Lotte (Charlotte) LEHMANN was born in Perleberg, northwest of Germany’s Imperial Capital Berlin, on February 27, 1888. She was baptized in the German Evangelical Church and was the younger of the two children of Marie Lehmann neé Schuster, and Karl Lehmann, an administrative secretary in Perleberg.
Lotte LEHMANN studied voice in Berlin and debuted in Mozart’s Magic Flute at the Hamburg City Theater. But in the course of her long career as a soprano she mainly performed in operatic roles by Puccini, Beethoven, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.
The 26 year old soprano was still employed at the Hamburg theater in October 1914 – three months after the outbreak of the First World War – when she made a guest appearance at the Vienna Court Opera: as »Evchen« in Richard Wagner’s Meistersinger under the musical direction of Franz Schalk.
A review signed »E. B.« (Elsa Bienenfeld) appeared in the Neue Wiener Journal:
… Evchen was a lovely Fraulein Lotte Lehmann from the Hamburg City Theater, gifted with a lovely, pleasant voice and musical sense.
A singer who is new to the Vienna Opera House; but you will be happy to meet her more often …
E. B., Neues Wiener Journal, October 31, 1914, p. 9
Lotte LEHMANN was – contrary to other accounts – only signed up for the Vienna Court Opera at the beginning of the third year of the war. Emperor Franz Joseph was still alive then. To celebrate his 86th birthday, the Court Opera opened its season with the imperial anthem and the romantic opera Der Freischütz under concertmaster Leopold Reichwein – a performance that for some reason does not appear in the annals of the Vienna Court and State Opera.
It is also strange that only one daily newspaper, one with a pronounced German national focus, reported on the opening performance and thus on the debut of the 28-year-old member of the Court Opera ensemble:
… The first evening introduced a new member of the house: Miss Lotte Lehmann as Agathe. That was a complete success! …
Deutsches Volksblatt, Vienna, August 19, 1916, p. 7
Success and recognition were quickly granted to her at the Vienna Court Opera, even though she was »a Prussian«. In the world premiere of the revised opera Ariadne auf Naxos, which took place on October 4, 1916 in the presence of the composer Richard Strauss, Lotte LEHMANN shone in the transvestite role of »the Composer«. The main role, however, was sung by Maria Jeritza, who was celebrated as »Prima donna assoluta«.
One Vienna critic considered the »hype« about Maria Jeritza as prima donna to be a problem even in the 1920s:
The Frau Jeritza prima donna hype also damages the opera insofar as it gives the impression that it is not worth going to the opera if Jeritza is not singing.
Die Stunde, September 25, 1923, p. 5
When the opera Ariadne auf Naxos was put on the program at the Salzburg Festival in 1926, Maria Jeritza (who was vacationing that summer at nearby Lake Attersee) promised to make »a one-off performance«. By this point, however, she had already lost her leading position as a prima donna, as can be seen in the press:
Lotte Lehmann, the celebrated prima donna of the Vienna State Opera, has been awarded the title of Kammersängerin.
Salzburger Chronik, February 19, 1926, p. 6
The composer Richard Strauss pulled the strings behind the scenes: his favorite for the musical direction of his opera Ariadne auf Naxos in the festival summer of 1926 was Clemens Krauss, opera director in Frankfurt am Main. Its producer was Lothar WALLERSTEIN.
Both were guest artists at the Vienna State Opera when they ingeniously restaged the opera Ariadne auf Naxos with the Viennese set designer Oskar Strnad in the Salzburg City Theater (now called the Landestheater [State Theater]) – a production that was highly praised as the »Salzburg Ariadne«. On August 18, 1926 Lotte LEHMANN made her Salzburg Festival prima donna debut as Ariadne:
… As difficult and exhausting as the role of Ariadne may be, a part only interrupted by a few intermezzo, [Lotte Lehmann’s voice was] like a golden thread running through the entire length of this one act, it was sung just as classically.
With grateful devotion, the audience listened to the magic and the glimmer of this impressive voice, which only unfolded at the end in unclouded jubilation.
Salzburger Chronik, August 19, 1926, p. 5
It’s not clear why there was no »Salzburg Ariadne« in the next summer festival, but the original scenery developed for it by Oskar Strnad was still used at the Vienna State Opera.
Before her festival debut, Lotte LEHMANN had married her long-time lover Otto Krause »private« at the Vienna City Hall: it was a civil marriage between partners who belonged to different religions. She was a Protestant and Otto was a divorced Catholic. Because she was now married to an Austrian man Lotte LEHMANN automatically became an Austrian citizen.
Otto Krause had four children from his first marriage with a Jewish woman (named Ludwig, Manon, Otto and Peter), all of whom were still underage when Lotte married him. Lotte LEHMANN also had to look after her parents, who lived in Hinterbrühl, a village just a few miles south of Vienna.
In 1927, at the end of the Beethoven centenary celebration in Vienna, Lotte LEHMANN made her debut as »Leonore« in the opera Fidelio as newly staged by Lothar WALLERSTEIN at the State Opera – a production praised as the »apotheosis of freedom, love and humanity«.
The musicologist Dr. Elsa Bienenfeld (signing as »E. B.«) participated in the Vienna Beethoven Centennial and published a profound review of the new production:
… By far the better part of the performance is due to the orchestra, the singers and the conductor [Schalk]. Lotte Lehmann’s Leonore stands out. She structured the part musically and vocally in a masterful manner. Even in the quartet, the warm, kind, mild female voice sings into the heart of every listener. The great aria becomes a drama in itself: a painting of the soul in strong and fine tone colors.
The gentle nature of this voice and this singer had to force itself to make the heroic gesture with the confidence of victory in the radiant E major; but in the expression of loving kindness, in the sensitive melody its inexpressible magic of truth comes through.
The cry “Kill his wife first” is powerful and the wonderful melody in the finale, “Oh, what a moment!” which is often completely left out by more highly dramatic singers, is filled with incomparable beauty. It should not be underestimated that Lotte Lehmann’s Leonore walks through the play young and slim. An excellent casting idea …
E. B., Neues Wiener Journal, April 2, 1927, p. 10f.
On August 13, 1927 an opera was performed for the first time in the Salzburg Festival Theater — which the architect Clemens Holzmeister transformed into an opera stage and furnished with sets: the Viennese production of Fidelio by Lothar WALLERSTEIN, with Lotte LEHMANN as »Leonore«. It was a successful experiment if you believe Elsa Bienenfeld’s criticism:
… Already after the first bars of the E major overture, which resounded in the dress rehearsal under the direction of Schalk, one listened in surprise. It was a wonderful sound, full, saturated, vibrating. The sound fills the room, spreads comfortably, does not rebound, does not echo; the air seems to vibrate like in the resonance box of a noble violin. …
You can hear Lotte Lehmann singing the famous Leonore aria with admiration.
Neues Wiener Journal, August 16, 1927, p. 3
But the reputation of the Festival Theater as an opera stage was doubted for a good decade: »neither festival nor stage«. In any case, a look at the annals of the festival is enough to see that Beethoven’s »Leonore« belonged almost exclusively to Lotte LEHMANN until after the summer festival of 1937.
On August 12, 1929, Clemens Krauss the new director of the Vienna State Opera stood at the podium of the Festival Theater: He conducted the Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal: a musical comedy that Lothar WALLERSTEIN re-staged for Salzburg and that a music critic called the »Austrian National Opera«.
Lotte LEHMANN henceforth performed in the Rosenkavalier as »The Marschallin«. The Vienna music critic Elsa Bienenfeld was again fascinated by her female voice:
… The Salzburg performance is given glamor by Lotte Lehmann’s Field Marshal and Richard Mayr’s Ochs von Lerchenau with the ravishing magic of grace and kindness. Coached by Dr. Wallerstein, Lotte Lehmann enriched her performance with fine characterization. The way she portrays the sadness of the still beautiful and seductive woman, who feels the first inkling of age, time and transience, painfully and at the same time surrendering to fate with cheerful equanimity, is of such moving majesty and goodness that no eye remains dry.
The sound of this soulfully moving woman’s voice is wonderful, in which every emotion is reflected as in a clear spring …
Neues Wiener Journal, August 14, 1929, p. 3f.
The »Marschallin« role, like that of »Leonore« continued to be nearly exclusively Lotte LEHMANN’s until after the Summer Festival of 1937.
Another opera by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, in which Lotte LEHMANN participated, is listed in the annals of the Salzburg Festival: Die Frau ohne Schatten [The Woman With No Shadow]. It’s a fairytale opera laden with symbols and therefore difficult to understand.
Die Frau ohne Schatten was newly staged in February 1931 at the Vienna State Opera by Lothar WALLERSTEIN and performed for the first time in the summer of 1932. Lotte LEHMANN sang the »Dyer’s wife« role twice:
… But the most unforgettable thing about this wonderful performance is Lotte Lehmann as the dyer Barak’s wife, who not only compels admiration through the enchantingly melodious sound of her voice and the perfect artistry of her singing, but above all through her deeply internalized conception. Incidentally, she effortlessly maintains the hugely demanding part to the end.
Salzburger Volksblatt, August 20, 1932, p. 7
Lotte LEHMANN was heard for the last time as »Dyer’s wife« at the Vienna State Opera on October 17, 1932, before she set off on her third tour of America. As in previous years, she traveled to New York accompanied by her husband Otto Krause.
In November 1932 she gave her first concert at Carnegie Hall: »for the benefit of the Educational Department of the NY Women’s Trade Union League (Mrs. Roosevelt, made an appeal for the benefit of Women Victims of Depression)« [as cited in the Lotte Lehmann League’s website chronology].
Lotte LEHMANN went on another American tour the next winter. On January 11, 1934, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. On February 11th she gave her first concert with Arturo TOSCANINI in the Radio City Music Hall. On March 19th he attended her farewell concert in New York.
Arturo TOSCANINI, who refused to take part in the Bayreuth Festival in 1933, chose Lotte LEHMANN as his favorite singer on her fourth American tour.
A side note is that Hermann Göring’s plan in the spring of 1934 to bring the internationally celebrated prima donna Lotte LEHMANN to Berlin and tie her to Nazi Germany failed. She was soon considered unacceptable there after she appeared as an interpreter of songs by Richard Wagner in a concert by TOSCANINI in the summer of 1934 — one that Hermann Wittgenstein reported on enthusiastically in the Neues Wiener Journal:
Richard Wagner concert by the Philharmonic under Toscanini …
Lotte Lehmann first sang the Hall aria from Tannhäuser and then three of the most beautiful Wesendonck songs with a warmth and intimacy which, filled with personality and the enchantingly rich and beguiling sound of a voice pulsing with spirit and heart, prepared a shocking pleasure. Interesting is the impulsive, hardly ever experienced haste with which Toscanini speeds up the introduction to the great aria, breathtaking for performers and listeners, and imposes this overexcited, jubilant character onto the piece to the end.
Only an outstanding artist like Lehmann and the incredibly virtuoso orchestra of the Vienna Philharmonic could successfully withstand such pressure …
Neues Wiener Journal, August 28, 1934, p. 10
On October 10th, the audience in the large Musikverein Hall also had the opportunity to experience TOSCANINI’s concert with Lotte LEHMANN. Before she set off on her fifth American tour, she gave her farewell evening as in previous years, but now in the presence of TOSCANINI.
Lotte LEHMANN expressed no regrets when she found out on her tour that the Viennese opera director Clemens Krauss had left Vienna for the Nazi capital Berlin. As early as February 1935 one could read in the Vienna press that TOSCANINI would conduct Fidelio in the next summer festival instead of Clemens Krauss.
On August 7th TOSCANINI’s Fidelio premiered in the Festival House with Lotte LEHMANN performing as »Leonore«:
Toscanini’s ‘Fidelio’ miracle. The fire of Toscanini has kindled everyone, including the senior game director Dr. Wallerstein. Finally, since Franz Schalk’s death, a true Fidelio has returned. Leonore: Mrs. Lotte Lehmann. A gorgeous performance, in tone, word and gesture full of the noblest intimacy …
Otto Kunz, Salzburger Volksblatt, August 8, 1935, p. 6f.
Lotte LEHMANN’s sixth tour in the USA lasted five and a half months. She was a rare guest at the Vienna State Opera. In the summer of 1936 she sang her »Leonore« again and for the first time under TOSCANINI’s baton the role of »Eva« in the Meistersinger von Nürnberg:
… What Wagner said of one of his favorite singers applies to Lotte Lehmann. When it occurs, you don’t ask: What is it like? You say to yourself: That’s how it is! An Eva who takes hold through beauty and inwardness, moves to tears and leads the quintet with master …
Josef Reitler, Neue Freie Presse, August 9, 1936, pp. 1-3
Lotte LEHMANN’s seventh tour in America and Australia lasted nine months. At the end of June 1937 she returned to Europe to appear punctually in Salzburg for rehearsals under TOSCANINI’s baton.
His Fidelio premiered on July 24th: onlookers standing in line along the driveway to the Festival House, counted 330 limousines, with lots of glamor and celebrities led by Sara D. Roosevelt, the mother of the President of the USA, and the newly married Duke of Windsor and his wife (the former King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson).
Arturo TOSCANINI remained unimpressed:
Toscanini appears. A storm of enthusiasm rises. The maestro fends off him and lifts the baton. ‘Fidelio’ begins.
… And then Leonore: Lotte Lehmann. The introductory bars to the quartet begin. The facial expression of the artist interprets the musical line. Magnificent embodiment of womanly feelings in word, tone and gesture.…
Otto Kunz, Salzburger Volksblatt, July 26, 1937, p. 5
On August 20, 1937 Lotte LEHMANN gave her sixth and last lieder recital in the Mozarteum, accompanied by Bruno WALTER on the piano. It was said that the applause was endless.
On August 24, 1937 Lotte LEHMANN made her nineteenth and last appearance as »The Marschallin« in the Festival House – with a record result: 485 limousines and ten horse-drawn carriages were counted on the approach to the Rosenkavalier, which was conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, who had fallen out of favor in the German Reich.
On August 26, 1937 Lotte LEHMANN had her twenty-seventh and last appearance as »Leonore« in the Festival House. Austria’s authoritarian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg and the French envoy Gabriel Puaux were in the audience.
At the subsequent supper in the luxury hotel Österreichischer Hof, Lotte LEHMANN received an award »for her world spanning art of singing« that was traditionally reserved for men: the French Legion of Honor medal. One honored an artist in order to bask in her world fame.
It should be added that in the course of 1937 the Vienna publishing house that published the works of Stefan ZWEIG (which were banned in Germany) published two books by Lotte LEHMANN: her novel Orplid, mein Land and her memoirs Anfang und Aufstieg [Begining and Rise].
There is no sign in her memoirs that she foresaw Austria’s violent end. As early as September 1937, one could read in the press that the opera Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner under the direction of Arturo TOSCANINI with Lotte LEHMANN as »Elisabeth« would be performed in the 1938 Summer Festival.
At the beginning of October 1937 she gave her farewell concert in Vienna. She had another appearance in Paris and then traveled with her maids, her dogs and her limousine on the German luxury steamer Europa from Bremen to New York.
On January 12, 1938 The New York Times reported on a benefit concert in Carnegie Hall »for the benefit of the Educational Department of the New York Women’s Trade Union League« featuring Lotte LEHMANN and the NY Metropolitan Opera tenor Lauritz Melchior.
At the end of January 1938, Lotte LEHMANN informed her Vienna public that she was planning to return home in April. However, things turned out differently than hoped when Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg surrendered to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler on the Obersalzberg on February 12, 1938.
Lotte LEHMANN was still in New York when Schuschnigg announced his resignation as Chancellor in March 1938 – with the frequently quoted closing words »God save Austria!«
But who would protect Austria’s Jews who failed to escape to the free world? Did Lotte LEHMANN know how her great fan the music critic Elsa Bienenfeld fared in Vienna under the Nazi terror regime? 1
At the end of March 1938 Lotte LEHMANN gave another recital in New York: »For the benefit under the auspices of the Central Synagogue Sisterhood«. At the end of April 1938 she traveled to Europe, not to Austria, which was occupied by Germany, but to England, where she appeared at the Covent Garden Opera under Erich KLEIBER, and then to The Hague and Paris.
She traveled from Le Havre to the USA on the Champlain with Ludwig, Otto and Peter Krause, the sons of her husband from his first marriage: they arrived on August 10, 1938.
Her husband Otto Krause and his daughter Manon were already in New York and therefore safe from the Nazis, but Otto Krause died in New York at the age of 56 on January 22, 1939. Lotte’s brother Fritz Lehmann, who still lived in Vienna, came to New York in February 1939.
Lotte LEHMANN applied for US citizenship. Starting in 1941 she lived with her family, her stepchildren and her brother and their families in Hope Ranch Park in Santa Barbara California. There she received US citizenship on June 13, 1945 at the age of 57.
In the years of exile from 1939 to 1945 Lotte LEHMANN still performed at the Metropolitan Opera, mostly in the Rosenkavalier under the conductor Erich LEINSDORF. Her last appearance as »The Marschallin« was on November 1, 1946 at the San Francisco Opera under the conductor Georges Sébastian. She also continued giving lieder recitals, her last being on November 11, 1951 at the Pasadena Playhouse near Los Angeles, and only 100 miles away from her Santa Barbara home.
Lotte LEHMANN also worked for two decades as a voice coach teaching vocal interpretation in Santa Barbara and in other cities in the US and Europe. Among her students were some talented singers like Marylin Horne, Grace Bumbry, and Judith Beckmann, who later became stars.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Lotte LEHMANN visited Vienna and Salzburg several times. She received honorary rings and medals in both. In Salzburg, a remote path behind the Schloss Aigen palace was named in her honor: the »Lotte-Lehmann-Promenade«.
And since 1969 the University of California in Santa Barbara’s concert hall has been called »The Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall«.
Lotte LEHMANN died in Santa Barbara at the age of 88 on August 26, 1976. In accordance with her request, her urn was taken to Vienna and interred in an honorary grave of the City of Vienna – inscribed with the tribute from Richard Strauss: »Sie hat gesungen, daß es Sterne rührte« [Her singing moved the stars].
1 Elsa Bienenfeld was born in Vienna on August 23, 1877, Music historian and critic, she was murdered in the German extermination camp at Maly Trostinec outside Minsk on May 26, 1942.
- Vienna City and state Archives
- Archives of the Salzburg Festival
- ANNO: Austrian Newspapers Online
- The Lotte Lehmann League (Chronology)
- Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit (University of Hamburg)
- Michael H. Kater: Never sang for Hitler. The Life and Times of Lotte Lehmann (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
- Lotte Lehmann: Anfang und Aufstieg, Lebenserinnerungen (Herbert Reichner, Wien-Leipzig-Zürich, 1937)
Translation: Stan Nadel
Laid 17.08.2020 at Salzburg, Max-Reinhardt-Platz