Johanna Gadski studied singing at the Stettin High School with Anna Schröder-Chaloupka and when still very young was engaged by the Kroll Opera in Berlin, making her stage debut there in 1889. This was followed by engagements in Stettin, Mainz and Bremen as well as Berlin; her repertoire during this period included Agathe / Der Freischütz, Marguerite / Faust, Pamina / Die Zauberflöte, Berthe / Le Prophète, Donna Elvira / Don Giovanni and parts in the comic operas of Marschner and Lortzing. She also took the role of Bedura in d’Albert’s first opera, Der Rubin, which she sang with the composer conducting. Having married Hans Tauscher, a lieutenant in the German army, in 1892, Gadski had built up enough experience by 1894 to begin to appear internationally, which she did with a concert tour of Holland that year.
She was then invited to tour the USA with the Damrosch Opera Company during 1895 and 1896, making her debut in New York as Elsa / Lohengrin (1895) and creating the role of Hester Prynne in Damrosch’s opera The Scarlet Letter (1896). Other roles included Micaëla / Carmen and Marzellina / Fidelio. She toured again with the Damrosch Company during 1898 and 1899 before appearing for the first time at the Royal Opera House, London as Elisabeth / Tannhauser in 1899. This was followed by her successful debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Eva / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
In December 1899 Gadski made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, substituting as Elisabeth in Philadelphia. Two weeks later, at the beginning of 1900, she first appeared in New York with the company as Senta / Der fliegende Holländer. She quickly became a key member of the Metropolitan Opera, singing Sieglinde / Die Walküre, Brünnhilde / Der Ring des Nibelungen, Elsa and Eva, together with more varied roles including the title part in Aida, Amelia / Un ballo in maschera, Santuzza / Cavalleria rusticana, Valentine / Les Huguenots, the Countess / Le nozze di Figaro, Micaëla, Donna Elvira and Pamina, as well as Röschen in the first performance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Der Wald (1903).
Having left the Met in 1904 following a dispute over her salary, Gadski undertook extensive concert tours of the USA during 1905 and 1906. In Europe she studied Isolde / Tristan und Isolde with Lilli Lehmann, as well as singing at the Salzburg Festival in 1906 as Donna Elvira opposite Lehmann’s Donna Anna and in 1910 as Pamina opposite Lehmann’s First Lady. Financial matters resolved, she returned to the Met as Isolde in February 1907 and remained a valued member of the company until 1917, singing broadly the same parts as before, as well as Eurydice / Orfeo ed Eurydice (under Toscanini, 1909), Agathe and Leonora / Il trovatore.
In 1917, following America’s entry into World War I, a ban was placed upon German music and musicians in the US. Nonetheless Gadski remained in that country, but did not sing again until 1921 when she gave a rapturously received recital at Carnegie Hall, followed by a coast to coast concert tour which also took in Canada. She became an American citizen in 1925, returning to the operatic stage in 1928 with Die Walküre in Washington. From 1929 onwards Gadski toured America annually with various companies performing German opera, singing Brünnhilde, Isolde and Senta. She intended to continue such touring, but was killed in a motor accident in Berlin.
A central figure in the ‘Golden Age’ of opera, Gadski recorded prolifically for the Victor Company in a highly original repertoire that included excerpts from rarely recorded operas, oratorios and songs as well as the more expected scenes from Wagner. Her recordings reveal a voice of great beauty, used with stylistic assurance, in repertoire that covered major roles in both German and Italian opera.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist