Maria Ivogün was born Ilse Kempner. Her father was Austro-Hungarian, Colonel Pál Kempner, but she created her professional name from elements of that of her mother, Ida von Günther, an operetta singer. Following her parents’ separation, her mother married a Swiss national and they resettled in Zürich, where Maria attended school until 1908. She then studied voice at the Vienna Music Academy with Irene Schlemmer-Ambros and theatrecraft with Frauscher and Stoll.
In 1913 Ivogün auditioned for the Vienna Court Opera. She was unsuccessful, but was heard by Bruno Walter, then a house conductor at Vienna and about to move to the Munich Court Opera. He engaged her immediately for Munich, where she made her debut in the same year as Mimì / La Bohème. Having swiftly established herself as Munich’s finest coloratura soprano after singing the Queen of the Night / Die Zauberflöte during the same season, Ivogün became a leading member of the Munich ensemble. She sang Zerbinetta in the revised version of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1916 at the express wish of the composer Richard Strauss, who described her performance as ‘incomparable’. In the same year she took the part of Laura in the first performance of Korngold’s opera Der Ring des Polykrates. Other significant parts which she created at Munich included Ighino in Pfitzner’s Palestrina (1917, in which she sang opposite her future husband Karl Erb as Palestrina), the title role in the same composer’s Christelflein (1918) and the Nightingale in Braunfels’s Die Vögel (1920). Ivogün was made a Kammersängerin of the Munich Court Opera in 1917 and appeared also as a guest in Berlin, Dresden, Zürich and Basle. Between 1921 and 1932 she was married to Erb: together they were of great interest to the popular media of the time. When Walter forsook Munich for Berlin she followed him and served as a member of the Städtische Oper from 1925 to 1932.
Ivogün’s debut at the Royal Opera House, London in 1924 (as Zerbinetta, with Walter conducting) created a sensation. She sang Gilda / Rigoletto during the same season and returned as Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1927. She also appeared with great success at La Scala, Milan and at the Berlin and Vienna State Operas. She was engaged by Mary Garden for the Chicago Opera’s catastrophically costly home season of 1921–1922, but only sang there once, as Rosina / Il barbiere di Siviglia, although she repeated the role during the company’s post-season visit to New York City. She undertook a concert tour of the USA in 1922 and returned the following year, singing with the German Opera Company, a touring group.
At the Salzburg Festival in 1925 Ivogün appeared as Zerlina / Don Giovanni and in 1930 as Norina / Don Pasquale, as well as giving recitals at the festival. She also sang in concert in Budapest (1926, 1933), Paris (1931), Amsterdam (1932, 1933), Oslo (1922), Copenhagen (1932) and in Spain. Her operatic repertoire also included Marzelline / Fidelio, Mrs Ford / Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Serpina / La serva padrona, Oscar / Un ballo in maschera, Nanetta / Falstaff, Sophie / Der Rosenkavalier, Olympia / Les Contes d’Hoffman, Tatyana / Eugene Onegin and the title roles in Martha and Mignon.
Ivogün decided to end her stage career in 1932, although she did appear as Zerbinetta in Berlin in 1934. She continued to be active on the concert platform, often accompanied by her second husband, the pianist Michael Raucheisen, whom she married in 1933. After World War II she taught at the Vienna Music Academy from 1948 and at the Berlin High School for Music from 1950: her pupils included the sopranos Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Rita Streich and Renate Holm.
Between 1913 and 1925 Ivogün made a number of recordings for several different companies. Both on stage and on record her singing was notable for its ease, polish and charm.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist