Artist Profile: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Germany’s Legendary 20th Century Soprano

By David Salazar

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was one of the most refined and elegant singers of the 20th century.

Born on Dec. 9, 1915, in Jarotschin, the soprano performed her first opera in 1928 and began her formal musical studies at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in 1934. She was actually set on this path after her father was dismissed from his post as the school headmaster. As a result, she was not allowed to enter the university to study medicine as was originally intended for her.

Her professional debut came in 1938 and in 1940 she was awarded a full contract at the Deutsches Opernhaus, on condition that she join the Nazi party. This has always been a contentious part of her history with the soprano often making statements with the intent of distancing herself from the Nazis.

In 1942, she appeared at the Vienna State Opera; during that time she also starred in five feature films for Joseph Goebbels; she sang, acted, and played piano in each of them.

After being granted Austrian citizenship in 1945 she appeared on tour with the company in London and Milan. She would return to London for a formal debut at the Royal Opera House in 1948 and would also appear in the US in 1954. Her Carnegie Hall debut came in 1956 and her Met Opera debut in 1964.

Her last operatic performance came in 1971 when she appeared as the Marschallin in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.”

After her stage career, she devoted her time to teaching, most notably at the Juilliard School.

She died on August 2, 2006, at age 90.

Signature Roles

Schwarzkopf was a noted Mozartian and one of the most beloved interpreters of the Countess in “Le Nozze di Figaro.” The role was the vehicle of her debut at La Scala and among the few roles that she performed throughout the 1960s when she opted for limiting her repertoire.

The other major role that Schwarzkopf is best-known for is the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier.” This was another of the roles she devoted her final performing years to and it was with this opera that she debuted at the Met Opera and the San Francisco Opera. Unsurprisingly, it was also the opera that she last sang in her career.

Additionally, Schwarzkopf was a renowned recitalist and much of her final performing years were dedicated to art song and lieder.

Read More on Schwarzkopf

A Look At Her Brief Met Career

Watch and Listen

Here is a famed recording of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.”

And here’s her signature Marschallin.


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