Christa Ludwig at 85

Christa Ludwig(Photo: EMI Classics)
Christa Ludwig(Photo: EMI Classics)

Christa Ludwig is a German mezzo-soprano active professionally from 1944 to 2004. Sixty years. That’s like being a fifty-year-old linebacker. Ludwig had a rich, plummy voice as a teenager, and had mostly the same chops when she retired in her seventies.

Christa Ludwig sang Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss. Her “break-out” performance in New York was as the Dyer’s Wife in Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten  (The Woman Without a Shadow). This is a wild fairy tale of an opera. It was first performed in 1918 but only achieved hit status in 1966, largely due to Christa Ludwig’s performance.

As a young artist Ludwig recorded Norma with Maria Callas. Her later collaborations were with Karajan, Bohm, Bernstein, Levine and above all Leonard Bernstein. An unforgettable late career Ludwig performance was as the Old Lady in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.

I treasure Christa Ludwig for a recital of lieder by Brahms and Strauss in Avery Fisher Hall around 1982. I spoke no German. I vaguely knew some of the pieces. The 3,000 seat hall was packed with overflow seats on the stage. She came out very simply and sang for two hours, and you understood every word and every meaning. You didn’t need to understand German. You understood Christa.

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