She is not related to Lilli Lehmann, a soprano mostly active in the late 1800’s. Thus she never sang for Richard Wagner! Let me quote J. B. Steane: “Lilli was old enough to be Lotte’s mother if not her grandmother (there was in fact no family relationship at all)…Once either of them had uttered a note they could not possibly have been mistaken one for the other…Yet even that amounted to little compared with the difference in personality. Lotte was charming, Lilli was stately. Lilli was respected; Lotte was loved.”
Lehmann was not Jewish; she left Austria in 1937 (before the Anschluß) because her step children were threatened, being Jewish in the eyes of the Nazis because of their Jewish mother (Lehmann’s husband’s first wife was Jewish). The controversy over her tale of meeting with Goering, has been thoroughly analyzed by Dr. Kater. There are other misconceptions that I try to correct in the page on Lehmann’s private life.
*There is the story of Lehmann visiting Europe and someone (was it Lilian Gish?) requesting a visit with her thinking the she was Lenya. After the mistake was discovered, they nonetheless had a good conversation. And on a completely different planet: that reminds me of the time that Winston Churchill was in the US and wished to meet the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and ended up at lunch with the puzzled Irving Berlin!
Lehmann wasn’t born in 1885, or the other strange dates that crop up from time to time. I have a copy of her birth certificate and 1888 is the correct year. There is even some confusion about her death year. It was 1976. She never converted to be a Catholic and never had children of her own.
Lehmann wasn’t Viennese. She was born in Prussia. After a short adjustment time at the Vienna Opera, she did better than “fit in” and seemed more “Viennese” than the Viennese.
Slightly more sophisticated misconceptions include the thought that Lehmann didn’t sing Lieder until she moved to the US. Or that she gave up opera upon moving to the US. She had sung Lieder throughout her European opera career, but concentrated on this field in the US, while at the same time singing opera at the Met, San Francisco, etc., until 1945.
Lehmann never sang at Bayreuth, nor did she sing the role of Brünnhilde, and never sang Isolde on stage. She did learn the role and record the Liebestod (which you can hear on the comparisons page).
Lehmann said that after her farewell recitals in 1951 she lost her voice completely. Not true. The great collaborative pianist, Dalton Baldwin was present when Lehmann demonstrated a phrase of a Wolf Lied to Gérard Souzay in full wonderful voice, years past her retirement. Her friend Frances Holden told me that she did keep her voice, but it had become more limited with the passage of the years. And after 1951 Lehmann didn’t feel comfortable singing in public (except in master classes an octave lower) because of the limits. A vocal music fan, Jack Lund wrote that he was “at the Wigmore Hall [in the late 1950s] when Lotte gave her master class and Act I of Rosenkavalier and she sang out in full and glorious voice.” Also at the Music Academy of the West during master classes she sometimes forgot herself and sang a phrase in the soprano range.
Another notion that many people have is that Lehmann was primarily a Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner opera singer. Actually, in sheer numbers of performances, her Manon (sung in German!), by the French composer, Jules Massenet far outpaces her famous Marschallin, from Der Rosenkavalier, by Strauss. She also reckoned her role as Fidelio, in Beethoven’s opera by that name, one of her major accomplishments. By the way, the next generation’s most famous Marschallin, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, did NOT study with Lehmann.
The list of singers that LL coached, taught privately or in master classes in so long that I’ll leave that to another page! On that page I also list the people who are sometimes incorrectly listed as having studied with Lehmann.
There are other unfounded beliefs, often about her singing technique, easily dismissed by Lehmann’s recordings. One of the most frequently encountered is that she was short of breath and broke phrases to catch a breath. Though this was true of her last years, her breath control was of average ability until she reached her mid – 50s. Another misconception is that she never could sing high notes, but this can easily be dismissed by the following recordings: Du bist der Lenz Komm, Hoffnung Mild und leise
Other misinformation that one often reads is that she didn’t have a strong voice. Since the recording studio can confuse this issue, listen to Lehmann live: Zueignung
Sometimes Lehmann herself provided incorrect information, the product of her advancing years. She once stated flatly that she’d never recorded or performed with George Szell, yet we have her famous 1924 recordings from Korngold’s Die tode Stadt, with tenor Richard Tauber, as proof that she did! Die tote Stadt.
It is sometimes written that Lotte Lehmann was a mezzo-soprano, and though she was able to sing with a healthy sound into the depths of a mezzo’s range, she was actually a lyric-soprano. She did successfully sing the dramatic Leonore in Fidelio, and Turandot (not congenial either to her temperament or voice!), but generally she stayed with the lighter soprano roles.