Christa Ludwig was one of the most admired mezzos of her generation, with a wide repertoire of both lieder and opera. She brought a fine sense of musicianship as well as drama to her performances. Her roles ranged from Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte to Brangane in Tnrista und Isolde to Clytemnestra in Elektra, and she also created the role of Claire in Einem's Besuch der alten Dame. Her technique and upper register were solid enough to let her sing the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, parts almost exclusively sung by sopranos, though she did retreat from plans to sing Isolde and Brunhilde. She was also a noted lieder performance, especially of Mahler.
Her parents were both singers (tenor Anton Ludwig, who later became a stage director and mezzo Eugenie Ludwig Besalla), and her first vocal studies were with her mother, who also taught her piano, flute, and cello. Her first performances were in 1954, at the age of seventeen, singing operatic arias she had learned from growing up in the theater. She made her opera debut as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss' Die Fledermaus in 1946, at the Frankfurt State Opera, where she was a member of the company until 1952, when her mother encouraged her to move to Darmstadt to study acting with the director Gustav Sellner. After two years, she and her mother (who was still teaching her) moved to Hanover, where she began to sing leading roles such as Carmen, Ortrud, and Kundry. Her Salzburg debut was in 1954 as Cherubino, and followed by her 1955 debut in the same role at the Vienna State Opera, at the invitation of Karl Bohm, where she sang for more than 30 years. In 1957, she sang with Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, who encouraged her husband Walter Legge, the famous producer, to sign Ludwig with EMI records. Her United States debut was in 1959 in Chicago, as Dorabella. In the 1970s, she went through a vocal crisis due to menopause, and she took some of the most demanding roles out of her repertoire, and began to give more attention to songs and lieder. Again she challenged the typical views of repertoire, and sang material such as Die Winterreise that are most often associated with male voices, especially baritones. Working with Leonard Bernstein, she developed a special affection for Mahler (whose music Bernstein championed when Mahler was relatively obscure.)
She was married to bass Walter Berry from 1957 until 1971, and their son, Marc Berry, is a popular song composer. She has a wide recorded legacy; among the best of her material is a Das Lied von der Erde under Bernstein (Sony SMK 47589) and a Brangane in Tristan und Isolde, with Vickers as Tristan and Dernesch as Isolde, under von Karajan (EMI CMS7 69319-2.) ~ Ann Feeney
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