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The power behind the throne

A remastered set of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf ’s unpublished EMI recordings show the legendary diva full of youthful vitality, experimenting with her voice in a wide range of repertoire, with the Svengali-like presence of Walter Legge always lurking in the background. Benjamin Ivry reports

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In 1990, when I visited the home of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Zumikon, Switzerland for an extended interview, I mentioned that 1950 seemed to be an annus mirabilis for her voice. Her recorded timbre was never more attractive than in that year, as exemplified in Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) and Marzelline (Fidelio), recorded at the Salzburg Festival and conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler; the aria ‘Mein gläubiges Herze’ from Bach’s Cantata BWV 68; and Liù’s ‘Signore Ascolta’ from Puccini’s Turandot. To which Dame Elisabeth replied, smiling, ‘Of course! I was in love…’

Her innamorato, the producer and impresario Walter Legge (who went on to marry the soprano in 1953), was the stern taskmaster behind the recordings transferred in this set. Fans of the diva will be familiar with some of this material from Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Unpublished EMI Recordings 1946-1952 (Testament: SBT 2172) and more fugitive sources, but other unissued material is also present.

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About Opera Now

British soprano Sophie Bevan discusses her starring role in a new opera at ENO; exploring the hidden art of the répétiteur; traditional craftsmanship meets contemporary design at Oman’s Royal Opera House Muscat; and Cardiff prepares to crown the Singer of the World. Plus, our pick of this year’s top singing competitions around the world; English Touring Opera proves that learning about opera can be educational and fun; American baritone and movie star Nelson Eddy; Simon Callow’s Wagnerian triumph; and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s legendary recordings.