V0341. CHRISTA LUDWIG, w.Gerald Moore & Geoffrey Parsons (Pfs.); Klemperer, Horst Stein & Karl Forster Cond.: Songs by Bach, Handel, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Reger, Wolf, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Ravel, Rossini & Wagner. 4-EMI 64074, recorded 1957-69, Elaborate Slipcase Edition, w.40pp. Brochure w.texts. [These five hours' worth of 'unfindables' include many lieder otherwise unavailable] Long out-of-print, Final Copy!
“Christa Ludwig, who poured a lustrous voice into dramatically taut performances of opera roles - especially those of Mozart, Strauss and Wagner - and intimately rendered art songs as one of the premier mezzo-sopranos of the second half of the 20th century, commanded a broad range of the great mezzo-soprano parts, including Dorabella in Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE, Cherubino in his LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Octavian in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Bizet’s Carmen and numerous Wagner roles. Often, critics were reduced to calling her the greatest mezzo-soprano of her time. But like many mezzos, Ms. Ludwig strove to lay claim to higher-voiced - and higher-profile - soprano roles. So she took on, most successfully in that category, characters including the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER, the Dyer’s Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN and Leonore in Beethoven’s FIDELIO. She was an equal master of the intimate song - especially the works of Brahms, Mahler and Schubert. Her artistry put her in the pantheon of postwar lieder singers that included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elly Ameling and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Ms. Ludwig made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino (a trouser role, a type she said was not her favorite) in 1959, took on Octavian and Amneris in Verdi’s AIDA at the house that year as well and sang regularly at the Met until the end of her career. But onstage, Ms. Ludwig brought a striking combination of acting ability, charisma and vocal beauty. Her voice had range and power, a security through all the registers and a broad array of colors.
‘Her unmistakable, deep-purple timbre envelops the listener in a velvet cloak’, Roger Pines wrote in OPERA NEWS in 2018, reviewing her collected recordings. ‘She excelled equally in intimate, legato-oriented lieder and the largest-scale operatic repertoire, where her sound expanded with glorious brilliance’. Critics often took note of her wit and comic deftness, and a personality that could fill a hall even when she sang softly. ‘Her presence on the Met stage was a synthesis of the dramatic arts all by itself - her voice, her wonderfully natural diction and her shadings of facial expression and gesture all conspiring to express with great emotional breadth the singular message of this singular music’, THE NEW YORK TIMES critic Bernard Holland wrote of a ‘Winterreise’ performance in 1983. Ms. Ludwig sang that searing Schubert song cycle some 72 times, even though it was composed for a male voice.
She met the bass-baritone Walter Berry at the Vienna opera in 1957 when they were cast in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. They married three months later and had a son, Wolfgang. The couple frequently appeared together in operas and joint recitals. In interviews, Ms. Ludwig said they felt occasional rivalry and were at odds in preparing for performances. The couple divorced in 1970, though they continued to perform together. (Mr. Berry died in 2000.) Soon after her divorce, Ms. Ludwig met the actor and stage director Paul-Emile Deiber while he was preparing a production of Massenet’s WERTHER at the Met, and they married in 1972. He died in 2011.
In the realm of song, critics took note of her sensitivity, smooth lines, intimacy, control and mastery of the text. ‘She is perhaps the reigning feminine expert at making us feel good about lonely teardrops and thwarted bliss’, THE TIMES critic Donal Henahan wrote in 1979.”
- Daniel J. Wakin, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 25 April, 2021
“When Christa Ludwig celebrated her 80th birthday on 16 March 2008 she could look back on an uncommonly long and successful career as opera singer as well as recitalist. She was born in Berlin and both her parents were opera singers. It was her mother, mezzo-soprano Eugenie Besalla-Ludwig, who was her first voice teacher. She was only eighteen when she made her operatic debut in Frankfurt in 1946, singing Orlovsky in DIE FLEDERMAUS. After stints in Darmstadt and Hannover she arrived at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1955 and there she remained for more than thirty years. She appeared frequently at other houses as well: Chicago, the Met, Covent Garden and for many seasons at the Salzburg Festival and also in Bayreuth. She withdrew in 1994 and her last public performance as opera singer was as Klytemnestra in ELEKTRA at the Staatsoper. When her voice matured she took on heavier roles and also sang some soprano parts: die Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and Leonore in FIDELIO, to mention two, which she also recorded in complete studio recordings under Bernstein and Klemperer respectively. Admirers of her art should know that there are copious opportunities to hear her in complete operas: 130 recordings – live or studio – are listed in her discography, spanning from a 1948 broadcast of IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA from Hessischen Rundfunk, where she sings Berta, to Colin Davis’ Philips recording in Dresden 1992 of HÄNSEL UND GRETEL.
The present brimful box is EMI’s tribute to her celebrations and it covers roughly her first dozen years as a commercial recording artist. The main bulk is drawn from her song recordings, deriving primarily from sessions with Gerald Moore in 1957 and 1959 and sundry sessions with Geoffrey Parsons from the 1960s. In some of the earliest ones it is possible to detect some slight unsteadiness and also a tone that can be hollow-sounding….Every song has something illuminating to offer and I know of few Brahms records that are more satisfying. The pick of the crop is possibly ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’. Among Brahmss finest songs are the two with viola Op. 91 and here she applies a darker contralto tone, reminiscent of Kathleen Ferrier, whose recordings of them are unforgettable. Christa Ludwig is on the same exalted level and that also goes for the ‘Alto Rhapsody’ with Klemperer conducting.
The Mahler songs on CD 2 are also invariably masterly; she sounds so complete, so mature that it is hard to believe that this is a singer not yet 30….Of the Mörike songs ‘Um Mitternacht’ grows with almost unbearable intensity and the most naked song Mahler ever wrote, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, is devoid of everything glamorous. Either of Janet Baker’s recordings is hard to beat, but she sings them with orchestra and the sparse piano version becomes even more intimate. Schumann’s ‘Frauenliebe und-leben’ is also superbly sung with wonderful care for the words. The two Reger songs are fine reminders of his melodic gift, often overshadowed by his learned contrapuntal writing….
On the fourth disc she turns out to be at home also in the French repertoire. In the Ravel cycle she is especially successful in the bleak second song. Saint-Saëns’ ‘Une flûte invisible’ is beautiful – and beautifully sung. Rachmaninov’s slightly perfumed songs can be very winning when performed with such conviction as here. The Rossini songs are charming trifles. Wagner’s ‘Wesendonck-Lieder’ are masterpieces that require both voice and insight; more deeply probing readings are not easy to come by, Klemperer again a magisterial accompanist.
She was a noted Bach singer and while neither Karl Forster nor Otto Klemperer was very informed about period performance style the singing is unerringly sensitive and noble. ‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’ with true contralto depth is magnificent.
Who was the greatest mezzo-soprano during the post-war years? I think it is impossible to give an unequivocal answer but Christa Ludwig is definitely in the final tournament and this box is a worthy tribute to her art during the first third of her career. It should be snapped up by all lovers of great singing. Christa Ludwig is again the noblest singer imaginable.”
- Göran Forsling, musicweb-international