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My Classical Notes, March 2011

Christa Ludwig is acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s most complete vocal artists. She debuted in 1946 as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus at the Frankfurt State Opera and starred at the Vienna State Opera from her debut as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro in 1955 until her retirement from singing in 1994. Her professional singing career spanned five decades and, as a star of the international operatic stage, she starred in the soprano, mezzo and coloratura mezzo repertoire.

Ms. Ludwig also established her reputation as a fine lieder singer. The intimate auditorium of the Volkstheater in Vienna was packed with a discerning and enthusiastic audience when Christa Ludwig gave a master class there.

As a bonus on this CD, we see Ms. Ludwig conduct a master class. The young singers who took part—Valerij Serkin (tenor), Stella Grigorian (mezzo) and Marcus Pelz (baritone)—were all studying at an advanced level, with their sights set on finding success as professionals on the operatic stage. With her guidance, their characterizations are seen to take on a new depth in just a short space of time. The master class focuses on Mozart and concludes with a performance extract featuring the young Christa Ludwig as Dorabella in Così fan Tutte in 1970.

The performance was recorded in 1994 when Ludwig was sixty-six years old. The richness of her voice is perhaps just slightly reduced by age, but the artistry that comes from almost fifty years of performing more than makes up for this. Indeed, this is a wonderfully artistic performance.

So, this is a DVD for lovers of Schubert, admirers of the legendary Christa Ludwig, and for those who wish to see a Ludwig master class.

Alan Swanson
Fanfare, November 2009

Christa Ludwig titled the 1994 German edition of her memoirs…und ich wäre so gern Primadonna gewesen (“…and I wanted so much to be a prima donna”), but confessed in an interview on her 80th birthday last year that, “I would rather be normal.” It is that balance between the normal and the stellar that is demanded of every leading mezzo-soprano and few understood as well as Ludwig how to find it and make it work in her art. For we are talking about art here. This 1994 Athens studio recital is an object lesson in how good singing is done.

This was the year she retired after 48 years on the stage, and one would hardly know it. She still has complete control of her voice and knows everything about how to steer clear of troublesome vocal areas. Nothing is pushed beyond what it can do well, and yet one has no sense that she is singing guardedly. This is mature, well-thought, singing. Der Tod und das Mädchen is a model of intense understatement, and the more frightening for it, and that same intensity shows us just how much “Das irdische Leben” is a nasty take on Erlkönig. The Bernstein set is one of his first compositions, and despite a slightly Teutonic pronunciation, Ludwig makes them playful and not twee. It is refreshing to hear them between the darkness of Mahler and Wolf…Ludwig’s discussion with [mezzo Stella Grigorian] of the “Séguedille” from Carmen is a lesson to every mezzo essaying the part: she should sing it gently (leise) at first to Don José, because she wants to get his attention and give him her address. And to all three singers she counsels a good legato, but not necessarily one with portamento, and the need for a clear line. She also warns the men not to sing so loudly, because then there is no room to build an effect. This is good general advice to all singers and always worth repeating, especially when so cheerfully and charmingly done as Ludwig does it here. The clip from Falstaff is a nice filler and lets us see her briefly in an opera. This DVD will not disappoint you.

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