Obituary: Wiener Staatsoper Soprano Renate Holm Dies at 90

By Francisco Salazar

On April 21, soprano Renate Holm died at the age of 90.

Born in Berlin on August 10, 1931, the soprano decided to become an opera singer at age 12, when she saw a film version of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” with Maria Cebotari.

In 1943, women with children were evacuated from the bombed-out center of Berlin, and her family was sent to the Spreewald region about 50 miles to the east of the city. She would spend the rest of her childhood around the village of Ragow and eventually formed her music taste in Lübben where she was a member of the school choir and the church choir. She became a student at the Paul-Gerhardt-Gymnasium.

In 1950, her mother arranged for a meeting with Waltraud Waldeck, a local singer and singing teacher, who was the first to discover Holm’s talent and became her first voice teacher.  In order to afford lessons, she trained and worked as a dentist’s assistant and also sold cigarettes and chocolates at a local theatre.

Holm went on to study with the internationally known coloratura soprano Maria Ivogün in Berlin and later with Maria Hittorf in Vienna.

In 1953, she was entered into a singing competition where she sang “Lied der Nachtigall” (“Song of the Nightingale”) by Franz Grothe and won. That caught the attention of the RIAS, an American-sponsored radio station set up in West Berlin and Holm quickly established a singing career as a radio schlager singer. Holm would appear in musical films and heimatfilme.

In 1957, she went to the Vienna Volksoper and made her debut as Princess Helene in “Walzertraum” by Oscar Straus. She was also invited to sing Eliza Doolittle in the German premiere of “My Fair Lady” at the Theater des Westens in Berlin.

She eventually made her Wiener Staatsoper debut in 1960 and became an ensemble member for 30 years. She performed at the house 470 times in many Mozart, Strauss, and Beethoven roles.

The soprano also went on to appear at the Salzburg Festival, the Salzburg Easter Festival, and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, among others.

In 1971, she was awarded the title of Kammersängerin. Throughout her career, she also made numerous operatic recordings for labels such as EMI, Decca, and Polydor, and also for the radio, in particular the WDR. In 1986 and 1987, she served as president of the Weinviertler Kultursommer and served as a voice teacher and a jury member in international competitions.