About this Recording
8.120722 - SACK, Erna: The German Nightingale (1934-1950)

ERNA SACK The German Nightingale

ERNA SACK The German Nightingale

Original 1934-1950 Recordings


The waltzes of Johann Strauss rehashed to display a stratospheric vocal extension may not be to everyone’s taste, even when that extension is grafted onto a middle register of outstanding warmth and quality. But far from being just a vocal stunt for ‘canary fanciers’ however, Erna Sack was audibly well-endowed in both areas. Her stunning facility to C’’’’ (one whole octave above normal soprano top C) was, as far as voices go – Lucrezia Agujari in the eighteenth century and the more recent Mado Robin notwithstanding – effectively without peer and while her well-anchored mid-range singing was sweet her phenomenal top prompted the other Strauss to write for her new cadenzas to Zerbinetta’s music in his Ariadne auf Naxos. Outside the realm of opera, for a time a fêted protégée of Nazi Kulturpolitik, in her native Germany Sack became one of the most ‘popular’ German singers of her generation.  Born Erna Weber (Sack was her married name) into a modest family background in Berlin-Spandau on 2February 1898, she sang in her local church choir from the age of nine and on leaving school at sixteen with a burning ambition to sing, worked initially as a stenographer to pay for her training, first at the Prague conservatoire then privately with Oscar Daniel (1879-?) in Berlin. A noted Hungarian tenor-turned-pedagogue whose pupils included Maria Cebotari, Jarö Dworsky, Herbert Janssen and Göta Ljungberg, Daniel trained her as a mezzo-soprano and in 1925 she made her début as such with the Berlin State Opera.


From 1928 until 1930 Sack was engaged for both mezzo and soubrette parts with the Berlin City Opera before finally emerging as a fully-fledged lyric-coloratura soprano – that most rare of operatic birds in about 1930. At Bielefeld, between 1930 and 1932, among other rôles, she was heard as Sophie in Rosenkavalier, Susanna in Figaro, Micaela in Carmen and Norina in Don Pasquale and her subsequent career in Wiesbaden (1932) and Breslau (1934) followed similar lines. After guest appearances at the Dresden State Opera (as Rosina in Barbier von Sevilla and Frau Fluth in Nicolai’s Lustigen Weibern von Windsor) in 1935 she joined the Company’s roster and remained until 1941, appearing during that time at Salzburg as well as in two Dresden world-premières: Richard Strauss’s Schweigsame Frau (June 1935) and Othmar Schoeck’s Massimilla Doni (March 1937).


Her 1933 guest appearance at the Berlin State left such a lasting impression that over the next three years a broader international horizon opened, including La Scala, Milan, the Paris Opéra and Covent Garden where, on 6November 1936, with the Dresden State Company under the baton of the composer, she sang ‘a brilliant-sounding Ariadne’. During her visit to London she sang for King George V who presented her with a diamond-encrusted cross in recognition. The following year she also successfully undertook her first North American concert tour during which her appearances in opera in Chicago, as Lucia and Rosina, earned her clamorous ovations (although she never made it to the Met, she was widely appreciated by American audiences). Later that same year, in Rome, she sang the Queen of the Night in Il flauto magico under Tullio Serafin, with Tito Schipa and Licia Albanese among her colleagues. In 1938 and 1942 she made her first appearance in Copenhagen and during World War 2 was heard at venues as far-flung as Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.


‘Die deutsche Nachtigall’ Erna Sack made appearances in several domestic German film-musicals and broadcast on German radio, while a sizeable discography (she recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, Telefunken and Decca) made her almost a household name in several Western capitals where she was variously dubbed ‘German Nightingale’ and even ‘World’s Nightingale’.  As disparate as they are dazzling her recorded selections are an eclectic mix of many styles. Several tailor-made showpieces stand out by dint of their extraordinary vocal range (arrangements, such as Frühlingstimmen, Draussen in Sievering blüht schön der Flieder from Die  Tänzerin Fanny Elssler and Luigi Arditi’s Parla are outstanding among several examples), while her fine legato in normal-range repertoire is also heard to good advantage in the ‘Last Rose of Summer’ air from Martha and in Braga’s ‘Angel’s Serenade’ (La serenata) and to a wide range of other non-operatic material (notably various items from Madame Dubarry, then much in vogue) she brings distinction.


After World War 2 Erna Sack lived partly in Germany, partly in California. In 1947, with her husband Hermann Sack she became a Brazilian citizen and from her base in Rio embarked on a five-year world-tour, which took her to South America, Canada, South Africa and Australia. She made further tours of Germany (1950 and 1955) and North America (1954) before settling in Montreal, Canada, until 1956. Her recording career extended to the early 1950s and the LP era saw the reissue of most of her best-known discs.  In 1956 she returned to Germany where she lived in semi-retirement first in Murnau, on the Staffelsee, Upper Bavaria (until 1966) and subsequently in Wiesbaden. Erna Sack died in Mainz on 2 March 1972.


Peter Dempsey, 2003

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