Interview and Q & A
Here’s a development that may strike you as surprising. A cutting-edge consumer media technology has been put in the service of one of the greatest vocal artists in our collective memory, a “Golden Age” singer who made her finest recordings in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Gary Hickling is a recognized authority on vocalists and vocal recordings from all eras, but has a powerful obsession—his word—with the German-born lyric soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976). Hickling has created an electronic book devoted to his favorite singer that will be of interest to both listeners steeped in the vocal traditions of a century ago as well as those who have typically shied away from “historic” recordings. Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy, available at no charge as an iBook for use on an Apple platform, is an extraordinary accomplishment—informative, insightful, and just plain fun. It downloads in minutes, an especially easy process, as no payment is required. I consumed Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy much more quickly than I would have anticipated: It’s a real page-turner (if you can call that swiping motion you make with two fingers to advance through an electronic reader “page-turning”). In his Introduction, Hickling does advise readers not to overdo it, that “too much Lehmann all at once … can be overwhelming.” Well, “overwhelming” in a good way. And did I mention that the book is free? After I’d been through Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy (digital) cover to cover and started to digest its riches, I emailed Gary Hickling some questions.
Please tell me about your musical background. You played double bass professionally but I know you’ve studied singing as well. How far have you taken this?
I was a double bassist, performing in orchestras in the U.S., Manila, Munich, Mexico, Berlin, and most recently Honolulu. After meeting Lotte Lehmann when I was 20, I began to include Lieder on my solo double bass recitals, using my own transcriptions. I didn’t begin to do serious vocal studies until I had retired. For about 10 years I sang in the retirement homes of Honolulu; the Japanese, Hawaiian, and the light music they knew best, and I always included at least one art song.
How did you come to host radio programs in NYC? When was that, and what stations? You currently have a show that’s been on the air for more than 25 years called Singing and Other Sins. It was formerly Great Songs. Why the name change?
WBAI was a public radio station that broadcast a lot of classical music. At one point in 1972 they played all of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Schubert Lieder LPs. I called in saying that as much as I loved DFD, there were other great Schubert singers. They said, “Come in and do your own program.” They taught me what I needed and I put together a two-hour program of the top 40 Schubert Lieder with a different singer for each. I met with the Lieder expert Philip Lieson Miller and we determined who had recorded the definitive performance of each Lied. For instance, we believed that Heidenröslein had been sung no better (at that time) than by Elisabeth Schumann.
In 1988 I started broadcasting Great Songs for Hawaii Public Radio. At that time a “song” was a short vocal piece. As the years rolled by the word lost that meaning and meant any piece of music. I laugh now when I think that a long opera or symphony is called a song, and not just by computerese.
About five years ago I changed the program’s title to Singing and other Sins because I also wanted to include instrumental music when appropriate. An obvious choice would be the variation movement of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and Die Forelle. Sadly, over the years, this has become the only radio program in the world that features art song, as far as I can tell.
Could you recount the moment when you “discovered” Lotte Lehmann?
I had a Japanese baritone friend who didn’t know how to drive, so I was persuaded to chauffeur him from UCLA, where we were both studying, to Santa Barbara, for private lessons with Lehmann. I had hardly heard of her, so you can imagine what it was like for a 20-year-old to meet his first genius. And what an energetic, charismatic one at that! She had retired from over 10 years at the Music Academy of the West, which she had helped build, but was still bursting with enthusiasm, and the joy in sharing what she knew. I immediately began listening to her recordings.
What led up to your meeting Lotte Lehmann on her 85th birthday?
I’d stayed in correspondence with Lehmann after leaving California and pursuing my career. When I was back in New York as a freelance musician, I wrote to her that I was on the radio and would like to celebrate her 85th birthday with her recordings and an interview. She responded that she thought that 85 was such an “in-between age,” that no one would be interested. I assured her that there were plenty of people who would like to hear both her recordings and her interview. Thereafter we exchanged mail about what subjects she’d like to discuss. The two-hour program was a great success, and after Melchior died in 1973 Lehmann agreed to another interview for that memorial program.
I’ve never seen anything like Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy before—a presentation of a subject that so seamlessly combines sound, sight, and the printed word to give satisfying insight into a subject suitable for consumers of all levels of sophistication. Is this indeed something new? Given your comfort level with technology and your long history of broadcasts presenting historic recordings in a meaningful context, it makes sense that you were the guy for the job.
There’s always a steep learning curve for a new technology, but once that’s mastered one can let one’s imagination go wild. Almost anything that I considered could be accomplished. For instance, I liked the idea that as the reader entered a certain page, Lehmann’s singing would automatically welcome the reader. The whole iBook offers the reader a new experience, one in which the reader can decide what to choose: On any page there may be three audio tracks and several videos. Once you’ve begun to listen or view something, you can determine how much to enjoy and maybe return to it later.
From the sounds of things, you’ve built a remarkable Lotte Lehmann collection over decades. (Early on in the iBook, you admit to developing an “obsession” with the singer and her art.) Did you already have most of the recordings and other materials used to create Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy?
Yes, I had all Lehmann’s commercial CDs. In addition I was able to access some hitherto unreleased recordings made when Lehmann’s Town Hall recitals were broadcast on various radio networks.
Did you encounter any difficulties obtaining permission to utilize any of the recordings, videos, photos, drawings, or any other of the materials you utilized in Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy? The title is so nicely alliterative—one suspects Lehmann would have approved!)
In the case of the Lehmann-related material, the Special Collections of the UCSB Library holds the copyrights and allowed me to use everything that you experienced in the iBook. They also accessed their Lehmann Archive for rare photos. I didn’t use footage from Lehmann’s appearance in the MGM movie Big City because of the prohibitive cost and needed permissions. VAI kindly gave authorization to use the videos of Lehmann’s master classes.
How long did it take you to write—assemble may be a better word, though the writing is terrific—Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy? Is it something that you worked on for some time or, giving your expertise in the subject, did you get the idea for the form of the project and quickly execute it?
The assembling and writing took almost the whole of 2015. I had already written about many of the subjects found in the iBook on the Lotte Lehmann League web site, so I could draw on that. It was great fun being able to illustrate any point I was making in the text. Photos are one of the best ways to do this and they can tell the viewer so much.
You do a wonderful job of explaining the basics of early recording technology and helping the non-specialist who may view the sound quality of acoustic and early electrical recordings as a barrier to enjoying the artistry of singers from the first decades of the last century. Is this a response to resistance that you yourself have encountered, as you champion the work of Lehmann and other singers of her era?
Having listened to a lot of early recordings, I don’t have a problem with them, but I recognize that most people do. The general listener hasn’t had much experience with acoustic recordings and doesn’t know how to filter out the limitations and concentrate on the basic sound. When you know how primitive (to our minds) the acoustic process was, you come to appreciate all the more how much there is to enjoy. It’s necessary to remember that in 1924 the acoustic recording process was “state of the art” technology.
Did you do much yourself to the audio sources? Any volume adjustment, equalization, or filtering?
I leave all the technical work of the audio and video tracks to Lani Spahr, the same restoration engineer used in2012 for the four-CD set of Lehmann rarities that the Music & Arts label published. Lani removes the noise and adjusts the tracks so the listener doesn’t have to alter the volume. He is also responsible for making the file size of each track as small as possible so that it doesn’t take long to download the iBook.
What do you want us to learn from the extensive comparisons you provide in Chapter 5? It’s expected, of course, that different singers will have different approaches to the same song or aria. Is your point that Lehmann brought something to the selection under consideration that others did not?
In that chapter I tried not to draw the listeners’ attention to something special that Lehmann did. It was a simple comparison. This way the listener can examine both tracks without my suggestions. There’s a chapter in which I recorded commentary that is interspersed with snippets of the Lehmann recording. This is my chance to draw attention to various aspects that I consider unique to her singing.
Did Lehmann transpose the songs that she performed more or less often than other singers?
In her later years, Lehmann transposed songs (usually down a bit) and it was one of her pianist Paul Ulanowsky’s many benefits that he could do this easily. I’ve been told that as they walked out onto the stage, she might ask him to play a particular song a half step lower.
A reader/listener of Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy certainly comes away impressed with the range of the music she succeeded with (dozens and dozens of operatic roles and 26-plus pages of Lieder repertoire!). Did you encounter anything that she had less success with—or that Lehmann herself wished she’d not performed/recorded?
Lehmann was embarrassed by the salon orchestra accompaniments that cheapened her early Lieder recordings. She told me that she didn’t have any say in the matter. Lehmann called the instrumental ensemble that accompanied her first recording of Frauenliebe und -Leben “quite dreadful.” Though she sang Turandot and recorded the two major arias, she always felt that she couldn’t do the icy princess justice.
It’s refreshing for those of us who don’t concentrate on historic recordings to encounter a specialist who doesn’t imply that all the worthwhile singers who ever walked the earth are dead. Who are your favorite active singers, in the realms of opera and Lieder—especially in the repertoire that Lehmann was best known for?
There are many singers of our own times (by that I mean artists still performing) that I enjoy greatly and broadcast regularly. In the men of the Lieder realm: Matthias Goerne, Gerald Finley, and Thomas Hampson; the women Lieder specialists include Bernarda Fink, Cecilia Bartoli, Juliane Banse, and Christine Schäfer. The lyric soprano opera roles that Lehmann portrayed are often sung today as displays of great vocalism. These singers are however, amazing: beautiful sound, solid technique, good acting, power, diction, rhythm. Pace Karita Mattila and Waltraud Meier, I still miss the Lehmann humanity.
Finally, I must ask something many readers will wonder about: Why are you giving this away?
As you mentioned earlier in this interview, I’m obsessed with Lehmann. Having known her personally, written about her, and listened to her recordings, I want others to share my joy. I didn’t want any cost factor to limit someone’s decision to download the iBook and plan to offer Volume II also for free when Apple publishes it.
Review by Andrew Quint
Gary Hickling’s Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy is an enhanced eBook—that is, an electronic book in which the written word is accompanied by audio and video content—compatible with Apple devices, including desktop computers, laptops, iPads, and iPhones. This iBook (Apple’s version of an eBook) is the product of the author’s consuming 55-year enthusiasm for the singer, whom he first met in 1961. Hickling’s expertise and fluent, lucid communication style has been honed over many years of radio broadcasts, including his current gig on Hawaii Public Radio, a show called Singing and Other Sins. It’s fair to call Hickling Lehmann’s leading discographer, and his extensive collection of audio recordings plus relevant documents, articles, and correspondence was ultimately donated to Stanford University’s Archive of Recorded Sound. The eBook project assures a wider dissemination of at least some of the remarkable assemblage of materials Hickling has gathered over decades. Volume II, by the way, is in the works.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy, which includes a helpful “How to Navigate” section at the beginning, is comprised of 11 chapters plus several extensive appendices. Especially as it can be obtained complete at no cost, those unsure of their level of interest can download the book and look over Chapter 1 (“Asleep on Her Sofa”) which quickly takes one through Lehmann’s entire career from her first job as a Page at the Hamburg Opera in 1910—by the following year, she was singing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier—through many operatic triumphs as a leading lyric soprano of her time, to her great success as a Lieder recitalist, to her “third career” as an exceptionally gifted teacher. The book is 357 pages in length but doesn’t seem that long as virtually every page features one or more photographs and, more importantly, audio buttons that link to an aria or song as Hickling follows the trajectory of Lehmann’s professional life. For these musical examples, texts with English translations are usually provided. There are videos as well, mostly documenting Lehmann instructing younger singers at the Music Academy of the West, which she helped to found in 1947. One chapter is devoted to “Comparisons” in which Hickling presents contrasting interpretations from other leading singers to audition next to Lehmann’s, sometimes as many as many as four or five versions, sometimes a second one from Lehmann herself. The author doesn’t engage in anything like strident partisanship; he just lays out alternative viewpoints for our consideration.
Other chapters focus in greater depth on Lehmann’s expansive repertoire, well known and otherwise (her most performed role wasn’t the Marschallin, Leonore, or Sieglinde, it was Manon!), her early recordings (this section includes a concise and cogent explanation of how acoustic recordings were made and issues involved with the transition to the electric methodology in the mid-1920s), and her pedagogical style (with a wonderful appreciation from Grace Bumbry). “Arias and Lieder with Commentary” breaks down a number of performances—“Der Männer Sippe” from Lehmann’s 1935 Walküre, Schubert’s Der Wanderer, Richard Strauss’s Ständchen, and several others—a few lines at time, as Hickling describes in his mellifluous baritone what Lehmann was up to artistically. A second button can then be activated to hear the selection all the way through uninterrupted.
Hickling also makes us aware of Lehmann’s abilities as a visual artist that, although not exceptionally original, are of interest because they provide more insight into a very exceptional musical mind. Lehmann recorded the complete Winterreise in 1940–41—the first woman to do so—with pianist Paul Ulanowsky, and had performed excerpts from Schubert’s cycle for a decade previous to this in recitals. Hickling employs several sources to produce a coherent, decent-sounding traversal of the 24 songs. On each page, one can hear a sung version and a 1956 recording of Lehmann speaking Müller’s poems, again with the texts and translations at hand. We are then presented with a full-color reproduction of Lehmann’s German Expressionist-style painting for each song. It’s a unique illumination of both a great masterwork and a probing musical sensibility.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy is decidedly not a biography, nor is it chronologically linear in its presentation, which is welcome. For real aficionados, appendices include a list of Lehman’s stage roles (93!) and a discography of both commercial and non-commercial recordings. The book begins with a relaxed and light-hearted Lehmann conversing with an Australian kookaburra (who eventually answers back) followed by a profound performance of Schubert’s An die Musik that reflects her complete dedication to her art. Just a few minutes into Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy, one has to be impressed with the capacity for newer technology to bring a towering creative figure to life. Andrew Quint
Review by Joshua Cohen
In 1961 a 20-year-old double bassist from Los Angeles named Gary Hickling drove a baritone friend of his to a voice lesson at the Santa Barbara home of legendary German soprano Lotte Lehmann. He spent most of that lesson asleep on the soprano’s sofa, but he must have awoken at some particularly auspicious moment, for that visit engendered what was to become a lifelong “obsession with the life and recorded legacy of Lotte Lehmann.” This iBook is the product and the consummation of that obsession—as well as a personal tribute to the remarkable woman who honored the author with her friendship up to the time of her death in 1976. It is not a biography: Hickling acknowledges in the Preface that he’s no historian, and his opening chapter runs briskly through the major events of Lehmann’s life and career, bypassing entirely the intimate details of her private life (although he recommends three substantial biographies also listed in his annotated bibliography). This book is exactly what its title announces: a close study and chronicle of a great singer’s legacy. Lehmann’s accomplishments, in fact, extended well beyond her 40-year career as a singer: She was also a talented painter and poet, the writer of two autobiographies and three magisterial books on opera and song interpretation, and in later life an accomplished teacher whose most successful students included Grace Bumbry, Marilyn Horne, Dorothy Maynor, Mildred Miller, Carol Neblett, and Benita Valente. All of these achievements are recounted and documented in different chapters of the book. But the heart and soul of Lehmann’s artistic life was her singing, and her truest legacy is preserved in her recordings. You can read the entire text of Hickling’s iBook in about an hour, but you’ll spend many hours listening to the hundreds of linked samples of studio recordings, live broadcasts, and videotaped master classes. In essence, this book is designed to teach you how to listen to Lotte Lehmann.
Why should you listen to Lotte Lehmann? Aficionados of classical singing already know the answer to that question, and they will be sure to find here a bounty beyond their wildest dreams. But the title of the second chapter, “Legendary/Unknown,” sums up the problem concisely: Fame is transient, and in most cases, parochial. And so this once-iconic soprano whom Toscanini called “the greatest artist in the world” remains a legend to a relatively small inner circle of historically minded opera and Lieder fans, but is pretty much unknown to the general public. If the aim of this book is to resurrect a legend—or at any rate, a legacy—then it will need to reach listeners outside that inner circle of knowledgeable fans who have already heard (and probably own) many of Lehmann’s most famous recordings.
A few historical facts will place her legacy in context. Lotte Lehmann made her professional debut in Hamburg in 1910. In 1916 she moved to Vienna, where she scored a major triumph as the Composer in Richard Strauss’s newly revised Ariadne auf Naxos (the title role was sung by Lehmann’s frequent colleague and longtime arch-enemy, Maria Jeritza). Over the next 22 years she was a leading light of the Vienna Opera, also appearing frequently in other Austrian and German cities as well at major international houses such Covent Garden in London. She worked with, and was deeply admired by, Richard Strauss (who wrote several roles for her), Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer, among many others. In 1938, with the Nazis in power, she moved to the USA, where she made her home (like many other distinguished émigrés) on the West Coast. After a few more years of singing leading roles at the Metropolitan and in San Francisco, she retired from opera in 1946 but continued to give recitals until 1951. Her most celebrated roles were the lyric-Romantic heroines of the Austro-German repertory: the more lyrical soprano parts in Wagner (expanding to an unforgettable Sieglinde), Beethoven’s Leonore, Agathe in Weber’s Die Freischütz, and above all, Strauss’s Marschallin. But her full repertory encompassed a wide range of international parts, including Verdi’s Desdemona; Puccini’s Tosca, Suor Angelica, and even (briefly) Turandot; and Massenet’s Charlotte and Manon. In addition to her operatic roles, Lehmann performed and recorded hundreds of art songs, including three major cycles—Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise and Schumann’s Dichterliebe—traditionally associated with male voices. She was undoubtedly the most charismatic female Lieder singer of the first half of the 20th century.
That unique charisma—a glorious compound of emotional generosity and radiant intelligence—comes across with astonishing vividness on all of her recordings. Rare among earlier recorded singers (her studio discography spanned 35 years, from 1914 to 1949), Lehmann’s voice reproduced splendidly in both the acoustic and electrical formats (and quite impressively on radio broadcasts as well). It was, in the words of Walter Legge, “a double-bedded voice of the most inviting, promising, endearing, all-embracing warmth.” There was also a quick, almost tactile vibrancy to her sound that could be thrilling at full flood. To quote Legge again: “If Lehmann had been born in Texas, they would have called her a gusher.” Somehow that emotional intensity, always brimful, rarely spilled over into excess, and even when it did, the obvious sincerity of her abandon usually redeemed it. And—a critical point—it was always a guided intensity, infused with a poet’s feeling for words and an artist’s feeling for color. The special impact of her singing has never been more eloquently described, perhaps, than by the soprano herself, in her note for an exhibition of watercolor paintings inspired by the 24 songs of Winterreise: “With a bold sweep I overrun the barriers and say to you, don’t you think I paint when I sing?....If you ever felt this—and that means, if you ever understood my art—then please try to listen to my paintings.”
Lehmann is one of first singers I would recommend for introducing uninitiated listeners to the wonders of historical singing on early (pre-LP) recordings. Hickling takes great pains to make his presentation as comprehensive and as “listener friendly” as possible. Every Lehmann recording selected—from the earliest acoustics to the excerpts from her last public recital in 1951—is chosen for a specific purpose and framed to optimal advantage. The chapter on Lehmann’s early recordings includes a very useful description of the acoustic and electrical processes and the difficulties initially encountered in the transition between the two. (The pre-electrical sides from Massenet’s Manon and Turandot reveal how secure and confident her high notes were during her 20s and 30s). Chapter 5 compares a selection of Lehmann’s recordings with those of other (mostly contemporary) singers, such as Kirsten Flagstad in “Du bist der Lenz,” or Elizabeth Schumann in two Lieder, or Charles Panzéra in Duparc’s La vie antérieure. The chapter with Lehmann’s complete version of Winterreise pairs the 24 songs with the corresponding watercolor illustrations mentioned above, as well as later recordings of Lehmann reading each of the Wilhelm Müller poems set by Schubert. And in Chapter 6, a selection of arias and Lieder is accompanied by spoken critical commentary by the author himself.
Not least of the benefits of this comprehensive treatment is that it prompts a thoughtful reconsideration of her art, warts and all. For example, Lehmann was frequently censured (and criticized herself) for her inability to conserve her breath across long phrases. We can now hear that even if she breathed too often, those frequents breaths were also deep enough to support her tone, keeping it warm and buoyant. No doubt that deep (if too frequently replenished) breath support had a lot to do with the way her voice retained its basic fullness and quality to the very end of her career. Even the broad portamento that Lehmann discouraged her students from emulating (pronouncing it “sentimental”) sounds to me like an entirely musical and legitimately expressive vocal gesture—not sloppy or schmaltzy in the slightest.
All this, and much, much more: a complete discography, a complete repertory of operatic roles and songs, and a complete list of the soprano’s students (with recorded samples and testimonials of the most famous ones). But I’ve already taken up much more than my allotted space, so I’ll simply confirm that this iBook is an extraordinary treasure, and I’d urge anyone that cares about classical singing to buy it right away—except (here is the kicker!) it is absolutely free to anyone who owns compatible software. Why hesitate even a moment? Joshua Cohen
Review by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold
With the world of publishing changing with whirlwind velocity, Gary Hickling’s new iBook about renowned singer and teacher Lotte Lehmann is a creative attempt to address the widespread appeal of interactive digital media and to exploit some of the best features of the Internet to give a three-dimensional portrait of Lehmann, a singer whom he met in 1961 when he was a 20-year-old music student and whose career and art inspired his entire life. Hickling went on to found the Lehmann Foundation and organize its associated contest in 1990 and, in 2013, the Lotte Lehmann League to preserve the singer’s legacy. In this digital book, Hickling’s self-proclaimed goal is “to immerse [the reader] in the riches of her recorded legacy,” a mission he fulfills admirably.
Since Hickling eventually became friends with Lehmann, interviewed her on-air several times in her later years, and has researched the extensive archives of her recorded commercial and non-commercial performances, as well as having access to her personal papers, paintings, and memorabilia after her death, this portrait is a highly engaging, lively, warm account of a singer whose career spanned the years from 1910 to 1946 in Europe and America, and who then went on to distinguish herself as one of the foremost vocal teachers and coaches; she founded the Music Academy of the West and took on private students, the list of whom is a who’s who of contemporary and recent notables.
Hickling’s account makes no attempt at biography—he cites at least six noteworthy complete studies, among them the Lehmann-authorized volume by Beaumont Glass—though he begins with a chapter that traces the milestones of her career. He also offers a well-documented analysis of her operatic roles, her interpretations of Lieder, her views on singing and acting, and her approaches to master classes—all of these amply illustrated by photographs and audio clips. His book goes into fascinating detail about the recordings themselves, including the changes in technology and how these impacted the voice we are hearing, and he frequently offers fascinating comparisons between several Lehmann recordings of the same work as well as side-by-side listening to Lehmann and other noted interpreters of the role. Moreover, the book contains rare photographs and publishes examples of Lehmann’s paintings and drawings, most striking in her expressive series of Winterreise illustrations. Other touches help round out the portrait of a great artist and charming woman, such as snippets from interviews, a live clip of her emotional farewell recital, and Lehmann in late years giving poetry readings.
Moreover, the information is organized for easy reading and listening with iBooks’ user-friendly navigation and Hickling’s comprehensive cataloging of the material. Not only are there chapters on what she called her “three lives,” but there are discussions of her influence on numerous other singers whom she taught, lists of “firsts and honors,” and documentation of rare, never-before-heard recordings. The text is enhanced with helpful appendices that chronicle Lehmann’s roles and her complete song repertoire, a thorough discography which is referenced/linked to the audio clips interspersed throughout the text, and a long list of bibliographic resources.
Among the numerous gems contained in the book are a luminous recording of Lehmann’s Eva from 1914, an expressive excerpt from her Marschallin, a revealing comparison of her Liebestod taken together with those of Flagstad, Nilsson, Callas, and Lilli Lehmann, a mini-Lied class in her rendition of “Ich grolle nicht,” and several perceptive clips from her many master classes. In these and so many others, the voice is creamy in its youthful bloom, later more dramatic and steely, but always full of soaring emotion, and clarion top notes and always underpinned with dramatic intelligence and a deep respect for the text.
Hickling’s prose is competent and lucid, if only occasionally inspired, and his greatest strength lies in his ability to direct the reader/auditor to analytical listening—often using some helpful techniques such as his own critical commentary available as companion to the recording (rather like directors’ commentaries on film bonus features, which may be turned on or off).
Hickling’s iBook offers not only a wide-ranging portrait of Lehmann, but it invites contemporary audiences into this world of golden age singing and gives them access to the materials in an innovative manner. The iPad sound is crisp and well-mastered, and the entire experience invites not only “surfing,” but returning for more in-depth listening. Also, one cannot fail to mention that the download is offered free as part of the author’s commitment to disseminating Lehmann’s legacy. Highly recommended! Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold
Review by David Cutler
To younger generations, singers from World War II and before, are now just plain old and slipping away from us. One hardly hears about Richard Crooks, Ebe Stignani, or even Helge Roswaenge, let alone a substantial work in English on the Pavarotti of his day, Beniamino Gigli, or perhaps Richard Tauber. So this new iBook from expert Gary Hickling on Lotte Lehmann is a very attractive proposition indeed.
It is an exceedingly fresh and new way of looking at one of the greatest of 20th-century singers. With a physical biography, yes you can get all the information you need, but with this multi-media iBook you really do get so much more. There are more than 150 audio and video excerpts—for example, illustrating the difference between an early version of a song and the same one recorded 20 years later. The video excerpts are fascinating as well, and include Lehmann singing along with a bird! There are plenty of other technical aids to help the reader go to the desired section. There are also plenty of appendices for the collector or even the curious student, including some rare recordings and a discography. The discography lists not only commercial recordings, but the huge amount of live material now available from this great singer. It is right up to date as well as it lists the latest transfer of the 1939 Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier from Immortal Performances. The recorded examples—throughout each chapter—all have a number on them which relates to their place in the discography. The appendices also detail her roles and song repertoire as well as a bibliography.
Lehmann made her debut as early as 1910 in Hamburg and she became the outstanding Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier of her day. Surprisingly, it was not her most frequently sung role—that was Manon in Massenet’s opera! She created the role of the composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. She sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1934 to 1945, having emigrated to the United States in 1938 from Austria, and she continued to sing up to 1951, after which she taught. Among her most famous students were Marliyn Horne and Grace Bumbry. As John Steane said in his book The Grand Tradition, “Her voice gives us so many of the pleasures a singer can afford….She was able to a remarkable extent to sing opera with the intimacy of a Lieder singer, giving out a glorious stream of voice, yet attending imaginatively to the enunciation and coloring of the text.”
If there is a tiny niggle, perhaps the simplicity of the approach and also the comparisons with other voices, which although interesting, could deflect from the singer herself. However this iBook is a tremendous achievement, a joy to read and a huge advertisement for what can be achieved. It should be taken up as a wonderful example of how to bring the great voices of singers of the earlier 20th century to a new generation via this refreshing method. David Cutler
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