Although born in Paris, Germaine Lubin grew up in Cayenne, French Guiana where her father, who gave her piano lessons, served as a doctor. She returned to Paris when she was eight and, intending to become a doctor, attended the Collège Sévigné. However in 1908 she entered the Paris Conservatoire where Fauré, then its Director, thought sufficiently highly of her to accompany her in the performance of his songs. By the time Lubin left the Conservatoire in 1912 she had won three first prizes for her singing, but continued nonetheless to have voice lessons for much of her career: from 1912 to 1922 she was a pupil of Félia Litvinne, and studied also with Jean de Reske, Lilli Lehmann and Marie Gutheil-Schoder.
Lubin’s professional operatic stage debut occurred in 1912 at the Opéra-Comique as Antonia / Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Albert Carré, the director of the company, went on to cast her as Charlotte / Werther and in the title role of Charpentier’s Louise, as well as in Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-bleu, Fauré’s Pénélope and Ropartz’s Le Pays. She first appeared at the Paris Opera in 1915 in d’Indy’s Le Chant de la Cloche and went on to sing there for thirty years. Her roles included Gluck’s Alceste, Puccini’s Tosca, Cassandre / Les Troyens (1928), Leonore / Fidelio (1930, with Bruno Walter conducting), Marguerite / La damnation de Faust and Marina / Boris Godunov. In the operas of Richard Strauss she was a notable Octavian / Der Rosenkavalier in 1927 and later sang the Marschallin, Ariadne / Ariadne auf Naxos and the title role of Elektra at its French premiere in 1932. Lubin also took part in several significant first performances, including d’Indy’s La Légende de St Christophe (1920), Milhaud’s Maximilien (1932) and Sauguet’s La Chartreuse de Parme (1939). She first sang the Wagnerian roles for which she became famous in 1921, commencing with Sieglinde, / Die Walküre, followed by Elsa / Lohengrin, Eva / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Brünnhilde / Der Ring des Nibelungen (1928), Isolde / Tristan und Isolde (1930) and Kundry / Parsifal (1938).
In 1931 Lubin sang at the Salzburg Festival (as Donna Anna / Don Giovanni); at the Royal Opera House, London in 1937 (as Alceste) and 1938 (as Ariane and Kundry); and at the Bayreuth Festival in 1938 as Kundry. She appeared as a guest in Amsterdam (Iphigénie / Iphigénie en Tauride, 1931; Ariane, 1936) and in Berlin, Brussels, Florence (Rameau’s Castor et Pollux, 1935), Monte Carlo (Thaïs, 1919; Octavian, 1926 and 1933), Prague and Vienna (1924, 1925). Her interpretation of Isolde received exceptionally high praise: she sang this role under Furtwängler in Paris in 1938, Beecham in London and De Sabata in Bayreuth during 1939, where Hitler told her that she was the finest Isolde he had ever heard.
Although recommended to the management of the Metropolitan Opera by Kirsten Flagstad, her appearance in New York was rendered impossible by the political situation in Europe. Following the German occupation of Paris in 1940 and the reopening of the Paris Opera, Lubin sang in performances of Alceste, Fidelio, Der Rosenkavalier and Werther (1942, for the Massenet centenary); and in 1941, during the visit to Paris of the Berlin Staatsoper, she sang Isolde under Karajan. She also sang the following year at a concert connected with the work of the sculptor Arno Breker, who was closely associated with the Nazi party and ideology. These activities resulted in Lubin being viewed as a Nazi collaborator, for which, following the liberation in 1944, she was put on trial in 1946. Although acquitted of this charge as a result of numerous supportive testimonials, she was sentenced to dégradation nationale for five years, confiscation of her (considerable) property, and exile, which she sought in Italy.
Lubin herself, who denied any links with the Nazis, grew increasingly embittered at her treatment. She returned to Paris in 1950 and tried to pick up her career with a recital but, despite some further performances, there was little interest. A further blow was to come. She had been married to the poet Paul Géraldy between 1913 and 1926; their son was born in 1916. When he committed suicide in 1953, Lubin abandoned performing in public completely and spent the remainder of her life teaching, based at her home in Paris. Her pupils included Régine Crespin, Nadine Denize and Rachel Yakar.
Despite the small number of Lubin’s recordings and her chequered career, there is no doubt that she was one of the finest French Wagnerian singers of the twentieth century, possessing a strong but well-controlled voice and a superb stage presence. Lauritz Melchior recalled that he had ‘never awoken a more beautiful Brünnhilde in my long career as a Wagner singer. I remember especially that she was the only Brünnhilde who had wonderfully painted toe nails.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).