Sad news: Christa Ludwig has died, at 93

Sad news: Christa Ludwig has died, at 93


norman lebrecht

April 25, 2021

The magnificent German mezzo, one of the wonders of opera houses and recital halls in the mid-20th century, has died at a great age.

Making her debut in 1946, she sang for 30 seasons at the Vienna Opera and was a regular at the Met.

Although she was known for giving no ground in argument to conductors, Leonard Bernstein adored her, as did many others.

She was married for a dozen years to the bass-baritone Walter Berry. Later she married a Frenchman, Paul-Emile Deiber.

She spoke with great candour about her art and was, I think, the first to discuss openly the effect of the menstrual cycle on the singing voice.

May she rest in peace.

UPDATE: Tributes pour in for Christa

UPDATE2: She sang with Callas and Schwarzkopf


  • Petros Linardos says:

    One of the greatest singers of the 20th century. RIP

    • Cornishman says:

      Absolutely. I have a strong sense of an era ending. Her voice and acute intelligence- verbal, musical, emotional – have quite literally been with me all my life.

  • Richard Cumming-Bruce says:

    One of the very greatest singers of the post war period. In particular, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that her Leonore in the great Klemperer recording of Fidelio was one of the things that fired my passion for opera.

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Yes. It was a bold move then, because she was known as a mezzo. I have the recording too.

    • Una says:

      Her singing of the soprano Leonore, even as a mezzo, was outstanding. I loved her singing and everything she stood for in the singing world. May she rest in peace.

  • A.L. says:

    Indeed may she rest in peace.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Gießen will remember her fondly. I understand she started her career there and her father was Intendant.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    RIP. My first encounter was in 1972, when at the age of 21, I made a major expenditure (for an impoverished student) on the 1963 Karajan Beethoven symphonies.

    • Novagerio says:

      Paul: Hilde Rössel-Majdan is the Alto in the Karajan 1962 Beethoven 9.
      However, there’s a lot if Karajan/Christa on record

      • Paul Dawson says:

        Wow! Thank you – I stand corrected. I posted without checking, but I’d have put good money on it being the 9th. Just back browsing through my vinyl, I see it was the Karajan Verdi Requiem, also acquired at much the same time. I shall check before posting henceforth.

      • Paul Dawson says:

        Whilst I was about it, I thought I should check the dates. The LPs in the boxed set are all dated 1963, but googling suggests that the recordings were made in 1961 and 1962.

        • microview says:

          A bit off-topic, but yes the publication date was 1963 but the first CD transfers set gave the exact details: 1961-2 Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin; the great Günter Hermanns as balance engineer.

  • So very sad. She was one of a kind

  • Tom Phillips says:

    One of the greatest performers of the twentieth century in a very wide range of repertoire. She will be greatly missed.

  • Edgar Self says:

    A great one has consecrated the passage leaving memories of Bernsstein’s “Jeremiah”, Mahler’s Lieder, “Song of the Earth”, “Resurrection”: Brahms’s alto rhapsody, Oktavian and the Marschallin. She distinguished the company of Seefried, Schwarzkopf, Rosette Anday, and Roessl-Maijdan.

  • NorCalMichael says:

    My heart is heavy today. RIP Christa Ludwig.

  • William Evans says:

    A great loss indeed, whose wide-ranging knowledge and experience were (fortunately) passed on to a new generation of singers via her many masterclasses.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Indeed, she had been scheduled to give a free masterclass at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival at the end of May. She remained active until the end, and it was always lovely to see her coming up the aisle at Staatsoper and being stopped by dozens of fans. Not only was she gracious, she had a wonderful sense of humour.

    • William Evans says:

      Further to my previous comment, I heard a ‘tribute’ to Christa Ludwig on BBC Radio 3 this morning (Petroc Trelawny show). It was a duet from Rosenkavalier with, yes, Elizabeth S., conducted by H von K. Strangely, Ms Ludwig’s voice come over the airwaves as having something of a ‘caprino’ quality – most odd. I’m sure a better recording/aria could have been selected, especially for this occasion.

  • Novagerio says:

    May she indeed rest in peace.
    Vielen Dank Frau Kammersängerin

  • BrianB says:

    Fantastic artist, peerless from Mozart to Mahler. God bless her. She blessed us with her art.

  • RW2013 says:

    She and Lenny will have a lot to catch up on.

  • Ernest says:

    Her music and her wit will live on.

  • Joan Caplan says:

    So sad. But what a wonderful life. She was a truly great singer/musician/performer. Great diversity of talent. Bernstein to Wagner Inspiration to singers for generations.

  • Gus says:

    Here is her last concert “Tribute to Vienna”, just wonderful.

  • M McAlpine says:

    What can one say? One of the true greats! Her legacy speaks for itself.

  • E says:

    She is a delight! (The young Michelle DeYoung looking up while Ludwig sings captures just how amazing it must have been to be on the stage with her.) Beautiful woman, beautiful singer, fabulous gown, and
    terrific salutation to Bernstein. It is a joy to have been on the earth at the same time.
    “Cäcilie” is beyond time and

    • Peter says:

      It’s June Anderson! I was there!

      • Kenneth J Wayne says:

        Now that you mention it, there is a little physical similarity between Ms. Anderson and Ms. DeYoung. I count myself so blessed to have seen the great Christa on stage when she sang three operas of the ‘Ring’ at the Met in the late ’80’s. It’s truly the end of an era.

  • Brad M says:

    A truly great artist. May she rest in peace,

  • Eduardo says:

    I saw her many many times in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colon, where she was a favourite for many years. A very fine singer indeed.

  • Brian Bell says:

    The Bartok Bluebeard’s Castle with Kertesz and her then husband Walter Berry is one of my absolute favorites.
    Her Judith is in a league all its own. RIP.

  • Edwin B. says:

    She was greatness personified. Her Fricka from the Met’s 1990 production of Die Walkure haunts me to this very day. May she rest in peace.

  • an admirer says:

    a truly wonderful voice and artist, outliving Fischer-D and so many others.

    I can think of only 2 left of the same ilk, Gundula Janowitz who will be 84 this August and Helga Dernesch who was 82 in February.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    I heard her a couple of times in her later years. Her Klytemnästra made me literally shiver with fear and dread – she had an unbelievable stage presence. Great author as well (her autobiography) and most intelligent and outspoken in her interviews. A truly grand dame of opera, lied, oratorio.

  • Tom Hase says:

    Many of the obituaries will praise her as a passionate artist, true intellectual and a true master of her craft – all of that is of course true, but none of these things are unique to her. To me, what made her stand out, was something else. As she herself put it in an interview: There are a lot of singers nowadays who can appear sexy on stage, but to have a voice, which is truly erotic and not just superficially sexy is something else (and does indeed require intellect, but so much more than that). To me her voice will always remain the most erotic female voice of the 20th century. Like with Callas (though much more subtly), there was also always some hint of suffering in her voice. As she said herself, she knowingly and willingly gave up everything for her art. I remember very well her TV interview with Everding (available on YouTube) in which she manages to silence the interviewer by remarking “Ich bin am Leben vorbeigegangen” (“I missed out on life”). As she writes herself in her autobiography: ” I never want to be a singer again.” I, for one, am grateful that she suffered willingly to ease our suffering throught her art.

    • Paul Bempechat says:

      You are so very right, Mr. Hase. She was, as Lenny Bernstein said, the best of the best, and the best of us all. A glorious voice, a vivacious spirit, a sharp mind and intellect, and above all, a compassionate, abiding heart for all humanity and through her legacy, for all time. Schlaf ruhig, liebe Christa. Danke, und denk an uns.

  • Herbie G says:

    An outstanding artist who will never be forgotten thanks to her wonderful recorded legacy. To me, her recording of Das Lied von der Erde, with Wunderlich and Klemperer conducting the New Philharmonia, would alone have earned her a place in the Pantheon. Like Midas, she turned everything she touched into pure gold.

    Ave atque vale.

  • msc says:

    As I write this, there are thirteen comments, twelve of which have a single down vote — I wonder what strange grudge that person has against her. Otherwise, I’ll just repeat everyone else’s regrets and praise. She was a great artist and has brought me countless hours of joy.

  • microview says:

    2020 interview all about relationship with Karajan at The stories about Aachen are interesting (when she was six) , but it rather fizzles out afterwards with a lot of platitudes about Karajan’s work ethic.

  • Melisande says:
    The great mezzo Christa Ludwig at the age of 86 years:
    A moment of personal emotion during her 2014 masterclasses in Richard Strauss’s Lied “Befreit”.
    Rejoyce in Paradise, dear Lady.

  • Ed says:

    Thank you dear Christa for so many hours of happiness in my life listening to you in Vienna, Paris, London and in my many records. You are part of my life.

  • Patrick says:

    Fortunately, I will remember her for few of the reasons you cite. Seriously? What’s with you, anyway?

  • jim says:

    Here is another and utterly charming clip of Ludwig singing “I Am Easily Assimilated” from a Tanglewood tribute to Bernstein.

  • I especially loved her recording of Brahms songs with Leonard Bernstein accompanying on piano. Years ago, upon request, I lent my recording of this to another singer, and it was never returned.

  • Alexander T says:

    A fantastic singer. The real thing.

  • Isobel says:

    I am so privileged to have sung with the great Christa Ludwig at Carnegie Hall where we performed the Mahler 2nd.. She was a kind and generous colleague and treated me with such care and compassion. Her vocal abilities and innate musicality will love forever in everything she sang. Nuanced, felt and expressed with such honesty, clarity and simplicity as to stun the audience aurally and visually. A nobility of singing that is hard to find these days. Never to be forgotten, the Great Christa Ludwig.

  • Richard says:

    I think of her particularly as Venus in the Solti/Decca “Tannhauser” – a truly stunning performance, where her voice drips sensuality; and, most of all as Kundry in the Solti/Decca “Parsifal” where her performance is beyond praise. A tremendous loss.