Lisa Della Casa

Swiss lyric soprano, Lisa Della Casa made her first appearance as Madame Butterfly in 1941 and sang a variety of roles in Zurich during the years that followed. After World War II, she left Switzerland to sing in Vienna and Salzburg, and later in London. Della Casa came to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1953 and remained there for fifteen seasons. Noted for her great beauty and charm, she was a specialist in Mozart and Strauss, occasionally taking on Wagnerian roles. #opera

Lisa Della Casa (1919–2012). Photographer: Fayer. Vienna, Austria. Gelatin silver print, 1955. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (014.00.00)

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Johanna Gadski as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser

The great German dramatic soprano Johanna Gadski began her career at a popular Berlin summer opera in 1889 as a soubrette, singing a decidedly flippant repertoire: operetta and Gilbert and Sullivan. After her voice developed further, Walter Damrosch engaged Gadski for a tour in 1895–1896, and the Metropolitan Opera hired her for its 1898–1899 season. She remained at the Met until the United States entered World War I in 1917. Gadski was cast in heroic Wagnerian roles as well as in Italian works. She returned to the United States as the head of her own German troupe from 1929 to 1932. Her voice was not exceptional, but it served the music well and honorably. #opera

Johanna Gadski (1872–1932). Photographer: Gerlach. Berlin, Germany. Gelatin silver print, ca. 1900. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (015.00.00)

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Frieda Hempel as Baroness Kronthal in Der Wildschütz

A lyric-coloratura soprano (vocal range of middle C to high F) of unusual gifts, Frieda Hempel was signed immediately after her debut in 1905 by the Berlin Königliche Oper, where she remained a star until leaving for the Metropolitan Opera in 1912. Hempel was trained in the old classical school and could sing parts requiring dazzling roulades (the singing of several notes to one syllable) as well as the lighter Wagnerian roles. As America’s first Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, she set a standard that remained unchallenged until the advent of operatic singer Lotte Lehmann twenty years later. Hempel retired from the Met in 1919 and, although she later sang opera in Chicago, she devoted most of her time to concertizing. #opera

Frieda Hempel (1885–1955). Photographer: Gerlach. Berlin, Germany. Gelatin silver print, 1907. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)

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Max Lorenz as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung

Germany’s leading dramatic tenor before World War II, Max Lorenz was first heard at the Dresden Staatsoper in 1927, where he became a principal tenor the following year. He moved swiftly to Berlin and Vienna, then to the Metropolitan Opera where he sang between 1931 and 1934 and again from 1947 to 1950. Lorenz was also heard in Milan, Florence, Rome, Paris, Bayreuth, and Budapest. His great renown probably stems from his striking physical appearance, his acting, and the absence of any serious rivals. #opera

Max Lorenz (1901–1975). Photographer: Berger. Dresden, Germany. Gelatin silver print, 1931. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)

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Lillian Nordica as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde

Maine-born Lillian Nordica was one of a handful of great American sopranos. Her 1879 debut at Brescia, Italy, launched a career that led her to Russia, Germany (including Bayreuth), Paris, and London. She returned to America with Henry Mapleson’s Company in 1883, and she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1891, singing there until 1909, when she joined Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera. Her final appearances were with the Chicago Opera in 1912. Nordica had a wonderfully trained voice that enabled her to sing Violetta and the frothy Philine in Mignon, alternating with the heaviest Wagner roles in which she hurled forth huge waves of controlled sound. #opera

Lillian Nordica (1857–1914). Photographer unknown. Munich, Germany. Gelatin silver print, 1901. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00)

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Stella Roman as the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten

Romanian soprano Stella Roman trained in Italy, and established her career there during the 1930s singing in all of the large theaters in the Mediterranean, including La Scala and the Rome Opera. She was imported by the Metropolitan Opera to share dramatic soprano roles with Zinka Milanov from 1941 to 1950. Roman was rather short of stature, but her large, full voice, which she was able to shade at will, like Milanov, made her an interesting and welcome artist in Verdi and Puccini roles. #opera

Stella Roman (1904–1992). Photographer: M. Camuzzi. Milan, Italy. Gelatin silver print, 1939. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00)

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Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Johanna Gadski in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Austrian-born Ernestine Schumann-Heink (left) was a force of nature. She was trained by a coloratura and could sing trills and cadenzas that equaled those of any coloratura. Her natural range of a powerful contralto, and her introspective dramatic qualities thrilled her audiences. Schumann-Heink first sang at Dresden in 1878 before moving on to Hamburg, where she sang under Gustav Mahler. She came to the Metropolitan Opera in 1898, and then bought out her long-term Berlin contract so she could sing almost exclusively in America. She also sang with the Oscar Hammerstein Company and the Boston and Chicago operas. After Schumann-Heink gave her last Met performance in 1932, she concertized and toured with her own troupe in musical comedy, in Gilbert and Sullivan, and with Roxy’s (Radio) Gang until she was well into her seventies. #opera

Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861–1936). Photographer unknown. Berlin, Germany. Gelatin silver print, ca. 1890. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (020.00.00)

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Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

A German born in Jarotschin (now Poland), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was one of the outstanding sopranos of the period after World War II. Her delicate instrument kept her in minor roles in Berlin after her 1938 debut. More successful in Vienna, Salzburg, and Bayreuth, she was idolized in London and appreciated in Milan. Her American debut occurred at San Francisco in 1955, as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, a role with which she was particularly associated. Schwarzkopf sang in Chicago in 1959 and briefly at the Metropolitan Opera from 1964 to 1966 at the outset of her decline. Her last stage appearance was in 1971 in Brussels, again, as the Marschallin. A most musical and artistic singer, Schwarzkopf was best in Mozart and Strauss. #opera

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915–2006). Photographer: Fayer. Vienna, Austria. Gelatin silver print, 1951.Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (021.00.00)

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