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The 20 Greatest Wagner Singers of All Time

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The 20 Greatest Wagner Singers of All Time

by Clive Paget on October 16, 2013 (October 16, 2013) filed under Classical Music | Opera | Comment Now
The finest exponents of the German master's operas from the 1920s to the present day.

Waltraud Meier

The German dramatic soprano and mezzo combined, Waltraud Meier, was born in Würzburg in 1956 and is best known for her Wagnerian roles, which include Kundry, Isolde, Ortrud, Venus and Sieglinde. Her firm, expressive voice is allied with an exceptional dramatic gift, an intense charisma and a reputation for risk-taking. Her tempestuous personality has occasionally been as notable offstage as on.

She made her international debut in 1980 as Fricka in Die Walküre at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and went on to build a steady career scoring a great success as Kundry in Parsifal at the 1983 Bayreuth Festival. Since then has performed in all of the world’s greatest opera houses including La Scala, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera.

During the 1990s, with the encouragement of Daniel Barenboim, Meier shifted from mezzo roles to the dramatic soprano repertoire, appearing at Bayreuth as Isolde and debuting as Leonore in Fidelio at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She also added Sieglinde to her CV. In recent years she has returned to mezzo roles and although the top of the voice is less secure than it was, the dramatic intensity of her performances are undiminished.

She has performed under all of the great conductors including Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Claudio Abbado, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, and Giuseppe Sinopoli and made numerous live and studio recordings. She is a ‘Kammersängerin’ of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Vienna State Opera as well as a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. In 2003 Meier won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for her Venus in Tannhäuser conducted by Daniel Barenboim.



Paul Schöffler

The German bass-baritone Paul Schöffler (1897–1977) sang a wide repertoire over a particularly long career but was best known for his Mozart, Wagner, and Strauss roles. In the case of Wagner he was pre-eminent in the role of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (which he sang for over 25 years),  as well as making a fine Amfortas in Parsifal and excelling in the title role in The Flying Dutchman. Although his voice lacked a certain smooth elegance, it made up for it in warmth and firmness while his artistic integrity was of the highest order. His stage prescence was also most sympathetic.

Born in Dresden, he became a member of the Semperoper from 1925 to 1937, debuting as the Herald in Lohengrin in 1926. He joined the Vienna State Opera, then in its heyday, in 1939 and remained a member of the company until 1970. He was also a regular at the Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals where in addition to his Wagner roles he was a notable Figaro, Don Giovanni, Pizarro, Barak and Orest. Notable premieres included Gottfried von Einem’s Dantons Tod in 1947, and Richard Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae in 1952.

He made guest appearances at the Royal Opera House in London, the Paris Opéra, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Although his voice lacked the imperious strength for Wotan (a role which he did sing on occasion), it served him throughout an unusually long career. His Sachs at the Metropolitan Opera in 1964 was remarkable for a singer who was 67 at the time.

Schöffler sang well into his 70s (mostly in character roles) and died in Amersham, England, aged 80.

Or try this superb Meistersinger under Hermann Abendroth from Bayreuth in 1943 (yes, Hitler may well have been in the audience). A brilliant afternoon's listening:

Leonie Rysanek

The Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998) was born in Vienna and made her operatic debut at the tender age of 23 in Innsbruck. A year later she sang her only Brünnhilde at the same house. When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951 Wieland Wagner, who had been duly impressed with the young singer, booked her to sing Sieglinde under Karajan. With her looks, voice and dramatic ability she was an instant hit becoming one of the leading Wagnerian singers of the 1950s and 1960s. While her intonation was occasionally suspect and she lost her high D fairly early on, at the top of the stave the voice blossomed into one of the most glorious sounds of the twentieth century. She famously ‘invented’ the ecstatic scream when Siegmund draws the sword from out the tree.

Rysanek was a notable Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Elsa in Lohengrin, and later in her career she sang Ortrud. Despite offers she avoided Isoldes and Brünnhildes, preferring not to encroach on her friend Birgit Nilsson’s territory. She was even more successful in the operas of Richard Strauss, especially as the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten. She also sang Salome, Elektra, Chrysothemis, the Marschallin and Ariadne.

Alongside the German roles she performed the heavier dramatic Italian repertoire, making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959 as Lady Macbeth, and replacing Maria Callas who had controversially been fired from the production.

Her final performance was at the 1996 Salzburg Festival as Klytämnestra in Elektra but she sadly died two years later in Vienna from bone cancer at the age of 71.

Jon Vickers

The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers was born October 29, 1926 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Following a scholarship at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Vickers joined the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden company in 1957, debuting as Riccardo in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. From there he went to the Metropolitan Opera in 1960 where he debuted as Canio in I Pagliacci. He soon became renowned in a wide range of roles in German, French, English and Italian. Vickers’ substantial voice was combined with a solid technique that saw him through a long career. He was especially noted for his powerful stage presence and in depth acting.

His Wagnerian career began at Bayreuth in 1958 when he was engaged to sing Siegmund, a role that he continued to sing for many years. He went on to sing Parsifal there in 1964. Although he always expressed dissatisfaction with the role of Siegfried, finding the younger character too shallow for his interest, he was reputed to have been in negotiations with Wieland Wagner concerning a possible appearance as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung at the time of Wieland's death in 1966.

He sang Erik in The Flying Dutchman at the Met and was supposed to sing Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in the late 1970s when he dropped out, claiming he couldn’t empathise with the character. Perhaps his greatest Wagnerian performances however were as Tristan, a role well suited to his vocal and dramatic gifts and in which he was favourably compared with Lauritz Melchior.

His wide repertoire meant that he is particularly well represented on recordings from 1958 to 1978. He retired in 1988 and will be 87 at the end of October 2013.


 

Martha Mödl

The German soprano, and later mezzo, Martha Mödl (1912–2001) was possibly the finest singing actor of the postwar era singing Isolde, Brünnhilde, and particularly Kundry. Her highly individual interpretations were coupled with an intense stage presence.

Mödl started as a mezzo, debuting as Hansel in Remscheid in 1942, and performing as Carmen at Covent Garden as early as 1949. She joined the Hamburg State Opera where her Venus was noticed by Wieland Wagner, who invited her to play the role of Kundry at Bayreuth’s reopening in 1951. She became part of a legendary group of singers called the ‘New Bayreuth,’ performing Isolde in 1952 and Brünnhilde in Ring cycles where she often alternated with Astrid Varnay.

From the 1960s, vocal difficulties lead her to return to singing mezzo repertoire, such as Klytemnestra in Elektra, the Nurse (Die Frau ohne Schatten) and Waltraute. From the 1970s, Mödl scaled back to playing character parts like Grandmother Buryjovka and the Countess in The Queen of Spades – a role which she was still performing in Mannheim at the age of 87.

Her career highlights on disc included the live 1951 Kundry conducted by Knappertsbusch, Brünnhilde in Furtwängler’s 1953 recording of Die Walküre for EMI and Isolde for Herbert von Karajan’s live 1952 Tristan from Bayreuth.


And here she is still singing at the age of 80 in The Queen of Spades:

Sir John Tomlinson

The English bass-baritone Sir John Tomlinson, CBE was born 22 September 1946 in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire. He studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and subsequently with Otakar Kraus. His long career, which still sees him singing today at the age of 67, has included all the major British companies and in particular the Royal Opera House and English National Opera. His rich, resonant bass tone makes him one of the noblest Wagnerian singers in a direct line from Ludwig Weber through to Gottlob Frick. His sound dramatic instincts also make him one of the most involving operatic actors on the word stage.

He was first engaged to sing at the Bayreuth Festival in 1988 and he performed there every year thereafter up until 2006. His Wagnerian repertoire includes possibly the finest Wotan since Hans Hotter (under who Tomlinson studied the role), King Marke in Tristan, Titurel and Gurnemanz in Parsifal, Hagen and the title role in The Flying Dutchman.

His intense musicality has lead to a particularly wide repertoire, with a special focus on contemporary opera. In 2008, following Tomlinson’s notable assumption of the role of the Green Knight in Harrison Birtwistle’s Gawain, the composer created for him the title role in The Minotaur.

Tomlinson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1997 for his services to music and was knighted in the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.


Astrid Varnay

American singer Astrid Varnay (1918-2006) was born in Stockholm to singer parents from Hungarian stock. Along with Birgit Nilsson and Martha Mödl, she is regarded as one of the leading Wagnerian sopranos of her generation.

Varnay's renowned career as a Wagnerian soprano began with a last-minute debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1941 at the age of 23, singing the role of Sieglinde in Walküre for an indisposed Lotte Lehmann. Six days later, Varnay was again called in for another last-minute substitution, replacing Helen Traubel as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and receiving rave reviews from New York critics.

In the 1950s she began performing regularly in opera houses throughout Germany. She was a particular favourite of Richard Wagner’s grandson Wieland, who ran the Bayreuth Festival and directed Varnay in several of his ground-breaking, experimental productions.

At the peak of her vocal powers, Varnay was in demand in the world's top opera houses as Brünnhilde, Isolde, Senta and Ortrud, and regularly performed alongside bass-baritone Hans Hotter in the role of Wotan. Praised for creating music theatre of compelling intensity, her powerfully expressive voice and innate gifts as an actress made her an ideal interpreter of Wagner's troubled heroines.

From 1970 onwards she gave up the heavier dramatic soprano repertoire and began a new career singing mezzo roles, establishing herself as a notable Klytemnestra and Herodias in Salome. She last appeared at the Met in Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in 1979. She died in Munich in 2006 at the age of 88.

There’s no footage of Varnay in her prime as a soprano but her Klytemnestra in Götz Friedrich’s film of Strauss’s opera shows her remarkable dramatic gifts:

Jonas Kaufmann

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (born 1969) is one of the world’s most sought-after singers. A student of James King, Hans Hotter and Michael Rhodes, he began his professional career at the Saarbrücken Staatstheater in 1994 and soon after  made his debut at the Stuttgart Opera and Hamburg State Opera, as well as internationally at the Opéra National de Paris, La Scala and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Kaufmann sensibly took his time moving from lighter to more taxing repertoire and first tackled a Wagnerian role in 2006, singing Parsifal at the Zurich Opera. In 2007, his portrayal of Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera directed by Robert Lepage garnered critical acclaim for his effortless projection and convincing acting, as did his performances in the title role in Lohengrin in Munich.

In 2010 Kaufmann made his debut at the Baytruth Festival singing Lohengrin. In 2011 he returned to the Metropolitan Opera as Siegmund and again in 2013 for his first appearance as Parsifal, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

A prolific recording artist, Jonas Kaufmann’s Universal Classics discography is particularly distinguished, with his recent CD release of Wagner Arias on Decca Classics a 2013 bestseller. Of his Siegmund, Limelight's reviewer observed: "This is Kaufmann’s first all-Wagner disc and it’s a thrilling experience. He starts with Die Walküre, but instead of Winterstürme he opts for Siegmund’s far more interesting sword monologue. In six glorious minutes, Kaufmann runs the gamut from resolute hero to romantic dreamer and back. Listen to how he caresses Ein Weib sah’ ich, wonnig und hehr, or how he comes elegantly off the voice for Ist es der blick der blühenden Frau. Time and again he builds the perfect climax with grace and passion... In short, this is superb. I can’t think of a finer Wagner recital – ever."

 

Birgit Nilsson

Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005) was regarded as the greatest dramatic Wagnerian soprano of her day – her presence a common sight in the world's leading opera houses throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She sang a wide variety of dramatic soprano parts, but her reputation was built on her mastery of the role of Brünnhilde. 

Growing up in Skane, a rural province of southern Sweden, Nilsson rejected formal voice training until her mid-20s and some have attributed this late start to the longevity of her singing voice.

Her Covent Garden debut was in 1957, singing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. In the years that followed, she returned to the Royal Opera House stage many times in Wagner opera, scoring a particlar success as Isolde. Her American debut as Brünnhilde was at San Francisco in 1956, although it was her first performance as Isolde at the Met in 1959 that confirmed her status as a leading international star.

Noted for its overwhelming strength, her voice remains universally acknowledge as one of the most powerful soprano voices of all time. It is also particularly remembered for its gleaming clarity in the upper register. Nilsson was regarded by many as the successor to the great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad, particularly in the Wagnerian repertoire. However, she also sang many of the other heavy end soprano roles such as Leonore, Aida, Turandot, Tosca, Elektra, and Salome.

Nilsson died, aged 87, on 25 December 2005 at her home at Bjärlöv, a small village in Skåne in the same county where she was born. Small but sturdily built, Nilsson retained a robust constitution throughout her career and the no-nonsense approach of her rural upbringing. Once asked what was the chief requirement for singing the role of Isolde, she replied: "Comfortable shoes."

 

Hans Hotter

German bass-baritone Hans Hotter (1909-2003) was a tour-de-force of the opera world throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The singer took on over 100 roles throughout his career, but as Wotan, particularly in Die Walküre, he was unmatched.

Studying with tenor Matthäus Roehmer and baritone Rudolf Bocklemann in Berlin, Hotter was invited to join the Bavarian State Opera in 1937 and made his debut performance there as the Wanderer in Siegfried. Two years later he performed the same role at the Paris Opéra and La Scala to substantial critical acclaim.

Famous roles throughout the 1940s included Wolfram, Kurwenal, Amfortas and Wotan in Das Rheingold performed at various opera houses throughout Germany and France. He performed in Germany and Austria under the Nazi regime but successfully avoided pressure to join the Nazi Party.

It was in 1949 when the full breadth of Hotter's talent was realised, when he sang Wotan and Gunther at Covent Garden to overwhelming acclaim from audiences and critics. In 1952 he was invited to sing Kurwenal and Wotan at Bayreuth, where he returned each year until 1966, securing his place as the pre-eminent Wagner bass-baritone of the day.

During the 1960s Hotter began directing opera. Among his productions was the staging of a complete Ring Cycle at Covent Garden, in which he also sang various roles in hand-picked performances. According to Hotter's Times obituary Hitler kept Hotter's records in his private collection. When Hotter was interrogated about this at a postwar denazification hearing, he answered that the Pope had some of them too.

Kirsten Flagstad

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) is widely regarded as the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the mid-20th century, and Norway’s pre-eminent musician of all time. Desmond Shawe-Taylor wrote of her in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera: “No one within living memory surpassed her in sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone.”

Coming from a family of professional musicians, Flagstad studied singing in Oslo and performed in lighter roles with the Stora Theater of Gothenburg, Sweden from 1928 before launching her career as a Wagnerian soprano in 1932.

Hearing her sing Isolde in GothenburgEllen Gulbranson, a Swedish soprano at Bayreuth, convinced Winifred Wagner to audition Flagstad for the Festival. In 1933, Flagstad was successful, performing minor roles at Bayreuth. The following year she featured prominently, singing both Sieglinde in Die Walküre and the smaller role of Gutrune in Götterdämmerung opposite Frida Leider as Brünnhilde.

In 1935 Flagstad made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden, singing Brünnhilde. Here her greatness was fully realised, with her talents dubbed “the voice of the century” by enamoured audiences and critics. She enjoyed a long career with many highlights caught on record (although mostly before 1945 in live performance). By the LP era her career was in its twighlight years although she put down a superb Isolde for Fürtwängler in the 1950s (with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf dubbing in the high C) and famously recorded the mezzo role of Fricka in Solti's Rheingold.

Flagstad continued performing primarily at Covent Garden until her retirement from singing in 1953, becoming the first director of the Royal Norwegian Opera in 1958.

 

Lauritz Melchior

Danish-born Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor from the 1920s to the 1940s, and is considered by many to represent the quintessence of the heldentenor voice type. His operatic debut in 1913 was as a baritone but after Melchior helped a soprano colleague in Il Trovatore by singing a top C in the Leonora/di Luna duet, the Azucena, American contralto Mme Charles Cahier, told him that he was not a baritone but a tenor “with the lid on.” After a sabbatical to retrain, his tenorial debut was in 1918 in the title role in Tannhäuser, at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen.

Cosima and Siegfried Wagner soon engaged him to sing at Bayreuth (Siegmund and Parsifal). According to his friend Hugh Walpole, when Adolf Hitler attended a 1925 performance of Parsifal in Bayreuth as a guest of Winifred Wagner, when Melchior sang, “the tears poured down Hitler's cheeks”.

For the Metropolitan Opera he went on to sing 519 performances of Wagnerian roles between 1926 and 1950. He sang all of the composer’s major tenor roles but was perhaps most famous for Tristan and Siegfried. His partners included the sopranos Frida Leider, Kirsten Flagstad, Lotte Lehmann and Helen Traubel and conductors Felix Weingartner, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Fritz Reiner, Sir Thomas Beecham, Arturo Toscanini, Erich Leinsdorf, George Szell, and Otto Klemperer.

Melchior made many recordings for HMV, RCA Victor, Columbia and lastly Warner and is also preserved in numerous live broadcasts. He also became quite a success in Hollywood, appearing in five musicals and even getting to put his hands in the cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.


His legendary lung-power is nowhere better exhibited in these extraordinary 15s cries of Wälse from the Met in 1940:


Bryn Terfel

Bryn Terfel was born in North Wales in 1965. Taught singing by a family friend from a young age, Terfel moved to London in 1984 to enter the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he studied under Rudolf Piernay.

In 1989 Terfel placed second behind Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the Cardiff BBC Singer of the World Competition, and was awarded the competition’s Lieder Prize. The accolade jumpstarted his career, and in 1990 he made his professional debut as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte at the Welsh National Opera. In 1996 Terfel expanded his repertoire to include Wagnerian roles, singing Wolfram in Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera.

In 2007 Terfel went on to perform Wotan at the Metropolitan Opera in Robert Lepage’s Ring Cycle to considerable critical acclaim. Quickly becoming recognised as a pre-eminent interpreter of Wagnerian roles, he returned to Covent Garden to sing The Wanderer and Wotan in 2011 and 2012.

 
 

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is celebrated as one of the modern era’s greatest singers, whose beautiful voice and mastery of technique made him a Wagnerian tour-de-force throughout the mid-20th century.

Born in Berlin in 1925, Fischer-Dieskau was the son of Albert Fischer, a classical scholar. After secondary school, he studied for one semester at the Berlin Conservatory before being drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1943 and assigned to care for army horses on the Russian front.

Following the War, Fischer-Dieskau returned for further study at the Berlin Conservatory, making his operatic debut at the Municipal Opera Berlin in 1948 singing Posa in Don Carlos. Hired by the company as a lyric baritone, he quickly became known for his versatility and began taking on a variety of Wagnerian roles including Wotan in Das Rheingold and Wolfram in Tannhäuser. In addition to regular engagements in Berlin, Fischer-Dieskau began performing at the Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden and Bayreuth Festival in a wide variety of roles.

Fischer-Dieskau enjoyed a hugely successful career for the following three decades until his retirement from opera in 1978. Described by The Guardian as “the most influential singer of the 20th century”, he died in his sleep in 2012 ten days before his 87th birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James King

James King was widely regarded as one of the finest American heldentenors of the post-war period. Born in Dodge City, Kansas in 1920, King trained as a baritone at Louisiana State University with Dallas Draper. After graduation in 1949, King taught for nine years at the University of Kansas City. In 1956, realising he was a tenor, he retrained, notably with the baritone Martial Singher, to whom he said he owed the inception of his career.

King rose to international prominence in 1961 in the role of Cavardossi in Tosca at Teatreo della Pergola in Florence. In 1963, King sang his first Lohengrin, destined to become one of his favourite and most successful parts. That year he also made his debut at the Vienna State Opera. Bacchus was his debut part, and he sang it again in Munich in 1964

Blessed with a vibrant and powerful voice, it was not long before King began tackling Wagner’s leading roles. A pivotal moment of his career was a portrayal of Siegmund in the complete Ring Cycle at London's Royal Opera House in 1968 opposite Gwyneth Jones. Conducted by Solti, King's performance was critically acclaimed and a slew of Wagner engagements followed at the Metropolitan Opera, Berlin State Opera and Paris Opera.

Though never officially retiring from the opera stage, in 1982 King accepted a teaching position at Indiana University, where he remained on staff for two decades. He passed away in 2005.

 
 
 
 

Stuart Skelton

Stuart Skelton (born 1968) is an Australian tenor and recognised as one of the finest operatic talents of his generation.

Moving to the US to study singing at the San Francisco Opera Centre, Skelton was soon after awarded first place in the Belvedere Competition in Vienna in 1994. The following year he sang Lohengrin in Der fliegende Holländer at the Berlin Wagner festival, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Over the next decade, Skelton made debuts at many of the world’s top opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, Paris Opera and Vienna State Opera singing a range of Wagner’s most difficult roles including Siegmund, Rienzi and Parsifal.

In 2005 Skelton was honoured with a Helpmann Award for his performance in the State Opera of South Australia’s Ring Cycle as Siegmund before returning to the title role of Parsifal in a Claus Guth production at the Zürich Opera.

Other acclaimed performances include his appearance in Robert LePage’s 2011 Ring at the Metropolitan Opera and at Opéra National de Paris under the baton of Music Director Philippe Jordan.

Skelton is set to appear as Siegmund in Opera Australia’s 2013 Melbourne Ring.

 
 

Max Lorenz

Born in Dusseldorf in 1901, German tenor Max Lorenz studied singing with Ernst Grenzebach in Berlin in the 1920s. In 1927, Lorenz earned a principal position with the Dresden State Opera, where he stayed until moving to the Berlin State Opera in 1932.

At his best in the 1920s and 1930s, Lorenz possessed a powerful, ringing voice combined with an effortless technique. He was particularly renowned for his performances as Siegfried, Tristan and Walther, although he also made a notable Herod, Bacchus and Otello. By the 1940s Lorenz enjoyed international renown, having performed at the Paris Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera among others. He was also widely known as Hitler's favourite tenor, and was able to protect his Jewish wife Charlotte Appel from persecution during World War II.

Several notable recordings of Lorenz were made throughout his life, the most celebrated of which perhaps is a performance of Die Meistersinger at the Bayreuth Festival under the baton of Furtwängler.

In his retirement Lorenz taught singing, most notably launching the career of American tenor James King. He died in Salzburg in 1975 and is buried at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna.

 
 

Christa Ludwig
 
German mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig was born in Berlin in 1928. The daughter of mezzo-soprano Eugenie Besalla-Ludwig, she learned singing primarily from her mother before enrolling at the Frankfurt Conservatory, studying from Hungarian soprano Felicie Hüni-Mihacsek.

At the age of 18 Ludwig made her debut at the Frankfurt Opera where she sang until 1952. Joining the Vienna State Opera in 1955, she quickly became one of its principal artists, singing Fricka in Die Walküre to wide critical acclaim.

In 1959 Ludwig sang Fricka at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and over the following years began incorporating more Wagnerian roles into her repertoire. In 1966 she sang Brangäne at Bayreuth Festival; the following year she sang Kundry. Ludwig returned to the festival regularly over the next decade, collaborating with esteemed conductors including Karl Boehm, Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan.

In 1980 Ludwig was awarded the Golden Ring of the Vienna State Opera, and in 1981 was made an honorary opera member.

In March 1993 Ludwig made her farewell appearance at the Metropolitan Opera singing Fricka. In her retirement she continues to teach singing and conduct masterclasses worldwide.
 
 
 

Gwyneth Jones
 
The British soprano (and mezzo-soprano) Gwyneth Jones was born in South Wales in 1936. Studying at the Royal College of Music, Jones made her professional debut in 1962 as a mezzo-soprano in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice with the Zürich Opera.

Jones’s powerful dramatic soprano voice and unusually robust vocal stamina soon made her the perfect candidate to sing heavier repertoire, and in subsequent years, she gradually proceeded to tackle a range of Wagnerian roles.

Critical acclaim followed a slew of performances as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kundry in Parsifal, Venus and Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Jones soon found success at a range of international opera houses including the Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, German Opera Berlin, Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera , San Francisco Opera and Paris Opera.

In 1970 Jones made her debut at the Bayreuth Festival, singing both Elisabeth and Venus in Götz Friedrich’s production of Tannhäuser to considerable critical acclaim. Her interpretation of Brünnhilde in the Bayreuth centennial production the Ring Cycle in 1976 was another notable success. Conducted by Pierre Boulez and directed by Patrice Chéreau, the production recording was awarded a Grammy.

In her retirement, Jones continues to conduct master-classes and serves as President of the Wagner Society of Great Britain.

Frida Leider

German soprano Frida Leider was born in Berlin on April 18, 1888. The daughter of carpenter Ernst Leider and his wife Anna, Leider hung onto the dream of becoming a singer in spite of pressing family financial difficulties throughout her childhood and adolescence.

Leider made her operatic debut in 1915 as Venus in Tannhäuser with the Halle Opera. After several short engagements in Rostock and Königsberg, she gained a principal position with the Hamburg Opera in 1919.

Acclaimed performances singing Isolde at the Berlin State Opera in 1923 launched Leider's international career, and from 1924 to 1938 she established herself as the celebrated star of various Wagner productions. She performed at a range of international opera houses, including La Scala, (where she had to study the three roles of Brünnhilde in the Italian language), Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Grand Opera de Paris and Covent Garden.

Following a break from her opera career during World War II, Leider became head of the singing studio of the Berlin State Opera until 1952. She also began to direct, including a critically acclaimed production of Tristan and Isolde with Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1950. In her old age, Leider worked and taught singing at the Berlin College of Music, passing away in her hometown of Berlin in 1975.