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Christa Ludwig

She is the charm, the style and the spirit of Vienna personified. This great Mozartian and Straussian mezzo-soprano made her mark over fifty years, on stage and on record. Her father was a tenor, her mother a famous mezzo-soprano who sang Fidelio, Elektra or Azucena under Karajan's baton at Aix-la-Chapelle. She was Christa's first teacher and it is thanks to her that she learned all the dos and don'ts of singing. She made her début at the age of 18 in the Viennese operetta which was then playing in all the biggest German theatres, as was the rule at the time. In 1955, she joined the troupe of the Vienna Opera, of which she became the Kammersängerin, a prestigious distinction awarded to singers in theatres in the German-speaking world.

As a girl she had dreamed of singing the part of Léonore (Fidelio) under Karajan's direction, like her mother, whom she had watched on stage: she would do so in 1962, but this horribly difficult role (Beethoven couldn't write for the human voice) gave her dreadful stage fright that would dog her through her life. She would later admit to one night having swallowed six Valium pills before going on stage, to calm her nerves...

In the manner of an actress of stage or screen, Christa Ludwig always psychologically prepared for her roles with care, liking to put herself in her heroines' shoes. She felt very close to some, like the unfortunate Dyer's Wife (Die Frau Ohne Schatten by Strauss), who is caught in a life she feels to be useless and sterile, and who does not hesitate to sell her shadow, until she sees the world with greater serenity and love.

Christa Ludwig would take on other roles in which she would feel quite at ease: Brangäne (Tristan et Isolde), Ortrud (Lohengrin), Kundry (Parsifal). This great Wagnerian singer would not, however, feel particularly at east in Bayreuth, which she thought populated by unwelcome ghosts. Christa Ludwig, who had a good sense of humour, would often say that she had three men in her life, three chiefs with whom she loved to work: Karl Böhm who understood her voice perfectly, Herbert von Karajan who taught her the beauty of the phrase and Leonard Bernstein who to her was a genius, and the only one of her colleagues at whose death she truly wept.

While singing opera, Christa Ludwig was also a wonderful performer of Lieder, which she sang a lot on stage and in the studio. In 1994 she bid farewell to the stage by singing the redoubtable role of Clymnestra in Elektra by her dear Richard Strauss, himself also being one of the "men in her life ".

© FH / Qobuz

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