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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 1915-2006 August 5, 2006

Posted by Jeff in German, In memoriam, Opera, Theater.
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Schwarzkopf as the MarschallinI don’t always think it’s coincidence when this kind of thing happens, but I had been planning a post on Schwarzkopf for the last week or so, when word arrived of her passing on August 3 at the age of ninety.

There was a recent interview published in the latest issue of Opera News, which of course now I can’t find. I was struck with how she absolutely hated the sound of her voice on compact disks.

Most of the obituaries have emphasized her recordings of Richard Strauss and Mozart, but to be honest her work in that repertory has never impressed me. Judge for yourself:


Bearing in mind that this is one of my favorite moments in one of my favorite operas, performed by a drop-dead-gorgeous soprano, it still leaves me cold.

I am mostly a fan of her operetta recordings, work that she tended to diminish and disavow as she got older and convinced of Her Own Importance. Fledermaus, Merry Widow, Gypsy Baron and the wonderful Cluytens Tales Of Hoffman. Ironic that the tendencies about her that turned off many fans— her coolness and lack of expression — seem to me to have served her best in this repertory.

Relatively late in her life, more than one biographer came to the inescapable conclusion that she had lied about her participation in the Nazi Party before and during the War. As a Nazi, Schwarzkopf performed at party functions and sang for Waffen SS troops at the front. Some researchers believe she became a member of Goebbels’s Reichstheaterkammer, working in the propaganda ministry and appearing in some films.

In an interview in 1983, Schwarzkopf denied she had been a member of the party. But when reminded of the proof in writing of her membership, she admitted that she had joined. “We thought nothing of it,” she said. “We just did it.” In other interviews, she quoted in her defense the first line of Tosca’s famous aria: “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” which translates, “I lived for art, I lived for love.”

Well, she got that backward — Tosca sings “Vissi d’arte” just before she stabs the evil fascist bad guy. Schwarzkopf seems to have sung it just before she slept with him.

FOOTNOTE #1: La Cieca at Parterre Box posted that the Times’s obit was accompanied by this picture:

Anneliese Rothenberger

Just one little problem: this is a picture of Anneliese Rothenberger, who not only is not Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, but is also not dead. (And is also a better singer …)

FOOTNOTE #2: I am amazed how many Schwarzkopf apologists have crawled out of the woodwork on the opera blogs. Read this.

FOOTNOTE #3: The final word.

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