semitism never took a holiday. In the same year of 1867, Johann Strauss II composed “The Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz, which rapidly became the nostalgic musical symbol of “Alt-Wien” (Old Vienna), the golden era that was somehow slipping away.
Increasingly Vienna became the capital of contradictions, the city of illusions in which appearance was forcibly substituted for reality, Schein über Sein. Humorously symptomatic of this is a surviving photograph of Kaiser Franz Joseph posing for an equestrian portrait on a sawhorse, which is draped with an oriental rug. But the vast Ringstraße renovation launched by the emperor in 1857 was just such a sleight of hand that transformed the entire capital by surrounding the old inner city with imposing, eclectically historicist façades that projected the illusion of a secure constitutional monarchy on all of the most important public buildings. The first to be opened was none other than the neo-Renaissance Hofoper (built 1861-1869). Such splendor barely masked significant social problems that the bureaucratic regime was unequipped to solve: the industrial revolution had been accompanied by a huge increase in the Austrian population and a severe housing crisis; economic power was continuously shifting from royalty to bourgeoisie; political conflicts surged among old-fashioned liberals versus working class leftists and rightists during the 1880s and 90s; and anti-Semitism was on the rise. Presciently, Karl Kraus would declare Vienna “an experimental laboratory for the end of the world.”
But most Viennese of means chose not to worry, and pursued the traditional pleasures of the theater, concert hall, pastry shop, amusement park, wine bar, and especially, the coffee house. There cultural events were discussed with an ardor scarcely known in our time. The leading actors and musicians were the stars of the day, and even the cabbies would whisper “Der Mahler!” to each other when the Opera director passed by. Symbolic of the volatile Viennese situation are four signal events of 1897: (1) the founding of the Secession, the society of avant-garde artists dedicated to breaking from “the elders” and revolutionizing the entire range of fine and applied arts (with a nod of support from the emperor); (2) the appointment of Mahler, a Bohemian Jew, first as conductor, then director of the Hofoper (by decree of the emperor); (3) the emperor’s reluctant ratification as Vienna’s mayor of the anti-Semitic Christian Social demagogue Karl Lueger, who would retain the office throughout Mahler’s years at the Opera; and (4) the highly successful opening of the Riesenrad, or giant Ferris wheel, in the park known as the Prater. As the Viennese quip goes, the situation was desperate, but not serious.
The Court Opera had been Mahler’s professional goal since his student days at the Conservatory and University of Vienna (1875-1879). Rising rapidly through the ranks, he had astounded the musical world in 1888 by becoming director of the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest at the young age of 28. Intrigues among the Budapest administrators led him to accept a position as conductor in Hamburg, where his relations with Director Bernhard Pollini deteriorated to such an extent that Mahler dubbed the Opera “the Pollini Jail.” Meanwhile, Pygmalion-like, he both trained and became infatuated with the young Wagnerian soprano Anna von Mildenburg. The scandal of their affair further undermined his position in Hamburg, and Mahler was ready to move on.
He began testing the waters in Vienna as early as the summer of 1895. In the fall of 1896 he learned that Director Wilhelm Jahn, suffering from eye trouble, needed an assistant conductor and would probably retire soon. Thereupon Mahler began his campaign in earnest, with all the cunning of a seasoned professional. Two matters stood in his way: “my craziness,” for which he had quite a reputation owing to his fanatical manner of rehearsal, “and the fact that I was born Jewish.” Accordingly, he mobilized all the friends and colleagues who might possibly influence the Viennese establishment, and as the goal loomed nearer, in February 1897 he took the crucial step of Christian baptism. In the event, such influential personalities as Brahms and the redoubtable critic Eduard Hanslick lent Mahler their support. Rather ironically, however, it was none other than Anna von Mildenburg’s former singing teacher, Rosa Papier, whose advocacy counted most. She was the mistress of the influential Chancellery Director Eduard Wlassack who, knowing that Jahn’s days as director were numbered, made Mahler his protégé in hopes of retaining power himself.
Mahler, however, had quite different plans, but played his hand cagily until the prize was his. On 11 May 1897, after only one rehearsal, he made a stunning debut with Wagner’s Lohengrin, immediately winning the favor of both critics and public. Before the season’s end he reinforced his position with exemplary performances of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. When the Opera reopened in August, flooding had stranded principal conductor Hans Richter (of Bayreuth fame) at his summer home. Mahler quickly turned this misfortune to his advantage, conducting 13 different operas that month, including a complete Ring cycle! Given that Richter did not want the heavy responsibilities of the directorship, it became clear to everyone that the post would soon become Mahler’s, as indeed it did on 8 October 1897.
Hans Richter had been a fixture of Viennese musical life since 1875, conducting both the weightier repertoire of the Opera and, from 1884 on, the Philharmonic Concerts (presented by the Opera orchestra functioning as an independent entity). Although a star at Bayreuth, Richter had been trained in Vienna and was willing to go along with the easy-going Viennese traditions of the Court Opera. Pleasure was the first principle; beautiful singing was the primary purpose of opera, and novelty as well as undue exertion were to be avoided. The result was “a bogged-down institution,” as critic Gustav Schönaich put it. To Mahler this was anathema: “Tradition ist Schlamperei!” (Tradition is slovenliness) was his credo. Although he and Richter managed to avoid open conflict, they would obviously never see eye-to-eye. Richter ceded the Philharmonic concerts to Mahler in 1898, and left the Opera in 1900; he never again conducted in Vienna.
Mahler’s vision for the Vienna Court Opera was virtually an impossible one: each production should become a total unity of music, acting, and staging in the Wagnerian sense, and all should attain the exalted quality of the finest festival performances at Bayreuth or Salzburg. Accordingly, he launched his reforms with gusto: the claque (applauders hired by the singers) was outlawed; latecomers were denied entry to the auditorium until the first convenient pause (in late Wagner, the end of Act 1!); singers were forbidden their ‘traditional’ embellishments and added high notes, and their custom of taking time off to perform in other cities was severely restricted; cuts were restored in Wagner’s works. He subsequently outmaneuvered the Opera’s middle management such that only one official, Prince Alfred Montenuovo, stood between him and the emperor. And should Mahler’s authority be challenged, he kept a signed letter of resignation ready in his desk drawer.
Then there was the “craziness” of rehearsals: Mahler would demand that both singers and individual instrumentalists repeat problematic passages ten, 20, or more times until he was satisfied that near-perfection had been achieved. During a rehearsal of The Magic Flute in November 1897, he made soprano Elise Elizza repeat the words “Stirb, Ungeheuer!” (Die, horrid monster) so often that finally, trembling with rage, she screamed them directly at Mahler. Smiling, he replied: “That would suit you down to the ground, wouldn’t it Fräulein Elizza?” Gradually he prevailed: “I am hitting my head against the wall,” Mahler declared, ”but the wall is giving way.” Karl Kraus praised him as “the Opera’s Augean stable sweeper,” and most other critics applauded as well. The emperor himself congratulated Mahler on mastering the situation in such a short time. This was the peak of his popularity in Vienna.
Of course not everyone was happy. Many orchestra members referred to him as “the Duty Sergeant;” uncooperative personnel were pensioned off (about 80 players were replaced during Mahler’s decade at the Court Opera). His brief stint as conductor of the Philharmonic concerts ended in rancor and resignation in 1901. There were also constant disputes with the Opera’s singers because, unlike his predecessors, Mahler wanted a unified ensemble rather than just a stable of stars. Moreover, he considered acting just as important as singing, and sometimes engaged singers with limited voices whose dramatic capabilities would benefit the house. The popular soprano Marie Renard and alto Edyth Walker were among those who resigned, as were three fine tenors, Andreas Dippel, Ernest van Dyck, and Franz Naval. However, Mahler brought to the Opera such notable artists as sopranos Berta Förster-Lauterer, Marie Gutheil-Schoder, Selma Kurz, and Anna von Mildenburg (he insisted that their intimacy not be resumed); mezzo Hermine Kittel; contralto Sara Cahier; tenors Georg Maikl and Erik Schmedes; baritones Leopold Demuth, Anton Moser, and Friedrich Weidemann; bass Richard Mayr; and conductors Franz Schalk, Bruno Walter, and Alexander von Zemlinsky.
But perhaps the most famous of Mahler’s singers was the gifted and witty tenor Leo Slezak, whose charming memoirs provide fascinating glimpses of life at the Opera. Slezak recounts his audition there as follows:
Hans Richter on the podium. Lohengrin: “Heil Konig Heinrich”... . Before I began, a voice shouted from the darkened stalls, “You— I’m warning you, if you drag it for me, I’ll throw you to the devil!” It was Director Mahler who so fondly encouraged me.
Slezak also describes the tensions of working with Mahler, who could be “the most gruesome of despots:”
He burned with the holiest passion for work, and also required the same of us.... I would go raging home to Elsa [his wife] and swear by all the saints that I would bear it no longer. After a few hours my feelings calmed down; I stood in the theater, he sat at the rostrum and conducted, and all the rancor and indignation melted away like March snow in the warm spring sun.
For singers willing to work toward his goals, Mahler could also be very helpful and supportive. Mildenburg later claimed she gained from him “a confidence that liberated me from all doubts and apprehensions.” Selma Kurz declared that “working with Mahler in rehearsal was marvelous.” And numerous witnesses describe Mahler’s uncanny ability to identify with any operatic character, thereby helping the singers develop their roles. According to Marie Gutheil-Schoder, “his suggestive power was unbelievable,” and critic Ernst Decsey relates that Mahler tracked his singers meticulously in performance, forming each syllable on his lips together with them.
Between May 1897 and October 1907 Mahler conducted 648 operatic performances in Vienna. (By comparison, Herbert von Karajan led only 168 during his five and one-half years as director.) Wagner and Mozart were Mahler’s twin foci, and he was equally renowned as an interpreter of both. Figaro and The Magic Flute ranked first and second on his list (he conducted both every year), with Tristan a close third. Overall, his repertoire was approximately double that of most present-day conductors, and included 24 Viennese or world premieres as well as numerous unusual works. Among his contemporaries whose operas Mahler introduced were Richard Strauss, Gustav Charpentier, Zemlinsky, Hans Pfitzner, and Hugo Wolf.
Mahler’s work at the Court Opera falls roughly into 3 periods. The first and most frenetic lasted from his appointment as director in 1897 until about 1900. During these years Mahler conducted 97 to 111 times per year, more than he ever would again. Since little or no rehearsal was available for repertoire staples, he used the performances to assert his authority and establish discipline. The strain of this proved to be excessive: on 24 February 1901, having conducted a Philharmonic concert in the afternoon and The Magic Flute in the evening, Mahler collapsed from a near-fatal hemorrhage. During the year following this brush with death, he would court, impregnate, and marry the stunning 23-year-old Alma Schindler, “the most beautiful girl in Vienna” according to Bruno Walter (and many others). By the time Walter became assistant conductor in the fall of 1901, Mahler had already reduced his performances by half.
Yet he continued to supervise the Opera’s productions with minute care. Having raised the level of both singing and acting, Mahler was ready to address the problems of staging. In 1903, during this second phase of his directorship, he began his legendary collaboration with the Secessionist artist Alfred Roller. By greatly simplifying the scenery and replacing clutter with luxuriant color and lighting, Mahler and Roller ushered in the modern era of operatic production, anticipating much of Wieland Wagner’s “New Bayreuth.” Their first venture was Tristan and Isolde, commemorating the 20th anniversary of Wagner’s death. The next was perhaps their finest: the Fidelio of 1904, in which Mahler created a furore by playing the Third Leonore Overture between the dungeon scene and the finale, a tradition that continues to the present. While audiences delighted in this Fidelio, Mahler’s honeymoon with the press was long since over. Several critics stated severely that this time his “mania for originality” had gone much too far.
Meanwhile, following a 15-year uphill struggle, Mahler the composer was at last gaining recognition. A major turning point was the performance of his vast Third Symphony in Krefeld at the festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in June of 1902. For once even the critics were enthusiastic, and thereafter Mahler increasingly received invitations to conduct his music outside Vienna. Although he continued to conduct from 44 to 57 performances each season between 1904 and 1907, his absences from the opera became more frequent. Nevertheless, Mahler remained extraordinarily effective as a producer, now concentrating with Roller on cycles of works—half of a projected new Ring was introduced during this third period, plus five Mozart operas for the composer’s 150th anniversary in the 1905/1906 season.
For a variety of reasons, Mahler resigned from the Court Opera in the spring of 1907. Reluctantly, he had come to accept that a repertoire company could not consistently achieve festival quality, and he realized he could make more money for fewer months of work in America, thereby gaining more time to compose. Moreover, he was, as he put it, no longer “new” in Vienna. Indeed, he had become a frequent target of criticism in the press, and in January of 1907 several papers seized upon his short but frequent absences as the pretext for a particularly vicious campaign— here was the Austrian paradox in full bloom. In February and March of that year he clashed with Prince Montenuovo, first over Roller’s involvement with the corps de ballet, then about his own conducting travels. Mahler illustrated his situation for Bruno Walter by grasping a chair and tilting its legs forward: “You see, that’s what they are doing to me: if I wanted to remain seated, all I would have to do is to lean back firmly and I could hold my place. But I am not offering any resistance, and so I shall finally slide off.” The terms of Mahler’s departure were agreed upon in March, and by mid-May he was seriously negotiating for a position at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. An impressive cadre of Viennese artists and intellectuals signed a hastily circulated “address” praising Mahler’s decade of achievements— but to no avail. “It is all quite true,” he wrote a longtime friend in June. “I am going because I can no longer endure the rabble.”
Departure from the Opera was only the first of three blows that befell Mahler in 1907. In July his beloved elder daughter died of scarlet fever, and days later a doctor warned him that the condition of his heart was potentially fatal. Both Alfred Roller and Bruno Walter movingly recount Mahler’s distress in the wake of these sad events; the following year his mourning would become manifest in his finest composition, Das Lied von der Erde. Pulling himself together as always in the face of crisis, Mahler bade farewell to Vienna in the fall with performances of Fidelio at the Opera and his own Second Symphony in the Musikvereinsaal. On the December morning of his departure, four of Schoenberg’s students had convened a group of 200 well-wishers on the railway platform. As the train pulled out, the painter Gustav Klimt, quoting the chorus at the moment of Faust’s death, captured the mood in a single word: “Vorbei! ” (It’s all over). Among those sadly waving was Bruno Walter, who 30 years later would write:
A great epoch of operatic art had come to an end— the achievement of one man and his inspired co-workers. Everyone had learned from him, everyone had been led to the utmost of his capacity. The achievements of his art are looked upon today as the unforgotten days of glory of the Vienna Opera... .
© Stephen E. Hefling, 2003
Irene ABENDROTH [s] (14 July 1872 – 1 September 1932) was born in Lemberg (L’wow) Galicia of German parents. She studied with Francesco Lamperti and Italo Campanini in Milan, and continued her studies in Vienna. She made her stage debut in 1889 at the Court Opera as Amina in La Sonnambula but stayed only one year. She returned in the 1894-1899 season singing mainly the coloratura repertoire: The Queen of the Night, Violetta, Gilda, and Marguerite de Valois. She sang in the local premieres of Hänsel und GretelÄ and The Bartered Bride as Sandmännchen and Esmeralda. She later appeared in Dresden singing heavier roles such as Norma, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Rezia in Oberon, and Tosca in the German premiere of that opera. She left Dresden in 1909 and thereafter sang in concerts and taught in Vienna. Her 1902 records for G&T are her only known discs, though rumors suggest others from the same period.
Anna von BAHR-MILDENBURG [s] (29 November 1872 – 27 January 1947) studied with Rosa Papier and made her debut in Hamburg as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre under Mahler. He wanted her to go with him to Vienna but she was not available until 1898. She was one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of her time, preparing most of the Wagner roles with Mahler, and sang at most major German stages, as well as Covent Garden, until 1927. She was a leading teacher in her later years, the most important of her many successful pupils being Lauritz Melchior. She made two recordings for G&T but rejected them and only one survives in three copies.
Lola BEETH [s] (23 November 1860 – 18 March 1940) studied with Viardot-Garcia and Francesco Lamperti before making a triumphant debut in 1882 at the Berlin Court Opera as Elsa in Lohengrin. She sang at the Hofoper from 1885-1895 and at the Metropolitan Opera’s season 1895-1896. She returned to Vienna for three seasons (1898 to 1901) singing 12 roles, including 24 performances of Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro), Venus (Tannhäuser), and Desdemona (Otello). She made five discs for G&T and one for Homophone. Five of these are known only to exist as unique copies and one has never come to light.
Theodor BERTRAM [ba] (12 February 1869 – 24 November 1907) is one of the tragic figures of the period. Both parents were singers and his career began promisingly. By 1892 he was singing at Bayreuth and in 1899 he appeared in the premiere of Siegfried Wagner’s Der Bärenhäuter in Munich. He joined the Metropolitan Opera from 1899-1900 and returned to Vienna later that year. Mahler engaged him for the 1900-1901 season to sing heavy baritone roles, but his contract was dissolved by mutual consent after only 19 days. His misfortunes began when his first wife died insane in 1905 and his second wife died two years later in a ship disaster. He lost his reason, drank heavily, and finally hanged himself. Bertram made cylinders for Columbia and Edison as well as discs for G&T, Favorite, Lyrophon, Odeon, and Janus, the last of which were also pressed by several other minor companies.
Elsa BLAND [s] (16 April 1880 – 27 September 1935) studied with Marianne Brandt and made her debut in Olmütz as Leonore in Fidelio in 1903. Two years later she arrived in Vienna, where she remained until 1908 singing many Wagner roles, though her most frequent parts in this period included Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Aida, and Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana. On Mahler’s recommendation, Strauss chose Bland for the title role in the 1905 Viennese premiere of Salome, which was aborted. After a short period in Berlin she remained unaffiliated and returned to Vienna, making guest appearances from 1920-1924. Her later roles included Isolde and Elektra. Bland recorded for G&T, Gramophone, Columbia, Odeon, Pathé, and Edison.
Hermine BOSETTI [s] (28 September 1875 – 1 May 1936) was born Hermine von Flick in Vienna. She spent only one season at the Hofoper (1900-1901), where she appeared as Zerlina, Siebel, and Adele. She gained stardom in Munich, where she sang mainly coloratura repertoire, but also heavier roles such as Cio-Cio-San, Octavian, Salome, and Elsa. She returned to Vienna in 1908 as a guest in more substantial roles such as The Queen of the Night and Marguerite de Valois. She recorded for G&T, Odeon, and Gramophone.
Ellen BRANDT-FORSTER [s] (11 October 1866 – July 1921) made her debut in 1885 in Danzig and sang in Bayreuth the next year before arriving in Vienna in 1887. She was the first Hofoper Adele in Die Fledermaus and created Sophie in Werther. Under Mahler she sang 31 roles, including Susanna, Zerlina, Eva, and Elsa. She performed as Adele (Die Fledermaus) and Lola (Cavalleria rusticana) 54 and 51 times respectively. She retired in 1905. Her voice can be heard on seven rare solo sides and three Mozart duets with Leopold Demuth, all recorded for G&T in 1902.
Hans BREUER [t] (27 April 1868 – 11 October 1929) made his Bayreuth debut in small roles in 1894 but then sang Mime regularly there from 1896 to 1914. He was soon heard at the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden and came to Vienna in 1900, remaining there until his death. Apart from Mime and the three-buffo tenor roles in Tales of Hoffmann, he sang mainly secondary roles during the Mahler period. His records, for G&T and Zonophone, are few in number.
Sara CAHIER [con] (6 January 1870 – 15 April l951), better known as Mme. Charles Cahier, was actually born Sara Jane Walker in Nashville, Tennessee. Her teachers included Jean de Reszke, Victor Capoul, and Amalie Joachim. After her debut in 1904 she joined the Hofoper in 1907 and remained until 1911. Under Mahler, she sang Amneris, Carmen, Dalilah, Fidès, Ortrud, and Santuzza. She was also famous for her interpretation of Mahler’s works, creating the alto version of Das Lied von der Erde. Among her later pupils were Marian Anderson, Göta Ljüngberg, and Rosette Anday. Her few recordings appear on G&T, Odeon, HMV, and Ultraphon. Her sole Ultraphon disc (1930) contains the “Urlicht” movement from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.”
Leopold DEMUTH [ba] (2 November 1861 - 4 March 1910) was born Leopold Pokorny in the Moravian capital Brno, studied with Josef Gänsbacher in Vienna, and came to the Hofoper in 1898, remaining there until his sudden death during a concert. He was highly praised for the beauty and size of his voice and the ease of its production. He was best in the standard Verdi roles but also sang all the Wagner baritone parts. In his memoirs Erwin Stein wrote “vocal splendour had often to make up for his lack of stage personality.” Among a total of 68 roles were one world premiere (Goldmark’s Ein Wintermärchen) and 11 local premieres, the most important of these being Falstaff (title role), Scarpia in Tosca, Sebastiano in D’Albert’s Tiefland, and Tio Lukas in Hugo Wolf’s Der Corregidor. He recorded for Berliner, G&T, and Gramophone.
Andreas DIPPEL [t] (30 November 1866 – 12 May 1932) made his debut in 1887 in Bremen and two years later joined the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang regularly until 1910. He become a member of the Hofoper ensemble in 1893 and remained there until 1898. During the Mahler era he sang 27 leading and smaller roles, including Marcello in the local premiere of Leoncavallo’s La Bohème. Over his career he sang a total of 150 roles, from Don Ottavio to the full spectrum of Wagner parts. Dippel made six Edison cylinders and appears on several Lionel Mapleson cylinders, which were recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera. He also recorded for the Victor Company, but these discs were not published.
Elise ELIZZA [s] (6 January 1870 – 3 June 1926) was born Elisabeth Letztergroschen in Vienna. Marrying her first singing teacher Adolf Limley, Elizza also appeared under the name of Elise Limley. After three years as a soubrette, Elizza furthered her studies with Amalie Materna and made her Hofoper debut in 1895. She remained with the company until 1919 but returned as occasional guest until 1923. A most versatile artist, she sang an enormous variety of roles including The Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte), Venus (Tannhäuser), and Brünnhilde (Siegfried). Apart from smaller Wagner roles, she was most often heard as Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots) and Philine in Mignon. In many works she sang more than one role, e.g. Adele and Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Adalgisa and Norma in Norma, and four roles in Hänsel und Gretel. She recorded for various labels, including G&T, Gramophone, Columbia, Odeon, Favorite, and Pathé.
Benedikt FELIX [ba] (28 September 1860 – 2 March 1912) first sang in small houses but after retraining with Johannes Ress in Vienna, he joined the Hofoper, where he remained until shortly before his death. With the exception of Beckmesser in Meistersinger and Johann in the world premiere of Massenet’s Werther, Felix primarily sang the smaller Wagner roles, which he did countless times. He made discs for G&T and at least three Pathé cylinders.
Ottilie FELLWOCK [con] (1877-?) studied with Pauline Lucca despite opposition from her family. Her singing of Ortrud in Lucca’s private theater was praised by the critic Eduard Hanslick. As was the custom, Fellwock appeared as a guest before Mahler engaged her during the 1898-1899 season. Her nine roles included minor parts in the premieres of Reznicek’s Donna Diana and Siegfried Wagner’s Der Bärenhäuter. She later sang major roles in Graz, Prague, and other, smaller houses until 1914, after which time there is no further trace of her. She made four rare sides in Prague for G&T.
Frieda FELSER [s] (3 March 1872 – 16 February 1941) studied in Munich and sang at a number of houses, including a seven-year engagement in Cologne. She arrived at the Hofoper in 1905. During her one season there, Felser sang a variety of roles including Despina, Donna Elvira, Il Trovatore’s Leonora, Carmen, Nedda, and Santuzza. She spent the next season in Berlin, then returned to Cologne where she was very popular, retiring to teach in 1917. She recorded for G&T, Gramophone, Odeon, and Zonophone.
Grete FORST [s] (16 August 1878 - 1942?) made her debut in Cologne in 1900 as Lucia, and three years later, made her Hofoper debut in the same role. She remained in Vienna until 1911 singing coloratura roles such as Olympia, The Queen of the Night, Oscar, and Fiordiligi, as well as lyric ones such as Cio-Cio-San. She continued her career as a concert singer and teacher in Vienna for many years. Because Forst was Jewish, she was deported in 1942 and died in Minsk, presumably the same year. Forst made many records for G&T as well as some on the Pathé and Lyrophon labels.
Gertrude FÖRSTEL [s] (21 December 1880 – 7 June 1950) began her musical career as a concert pianist before her voice was discovered. After completing her studies with Aglaja Orgeni, she made her debut in Prague singing Nuri in the 1903 world premiere of D’Albert’s Tiefland. In 1906 she came to Vienna where she sang a wide range of roles including Mignon, Micaela, Marguerite (Faust), Elsa, and Sieglinde. She appeared as Sophie in the Hofoper’s first production of Der Rosenkavalier. She left the ensemble in 1912 and continued her career as a concert singer. She was much sought after for performance of Mahler’s music, having sung in the world premiere of his 8th Symphony. She recorded for G&T, Pathé, and Polydor.
Berta FÖRSTER-LAUTERER [s] (11 January 1869 – 1936) made her debut in Prague in 1888. Two years later she married the composer Josef Bohuslav Förster. She sang in the world premiere of Dvorák’s Jakobin as well as other local premieres. She sang in Hamburg between 1893-1901 and made her Hofoper debut in 1901. There she sang a wide range of roles including Carmen, Santuzza, Frau Fluth, Nedda, Eva, and Sieglinde. She left the Hofoper in 1913 and retired from the stage the following year. She made titles for G&T as well as recordings for Odeon and Jumbo.
Moritz FRAUSCHER [bs] (14 August 1859 – 1 February 1916) studied with Johannes Ress in Vienna and made his debut in 1889 in Nuremberg. In 1892 he sang Pogner at Bayreuth and was on the roster of several houses before joining Vienna in 1899. He remained for four seasons singing the serious bass repertory with occasional bass-baritone parts such as Escamillo and Leporello. He sang a total of nearly 60 roles in over 450 performances. While in Vienna Frauscher made a few rare sides for Zonophone.
Marie GUTHEIL-SCHODER [s] (16 February 1874 – 4 October 1935) sang in a concert when she was only 12. She made her stage debut in Weimar in 1891 and made various guest appearances before coming to Vienna in 1900. Gustav Mahler called her a “musical genius” but the Viennese, at first, were not convinced. Nevertheless, she proved her worth, singing in many local and world premieres. A superb actress, she had a very wide repertoire, being one of the first to sing all three soprano roles in Tales of Hoffmann as well as being particularly popular as Carmen and Nedda. She was also one of the earliest Elektras. Gutheil-Schoder also sang much new music; she created the soprano part in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet at its scandalous premiere in 1908 and later his Erwartung in 1924. She retired from singing in 1927 but had further successes as a producer. She made only eight rare sides for G&T in 1902.
Alexander HAYDTER [bs-ba] (13 October 1872 – 13 February 1919) studied with Joseph Gänsbacher and made his debut in Zurich in 1896. 1898-1905 saw him in Prague where he sang in the premiere of D’Albert’s Tiefland. He then came to Vienna, where he remained until his death. Among his most successful roles were Beckmesser, Telramund, and Alberich. He was married to Hermine Kittel. Haydter recorded for G&T, Columbia, Favorite, Lyrophon, and Odeon.
Wilhelm HESCH (Vilém Hes) [bs] (3 July 1860 – 4 January 1908] studied in Prague and made his debut in 1880 in Brno, where Slezak, Jeritza, Pohlner, and Demuth all began their careers. Arriving at the Hofoper in 1896 via Prague and Hamburg, he performed 60 roles spanning the entire repertory from Mozart to Wagner, with 14 local premieres including Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and Dalibor; Tchaikovsky’s Evgenij Onegin and Iolanta; Saint-Saëns’s ËSamson et Dalila; and Siegfried Wagner’s Der Bärenhäuter. Hesch was a real “black” bass of great size, wide range, and flexibility, with good diction. He was also a fine actor, but not really successful in declamatory parts like those of Wagner, though he sang them often enough. Incidently, his second wife was the daughter of his tenor-colleague Fritz Schrödter who is also included in this edition. Hesch recorded for Berliner, G&T, Odeon, Columbia, and Beka.
Laura HILGERMANN [con/s] (13 October 1867 – 9 February 1937) debuted in Prague in 1885 as Azucena. From 1890 to 1900 she was engaged in Budapest and then came to Vienna where she remained a popular member of the Hofoper ensemble until 1920. Gifted with a wide vocal range, she sang both mezzo and soprano roles, including many new works. Later in life she became a much-sought-after teacher in Budapest under the name Hilgermann-Radó; her pupils included Maria Németh and Gitta Alpar. Her rare discs were made for G&T and Gramophone, Favorite, Lyrophon, Odeon, Pathé, Polyphon, and Zonophone.
Hermine KITTEL [con] (2 December 1879 – 7 April 1948) began her career as an actress in Graz before her voice was discovered. After studying with Amalie Materna she sang in Graz from 1899 until she was called to the Hofoper in 1901. She remained in the ensemble until 1931, reappearing as a guest in 1936. Under Mahler’s direction she sang over 50 roles, many of them minor but also more important ones such as Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus and Waltraute in Götterdämmerung. She was also successful as a concert singer, especially in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. She recorded mainly for G&T and Gramophone, produced some sides for Odeon and Pathé, and made an early unpublished electric recording for HMV.
Berta KIURINA [s] (18 February 1882 – 3 May 1933) was still studying at the Vienna Conservatory when she made her debut in Linz in 1904. Her first two roles at the Hofoper—as a guest—were in the local premieres of Blech’s Das war ich and Pfitzner’s Die Rose vom Liebesgarten in 1905. She remained with the ensemble until 1921 and was a guest until 1927. Despite a respectable career, Kiurina never really fulfilled her early promise. Her first husband was a colleague, tenor Hubert Leuer, who is also included in this edition. They recorded several duets for Pathé. She also appeared on Odeon, Parlophon, Polydor, Polyphon, Ultraphon, and Zonophone.
Selma KURZ [s] (15 October 1874 – 10 May 1933) began her career in Frankfurt as a mezzo. She debuted as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and soon portrayed Carmen. She arrived in Vienna in 1899 as a mezzo with Mignon as her first role; she was an immediate success. Mahler was the first to encourage her coloratura soprano range and two years later she triumphed as The Queen of the Night. Nevertheless, she continued singing heavier roles like Elisabeth or Lotte in Werther, and was very popular as Mimì and Cio-Cio-San.Ì Later Richard Strauss rewrote the role Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos especially for her. Despite many international appearances, Kurz always returned to Vienna, where she remained until she retired in 1927, singing a total of 34 roles. Apart from eight discs for Zonophone and four titles for Edison, she recorded exclusively for the various incarnations of the Gramophone Company, from two Berliners in 1900 to early electrics for HMV in 1926. She was also the first Viennese singer to be accorded “red label” status by G&T.
Hubert LEUER [t] (12 October 1880 – 8 March 1969) was discovered by Gustav Mahler, who engaged him in 1904. His first role was David in Die Meistersinger, which he sang 25 times during the Mahler era. Apart from Froh in Das Rheingold, the remainder of his roles during this period were minor ones. Later he gained prominence in heavy roles from Otello to Siegfried and Tristan. He remained with the Hofoper ensemble until 1920, appearing as a guest until 1932. His only known records are for Pathé.
Georg MAIKL [t] (4 April 1872 – 22 August 1951) began his career as a yodeler, as was his father. His voice was discovered by the famous impresario Bernhard Pollini, who wished to engage him for Hamburg. Pollini died before making such arrangements, however, and Maikl made his debut in Mannheim as Tamino. He came to Vienna in 1904 and remained there until 1941, singing some 100 roles in over 2000 performances. Under Mahler he sang primarily lyric parts, the most frequent being Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana and Jacquino in Fidelio, although just before Mahler left Vienna he graduated to Florestan. Among his many local premieres, Maikl portrayed Pinkerton in Vienna’s first Madama Butterfly. Maikl recorded for Columbia, Favorite, Gramophone, Lyrophon, Odeon, and Pathé. He can also be heard live in the recordings made in the State Opera in the 1930s.
Richard MAYR [bs] (18 November 1877 – 1 December 1935) was one of the great singing actors of his age. His first engagement was at the Hofoper in 1902 as Silva in Ernani and he remained with the ensemble until his death. He was the first Viennese Gurnemanz and Baron Ochs. Richard Strauss wrote the latter role with him in mind, but contractual difficulties prevented him from appearing in the world premiere. He sang at all the great European houses and appeared at the Metropolitan Opera (1927-1930.) He recorded for G&T, HMV, Polydor, Odeon, Columbia, and Christschall and can be heard on the State Opera live recordings.
Hans MELMS [ba] (17 June 1869 – 28 August 1941) sang at various minor houses before he came to the Hofoper in October 1902, singing 18 of the heavier baritone roles. Mahler held him in high regard and praised him for his ability to step in at a moment’s notice to replace an ailing colleague. Early in 1904 he moved on, but returned to Vienna to sing at the Volksoper from 1907 to 1914. He recorded for Odeon, Zonophone, Edison, and Pathé.
Margarethe (Rita) MICHALEK [s] (5 May 1875 – 1944) made her debut at the Hofoper as Siebel in 1897, fresh from the Vienna Conservatory. Her huge repertoire ranged from soubrette and coloratura roles such as Papagena and Marie in Donizetti’s La fille du regiment to lighter mezzo parts like Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette. She remained at the Hofoper until 1910. Mahler prized her highly, and she sang in the world premiere of his 2nd Symphony as well as the Vienna premiere of his 4th Symphony. Michalek made a few, extremely rare discs for G&T.
Anton MOSER [ba] (13 August 1872 – 29 November 1909) made his debut in Heidelberg and came to Vienna via Aachen and Bremen, making his debut as Silvio in 1903. He soon became a favorite and sang 55 roles, the most frequent being Schaunard in La Bohème (house premiere), Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana, Laertes in Mignon, and both Tonio and Silvio in Pagliacci. He was also admired in Mozart, singing Masetto in the first Salzburg Mozart festival in 1906. Additionally, he portrayed the two Wagner Alberichs, Verdi’s Giorgio Germont, and both Falke and Frank in Die Fledermaus. He sang Frédéric in the local premiere of Lakmé and the High Priest in Samson et Dalila. Moser recorded for Columbia, Favorite, Odeon, and Pathé. His records of Schubert songs for Odeon are surprisingly modern in concept.
Franz NAVAL [t] (20 October 1865 – 9 August 1939, real name Pogacnik) studied in Vienna with Joseph Gänsbacher and made his debut in 1888 in Frankfurt. He went to Berlin in1895, singing Rodolfo in the local premiere of Puccini’s La Bohème in 1897. He was engaged for the Hofoper the next year, remaining until early 1902. He sang light to lyric roles, ranging from Tonio in La fille du régiment to Don José and Hoffmann. He sang Florestan twice, but there was no lack of more suitable tenors in the ensemble. He recorded for Berliner, G&T, and Odeon, including the first complete recording of the Schubert cycle, Die schöne Müllerin.
Franz PACAL [t] (24 December 1865 – 19 October 1938) began his career as a violinist, playing at the Prague National Theatre. He then took up vocal studies with the famous tenor, Gustav Walter. He joined the Hofoper in 1897. His 690 performances of 65 roles were almost exclusively in secondary parts, with only very occasional attempts at major ones such as Canio, Manrico, and Turiddu, which he performed some 46 times while in Vienna. He remained at the Hofoper until August 1905 and returned to Prague, where he continued his career. He made discs for Berliner, G&T, Favorite, Lyrophon, Odeon, and Zonophone.
Josie PETRU [con] (19 March 1876 – 22 November 1907) arrived in Vienna in 1902 after four successful years in Prague. She sang all the deep alto roles like Erda and Ulrica but was also a noted Amneris and Orlofsky. After 1904, her appearances were mostly in character roles, such as The Old Countess in Pikovaya Dama and Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro. Tragically, a most promising career was cut short by illness and death at the early age of 31. Her rare records appeared on Favorite, Odeon, and Pathé.
Jenny POHLNER [s] (22 December 1868 – 22 December 1952) was another Hofoper artist who began her career in Brno, her native city. After stage appearances as a child, she began her adult career singing primarily operetta and soubrette roles. In 1893 she joined the Viennese Theater an der Wien as an operetta singer. Four years later she transferred to the Hofoper where she sang over 1500 performances until she retired in 1918. For a time she was the standard Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, but most of her roles were minor. In fact, Mahler tended to downgrade her, e.g. from Micaela to Frasquita in Carmen and Marie to Esmeralda in The Bartered Bride. She recorded in ensembles for Odeon and Pathé.
Arthur PREUSS [t] (23 February 1878 – 20 August 1944) made his stage debut at the Hofoper on 15 February 1899. During the Mahler period, he sang over 100 performances each season and participated in ten premieres, most notably Vienna’s first Madama Butterfly. Most of his roughly 60 roles were minor, though he sang David in Die Meistersinger some 20 times. After leaving the Hofoper in 1915, Preuss joined the Vienna Volksoper. He made records for G&T and Gramophone.
Carl REICH [bs] (1877 - ?) was one of the many successful pupils of Joseph Gänsbacher. He began his career in Olmütz in 1901, moving on to Frankfurt and then Vienna in 1905, where he remained until 1911. There he sang serious roles like Heinrich in Lohengrin and Fafner in Siegfried, but also Mozart’s Figaro and Masetto. Virtually nothing is known about his later life and career. He recorded for G&T and Pathé.
Frances SAVILLE [s] (6 January 1865 – 8 November 1935) was born Fanny Martina Simonsen in San Francisco. After vocal training with her mother, she toured with her parents’ company in Australia, and on the advice of Sir Charles Santley, journeyed to Paris for further study with Mathilde Marchesi. She debuted in Brussels in 1892 as Juliette, and then was signed for the Opèra Comique, Metropolitan Opera, and Covent Garden. After hearing her Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Theater an der Wien, Mahler engaged her for the Hofoper, where she debuted on 21 November 1897 as Juliette. She soon became a great favorite, singing both coloratura and lyric roles, including Lucia, Gilda, Marguerite in Les Huguenots and Faust, Fiordiligi, Manon, Mathilde, and Violetta. She and Mahler were frequently at odds, however, and she departed the Hofoper at the beginning of 1903. After guest appearances in Warsaw and Prague, she retired from the operatic stage. Saville made cylinders for Bettini (one survives) and 12 rare published sides for G&T in 1902.
Erik SCHMEDES [t] (27 August 1868 – 23 March 1931) began his career, like many robust tenors, as a baritone. Born into a Danish family of musicians, he studied in Berlin and Paris and made his debut in 1891 in Wiesbaden. After further study in Vienna he came to Dresden where his tenor range was discovered. Mahler himself managed to secure him for the Hofoper and he made his debut there as young Siegfried in 1898—his first tenor role! He spent the rest of his career there performing mostly Wagner roles but also others including Canio, Florestan, and Pollione in Norma, finally retiring in 1924. In all, he sang some 1130 performances of 42 roles. Mahler said, “He is the most musical singer that we now have,” although he was a finer actor than singer, even appearing in Paul Czinner’s important 1919 silent film Inferno. He recorded for G&T, Gramophone, Pathé, Favorite, and Lyrophon.
Fritz SCHRÖDTER [t] (15 March 1855 – 16 January 1924) began as an operetta tenor before retraining and joining the Budapest ensemble. He was heard at Covent Garden and joined the Hofoper in 1886. Most of his roles were buffo parts and he had for years a virtual monopoly on Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus (80 performances during the Mahler period) but also sang Don Ottavio, Lenski, David, Manrico, and Arnold in Guillaume Tell. He sang in many local and world premieres, including Mahler’s Das klagende Lied and the Schubert operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus. Schrödter was the father-in-law of Wilhelm Hesch. His few records appeared on G&T and Gramophone.
Betty SCHUBERT [s] (1876? – 8 May 1930) studied piano with Mahler before training her voice and making her debut in 1900. Mahler brought her to Vienna in September 1902, though he made little use of her talents. She made her debut eight months after her arrival and sang only 47 performances of seven roles--Aida, Queen of Sheba (Goldmark), Rachel, Santuzza, Senta, Valentine, and a Valkyrie--before she moved on to a number of German houses in mid-1905. She made many guest appearances, mainly in Wagner roles, returning to the Hofoper in 1908-1909 and La Scala. She recorded three duet sides for Odeon in 1904 and a few solo recordings for Zonophone.
Sophie SEDLMAIR [s] (25 January 1857 – 14 October 1939) began her career in operetta, making her debut in 1878 in Leipzig and singing for a while at New York’s Thalia Theatre. After singing at various opera houses, she retrained and arrived at the Hofoper in 1897. Her repertoire included Mozart’s Pamina and Countess, Verdi’s Aida, and all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes. She remained at the Hofoper until 1907. After a successful international career she taught in Hanover. She recorded for G&T and Janus.
Charlotte von SEEBEÖK [s] (8 October 1886 – 24 July 1952) began her career singing Norma at the Hofoper on 29 September 1905. During her two years with the ensemble, her other roles were Mozart’s Constanze, Sulamith in Goldmark’s Queen of Sheba, Leonora in Il Trovatore, and the Valkyrie Gerhilde. She also sang at various German theaters but her main home was the Budapest Opera where she remained until 1929, singing the great dramatic roles including all three Brünnhildes. She also sang in the world premiere of Kodály’s ÁHáry JánosÁ. Her rare early records for Pathé and Odeon show an unusually flexible voice of great size and quality. Reports suggest that she made early electric records for Parlophon in Hungary.
Johannes SEMBACH [t] (9 March 1881 – 20 June 1944) began his career in operetta as a baritone under his real name of Johannes Semfke. He furthered his studies with other teachers, including Jean de Reszke, which enabled him to join the Hofoper in 1904. Sembach’s roles at the Hofoper were mainly small, but also included Don Ottavio, Erik, and Turiddu. In 1907 he performed in Dresden, he appeared at Covent Garden in 1914, and he was a Wagner singer at the Metropolitan Opera for five seasons between 1917 and 1922, in a total of 14 roles. He recorded operetta excerpts as a baritone for early German cylinder companies and then for Berliner and G&T using his original name, Johannes Semfke. Under the pseudonym of Siegfried Steiner, he recorded for Zonophone, and then appeared on the Favorite, Lyrophon, HMV, Columbia, Vox and Schallplatten Volksverband/Clangor labels as Johannes Sembach.
Leo SLEZAK [t] (18 August 1873 – 1 June 1946) was one of the greatest singer-personalities of the period with a rumbustious sense of humor. He made his debut in Brno then went to Berlin before joining the Hofoper ensemble in 1901. Except for a hiatus between 1912 –1917, Slezak remained on the Hofoper roster until 1926. A huge man, he assumed a wide range of important roles: Belmonte, Des Grieux, Tannhäuser, Rodolfo, and Otello. He was enormously successful at the Metropolitan Opera and throughout Europe. He bade farewell to the operatic stage at the age of 60 with a performance of Pagliacci at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1933. Slezak also made a name for himself with his humorous autobiographies and as a comic-film star. He made many records, the earliest for Berliner in 1901, followed by G&T, Zonophone, and Odeon. He also recorded for Gramophone, Anker, Columbia, Edison, Favorite, Pathé, Parlophon, and Polydor, including many electric discs for the last label.
Julius SPIELMANN [t] (21 July 1866 – 12 June 1920) began his career as a chorister before his voice was trained. Despite a short period in Hamburg, where his David and Loge were particularly admired, he was more successful in operetta, mainly in Vienna. He spent only seven months of the 1898-1899 season at the Hofoper, singing Canio, Turridu, Mime in Siegfried, and four smaller roles. After a engagement in St. Petersburg, he returned to his real métier, the operetta. He recorded for G&T, Gramophone, and Favorite.
Gerhard STEHMANN [ba] (8 May 1866 – 5 July 1926) studied with Lilli Lehmann and made his debut in 1889. He was on the Metropolitan’s roster in the 1895-1896 season and sang at various other houses before being engaged at the Hofoper for the 1899-1900 season. He was one of the most hard-working ensemble members, singing some 1400 performances of over 100 roles during his eight years under Mahler. He must have set a record in March 1906 by appearing on stage 23 times, ten en suite. He remained at the Hofoper until his death. He recorded for Zonophone, G&T, and Gramophone, mainly in ensemble excerpts.
Ernest VAN DYCK [t] (2 April 1861 – 31 August 1923) made his debut in 1884 in Antwerp and came to Bayreuth as Parsifal in 1888. Later that year he arrived at the Hofoper. He created Werther in Massenet’s opera and sang the chief tenor roles in the local premieres of Manon, Pagliacci, and Keinzl’s Der Evangelimann. In addition to these roles, he sang Lohengrin, Faust, Roméo in Gounod’s work, Siegmund, and Loge under Mahler. Another of the great singer personalities of his age, van Dyck’s international career lasted until 1910, including performances at the Metropolitan Opera during the 1898-1902 seasons singing mainly Wagner roles. His extremely rare recordings for Pathé, Fonotipia, and Homophone do him little justice.
Edyth WALKER [con/s] (27 March 1867 – 19 Febuary 1950) was born in Hopewell, New York. She went to Europe and studied with Aglaja Orgeni, who arranged her debut at the Berlin Court Opera as Fidès in Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète in 1894. She joined the Vienna Hofoper the following year and achieved immediate popular acclaim. There she created the role of Magdalena in Kienzl’s Der Evangelimann. She fell foul of Mahler at once, although she did sing in the first performance of Das klagende Lied in 1901. Mahler made life so unpleasant for Walker that she broke her contract in 1903. She returned to the U.S., singing three seasons at the Metropolitan. In 1906 she went to Germany continuing to sing mezzo roles, with the exception of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. She joined the Hamburg opera in 1907, and there she took on the whole range of dramatic soprano parts, one of her most successful being Elektra, which she created for Hamburg, Bremen, and London. After leaving Hamburg in 1912, she sang guest appearances until 1918, and subsequently taught in France and America. Apart from tests for Edison in 1911, she recorded exclusively for Berliner/Gramophone from 1901 to 1910.
Friedrich WEIDEMANN [ba] (1 January 1871 – 30 January 1919) sang in various houses from 1896 until Mahler engaged him for Vienna in 1903, where he remained till his death. He was the natural complement to Leopold Demuth, lacking the latter’s superb instrument but being the more committed actor. Their roles were more or less the same, with Weidemann tending more to the heavier Wagner parts and Demuth to the Verdi ones. Apart from creating many roles like Amfortas and Golaud for Vienna, he sang the world premieres of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Das Lied von der Erde in the original baritone version. He recorded for G&T and Gramophone, Odeon, and Pathé.
Lucie WEIDT [s] (1876 – 31 July 1940) studied with Rosa Papier and made her debut in 1900 in Leipzig before joining the Hofoper in 1902. There she sang all the heavy Wagner roles along with some lighter ones such as Agathe in Der Freischütz, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Desdemona in Otello, and Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana. Her Vienna premieres included: Lisa in Pikovaya Dama, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, and Kundry in
Parsifal, before singing the Nurse in the world premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Guest appearances took her to almost all of the world’s major houses, including a season at the Metropolitan, Covent Garden, and the Colón. She made discs for G&T, Gramophone, and Edison.
Hermann WINKELMANN [t] (8 March 1849 – 18 January 1912) made his debut in 1875 as Manrico and went to Hamburg three years later. He created Parsifal at Bayreuth on 26 July 1882 and joined the Vienna Hofoper the following year. There he sang the local premieres of ÓDalibor, Otello, and Tristan und Isolde and remained at the house singing all the Wagner roles until May 1906. During the Mahler era, he sang 440 performances of 22 roles, the most frequent being Tannhäuser, which he sang 77 times. He made discs for Berliner, G&T, and Favorite.
Wilhelm WISSIAK [bs] (1879 – 7 January 1960) sang in Eberfeld and Berlin before coming to Vienna in 1905. His major Hofoper roles included Hunding, Fafner in Siegfried, and Osmin. He left in 1908 for Strassburg and then moved to Hanover in 1914, where he was very popular and remained until 1944. He made only occasional guest appearances elsewhere. He recorded for Odeon.
©Christopher Norton-Welsh, 2003
***** Producer’s Note: “Special Guest Appearance” *****
Lilli LEHMANN [s] (24 November 1848 – 17 May 1929) studied with her mother, the singer Marie Loewe, and made her debut in Prague in 1865 in Die Zauberflöte as the First Boy. Her formidable star began its ascent with her engagement in Berlin at the Court Opera where she sang in 1869 and 1870-1885. She appeared in the first Ring performances at Bayreuth in 1876 as Woglinde, Helmwiege, and the Forest Bird. London first saw her at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1880 and 1882, and then at Covent Garden in 1884 and 1899. She appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera from 1885-1892 and 1898-1899. In addition, she made many guest appearances in Paris, Vienna, and Salzburg, where she was one of the founders of the Mozart Festival. Her repertoire included a staggering 170 roles, which ran the gamut from Lucia, Philine, Violetta, and Norma to Fidelio, the three Brünnhildes, and Isolde. Her much sought-after records were made for Odeon in 1905 and 1907. In her autobiography, Lehmann wrote that Mahler first entered her artistic life shortly after becoming director of the Hungarian National Opera in Budapest. “He informed me by letter that my terms went beyond his budget, but that he considered it absolutely necessary to engage me so as to give his associates an artistic model after which they should strive.” A great mutual respect between the two soon developed into a warm and lasting friendship, leading to Mahler’s engaging her for guest appearances in Vienna during nearly every season from 1898 until 1907. It was a performance of Tristan und Isolde conducted by Mahler during the latter year that became the occasion of Lehmann’s final appearance as Isolde. She was in the Director’s box conversing with Mahler’s wife and sister during the interval following the second act when word was received that Anna von Mildenburg had become hoarse and couldn’t continue. Mme. Lehmann offered to sing the final act in place of her ailing colleague, was rushed backstage, and after changing into her costume and quickly going over the mis-en-scène with Mahler and Schmedes, the evening’s performance was completed. We are pleased to offer, as a valedictory to this celebration of Mahler’s Vienna Court Opera directorship, a “bonus” track: Lilli Lehmann’s unpublished Odeon recording of the “Liebestod” which exists in the form of a unique test pressing at the Historical Sound Recordings, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.
Mahlers Decade in Vienna
Singers of the Court Opera 1897-1907
Marston is proud to present a Centenary Tribute to the amazing ten-year directorship of Gustav Mahler in Vienna. Rare and in some cases unique early recordings of opera and lieder highlight the vocal artistry of more than fifty Court Opera stars, including Irene Abendroth, Lola Beeth, Theodor Bertram, Hermine Bosetti, Mme. Charles Cahier, Leopold Demuth, Ottilie Fellwock, Wilhelm Hesch, Berta Kiurina, Selma Kurz, Richard Mayr, Frances Saville, Erik Schmedes, Leo Slezak, Johannes Sembach, and Edyth Walker. These fascinating documents in sound, many available here in re-issue for the first time, will also showcase important Court Opera premiers and revivals. This comprehensive 3 CD set from Marston also features an essay on Mahler and his work at the Court Opera by renowned scholar Stephen E. Hefling and informative thumbnail biographies of each artist represented.