Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936)

Brindisi (Trinklied)
Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti

Schumann-Heink Ernestine Schumann-Heink was born in Austria. A true contralto from the start, she made her debut in Dresden as Azucena in 1878. After a few years in the European houses, she was signed to sing at the Met, starting in the 1898-99 season, and continued there for five seasons. When Maurice Grau, who had brought her to the Met, retired in 1903, Schumann-Heink also left, although she returned from time to time to perform Erda in the Wagner operas. And she continued to perform in Europe occasionally; in 1909 in Dresden, she created the role of Clytemnestra in Richard Strauss's Elektra. But her favorite role, it is said, was as Austrian Hausfrau; she was married three times and had seven children of her own. And she loved the United States, becoming a citizen and living in Chicago and California.

International opera stars of the time did not generally engage in solo concert tours. When they toured, it was usually as members of a touring opera company. Schumann-Heink preferred the intimacy of the concert setting and the opportunities for offstage acquaintance, unfettered by the demands of a touring company. She performed all over the U.S., and performed for the troops during World War I. She won the hearts of the masses with her rich, warm voice, singing songs they liked to hear. The great contralto gave her final performance at the Met in 1932 at the age of seventy, bringing to a close a career that spanned 54 years.

This recording of the Brindisi from Lucrezia Borgia was my introduction to Schumann-Heink many years ago. Back then it struck me as campy... and still does. But I still enjoy it.

And as an aside, from the 1921 Victrola Book of the Opera, here is the story of how Donizetti got his name:

A Scotchman named Izett, wandering afield in search of fortune, discovered it in Italy, where he took to himself the prefix of "Don", thus securing for his children the name "Donizetti".

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