Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Soprano

The online opera guide on Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Read the short biography of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and listen to Highlights of her career. She is regarded as one of the leading sopranos of the second half of the 20th century.

The ascent

She was born in 1915 in Poznan (today Poland). She began her musical education during two years at the Berlin University as an alto. Her mother intervened and she  left the academy under which caused a little scandal. Afterwards Maria Ivogün became her teacher and formed her  soprano voice.

In 1942 she was engaged at the Vienna State Opera. In 1946 she auditioned with Walter Legge, the later famous producer and husband of Schwarzkopf, and Herbert von Karajan, which became an anecdote. The breakthrough came at a legendary guest performance of the Vienna State Opera in London with the exiled Richard Tauber. He wanted to return to his old ensemble a few months before his death.

Her career picked up speed. Legge, who later became her husband, planned this thoroughly. “It consisted of three pillars: the well-dosed opera performances at exclusive houses in the world, the best possible recordings and a lively concert and recital activity. (Fischer, grosse Stimmen)

The famous Mozart ensemble in Vienna was brilliantly put together by Josef Krips. The great Ljuba Welitsch, Irmgard Seefried, Hilde Güden and Sena Jurinac sang in the ensemble and their work is documented on various recordings.

Sull’aria (Le nozze di figaro) – Schwarzkopf / Seefried


Her voice was precious, but little resilient. She could not sing dramatic roles like Butterfly or even Wagner heroines. Legge: “Her repertoire for the stage was very narrow: Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Elvira in Don Giovanni, Countess in Le nozze di figaro, Marschallin in Rosenkavalier and Countess in Capriccio”. The recording activity, however, made it possible to considerably expand this spectrum and also to allow enough time for the production of the operas, where Schwarzkopf, the perfectionist, could do the detailed work she wished for.

Marie Therese ! (Rosenkavalier) – Schwarzkopf / Jurinac / Rothenberger


It has become a legend how Schwarzkopf, supervised by Legge, studied many old masters (Ponselle, Melba, Seinemeyer…) and adapted from each the best. She was occasionally accused of this by her envious ones, but the result in the operas of Mozart and Strauss was captivating. She was a kind of Maria Callas of the German repertoire. And like Maria Callas, she was a controversial figure who attracted both critics and fervent followers.


Her voice

Schwarzkopf’s voice was a lyrical soprano. She herself said that her strongest weapon was that “she only sings colours”. But color is not only a surface, it also contains a spectrum of emotions (from sensual and beautiful to dramatic and exciting).

Leise, leise fromme Weise (Freischütz) – Schwarzkopf



Significance of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf


She is regarded as one of the leading sopranos of the second half of the 20th century. Her marshal and countess became style-forming for a whole generation. Her operettas also became references “whose rank has not been regained until today” (Fischer).

Her importance as a singer of songs is eminent and her 4 last songs by Strauss are of lasting value.


More highlights from recordings (to be continued)


Listen to this aria first in a wonderful, melancholic, unbeatable interpretation. Every word gets a beautiful tone color. The breathing is imperceptible and makes the music shine with beautiful long phrases.

Porgi amor 


You can hear the Countess’s second great aria. She was also called “the Countess of the Century”. Besides the Marschallin in the Rosenkavalier perhaps her biggest role.

Dove sono


Listen to this beautifuel Duet from the same opera in the wonderful interpretation with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Irmgard Seefried.  Regarding Seefried’s 1953 recording with Furtwängler, Kesting says: «If you want to feel something of the spiritual effect of her singing, you have to listen to the early recordings … she has with Schwarzkopf a partner who comes as close as possible to perfection.

Che soave zeffiretto   –  Schwarzkopf / Seefried


This trio from Cosi fan tutte is one of Mozart’s absolutely greatest vocal pieces, he takes us into a supernatural world. Mozart accompanies the three voices with muted strings that imitate gentle waves. You will hear this trio in an interpretation by Christa Ludwig and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Berry. This recording is taken from the legendary Cosi fan tutte recording produced by Walter Legge.

Soave sia il vento   –  Schwarzkopf / Ludwig / Berry


This piece by Fiordiligi is one of Mozart’s most difficult arias ever. The tonal range of the aria is large and the jumps from high to low nots usually fall into the same phrase. For example, right at the beginning of the second line in «contro venti e tempesta» to underline the drama of Fiordiligi’s statement «like a rock unshakeable» (Come scoglio). In the second part (Cosi ognor) we hear the romantic, rapturous Fiordiligi. In the third part she sings with greater certainty the «come scoglio» passage (only death can change the sensation). The aria ends with a beautiful but demanding passage with many coloraturas, which have to be sung in fast tempo and with much intensity and sometimes in very high register.

The Fiordiligi was one of the five central roles Elisabeth Schwarzkopf played in her life (alongside the Marschallin, Donna Elvira and the two Countesses in Nozze and Capriccio). Her vocal style and her voice were a perfect match for these roles. Perhaps there was no greater Fiordiligi than Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.


Come scoglio


You hear a wonderful recording of this duo with the dream cast Christa Ludwig and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with the tender but never sweet accompaniment of Karl Böhm.

Ah, che tutta in un momento –  Ludwig / Schwarzkopf


As a rarity, you will hear Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sing in French in Michaela’s Aria from Carmen.

Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante


A highly exciting master class by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on how to sing Mozart.

Ach, ich fühls (4) – Masterclass Schwarzkopf


And now a Schwarzkopf Interpretation with a shining Pamina.

Ach, ich fühls (5) – Schwarzkopf


Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was one of the great Elvira of recording history. Her interpretation of “Ah chi mi dice mai” is gripping, intense and yet round.

Ah chi mi dice mai  –  Schwarzkopf


Protegga il giusto Cor  –  Schwarzkopf / Sutherland / Luigi Alva


A wonderfully lyrical “non mi dir” from Don Giovanni.

Non mi dir


The interpretation of this aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is touching. The most intimate of the recordings.

O mio babbino caro


Another beautiful duet of Humperdinck’s Hänsel&Gretel, with languishing sounds of sweet temptations. Dreamily sung by Grümmer and Schwarzkopf.

Wie duftets von dorten … O herrlich Schlösschen  –  Grümmer / Schwarzkopf


Listen to a lively duet in ¾ time, where the children celebrate that they could throw the witch into the oven.

Juchhei, nun ist die Hexe tot  –  Grümmer / Schwarzkopf


Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was called Lehar’s “widow of the century”. Her widow was an ideal opera voice in the operetta, combining the comedic femme fatale with the musicality of the artist.

Bitte meine Herren  –  Schwarzkopf

Schwarzkopf’s interpretation is also captivating, longing whispers intoxicating the listener.

Es lebt eine Vilja  –  Schwarzkopf


In the next song we hear Elisabeth Schwarzkopf again in Lehars work. She sings wonderfully elegantly and Wächter is a authentic Danilo:

Lippen schweigen (2)  – Schwarzkopf/Wächter/Matacic


Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was not a heroic soprano, but a lyrical soprano. This benefits this aria of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Her interpretation is lyrically radiant, at times almost dreamy.

Dich teure Halle


Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s interpretation of this aria from Freischütz is of an overwhelming intensity and yet intimacy.

Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise, fromme Weise  –  Schwarzkopf


Again from Freischütz: the beautiful Schwarzkopf pianissimo.

Und ob die Wolke verhülle  –  Schwarzkopf       


Listen to an expressive interpretation by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf from this aria from die Fledermaus.

Klänge der Heimat – Schwarzkopf


The interpretation this Puccini Song by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is very touching. The most intimate of the recordings.

O mio babbino caro  –  Schwarzkopf


Next we hear an interpretation from “The abduction from the seraglio” by the 30 year old Elisabeth Schwarzkopf from 1946 accompanied by Herbert von Karajan. The high passages are beautifully sung and she sings the aria very movingly and with her rather lyrical voice amazingly energetic, but of course not comparable to the power of Edda Moser.

Martern aller Arten  –  Schwarzkopf


The role of Lisa (“Land of smile”) will probably always be associated with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. With the recording from the 50s, conducted by Ackermann and produced by her later husband Legge, she set standards.

Heut meine Herrn, war ein Tag … gerne wär ich verliebt


In the lively ¾ beat with Viennese charm Lisa sings about love. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s Lisa captivates with her elegance and musicality. Her voice has noblesse and an erotic charisma.

Flirten, bisschen Flirten  –  Schwarzkopf


Lisa is a woman with a past, in contrast to Butterfly she is a self-determined and self-confident woman. We hear her in a duet with Erich Kunz. Both were representatives of the legendary Vienna Mozart Ensemble of the post-war years. Kunz was the cosy and comedic Viennese par excellence, with charm, humour and, if necessary, the typically Viennese derision (“Schmäh”).

Es ist nicht das erste Mal   –  Schwarzkopf / Kunz


Nicolai Gedda and Elisabeth sing this duet wonderfully lyrically and elegantly.

Bei einem Tee à deux   –  Schwarzkopf / Gedda


This famous piece is set in a slow dance music that appears in the gloomy dress of the minor key. This contrast between the cheerful rhythm and the gloomy mood is what makes this piece so charming. It is the depth of the role of the Marschallin that gives the Rosenkavalier the profundity that it raises above the aristocratic farce. The Marschallin is an “alter ego” of the Countess from Mozart’s marriage to Figaro, one almost thinks the Countess has awakened again.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is often referred to as the Marschallin (and not by chance also as the Countess). No other singer has embodied this role like her. Her interpretation of the Marschallin is introverted but sensual. Each of her notes seems to be deliberately set (which earned her the accusation of “artificiality”). The music producer and Schwarzkopf’s husband Walter Legge urged her to perfect a handful of operas rather than always having a better competitor for dozens of them. “Schwarzkopf had prepared the role for years with Walter Legge and rehearsed it for the Scala premiere with Herbert von Karajan for a month, “often ten or twelve hours a day”. (Kesting, Great Singers).
When she left the stage in 1971, it was no coincidence that she sang this nostalgic monologue in her last program. We hear this passage from the “legendary” 1959 recording by Herbert von Karajan, which became a reference recording for many.

Die Zeit ist ein sonderbares Ding  –  Schwarzkopf



Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the opera guide on Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

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