Obituary: Tiana Lemnitz
Thursday 10 February 1994
THE GRAND Opera Season of 1936 at Covent Garden opened on 27 April with Die Meistersinger, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Eva was sung, to everyone's great satisfaction, by Tiana Lemnitz, a German soprano making her house debut. Already well-known throughout central Europe, Lemnitz was found an enchanting singer and a subtle actress. Her only other role that year was Oktavian in Der Rosenkavalier, which received even higher praise from the critics and even warmer acclaim from the audience.
She returned to Covent Garden in 1938, to sing Pamina in Die Zauberflote, Elsa in Lohengrin and Sieglinde in Die Walkure, as well as Eva and Oktavian. Although still active for some years after the Second World War, Lemnitz did not appear again at the Royal Opera House. Invited to the Metropolitan in 1938, she was unable to accept the engagement and never appeared in the United States.
Lemnitz was born in 1897 in Metz, where she attended the musical academy. Later she studied at the conservatory in Frankfurt-am- Main, making her debut in 1920 at Heillbronn in the title-role of Lortzing's Undine. After engagements at Aachen (1922-28) and Hanover (1928-33), in 1934 she joined the Berlin State Opera, remaining with the company until her retirement in 1951. A regular guest artist at the Dresden State Opera, she sang at the Vienna State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires and at Salzburg, where during the 1939 festival she scored one of her finest triumphs as Agathe in Der Freischutz.
Though Lemnitz excelled in German Romantic operas, she sang many roles outside that repertory - all of them in German. Much admired as a delightful Micaela in Carmen and a touching Mimi in La Boheme, she sang Verdi's Leonora (Il trovatore), Elisabetta (Don Carlo), Aida and Desdemona with equal success. Marenka in The Bartered Bride and the title-role of Moniuszko's Halka offered her two spirited heroines, while she also sang Milada in Dalibor and Tchaikovsky's Tatyana as well as Nastasya in The Enchantress. However, it is for her interpretations of Mozart, Weber, the lighter soprano parts of Wagner, and Strauss that Lemnitz will be remembered. Her Pamina, which made good use of the exquisitely floated pianissimi in which she specialised, was among the finest of her generation. In the recording of Die Zauberflote which she made with Beecham in 1937, a year before she sang the role at Covent Garden, she sounds rather matronly (she was exactly 40), but, by all accounts, in the theatre her radiant presence allied to her beautiful voice gave a perfect illusion of youth. As Elsa, Elisabeth in Tannhauser and Sieglinde she was greatly admired, but her finest Wagnerian role was surely Eva, which allowed her ample opportunity for the display of a delicious sense of humour.
Oktavian also gave the soprano several comic opportunities, but in Der Rosenkavalier it is above all the strong emotion and the gorgeous tone with which she charged a smooth vocal line that are so memorable. The emotion was even more evident when Lemnitz, like many another soprano before and since, exchanged the role of Oktavian for that of the Marschallin, as can be heard in the complete recording made in 1950 with Rudolf Kempe as conductor. Her Oktavian is immortalised by some excerpts made in the early 1940s, which give at least an idea of the effect that she must have made in the part on stage. Arabella is another Strauss role in which Lemnitz appears to have been perfectly cast, with her gentle determination and a controlled but deep emotion that is never allowed to spoil the vocal line. Again, she only recorded excerpts from the opera, but they are among her finest discs.
After the war Lemnitz continued to sing in Berlin; the State Opera had been destroyed and the company appeared temporarily at the Admiralspalast. In 1950 she returned to Buenos Aires, where her interpretation of Janacek's Jenufa was particularly admired. Donna Anna was another of the roles that she sang at this period in her career, together with the Marschallin and Eva. She took part in a complete recording of Die Meistersinger, made in 1951 at Dresden, and conducted by Kempe. Although by now in her middle fifties, Lemnitz sounds convincingly young and high-spirited.
In 1955 the State Opera reopened and here two years later, on 7 April 1957, Tiana Lemnitz made her farewell at a concert in the Apollo-saal. After groups of songs by Brahms and Wolf she sang Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. There was not a dry eye in the hall.
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