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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Dies at 90

Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin

available at Amazon

available at Amazon
Four Last Songs - Szell

available at Amazon
Four Last Songs - Ackermann

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Last night, on August 3rd, 2006, the soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf died, age 90. There is little to be added to Anthony Tommasini’s excellent obituary. (Skip Adam Bernstein's, and go straight to Tim Page's.) Her undisputed fame and yet strangely controversial ability – never mind the even more controversial part of her bio that covers the 1930s and 1940s – are all discussed. The way Walter Legge transformed her from a little German starlet (beautiful and allegedly very popular with a select few Wehrmacht generals at the time) into a Grand Lady is hinted at, although Tommasini is of course right in focusing on the artistic impact Legge had on her.

He was largely responsible for turning her into a singer that cared (overly) about the accentuation of every note and phrase… the very quality that had her so admired or rejected as draining every piece of music she sang of its naturalness. Nor does everyone respond well to the grain in her voice – a little grain of sand that splits it into two parallel strands. Or, were you to compare voices to a knife’s edge, Schwarzkopf’s is one of those knives that have a hollow edge. To some ears, the result is an ever present, very slight sharpness, although there is none, measurably. While it is true that she could make Fischer-Dieskau seem a spontaneous singer, there are undoubted and near universally admired moments of glory in her singing – all well captured on disc.


Anthony Tommasini, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Opera Singer, Dies at 90 (New York Times, August 4)

Adam Bernstein, Renowned Coloratura [sic!] Soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, 90 (Washington Post, August 4)

Tim Page, The Plaintive Last Song of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Washington Post, August 4)

Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (London Times, August 3)
Both accounts (or more correctly: either one) of her Four Last Songs ought to be heard and had. Szell offers better sound, while Ackermann features Schwarzkopf in fresher voice. The trio in the 1956 mono Rosenkavalier (Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Teresa Stich-Randall) is among the most delicious operatic events on record. Whether for Schwarzkopf – who is perfect as the wistful, dignified countess – or the rest of the cast and Sawallisch’s felt conducting (a bit more engaging than Karajan in the Rosenkavalier or Ariadne auf Naxos), Capriccio is possibly my favorite Strauss opera and this certainly my favorite Strauss recording.

I can't claim to have any particular interest in her artistry as such - but whenever it lent itself to a grand results, it was admirable. Beyond the Strauss, there is also lovely Mozart and intriguing Wolf - explore: somehow there is never a better time than an artist's death to do so.

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