Although Frida Leider, whose father was a carpenter, was born into a poor family, her parents ensured that she received a good education in the hope that she would become a teacher. Her father’s early death however meant that instead she had to work in a bank, while still determined nonetheless to become a singer. Leider studied singing in her spare time, becoming a pupil in Berlin of Otto Schwarz, and made her operatic stage debut at Halle in 1915 as Venus / Tannhäuser.
Later that same year, she undertook her first Brünnhilde in Nuremberg: for unlike many other large-voiced sopranos, she did not begin with the lyric repertory but wielded a full dramatic instrument from the very beginning. She was at Rostock Opera between 1916 and 1918, at Königsberg for the 1918–1919 season, and between 1919 and 1923 was a member of the Hamburg State Opera, where she sang not only the major Wagner roles, notably Isolde / Tristan und Isolde, but other parts also including the title roles in Aida, Ariadne auf Naxos and Norma, Donna Anna / Don Giovanni, the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro and Leonore / Fidelio.
In 1921, at the invitation of the intendant Max von Schillings, Leider made a guest appearance as Isolde with the Berlin State Opera. Her irreplaceability at Hamburg meant that she was unable to become a permanent member of the Berlin company until 1923; but she then quickly became its leading dramatic Wagner soprano, singing other dramatic roles also such as Leonore under Erich Kleiber, Dido / Les Troyens, Amelia / Un ballo in maschera, Leonora / Il trovatore, Santuzza / Cavalleria rusticana, Valentine / Les Huguenots and the Marschallin / Der Rosenkavalier, as well as participating in the world premiere of Ernst Krenek’s opera Zwingburg in 1924.
Leider’s international career developed quickly. Between 1924 and 1938 she was the favourite Wagner soprano for the summer international seasons at the Royal Opera House, London: appearing there annually, notably as Brünnhilde, Isolde, Venus, Senta / Der fliegende Holländer and Kundry / Parsifal; also undertaking the Marschallin, the title role in Gluck’s Armida and the Trovatore Leonora. During the 1927–1928 season she appeared as Brünnhilde at La Scala, Milan (learning the role in Italian); sang at the Paris Opera between 1930 and 1932; and at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires in 1931 and 1934. She appeared at the Zoppot Wagner Festival in 1924, 1925 and 1927 and at the Bayreuth Festival between 1928 and 1938 as a notable Brünnhilde, Isolde and Kundry.
In America Leider first sang in 1928 in Chicago where she enjoyed great success, appearing there annually until 1932 singing not only Brünnhilde, Amelia, the Marschallin, Donna Anna and Leonore but also Rachel / La Juive and the title role in von Schillings’s Mona Lisa (1931). She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1933 as Isolde and remained with the company for two seasons, until Kirsten Flagstad burst onto its stage in 1935.
Towards the end of the 1930s signs of strain could be detected in Leider’s singing of the higher-lying passages of the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung Brünnhildes; at the same time, as a result of her marriage to the leader of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Deman, who was Austrian and Jewish, she fell foul of the ruling Nazi party. Following the Anschluss of 1938, Deman’s position became extremely precarious, and the couple fled to Switzerland. Leider’s final stage appearance at the Berlin State Opera was in 1940, after which she was prohibited from appearing on stage in Germany. In exile, following a period of silence, she successfully took up lieder singing at the instigation of the pianist Michael Raucheisen.
She returned to Berlin in 1945, becoming the principal of the Berlin State Opera’s singing studio (until 1952); and also directed, notably Tristan und Isolde conducted by Furtwängler in 1947. Her final public appearance was in recital with her friend and colleague Margarete Klose in 1946, while between 1948 and 1958 she was professor of singing at the Berlin Conservatory.
Leider possessed a large voice of great richness and dramatic intensity, ideally suited to the music dramas of Wagner in which she excelled. She recorded throughout her career, leaving a notable legacy.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).