V2584. CHRISTA LUDWIG, w.Erik Werba (Pf.): Songs by Schubert, Brahms & Dvorak - Live Performance, 30 April, 1975, Budapest; w.Maazel Cond.ORTF S.O.: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen - Nos. 1, 2 & 4 (Mahler) - Live Performance, 18 Oct., 1972, Paris. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-725
“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
“Lorin Maazel? . . . He knows how to capitalize on his limitations.”
- Martin Bernheimer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 Oct, 2019