She sang with Callas and Schwarzkopf and emerged smiling

She sang with Callas and Schwarzkopf and emerged smiling


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2021

I once interviewed Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. She spent the first 20 minutes badmouthing the young singers in her masterclass whom she had just subjected to a session of live public abuse.

I never met Maria Callas, but she was reputedly not easy.

Christa Ludwig duetted with them both and emerged smiling.

I met Christa twice in Vienna and she was sweetness itself.

With just a hint of steel.


  • Karol Jozef Lipinski says:

    Schwarzkopf was a nazi.

    • marcus says:

      And picked only her own recordings on Desert Island Discs-who the hell does that?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Idiotic comment.

      She was not a nazi. She had to sustain herself in hell and tried her best. It is probable that she came out of that period quite damaged and thoroughly neurotic, overcompensating the black hole inside with dominating and narcissistic behavior. That she married producer Walter Legge demonstrates the point, there is a filmed interview with both which shows that he was the man even more fanatical than she to whom she could surrender.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Like Karajan

  • Hilary says:

    The three singers are barefoot. Lest we think this is too informal:
    This is so they don’t clatter around and make extraneous sounds for the recording.

    • Rowena R Suarez says:

      Great Bare Foot Singing.What about that other saying Bare foot and pregnant Olivia Newton John did her recording sessions bare foot and nude

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    It’s nice to know that it’s possible to excel and still be a nice person. RIP dear Christa.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Christa Ludwig, apart from being a superb artist and singer, was always a professional. She never bullshat around while on an engagement or while teaching.
    Callas and Schwarzkopf, although they were also superb artists (just listen to those duets), were not as professional on the job, letting their personal issues enter the arena. A pity.

    • Erik Timmerman says:

      From where or from whom are you getting this absolutely incorrect information?

    • Maria says:

      What a nasty comment to make when you have no idea. Some of us worked with them!!

      • Greg Bottini says:

        You judge my comment to be nasty, Maria.
        That’s your opinion, but you might want to read some of the other comments on this thread.
        Not that it’s any of *your* business, but I am a huge fan of the art of not only Ludwig, but also the art of Callas and that of Schwarzkopf.
        But I know which of the three I’d rather be stuck in a snowbound cabin with…. and it’s not MC or ES.

  • Gustavo says:

    I never met Baker, Baltsa, Bartoli, Connolly, DiDonato, Horne, Kirchschlager, Kožená, Lipovsek, Meier, Mödl, Soffel, von Otter, von Stade, and Ludwig.

    • DML says:

      Janet Baker (who I had the pleasure and honour of working with) was extremely nice and very professional.

    • RW2013 says:

      Soffel is still stupendous.

    • Gregory Mowery says:

      I’ve met Baker, Bartoli, DiDonato, von Stade. All were very pleasant experiences.

    • BRUCEB says:

      von Stade came and sang with us on two occasions, and gave a master class on one of her visits. Wonderful performer, of course — almost surprising, considering how relaxed she was in rehearsal and how much fun she seemed to be having — you’d expect someone who enjoyed themselves that much to have trouble concentrating — and at her masterclass she was like Everybody’s Favorite Aunt/Cheerleader, able to couch important criticisms in such supportive terms that all the singers clearly came away feeling like “I can do this!” rather than “I’m a failure.”

      And not at all full of herself, though she had every reason to be. One or two personal stories of mishaps that happened in school (spending hours sewing a beaded curtain for “The Medium,” only to have it come undone and strew beads all over the stage during the performance) and one casual mention of — I think it was a Schubert song? — hearing what a real live Austrian brook sounds like, on a hike outside Salzburg (no mention of why she was there — coughKARAJANcough — or what role she was singing).

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Callas was a far better person than Schwarzkopf – with the additional advantage of never having joined the Nazi party and continuing to lie about for the following seven decades.

    • Maria says:

      So you knew them both intimately to say that?

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Gesualdo was a murderer. But I’m not throwing away my CDs with his music. I have no way of knowing how Schwarzkopf was. If she was really a bad person, I pity those who had to work with her. But her singing is sublime.

    • Tamino says:

      Callas was not born to be a German citizen in a certain dark period of the country.
      All the silly comparisons and armchair comments – about who was a nazi and who was not – from people who in their majority would have done NOTHING to change the course of time as well, are just hogwash. Armchair resistance fighters of the world, unite (and get lost).

  • Hilary says:

    Incidentally, the most commercially successful film Christa Ludwig can be heard in is “Fatal Attraction” :

    I suspect a defining moment in her life was when the family home was bombed in 1944. The horror of such an event can’t be underestimated.

  • RW2013 says:

    That Schwarzkopf masterclass sounds like the one she gave at my Hochschule, where she announced that she would never teach again.

  • Amos says:

    Thanks to this blog I will always associate Ms. Ludwig with her decision to acknowledge Myron Bloom after a performance of Kindertotenlieder. The next time I watch a performance of the Brahms violin concerto and witness the soloist acknowledge the Principal oboe will be the first time.

    • Hilary says:

      Or a pianist acknowledge the principal cellist in Brahms’s 2nd Concerto.

    • William of Urbana says:

      In the first rehearsal with Chicago, Heifetz acknowledged Ray Still’s mastery rather than make his entrance.

      • Amos says:

        Was this in preparation for a concert performance or a recording? If it was the former did he make a similar gesture after the actual performance?

  • Dan P. says:

    I was lucky to have been in the audience of the Callas masterclasses at Juilliard in the early 1970s. She acted not as “master” lording over and showing up inexperienced students but rather as a more experienced colleague among equals, sharing secrets. I was not a Callas fan then, nor did I particularly care for her repertoire at the time, but I was really bowled over by her intimate knowledge of every tiny aspect of the music on which they were working and the ease and friendliness with which she imparted that knowledge to her students.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Superb rendering of the Mozart ensemble. Incredible….

  • Gregory Mowery says:

    I once saw a Schwartkopf a video of a masterclass where she berated her singers all the time, interrupting them every few seconds to chip away. I just felt their self-confidence plummet and thought if I had being a singer and she was teaching me in a masterclass, I don’t think I could have stood her negativity for five minutes. I’ve seen many masterclasses on Youtube with Crespin, Fleming, DiDonato, and others who worked hard to improve their students and didn’t resort to being mean. I also attended about eight of the Callas masterclasses at Julliard in the early 70s. Callas was astonishingly patient with all of her students. Some who were disrespectful, really stood out. Not naming names here. Callas had much to say and was completely generous and giving to the students, the recordings prove this. Another good masterclass teacher is Bumbry, who is crisp and succinct with her students and very cognizant of eery detail in the scores. Her criticism are amusing when she asks in mock astonishment when a detail in the score is overlooked. Te Kanawa, who is often underestimated as a singing actress or an intellectual performer, is a gracious teacher in her masterclasses. She keeps the students engaged and absorbed in her classes.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I don’t know why you want to give an opinion on Callas who you never met. However, there were (and probably are) many great musicians who were not exactly easy personalities to get along with. Just think of Beethoven for one.